This paper will discuss The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and how it fits with the archetypes and plot points of the Hero’s Journey. The paper starts with a brief explanation of why this piece was selected and how it works with the deconstruction methods. Then, there is the review of literature in which a synopsis of the film is given so readers know the story of the film so they can better understand the paper. As well as this, the paper will summarize Fiske’s (2001) chapter 6 as a way to better understand some of the later semiotic deconstruction of the film. The conclusion will answer the research question posed after the review of literature section. The paper ends with the analysis on why the film was chosen and what the author learned about himself and address further research and limitations of the study.
I have always really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly because of the lore of Middle Earth. So, when we were told to pick a film for this assignment, I decided it would be great to do one of those movies. I ended up picking the first movie from the trilogy because in thinking about it, the characters seemed to be the most well defined for the Hero’s Journey. Therefore, I picked The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) because it struck a great balance between a movie I really love and a movie that is easily analyzed with the hero’s journey in mind.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) opens with a short explanation of the creation of the rings of power as well as the one ring to rule them all. It then goes into how Isildur defeat Sauron and how the ring ended up with Bilbo which is where it is at the beginning of the story.
After this introduction, Gandalf arrives in the Shire to come to Bilbo Baggins’, Frodo’s Great Uncle, birthday. He talks with Frodo and then greets Bilbo to talk about Bilbo’s plans for a last adventure and his to leave all his belongings to Frodo. Bilbo has lots of trouble giving up the ring since he has started to be corrupted by it. Gandalf helps him give it up and then gives it to Frodo telling him to keep it secret and safe. Gandalf goes to research the one ring to rule them all and then verifies that Frodo’s new ring is that ring. Gandalf then advises Frodo to leave the Shire since Gollum has revealed the ring’s location. He goes with the caught eavesdropper Samwise Gamgee to meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree.
Gandalf rides to Isengard to talk with Saruman. Saruman reveals that he has switched allegiances and tells of how the Ringwraiths are now after Frodo. The two battle and then the scene cuts away while Gandalf is losing.Mary and Pippin join Frodo and Sam. The group have a run in with a Ringwraith and Sam helps Frodo resist the ring before they narrowly escape. They arrive in Bree and are met by a ranger, Aragorn, at the moment known to them as Strider, who is a friend of Gandalf and there instead of him. After Frodo accidentally puts on the ring, he alerts the Wraiths to where he is. The group then flees with Strider to go meet Elrond, an elf, in Rivendell. Saruman starts to prepare to build an orc army for Sauron and Gandalf is shown imprisoned on top of the tower. The Ringwraiths attack the hobbits and they are saved by Aragorn after Frodo is wounded. Arwen, an elf and Strider/Aragorn’s lover, appears and rides with Frodo to get him to Rivendell so he can be saved. Frodo barely survives and awakens in Rivendell to Gandalf who has escaped his imprisonment in Isengard with the help of giant eagles.
Elrond calls a council with the major leaders of the different races of Middle Earth. Aragorn is revealed as Isildur’s heir and most are shocked by this news. It is decided that the ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. While the council argues on who will take it, Frodo volunteers to take it and Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. All volunteer to help him. These nine combine to make the fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo then gives Frodo his old sword, Sting, and his mythril mail after another, ring influenced outburst of greed for the ring.The fellowship begins their journey and are forced to go to the Mines of Moria, to Gandalf’s dismay, due to Saruman conjuring a storm in the mountains. The fellowship is then forced into the mines by a Kraken-like monster that they have to save Frodo from.
After, they discover that the Mines are no longer inhabited by dwarves and it has been taken over by orcs and trolls. The fellowship is later attacked by these and defeats them. They are then pursued by the Balrog, a large, fiery, beast which Gandalf knocks into the depths of the mine but dies in the process of doing so. The fellowship, under Aragorn, goes to Lothlórien where Galadriel, a powerful elf, lives. Galadriel meets with Frodo in private and tells him that one of the fellowship will try and take the ring and it will break them apart. The fellowship leaves Lothlórien and goes to Parth Galen. Boromir confronts Frodo, possessed by the ring and tries to take it. Frodo uses the ring’s power to escape Boromir. Aragorn and Frodo decide to break up the fellowship so that he may go alone to Mordor as the Uruk Hai made by Saruman come after them.
Boromir defends Merry and Pippen and is wounded by the Uruk Chieftain. Merry and Pippen are captured by the orcs. After this, Aragorn kills the Chieftain and Boromir dies in peace in the arms of Aragorn. Sam decides to accompany Frodo to Mordor as he is setting off. The remaining members of the fellowship set off to rescue Merry and Pippin.The Lord of The Rings is an iconic story that is very well known since it has been around as a book for some time. It is my hope that through analyzation I will be able to understand the themes and characters as well how they relate to the Hero’s Journey, as described in my communication class.
