“Friendship over Family in the Lord of the Rings” Guest Blog by Trish Lambert (Signum Series)

SignumBadge_300x90Trish Lambert is a professional writer in marketer’s clothing. She is also a licensed amateur radio operator, a certified SCUBA diver, a medal-winning ballroom dancer and a gamer (The Lord of the Rings Online and Star Trek Online…so far). Her love of JRR Tolkien’s works originated in her tween years and her only foray into fan fiction was at the age 0f 14, when she cast herself into the events of The Lord of the Rings as Glorfindel’s girlfriend.  She is nearing the end of her studies at Signum University for an M.A. in Language & Literature (concentration in Tolkien studies). She lives in the Central Texas Hill Country at Rhosgobel, her 23-acre property, with four horses, four dogs, a cat, and a parrot—none of whom she has yet been able to train to walk on two legs or carry trays.

This is the second guest blog in my fall Signum Series. See my intro to Mythgard Academy and the video-chat on Stranger Things.

lord of the rings bannerDoes The Lord of Rings Favor Friendship over Familial Love?

I was asked this question not long ago. It is a good question; there is a noticeable lack of family relationships in the story. Frodo is not really Bilbo’s nephew, but a cousin (and somewhat distant at that). The members of the Fellowship are all bachelors, and only two of them, Sam and Aragorn, have loved ones to unite with if their quest succeeds. Boromir, Faramir, Théodred, and Éomer—all of royal blood either in direct line to rule or one step away from direct line—are all childless bachelors in spite of being well into adulthood.

In view of all this, my simple answer is yes, I think The Lord of the Rings favors friendship, but I would not say that it is presented as “better” than familial love. I believe that Tolkien had explicit reasons for the lack of family ties that in fact ran counter to his initial inclinations.

Frodo and Sam meeting the Elves on their way to RivendellIt seems academically fashionable these days to emphasize Tolkien’s friendships with other men when considering The Lord of the Rings. From King Edward’s School to his World War I years to the Inklings, this emphasis on a “band of brothers” mentality seems to make sense. It was the world in which Tolkien lived, the logic goes, and of course he would apply it to his epic.

But is that really true? Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings at a very different time in his life. King Edwards School and World War I were far behind him. Simone D’Ardenne student, collaborator and friend for over forty years, knew him well during the period in which he was writing the book, and makes this observation about his paterfamilias:

All his letters, extending over about forty years, tell of his concern about his children’s health, their comfort, their future; how best he could help them to succeed in life, and how to make their lives as perfect as possible” (d’Ardenne 33, italics added).

This is the man who wrote The Lord of the Rings, and his story in its earliest form did favor familial relationships. Bingo, who became Frodo, was Bilbo’s son in the first draft of The Unexpected Party (Sauron Defeated 28) and in addition to Eowyn his niece, Théoden had a daughter (Idis) (Treason of Isengard 445).

tolkien middle earth collectionThe most recent wartime experience in his memory at this time was as a member of the Home Guard with sons involved in fighting far away. If Tolkien was drawing largely from his own experience and memories to write his story, the lack of family ties among the principal players seems odd. Why did Tolkien deemphasize family ties, and do away with such relationships in later drafts?

I think that there are two reasons for this change. First is his own experience of war on the front lines in World War I, then as part of the Home Guard during World War II. These experiences could have formed an important belief that The Lord of the Rings reflects: War is not a time when family business takes precedence; it is a time of personal and familial sacrifice, and the good of the country must come first. Family takes a back seat, and the relationships that make a difference are the friendship and alliances between soldiers (at that time men).

The second reason is that his story is modeled on much older epic stories. Beowulf, the sagas, the King Arthur legends—all emphasize friendship between men over family. The Lord of the Rings is a story very much in the tradition of these old tales, and it makes sense that Tolkien would follow a blueprint that aligned closely with them.

tolkien beowulfTo return to the original question, I have a slightly more detailed answer. Yes, I think that The Lord of the Rings favors friendship over familial love, because the crisis that the story revolves around demands that bonds of friendship be formed so that the bonds of family can be protected. Once the crisis is resolved, there is a return to family—among the rest, Sam gets Rosie, Aragorn earns Arwen, and Faramir and Éowyn find that there is something worthwhile beyond the bleakness of war. The implication: Families will be forthcoming and become a priority now that evil has been contained.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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23 Responses to “Friendship over Family in the Lord of the Rings” Guest Blog by Trish Lambert (Signum Series)

  1. Best explanation I’ve read yet of why friendship is featured much more prominently than family love in LOTR. Thank you for posting this. Another support comes from one of the volumes you picture above: HoMe #10 Morgoth’s Ring, which features a friendly debate between the elven lord Finrod with the wise woman Andreth, who was loved by Finrod’s brother in her youth, but because it was a time of war, he did not pursue marriage. More here: https://allacin.blogspot.com/2016/11/tolkenien-hope-in-debate-form.html


  2. L.A. Smith says:

    Love it, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. louloureads says:

    LOTR is one of my favourite examples of the “found family” trope–characters from different backgrounds and races and species, some of which are actively antagonistic to one another, coming together to look after and love and protect one another, and learn how to be friends. I love that theme, and I think it’s one of the reasons I like these books so much.

    And I agree with your conclusion–once the war is dealt with, families can happen and there is hope for the future again–represented by the birth of Elanor. This is a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. I like the conclusion to your argument, that family is the fruit of friendship in Tolkien’s tale but that each character has to sacrifice much, including family in the time of crisis. It reminded me of a funeral that I once conducted of a man who was once a member of a British special forces unit in Burma operating behind enemy lines in the jungle in the Second World War. By very nature of their mission they were often close to the edge of despair and I was told that the man whose funeral I was conducting used to keep up morale by going around saying to his comrades “remember that you have a wife, a girlfriend, a family back home”. In other words, this is why you must not give up!
    Thank you for an excellent piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wanderwolf says:

    Oh, thanks for sharing! I was well aware about the camaraderie of battle being a motivating factor for the relationships featured in Tolkien’s works, but appreciated the rounded address of this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Marie Prosser says:

    I like this! ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ reveals that Frodo really has the best friends ever. They’ve noticed that something is up with him, and they have decided to do everything they can to help him out. They don’t know what he knows, so can’t guess the full implications, but they know enough…and are willing to sacrifice their own lives, even, if needed.

    But in the end, friendship isn’t the highest ideal, and even the friendship of Frodo and Sam can’t leave Sam torn in two any more. Frodo being cut off from the other hobbits is a wound that needs to be healed, and his enforced bachelorhood is seen as a symptom of his overall malaise rather than a valid life choice. The triple weddings at the end of the book, though, definitely show what a happily-ever-after peace time is meant to look like. All of the kids born in the Appendices further that story, as well.

    When my brother-in-law was getting shot at in Iraq, he would tell himself that he had to survive so he could come home and marry my sister. And while Tolkien doesn’t have the members of the Fellowship spend a lot of time talking about the women and families they’ve left behind, there are glimpses of it. Even Gimli, asking why they couldn’t have sent for their own kin, and Legolas telling him that they wouldn’t have come, because war marches now on their own lands…that idea of the homes left behind, and how they aren’t there to help defend them.

    A great topic 🙂


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