The Least

by Icarus with responses

Ok, so the complement to Nessae's question: Which character do you think was changed the LEAST by the journey through the war of the ring?

For main characters, only please (no saying Celeborn or Tom Bombadil ).

Personally, I would have to say Ghan-buri-ghan. (heh)

This is a tough question, I think, for just the reason that the other has so many possible answers. But I think it would be Faramir. He did find a little more courage maybe than he thought he had and he definitely married better than he probably thought he would, but I think he stayed pretty much the same: a good leader and judge of men, but not quite the pinnacle.

Just curious...


Thanks for your very thought-provoking post, Icarus. I am still working on the subject of who was changed the least Think I think it might actually be Sam. With respect, I don't think it is Faramir.

Tolkien said that Faramir came to him fully imagined. 'Walking towards him through Ithilien' is how the author described it. Unlike Aragorn,who develops in front of us, and Frodo, who undergoes so many trials and learns and changes so much, Faramir seems to be complete and unable to learn anything more that might change him.

In fact, Faramir in the book is a character who has to change, often to something he does not like or believe in, just to survive. When we first meet him, with Frodo in his power, he is certainly the most intelligent and articulate character in the book. He winkles Frodo's story out of him and Sam with great cunning, and his very survival in Ithilien, with his men, is a tribute to his craft and guile.

In discussion with Frodo, however, we find out that Faramir hates war; that he believes that Gondor has lost its great learning and lore by devoting everything to martial pursuits, and that his elder brother took the errand to Rivendell though it was first offered to Faramir.
'I don't even like killing orcs...' Faramir says to Frodo, rather startlingly.

Later in the book, we find Faramir in the very front of the battle. This man who hates killing has to become the greatest warrior of Gondor, to fill the place left by a rash and headstrong brother who bullied him. It is not just duty which makes him do this; he is desperate to gain the approval of a father whom he loves, but who detests him.

Turning his back on what his true nature and ideals are, Faramir throws himself into his father's misguided military plans. Faramir would never send any of his men to certain death, but when his own father sends him on a hopeless sortie, Faramir meekly obeys.

This is something more than character change; it is character catharsis. Even Gandalf is aghast, and seems to want Faramir to rebel and refuse. But Faramir has resigned himself to death. The man who strove with all his wits to keep himself and his Rangers alive in Ithilien rides out to his almost certain death with bitter composure.

When Faramir comes back he is wounded not just physically. He has thrown away all his ideals and almost his life, yet he has still failed to win his father's approval, and Denethor tries to burn him alive.

When Aragorn exerts his kingly powers of healing, his main subjects are Eowyn, Merry and Faramir. Eowyn and Merry have been struck by the Black Breath of the Nazgul, which drains all the life and hope out of a living being. But Faramir was never exposed to the Nazgul. Wounded only by an arrow, he is yet as sick and likely to die as the other two. The reason for this is Faramir literally has nothing to live for. His attempts to win his father's love have died with the old man, and his ideals and beliefs have been swept away by war. All he has left is duty, and although Tolkien holds duty up to us always as paramount, he also knows that a life led with duty but without love is meaningless.

When Aragorn calls Faramir back from death, he answers joyfully 'what does my king demand?'. Faramir, now by rights the Steward of Gondor, is happy and relieved that, because the King has returned, he will not have to fill that post. By virtue of Aragorn's arrival, Faramir is free to live again as the man he wants to be, not some figurehead squashed into a mould to try to be like his forefathers.

Faramir and Eowyn are a strange couple. He hates war, she is a shield-maiden. By finding love in the each other, both undergo a profound transformation. Faramir is able to forget duty for a moment. A high-born lady of Gondor would have been the studied match, but he chooses a lady who, although royal, belongs to the much more crude and less cultured court of Rohan. Dogs fight for bones in the straw in Meduseld, remember. Faramir's love of lore will be quite a challenge for Eowyn, who herself has to put aside her resolution to marry only a royal leader of hosts (preferably, Aragorn). When she voices this ambition, Faramir laughs at her and says 'good thing you don't want to marry a king, because I am not one!'

Eowyn, one suspects, is not much used to being laughed at. When she woke up at first she just wanted to 'fill an empty saddle'. Now, she learns to let go of glory and of her rather snobbish yearning to marry royalty, finding love and meaning elsewhere. Faramir, who never wanted to go to war anyway, is released from it, and from the need to be a Steward. He is free to return to his beloved Ithilien, but he wants something more than duty, which has brought him such suffering. He wants love as well.