RQ: What can I learn about myself by deconstructing my favorite film?Methodology Ch. 6 of Fiske (2011) Semiotic Methods and Applications talks about the use of how to analyze metaphors and media. It is how this paper will understand how to glean meaning from a work of art in a culture. It begins with explaining norms (averages), conventions (an expected of a style), and deviations (something not expected) as well as how the line between norms and deviations is always changing as different behaviors and activities become more normal within a culture. Fiske then dives into how poetic metaphor uses syntagms, the combination of signifiers in language, in a deviant way. By taking words that from different syntagms, one can insert it into a new paradigm or a category of similar words, while still retaining some of its old meaning. Thus, this deviant use of syntagms creates a unique feeling by breaking conventions creatively.
More importantly to the chapter, semiotic analysis can help one to see what norms and conventions are being broken. Visual metaphors work in a similar way to linguistic metaphor, they are just much more physical and visible to the eye. Fiske gives the example of a pasta advertisement that has a sun shining on a field in the middle of a dinner plate, which makes the product feel more natural as the agrarian setting is now sitting where the pasta would normally be. This transposition of the image, makes us (the viewers) see it in a new way. Fiske also discusses realistic metonym, which is making one part of something stand for all of it in order to provide a new context, and how an image can be edited to make one meaning more obvious than others. Due to this ease with which the reader can be influenced by the gatekeepers, or the people who decide what media people get to see, photographs are said to be analogs of reality as they appear natural but can be presented in a myriad of creative ways. Fiske also speaks of how the first order, or the image and the second order, or the editing and cropping, are experienced together and are only separated for convenience in an analysis.
The second order triggers a chain of myths in the culture since it will enforce certain ideas and reject others. It is then discussed how different people would look at a picture in a newspaper including professionals and mythologists, as well as other, more abstract viewpoints. The professional viewpoint is more practical and considers the space that the photograph could take up. On the other hand, the mythologist focuses on what was done to the image to inform and enforce dominant myths in the culture. Iconic language is then discussed, it is said to have infinite categories and each person interprets the meaning in these differently. The chapter then talks about how the commutation test can be used to identify where the significant differences are in the syntagm by changing units in the system to see what has a large impact on its meaning. The way words and images interact are then discussed with Fiske saying that words on an image anchor it to the meanings that the words suggest, this also being the definition of denotation. If the suggested meaning is read, then the dominant code is being used and lines up with the ideas of society. Subordinate codes accept dominant structure but also recognize how a group receives unfair treatment in it.
On the other hand, oppositional codes reject this preferred meanings and instead substitute a radically opposed message to that preferred by society. The chapter concludes by discussing the social determination of meaning by saying that which previously mentioned code one uses and how one responds to events is affected by one’s place in the social structure. As well as this, Fiske mentions that reading is the coming together of the multiple discourses of the reader and the text.ResultsThe Hero’s Journey has multiple archetypes of characters and story points that work together to fill out the story as a whole (Foster, 2018). The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) fills in many of these archetypes and story points in interesting ways and in analyzing the story this way, one can look at the story in a new and exciting way. The film will be deconstructed in this section to reveal these archetypes, story points, as well as metaphors present in the story. For instance, Frodo is meant to be the hero in this story since he is the one that the main plot centers on. It is Frodo, not Gandalf or Aragorn, who has to bear the ring, resist its power, and destroy it in Mount Doom.
Also, Frodo has a large change throughout the film since he has to becomes much more serious and somber as he carries the ring for longer. He also starts to realize how much he is in danger since he has multiple near-death experiences such as when he is stabbed by the Ringwraith. Another thing that makes Frodo fit the hero archetype is that he, like many heroes, is orphaned, both literally and metaphorically. Not only is no mention made to Frodo’s parents, his other role models, Gandalf and Bilbo, are both absent by the end of the first movie. Therefore, Frodo shares this idea of being orphaned two-fold with the loss of both sets of “parents.” He is also frequently left to his own devices in order to overcome challenges such as when Boromir tries to take the ring from him and no one from the fellowship is there to save him. The shadows of the film are characterized by the ring’s pull to people as it turns seemingly good people with its call, such as Bilbo, Galadriel, and Boromir. However, the rings pull is really Sauron’s pull as he is the true force of evil in the story and is trying to get his ring back so he can wreak havoc in his physical form once again.
