The Fall and Fellowship

The final chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Breaking of the Fellowship,” is broken into two parts: The first ends with Boromir falling to the temptation of the Ring while the second ends with Frodo and Sam heading out to Mordor as chaos rages behind them. These two passages lay out some of the fundamental structure of The Lord of the Rings, so let’s take a closer look.

The Fall of Boromir

It’s significant that this first passage ends not with Boromir’s death but with his moment of moral weakness, with his fall. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, to fall is a worse outcome than death, a lower low. Perhaps that’s not a surprising position, as it’s one that heroic fiction has loved to embrace but also that Tolkien himself, a veteran of WWI who had became cruelly familiar with the amoral ubiquity of death in war, could likely have supported. Boromir’s fall—from which he is redeemed in the first few pages of The Two Towers—shows that death can come for anyone but that only the strong stay true or recover from their mistakes. Again, that the low point of Boromir’s character arc is not his (arguably fruitless) death but his fall to temptation is significant and indicates that these are the stakes for individual characters in Middle-earth: They are fighting not only for their lives but for their souls. The quick resolution to Boromir’s arc that comes at the outset The Two Towers only shows that there is no gradation here, that the answer to the question “can we be redeemed?” is binary. And that the answer is, heroically, yes.

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Bonds of Fellowship

The second portion of “The Breaking of the Fellowship” is devoted to its titular purpose as the nine members of the Fellowship are scattered into the wilderness in a chaotic flurry. After spending 400 pages building up the friendships of Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Boromir—and Gandalf, who isn’t present at this juncture—the conclusion of Fellowship casts those friends out into the world with no plan or resources beyond their friendships. If the chapter’s Boromir passage asked the reader if an individual could be redeemed, then this passage asks if friendship alone is enough to save us. We get a hint that the answer is yes based on Sam’s joining Frodo—despite all the terror that he feels, Frodo notably laughs with joy when he is finally convinced to let Sam join him—but the remainder of The Lord of the Rings handles various permutations of this question, all to the good. Merry and Pippin bond with Treebeard and convince the Ents to topple Saruman; Gimli, Legolas and Éomer save Rohan on the backs of their friendly jests; Aragorn is able to venture through the Paths of the Dead with the Rangers of the North at his side. Even when Frodo falls to the lure of the Ring, as Boromir had done before him, Sam and, in his own way, Gollum, are there to ensure that he is redeemed. Friendship and the bonds of fellowship that we forge with one another are strong enough to overcome any hardship, the text tells us.

These two passages frame much of The Lord of the Rings and their message, of the power of hope, love and friendship against fear, doubt and hate, are arguably the most important in Tolkien’s work.

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