It is a strange match that Tolkien leaves to us to figure out, giving us just that wonderful parting vision of Faramir and Eowyn standing together on the ramparts of Minas Tirith, their long hair, black and golden, mingling together as it streams out in the strong wind.

Faramir is a man who did not change much? To quote Blackadder, au contraire.....

I rather think Sam might be the one who changes least, just because his steadfastness and unchanging qualities are actually the reason Gandalf wants him to go along in the first place. Certainly he is not able to comprehand the changes that have taken place in Frodo, as shown by his surprise when his master tells him at the Grey Havens that he is leaving. Had Sam experienced great change within himself he would have been more attuned to the signs of change in Frodo.

As it was, Sam set off from the Shire wanting nothing but to go back to it (having first seen Elves, of course) and he feels like that at the end of the quest too.

When Sam is in Rivendell, gobsmacked by the Elven beauty of it all, he still just wants to go home. When, at the Council of Elrond, he hears (eavesdropping, a bad habit Sam can't shake off) that Frodo is to go to Mordor, he confronts Elrond with all the indignation he would have shown confronting hobbit lads stealing apples, saying 'you won't send him (Frodo) away on his own, would you?'. He is speaking to what is proabably the eldest and wisest being (apart from Gandalf and Galadriel) in Middle Earth, but Sam is still Sam of The Shire.

Likewise, although the beauty of Lothlorien enchants Sam, he is itching to leave it. 'It's the job that never gets started as takes the longest, my old gaffer used to say...' he tells Frodo, who agrees. And as soon as Frodo agrees, they both see Galadriel approaching through the trees, to have her great meeting with Frodo. At which, remember, Sam is present.

Sam is held in mysteriously high esteem by Galadriel, who invites him to look in her mirror as well as Frodo. And what does Sam decide after his peek? 'I've got to go home!' he instantly cries, having seen images of the destruction of the Shire. Sam in Lorien is still Sam of the Shire, and Galadriel has to gently dissuade him from going back.

It is Galadriel who sees the unchanging character of Sam, and its great value. She gives to him a gift in keeping with who and what he is; earth from Lorien, and a mallorn seed. And she calls him 'Little gardener and lover of trees...' and gives to him the ability to make every field and garden in the Shire bloom, for she knows that through all adventures, that is what remains Sam's great passion.

At times during the story, Sam reminds me of someone not enjoying a package holiday. When he sees the Argonath, Aragorn says 'My ancestors!' but Sam, sick from the motion of even an Elvish boat and far from home, miserably cries 'what an 'orrible place!'

Sam's imperviousness to his surroundings is, of course, his strength. Frodo is made weak and downcast by the Dead Marshes. To Sam, they are just a stinking bog, to be passed through as soon as possible.

When the Ring is finally destroyed, Sam does not understand that Frodo has lost some part of his soul, and he breaks his back to get his beloved master out of the fiery mountain. To Sam, the task is done, and now let's just go home. But as Tolkien shows us, to Frodo that moment on the mountain can never die in his mind, and he suffers forever from it.

When Sam gets back to the Shire, he is really just the Sam who left, albeit enriched by his friendship with Kings and Elves, and tested and proven beyond all doubt as a heroic and loyal friend to the Ringbearer. When he meets Rosie, she refers to 'all the time he has wasted' and he says 'I wouldn't call it wasted, but I know what you mean'. In Sam's world, his escapades will never be valued as they should, because this is the Shire, and these are hobbits. Sam slots back into the place so well he becomes Mayor, and his family are raised in rank, coming to hold the name Gardener, not Gamgee. But Sam is really elevated for being Sam, the loyal friend at the end that he is at the start.

But Sam, of course, was a Ringbearer too, and we are told, although not in the story, that years later, when he was a widower, Sam followed Frodo to the West. If this is true, it might indicate that some change had indeed been wrought in Sam, to eventually make him leave the Shire he loved. But I think that what happened was he left to follow the master he loved. As it is, in the story we have, Sam's most important words on the whole great adventure were;
I'm back......'


That makes sense to me -- particularly in the case of Sam. There is something solid and unchanging about his character and outlook on life that kept him going throughout the entire journey, as well as before and after, and provided the stability that saw others through as well. I think growth and a deepening of character can take place without really changing the essence of it!

I would have said Faramir, as well, yet I see what you are saying here. One would hope that such changes that he had to make to survive were temporary, and in his essential character he did not truly change -- or not much.

I have been thinking about Gandalf a lot lately, and I think it could be said he remained little changed. Yes, we see him reveal more power after he returns as Gandalf the White, but I don't see that as a change in himself -- it is more a change in the "rules" of how he interacts with Middle-earth, perhaps. He never uses his enhanced power differently, to rule over people or sway them to his opinion -- unless there is no other recourse, as with Saruman, and that after lengthy efforts to get him to turn away from evil.