The pull of the ring could also be seen as Frodo’s shadow since he posses the ring and at any moment he could be corrupted by this dark side of him, which is literal in the ring he wears around his neck. It is also symbolic as it speaks to the dangers of personal greed since it shows how greed corrupts people. In other words, the ring’s pull is a metaphor for the ugly greed that exists in some parts of our capitalist society as well as at the time the original book was written. One could argue that the ring being a corrupter in the story is actually usage of an oppositional code, which is mentioned in Fiske (2001), because it is rejecting the capitalist idea that one should try and amass as much capital as possible. Since the story is saying that this greed is actually the ultimate evil, it is rejecting the dominant reading that greed is good and people who are greedy are successful. Therefore, the ring’s pull, which is actually Sauron’s pull, is the darkness present in the film most other dark things stemming from it such as the Ringwraiths, Uruk Hai, and Saruman’s betrayal. In summation, the ring itself is a symbol of greed that reflects some of the uglier parts of the culture that created it. Gandalf the grey is the mentor to Frodo as he is the one that gives Frodo the most advice and tells him he has to leave the Shire. He also gives crucial advice at other points in the story as he sets up Frodo with companions and is the main guiding force for a large portion of the story until his death after saving the fellowship from the Balrog. This leaving of the fellowship is another important part of why Gandalf is the mentor since he is not present at ordeal when Boromir tries to take the ring and the fellowship is attacked by the Uruk Hai.
On a side note, Gandalf’s overall all design, as a wise, old wizard evokes and enforces the cultural myth that a grey, old man carries great wisdom. Gandalf is this myth taken a step further since he also possesses supernatural powers. This reflects the mythologist view discussed in Fiske (2011) since it enforces the dominant myth that old men are wise.There are many allies that join Frodo on his quest throughout the film (Jackson, 2001). The most significant and helpful group of these allies is the fellowship of the Ring for which the film takes its name. The fellowship of the Ring consists of the men, hobbits, elf, and dwarf that pledge to help Frodo destroy the ring. Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, Merry Pippin, Sam and Gandalf, the mentor, make up the fellowship and all of them are essential to Frodo’s safety throughout the film. They also console him and bring him comfort, hence why they are his allies. Other minor allies include Bilbo, Elrond, Galadriel, and Arwen. All of these people are not consistently with Frodo but they all align with him, help him, or give him advice at some point in the film. These characters make up the allies to the Frodo in the first Lord of the Rings film. The enemies are those that try to stop Frodo’s quest and/or hurt him (Foster, 2018).
There are many creatures that fill this category such as Sauron, Saruman, the Balrog, The Ringwraiths, trolls, orcs, and the Uruk Kai. All of these enemies try to stop and/or hurt Frodo in some way and he either has to save himself or be saved by his allies. Whether it is Sauron’s pull for his ring, Saruman’s storm that prevents the fellowship from taking the mountain path, or the Balrog attacking them, all these creatures act as enemies in the story and exemplify the archetype.The overall plot of the story hits many of the points of the Hero’s Journey hence why it is intriguing to analyze the film with the Hero’s Journey in mind. The film presents the ordinary world as the warm, green, and idyllic Shire since it is where the story starts and where Frodo calls home. As well as this, it seems to be separated from the issues of Middle Earth since people are happy there and there is no Hobbit representation at the council that Elrond calls where they decide what to do about the ring. The call to adventure comes when Gandalf tells Frodo of how he needs to leave the Shire because the Ringwraiths are after him. This is the initial call of adventure for the story and Frodo refuses this call when he tries to give the ring to Gandalf. The meeting of the mentor comes with Frodo first hearing from Gandalf talk about the ring and how he must keep it safe and secret. Even though Gandalf is present before this moment, it is here where he becomes the mentor since he gives Frodo crucial guidance that helps the story. The threshold into the extraordinary world happens when the group of four hobbits leaves the Shire in making their way to the Prancing Pony Inn. This is where the easy and simple lives of the hobbits end and where they first meet with the Ringwraiths who they have to flee from. One could argue the Ringwraiths act like threshold guardians as they only attack after the hobbits have left the Shire. They also make it so that Frodo cannot go back to his old life in the Shire and show that he has now started his journey. There are many tests that Frodo has to go through that change him as a character.
One of the more significant of these includes the attack of the Ringwraiths where Frodo is injured because it literally takes a piece of him away since it is a wound that Elrond says will never truly heal. As well as this, it makes Frodo realize the danger that carrying the ring puts him in and adds meaning to his decision to volunteer to take it. Another test comes from the fleeing from the mines of Moria as it sees Gandalf, Frodo’s mentor, die and the fellowship and Frodo have to cope without his wisdom for the first time. The changes that these events mark in the story (Foster, 2018) and Frodo are what make them significant tests.The approaching of the innermost cave of the film (Jackson, 2001) occurs in Lothlórien where Galadriel warns Frodo that someone in the fellowship will try to take the ring and it will break them apart. This event foreshadows the events when Frodo has to stand against Boromir who is overcome with greed for the ring and tries to take it from Frodo. This event makes up part of the ordeal of the story with the other part being the ambush of the Uruk Hai. This event is significant because it sees Frodo escaping from a dangerous situation without the help of someone else. This also foreshadows Frodo’s eventual decision to go to Mordor alone, or at least without the majority of the fellowship. This also happens to be the consequence of the ordeal since the fellowship breaks up due to Boromir’s actions, which cause Frodo to leave for Mordor on his own.While this story is only the first in a trilogy, one could argue that the road back to the ordinary world happens with Frodo leaves for Mordor with Sam because, even though not direct, this is a step towards them being able to return to the ordinary world, the Shire.
