The confrontation between forces of good and evil, or light and dark, is the basic theme of epic, myth, and romance—all genres that readers have applied to Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume in his Lord of the Rings series. It is therefore no surprise that the honorable members of the titular Fellowship (Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) suffer from the Dark Lord Sauron’s unrelenting evil assaults in their quest to protect the Free Peoples of Middle-earth by destroying the One Ring (Sauron’s creation and the key to his total domination of Middle-earth). This classic conflict between forces of good and evil is the driving theme in the world of Middle-earth, and in Tolkien’s epic novel. Through the Fellowship’s experiences during their perilous quest, Tolkien proposes that evil occurs when individuals fall to the temptation of wielding power for personal gain.
Many of Tolkien’s authorial choices establish that the dichotomous struggle between good and evil is the driving force of the novel, as he clearly links people and places to either good or evil. For example, Rivendell and Lothlórien are described as elegant refuges of culture and knowledge, and the very lightness and brightness of their described locations is contrasted against the darkly foreboding settings of the corrupted Moria, Isengard, and Mordor. Clearly the peaceful and aesthetically beautiful elvish locations are shelters for the protagonists, compared to the shadowy, polluted, and obviously evil strongholds of Sauron and Saruman. Furthermore, Tolkien’s invented names sound good or evil to the ear, heightening the sense of conflict between the two. Elvish names such as “Galadriel” and “Lothlórien” roll elegantly and softly off the tongue, compared to harsh and discordant names that signal evil characters, such as “orcs” and the “Nazgûl.” Names are reflective of a culture’s broader language, and Tolkien’s multiple invented languages of Middle-earth generally stereotype its different races: for example the guttural sounds of Khuzdul, the dwarvish language, reflect their rough, straightforward, and often forceful personalities, while the grating and harsh sounds of Black Speech establishes the evil dispositions of Sauron and his servants. Lastly, character behaviors often indicate an individual’s alliance with the light or dark. Inherently good characters such as Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn demonstrate selflessness as they serve those around them, alongside humility through their repeated self-doubts as to their own strengths and responsibilities. This contrasts sharply with the clear-cut evil behaviors of Sauron and his allies who attempt to conquer all cultures using deception and violence. Through these many stylistic choices, Tolkien forms a relationship between form and content, allowing readers to immediately identify obviously good or evil characters and places.
The force that distinguishes evil from good, Tolkien claims, is the corrupting influence of power. Numerous characters in Middle-earth gravitate towards control of peoples, creatures, special objects, and entire lands due to their personal ambitions to wield power. Some, such as Sauron and Gollum, make no secret of their hatred and violent intentions, while others like Saruman are more deceptive and cunning in their dark desires. Whether their intentions are clear or concealed, these characters all bleed into evil territory because of their shared desire to use power for their own nefarious purposes. Tolkien paints characters such as Saruman and Boromir as admirable individuals who then fall to the evil temptation of personal ambition, betraying their companions by attempting to take power through persuasion and then force. The corrupting influences of power, particularly the lure of the titular Ring, reveal these characters’ flawed moral resolves. Through Saruman and Boromir’s wrongdoings, Tolkien suggests that all characters balance light and dark within them to some extent; those who are classified as good exercise willpower in the face of trials and temptations, such as Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel’s rejections of the offered Ring, while those who are evil bend to the siren call of corruption.
For much of his epic novel, Tolkien parses good and evil, neatly shelving his characters as one or the other to showcase the age-old struggle between the two opposing forces. However, readers may find Tolkien’s claim that all beings balance light and dark within themselves to be a confusing nuance—if this is true, why does Tolkien paint races such as orcs as wholly evil? Murky philosophy aside, Tolkien ultimately spins a cautionary tale, underscoring the danger in using power for self-serving purposes. In making his readers squarely confront the many evils within the power plays of Middle-earth’s world, Tolkien leaves readers with the notion that hiding from or avoiding struggle and conflict will only result in the triumph of evil.
Good vs. Evil ThemeTracker
Good vs. Evil Quotes in The Fellowship of the Ring
At no time had Hobbits of any kind been warlike, and they had never fought among themselves. [...]
Nonetheless, ease and peace had left this people still curiously tough. They were, if it came to it, difficult to daunt or kill; and they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them, and could survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather in a way that astonished those who did not know them well and looked no further than their bellies and their well-fed faces.
“But my lad Sam will know more about [Bilbo’s gold]. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about the stories of the old days he is, and he listens to all Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters –meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come from it.
Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him. And I might say it to others,” he added with a look at the stranger and the miller.
But the Gaffer did not convince his audience. The legend of Bilbo’s wealth was now too firmly fixed in the minds of the younger generation of hobbits.
“I feel I need a holiday, a very long holiday, as I have told you before. Probably a permanent holiday: I don’t expect I shall return. In fact, I don’t mean to, and I have made all arrangements.
I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed!” he snorted. “Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
Gandalf looked curiously and closely at him. “No, it doesn’t seem right,” he said thoughtfully. “No, after all I believe your plan is probably the best.”