Gandalf's purpose and character remain unchanged -- he is there to guide, to train, to help others choose wisely in how they oppose Sauron, and above all to rouse others to keep their hope alive and to not fall into despair.

It says in the Silmarillion of Gandalf:
But of Olórin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.

I'd say he was pretty consistent in holding to that purpose throughout his time in Middle-earth! And I think everyone who listened to him or learned from him retained some of that constancy of character that kept them anchored during a very difficult time.

Bonnie Half-Elven

But Gandalf became Gandalf the White. I think Ian McKellan played him well, and we see a more vital, less forgetful Gandalf.

It seems to me that the Elves changed the least in this span of time, with the exception of Legolas, whose feelings toward the Dwarves changes much. Elves have the luxury of more time and change always comes slowly to them.

Sam changes in that his confidence level rises. I don't think he would have become mayor if not for his journey. He was too much in the mindset of the loyal servant. Of course, a good mayor is the ultimate servant - to his community, so maybe I'm wrong here.

Yes, I'm an Elf. I will tell you both yes and no.


One of my points was that I didn't think Gandalf changed in his essential character even after he became Gandalf the White -- in the book, at least. The movies, of course, were another matter. There is definitely a difference between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White in the films. I'm not sure there should be, but we'll leave that discussion for another time! 

Good point about the Elves! I tend to forget about them for some reason, I don't know why! 

I do like what you say about Sam -- a good mayor is the ultimate servant to his community, indeed. I guess that's how I see Gandalf, too, in all his "incarnations" -- the ultimate servant, or steward, to Middle-earth.


Many thanks for the reply Linaewen!

I also think we could point to Gandalf as a character who changes greatly. However, Gandalf is not human. He is not a person, he is one of the Istari, and we don't know much about them as we only meet three; Rhadagast just pops up and vanishes, and Saruman goes spectacularly bad, changing all right, if rotting can be called change. But we do know they are not people as Frodo or Faramir are.

So we have nothing to measure Gandalf's development against. And he himself says he 'was sent back' after his fall with the Balrog. This means he suffered a kind of extinction of his previous form and was then translated into a higher form, the better to battle evil. Maybe there is an element of punishment, as he missed so much while he smoked pipeweed in the Shire. But punishment or not, he is sent back a more powerful and elevated being. But it is still the old Gandalf under it.

The Istari were put on the earth, we are told, to guide mankind. So Gandalf gets sent back 'till his task is done', and then, after the King is crowned, to Aragorn's great grief, Gandalf leaves Middle Earth, along with the Elves.

I love The Lord of The Rings above all for its wonderful human stories; of Sam and Frodo, Faramir, Eowyn, Aragorn and the others. The magical beings, beautiful as they are, I recognise as a wonderful fantasy creation. But to me, the heart and soul of LOTR is the struggle of Sam and Frodo to achieve the quest. The rest is wonderful, but it does not have the truth of that.

Gandalf, although he is a spiritual being, is given the character of a benign but powerful and strong-willed old man, and THAT is why we love him. But really, he has magical escape routes that mean he cannot be seen as a human person. He can escape from Saruman's prison by summoning an eagle. But Frodo, attacked on Weathertop, cannot call on magical aid, and is mortally wounded. That is the difference between Tolkien's human and his magical characters, and the reason why the human characters have the moral advantage over the magical.


Legolas. Tolkien even hinted in that direction, saying that of all the people in the Fellowship, he 'achieved the least' - whatever he meant by that.

His fate was decided whatever the outcome, although a Sauron victory would have produced a reaction by the Elves for sure, and throughout the story he looks more aloof and more the 'strange elf' of the book than the likable Orlando Bloom portrayal might lead you to believe. Even his contact with men, hobbits and a long-lasting friendship with Gimli seem to leave him just placidly and very Elvishly content.

I agree that not Faramir. A dead father and older brother make him into the leader of his family, and then he marries into the Rohans, not before almost dying in battle and seeing his whole civilisation saved by a whisker. All this in a year.

I like your points on Sam too.


OK, so now I feel like Charlie Brown.

Alrighty, first of all, I was going to say Legolas at first, too, because of the whole Elf thing. But I think the relativity of it rules him out if nothing else... the friendship with Gimli makes him pretty much the most changed Elf in middle earth. Then the whole thing with the gulls invokes a big change in him... the longing for the Sea.