In addition, one could argue that Frodo setting out with Sam is his resurrection since his idea of how he can succeed on his quest is reborn and he can complete his quest without being in danger from his allies. Along with this is the rest of the fellowship setting out to rescue Merry and Pippin since the remaining parts of the fellowship are “resurrected” by their new quest and meaning. This idea of parts of the fellowship coming together into smaller groups, e.g. Frodo and Sam, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, and Merry and Pippin, could be somewhat representative of the return with the boon since they are all holding onto the boon that is their family-like group which makes them stronger through their friendship. Essentially it reinforces the idea that the denizens of Middle Earth have to work together to defeat the absolute evil of Sauron. While cliche, this idea of the boon being the friendship among the allies is very easy to identify with for viewers and instills values that western culture values heavily.There is also some interesting use of visual metaphor, as Fiske (2001) understands it, in the film’s (Jackson, 2001) adaptation of Sauron, the dark lord, as a flaming eye on top of a tower. This is an intriguing visual metaphor as it takes something we are familiar with, an eye, and surrounds it in a bunch of unnatural items such as the fire, large size, and tower. Basically, by taking something we are familiar with as part of the human body and putting it an unusual surrounding or, syntagm, Sauron makes us uncomfortable as well as by making us feel like he is all-seeing since the eye retains some of its original meaning as an organ for seeing. This is how The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) fits in with the Hero’s Journey as well as some subsequent semiotic analysis of the metaphors and themes present in the film.Conclusion One can see from the previous section that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring fits the Hero’s Journey and archetypes very well. It fits the archetypes especially well as it fills most of the archetypes and each character that fills an archetype seems to fit it very well such as Gandalf being the mentor.
The story points are filled almost as well since a lot of them are filled except the ending ones where they are not very clear since the story is only the first part of the trilogy and not all parts can be exactly be filled in the first movie of three. Overall, the film fits the general ideas of the Hero’s Journey and exemplifies how prevalent it is in storytelling. I also learned that the film both enforces some cultural myths, such as how old men are wise and rejects others, like being greedy. The main surprise comes from this rejection since I thought that the film, being mainstream, would only reinforce dominant myths. But, as previously mentioned it does not do this but instead works as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed. Now to answer the reading question I will go into some personal analysis for what I have learned about myself by deconstructing the film. From what I can tell, I like the Lord the Rings so much, in part, because I am very intrigued by the lore of Middle Earth and the creatures and characters within it. I think part of the reason why I find it so interesting and am so fond of it is that I used to bond over them with my Dad. My Father has been a massive fan of the Lord of the Rings since he first read the books and when he showed me the films, I would ask him questions about them. He would go into extreme detail on these answers and I always found them really interesting. This association with my Dad teaching me about Middle Earth definitely contributes to my love of the films to this day as they evoke memories of this nice times I had with my Dad when I first watched the film. In addition, I believe my interest in the Lord of the Rings stems from a need for escape from the everyday, to forget some of the things potentially worrying me. By immersing myself in the film and the epic actions of its heroes, I can forget about the actual world and destress why thinking about the intriguing lore. So overall, this analyzation of myself for why I enjoy this film so much is because I am quite sentimental and connect this film with my Dad, I enjoy complex mythical worlds, and I enjoy engaging myself in the stories behind the worlds to escape from everyday life.This deconstruction of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring while fairly complete, could still be improved by addressing the limitations of this study as well as some further research that could be done.
The main limitation was time as there were only a couple weeks to deconstruct the film. In addition, this paper only covers the first movie of a trilogy, so it lacks some of the Hero’s Journey plot points. Furthermore, I was the only one analyzing the movie, if more people were analyzed the movie with me, they could think of things that I have not thought of and expand the paper. Some further research that could be done on this paper could be to analyze the rest of the trilogy so I could uncover more overarching themes that pervade the trilogy. After that, I could potentially compare how the movies and books go portray major events differently and potentially even open up a larger story of the influence of medium on the message. These are just some of the limitations and future research that could help to improve and expand on this paper.
- Fiske, J., (2011) Introduction to Communication Studies. New York, New York: Routledge.
- Foster, Christine., (March 19, 2018) lecture. Perspectives on communication studies.
- Jackson, P., (Producer/Director). (2001). The lord of the rings: The fellowship of the ring. [Netflix]. USA: New Line Cinema.