For some years he was quite happy and did not worry about the future. But half unknown to himself the regret that he did not go with Bilbo was steadily growing. He found himself wandering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself “Perhaps I shall cross the river myself one day.” To which the other half of his mind always replied “Not yet.”
[…] He took to wandering further afield and more often by himself; and Merry and his other friends watched him anxiously. Often he was seen walking and talking with the strange wayfarers that began at this time to appear in the Shire.
“A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the dark power will devour him.”
“How terrifying!” said Frodo. There was another long silence. The sound of Sam Gamgee cutting the lawn came in from the garden.
"So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!
Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought."
“[Bilbo] used often to say there was only one Road; and that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountains or even further and to worse places?’ He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk."
“If you don’t come back, sir, then I shan’t, that’s certain,” said Sam. “Don’t you leave him! They said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed.”
There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid Hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow. Frodo was neither very fat nor very timid; indeed, though he did not know it, Bilbo (and Gandalf) had thought him the best Hobbit in the Shire. He thought he had come to the end of his adventure, and a terrible end, but the thought hardened him. He found himself stiffening, as if for a final spring; he no longer felt limp like a helpless prey.
"They come from Mordor," said Strider in a low voice. "From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you."
"Save us!" cried Mr. Butterbur turning pale; the name evidently was known to him. "That is the worst news that has come to Bree in my time."
"It is," said Frodo. "Are you still willing to help me?"
"I am," said Mr. Butterbur. "More than ever. Though I don't know what the likes of me can do against, against –" he faltered.
“Against the Shadow in the East,” said Strider quietly. “Not much, Barliman, but every little helps. You can let Mr. Underhill stay here tonight, as Mr. Underhill, and you can forget the name of Baggins, till he is far away.”
Slowly he drew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him.
The music and singing round them seemed to falter, and a silence fell. Bilbo looked quickly at Frodo's face and passed his hand across his eyes. “I understand now,” he said. “Put it away! I am sorry: sorry you have come in for this burden: sorry about everything.”
“If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, [the Rangers] have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us.
[…] Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. 'Strider' I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so. That has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown.”
“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.”
“Slow should you be to wind that horn again, Boromir,” said Elrond, “until you stand once more on the borders of your land, and dire need is on you.”
“Maybe," said Boromir. "But always I have let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night.”
"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli.
"I have not heard it was the fault of the Elves," said Legolas.
"I have heard both," said Gandalf; "and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand."
Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well. […] Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.
“What's that?” cried Gandalf. He was relieved when Pippin confessed what he had done, but he was angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting. “Fool of a Took!” he growled. “This is a serious journey, not a Hobbit waling-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!”
“The world was young,
The mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.
The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin’s Day.
The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.”
"And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed."
"Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth," said Aragorn. "But lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlórien [...] only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them.”
“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,” she answered, “and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which is it that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?”
“You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,” said Frodo. “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.”
[…] She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”
[Aragorn’s] own plan, while Gandalf remained with them, had been to go with Boromir, and with his sword help to deliver Gondor. For he believed that the message of the dreams was a summons, and that the hour had come at last when the heir of Elendil should come forth and strive with Sauron for the mastery. But in Moria the burden of Gandalf had been laid on him; and he knew that he could not now forsake the Ring, if Frodo refused in the end to go with Boromir. And yet what help could he or any of the Company give to Frodo, save to walk blindly with him into the darkness?
Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand. “These words shall go with the gift,” she said. “I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”
The travellers sat still without moving or speaking. On the green bank near to the very point of the Tongue the Lady Galadriel stood alone and silent. As they passed her they turned and their eyes watched her slowly floating away from them. For so it seemed to them: Lórien was slipping backward, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world.
"We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of Wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!"
The Misty Mountains were crawling like anthills: orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes. Under the boughs of Mirkwood there was deadly strife of Elves and Men and fell bests. The land of the Beornings was aflame; a cloud was over Moria; smoke rose on the borders of Lórien.
Horsemen were galloping on the grass of Rohan; wolves poured from Isengard. From the havens of Harad ships of war put out to sea; and out of the East Men were moving endlessly: swordsmen, spearmen, bowmen upon horses, chariots of chieftains and laden wains. All the power of the Dark Lord was in motion. Then turning south again he beheld Minas Tirith. Far away it seemed, and beautiful: white-walled, many towered, proud and fair upon its mountain-seat; its battlements glittered with steel, and its turrets were bright with many banners. Hope leaped in [Frodo's] heart. But against Minas Tirith was set another fortress, greater and more strong. Thither, eastward, unwilling his eye was drawn. It passed the ruined bridges of Osgiliath, the grinning gates of Minas Morgul, and the haunted Mountains, and it looked upon Gorgoroth, the valley of terror in the Land of Mordor.
"But I must go at once. It's the only way."
"Of course it is," answered Sam. "But not alone. I'm coming too, or neither of us isn't going. I'll knock holes in all the boats first."
Frodo actually laughed. A sudden warmth and gladness touched his heart.
[…] “ So my plan is spoilt!” said Frodo. “It is no good trying to escape you. But I'm glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together. We will go, and may the others find a safe road!”