Episode 7: Squad Goals, Friendship in Middle-Earth
One of my favorite themes from The Lord of the Rings is friendship.
It’s something that carries through the entire story in many different ways, something we could probably spend hours chatting about if we had the time.
But we find it in the first part of the story, The Fellowship of the Ring, in particular.
Tolkien takes so much care, spending so much time laying a foundation of friendship in The Fellowship of the Ring, forming new friendships as we see with Legolas and Gimli, as well as strengthening existing ones as we see in Frodo and Sam and the other hobbits.
This is a lot like how Tolkien puts so much detail into introducing the Shire and the hobbit way of life to us in the beginning, so that we can better understand exactly what it is Frodo is leaving behind.
So Tolkien emphasizes friendship in The Fellowship -- I mean, it’s right there in the name. That’s what this book is about.
He does this, I think, so we can become familiar with these friendships and begin to understand them before they are tested in the chapters to come.
I wanted to read this quote from Book II, Chapter III, The Ring Goes South -- as Elrond is selecting the members of The Fellowship, he considers sending along two more elves to complete the number. Pippin is upset at the idea of being left behind to return to the Shire, saying he wants to go with Frodo. Elrond replies that this is only because he doesn’t understand the danger, but Gandalf unexpectedly supports Pippin.
“‘Neither does Frodo,’ said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. ‘Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an Elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him.’” — The Ring Goes South
This quote from Gandalf pretty much sums up the whole role of friendship in The Lord of the Rings. Trusting in friendship rather than strength, wisdom, blah blah blah.
There are so many different friendships we see in The Lord of the Rings, so I thought we could take a couple minutes to look at some of my favorites.
Frodo and Sam
There’s this dynamic within their friendship where Sam recognizes Frodo’s great need and gives of himself to help carry -- literally and figuratively, at times -- through his journey.
I think we might look at their friendship and feel as though it’s terribly imbalanced, and of course it is - but we also need to remember that Sam’s intense self-sacrifice for Frodo’s sake only lasted for a season. It was really only about 6 months from when Frodo and Sam left Bag End to when the Ring was destroyed.
There may be times in our life when someone we know and love will need us in this kind of way, maybe they’re going through some kind of a loss or transition or maybe they’re struggling with depression or maybe they’re fighting addiction, and having Sam as a representation of this availability and humility is something I find very encouraging.
Merry and Pippin
Merry and Pippin are kind of your classic example of best friends. They’re always looking out for each other, they’re on equal terms. They have a lot of fun together, but they’re also been through a lot.
Aragorn and Gandalf
The friendship between Aragorn and Gandalf, which is similar to Gandalf and basically anyone, is a mentor type of relationship. There’s a lot of respect given to Gandalf by those he guides, and he in turn leads them with a lot of care, always directed towards what he sees as best for them.
I think we often overlook Fatty because he wasn’t willing to go on with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. But I really appreciate him a lot, to be honest. He serves as a reminder that not all of your friends have to be your best friends, to be good friends. You don’t have to be willing to die for them; you don’t have to follow them into Mordor. Sometimes, you can just be happy acquaintances with someone -- and that’s fine.
Legolas and Gimli
The friendship between Legolas and Gimli is probably the most unique within the story, as it marks the end of the long-standing hatred and distrust between the Dwarves and the Elves which is referred to many times throughout the books.
However, Legolas and Gimli form a fast friendship within the Fellowship of the Ring that carries through until the very end of the story -- and actually, even further.
We see in the appendices, at the very end of Appendix A, that the friendship between the two continued on even after the Fellowship was ended.
And after the death of King Elessar (Aragorn), Legolas and Gimli sailed over the Sea.
Gimli is actually the only Dwarf who was both allowed to, and desired to, go to Aman -- in Letter 154 Tolkien calls him Friend of Legolas and ‘servant’ of Galadriel.
I wanted to read the last paragraph of Appendix A:
“We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.”
After looking at these different forms of friendship in The Lord of the Rings, what stood out to you?
And what does it even mean to be a friend, or to have one?
We are so disconnected and lonely that a lot of times we don’t even know what it means or what it might look like.
This quote from A Conspiracy Unmasked is one of my favorites:
“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone," said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily," It all depends on what you want," put in Merry. "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo… We are horribly afraid - but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds."
So not only are Sam, Merry, and Pippin willing to follow Frodo into deadly peril, they’ve spent months preparing to do so.
And though Frodo is at first uncomfortable with accepting the help offered, in doing so he honors the bond of their friendship by trusting that they can truly, actually help him.
This kind of true friendship requires trust, vulnerability, dedication — from everyone involved.
As our Tea with Tolkien community read through the Fellowship of the Ring last year, a lot of people mentioned they had never experienced a friendship of this depth like we see between the hobbits or Legolas of Gimli… (or if they had, it was something rare).
And that’s so sad! But it’s not uncommon. And it’s up to us to figure this out.
If you want to make a friend, you really can’t just sit around and wait for a friend to magically appear. You need to reach out and be uncomfortable to find someone else who also needs a friend.
Along the same lines, if you want to strengthen a friendship you already have, you’re gonna need to be intentional about making time for them, investing in their lives, and so on.
But I think a lot of it comes down to being available for people. Leave room in your life for friends.
Every time I’ve moved -- and I’ve moved like 13 times in the past 8 years -- and tried to find room for myself in whatever new community I’ve found myself in, it’s been so hard to make new friends because most people just don’t care about making new friends.They’re just not interested.
Most people, in my experience, by the time they’re adults and having kids and whatnot, have found their group of friends, have filled their lives up, and simply aren’t interested in adding anything new to the mix.
So here’s my take: consider leaving room -- for new friends, new opportunities, for new graces. You’d be surprised by what good comes from it!
Before we wrap this whole thing up I wanted to mention just some of the qualities of friendship we see in The Lord of the Rings and challenge you to focus on doing one of these things this week.
They offer and accept help when needed
They accompany one another through their struggles
They offer and accept correction and guidance, but they also know when to withhold advice, like when Celeborn does not advise the Fellowship on which path to take after they leave Lothlorien
They respect each other and the ‘level’ of their friendship
They eat and drink together
They invite each other into their homes, offering shelter and protection when needed
And now I just wanted to leave you with one point to ponder and chat about: Comparing the culture we live in to that of Hobbiton, why do you suppose our relationships are so much more disconnected than theirs?
I’ll talk to you all next week, but until then I’ll be on twitter and instagram (but mostly twitter) @teawithtolkien; you can support Tea with Tolkien on patreon at patreon.com/teawithtolkien for bonus mini podcasts, coloring pages, and more to come in the upcoming months; and for all of the other ways to connect check out www.teawithtolkien.com.
I hope you have a lovely week. Bye!