Published on September 11th, 2001 11:42 AM
A reading of the heroic relationships in
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
In his 1953 essay "Ofermod," J.R.R. Tolkien addresses the subject of the leader and the subordinate in the northern heroic epic. Of the subordinate's place in the Old English poem "The Battle of Maldon" he says that he was one: "...who had no responsibility downwards, only loyalty upwards. Personal pride was therefore in him at its lowest, and love and loyalty at their highest." The leader, in his role as provider "may indeed receive credit from the deeds of his knights, but he must not use their loyalty or imperil them simply for that purpose." Part of the heroic relationship, therefore, involves unswerving loyalty by the subordinate and the mastery of pride by the leader.
In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien develops several relationships in keeping with the ideas on loyalty he expresses in "Ofermod." These ideas can also be applied to the famous Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, and thus a reading of Beowulf reveals many parallels to the leaders and subordinates in Lord of the Rings. Like Beowulf and Hrothgar, the dominant figures in the many quests and battles of Middle-Earth have characters who support them and follow their lead. While none of the individual participants in these relationships is depicted as perfect, the relationship itself is shown to stem from an ideal conception of the leader and servant dynamic, and the degree to which the relationship approaches this ideal helps to define the characters