I'm trying to think of a good argument against Sam, but it is tough. You could look at his change from common gardener to hero and mayor as a big change, but I think that's more in how the rest of the world views him rather than a change from our favorite stout-hearted Hobbit. Then there's the build-up of courage to be able to ask Rosie to marry him (which was really a big leap in the film since they never even dated! ;-)). But that's kind of a small change when compared to many of the rest. Of course, that same marriage created the one thing that would keep him from following his master... and that's a pretty big change, all told.

Oh wait... I've got it! Sam unequivocally changed the most out of any of the characters in the course of the adventure. And I can prove it (almost) inarguably... (drum roll, please)... Sam is the only character as an integral part of the story to get married AND have a child. And fatherhood is most definitely the biggest change a man (or Hobbit, or Elf, or Dwarf can ever go through.

I think I'll let y'all pick on me and my choice of Faramir a little bit more before I defend that one. Besides, I have to run over to the other thread ;-).


Varda wrote:
Gandalf, although he is a spiritual being, is given the character of a benign but powerful and strong-willed old man, and THAT is why we love him. But really, he has magical escape routes that mean he cannot be seen as a human person. He can escape from Saruman's prison by summoning an eagle. But Frodo, attacked on Weathertop, cannot call on magical aid, and is mortally wounded. That is the difference between Tolkien's human and his magical characters, and the reason why the human characters have the moral advantage over the magical.

Well, putting it that way, I guess Gandalf is kind of out of bounds, isn't he?  I wasn't thinking of it from a human vs. other angle -- but you are right to bring that up, Varda! Even though Gandalf rarely uses his "magical" abilities and keeps himself tied to a human form and human restrictions for the most part, he still does have access to that which the others don't.

I'll stick with Sam, then!

Bonnie Half-Elven:

Of the Fellowship, Aragorn married and had a son, and Pippin married and had a son. Sam had the most children. 13, wasn't it? Pippin's son married Sam's daughter.


Actually I think Merry also got married, but did not have any children.

But getting married, unromantic as it might sound, does not signal a great inner change. It can, but we would need proof. And anyway, all that takes place AFTER the story of the quest, and I think what we are looking at is how much characters did or did not change during the time dealt with in The Lord of The Rings narrative.

About Legolas, the same applies to him as to Gandalf; beautiful as he is, Legolas is not human. Elves don't change, as mortals do. The knowledge that unless they are slain they cannot die as men die, gives their minds a tranquillity that eludes us.

However, within the limits of his race, Legolas actually does change, more than any of the Fellowship. He comes to have a Dwarf, the great enemy of his people, as his best and inseparable friend. This is a seismic change, far greater than anything shown in any other member of the Fellowship except Aragorn, who changes from a Ranger to a King.

Also, the change is noted in the book, where it says the Galadhrim, seeing Legolas constantly in the Dwarf's company rather than in theirs, regarded it as a marvel never seen before. And surely Gimli also had to change dramatically, to accept and return this friendship? At the Council of Elrond, his father Gloin (presumably with Gimli's approval) attacks the Elves. But by the end of the book, the Dwarf and the Elf swear to continue their friendship, by travelling in each other's lands, and we are told that Legolas even built a boat to take Gimli to the West. These are profound changes, and wrought above all by friendship, which is the quality that The Lord of The Rings shows as valuable above all.


And if we expand it a bit, Faramir and Eowyn both got married and I think there was mention of their children. Eomer could be assumed to have gotten married and borne heirs, since he became king. But all of those are afterthoughts and the bearing of children at least, if not the marriages, happen after the sailing of the ring-bearers. Sam's has two children by the time that happens and so I say that's still part of the story.

And Varda, I agree that marriage doesn't necessarily make enough of a change by itself, but fatherhood (or motherhood) would do it. But it still does depend on which of the 'Many Partings' you consider to be the end of the quest. I think Gimli and Legolas were the last main characters to leave Middle Earth, but that would be stretching it a bit.

**On a totally tangential subject... I wonder what Aragorn's relationship was like with Eomer's son? Even without battle, he'd have buried at least one or two allies during his reign. hmmm...**


Well that sure rebukes my posting in the MOST about being Sam. Great assessment Varda.
I think now I was thinking more on the surface while your higher knowledge of LOTR saw much deeper. Very thoughtful.


No rebuke at all intended, Jimbo. I said Sam changed less than anyone, but perhaps he experienced what happened more intensely, being just a gardener suddenly transplanted to the palaces of Elves and princes. But as we say in Ireland, you can take the man off the land but you can't take the land out of the man.

It is not really higher knowledge, more obsession.


I have my opinions, of course, when didn't I?   I'd go with Arwen.