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Comparing and contrasting the Arthurian Legends and J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Fellowship of the Ring

In comparing and contrasting the Arthurian Legends and J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Fellowship of the Ring, it is almost like a medieval contest between the two with many of the similarities coming from the customs of the Middle Ages. A look at the make up of the groups involved, the moral code, the protagonist, the antagonist, the use of supernatural elements and the knightly quest involved in each book shows how alike they are but yet different. The Arthurian Legends revolve around the life of the knights during the Middle Ages.

A knight would pledge his loyalty to God, his King, fellow knights and to women in distress. Tolkien’s Fellowship which consists of Gandalf, Legolas of the Elves, Gimli of the Dwarves, Aragorn and Boromin of the humans and four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. This Fellowship is like the Round Table of King Arthur. Sir Thomas Malory in his Le Morte d’Arthur shows this Round Table as a military group loyal not only to their King but to one another. King Arthur is given the Round Table as a wedding gift by Gwynevere’s father.

It consists of one hundred knights. Often the knights join together to defend the honor of another knight by killing the one causing the dishonor. The Fellowship bands together with the common purpose of destroying the Ring. The Ring can only be destroyed by throwing it back into the Cracks of Doom in Orodruin, the Fire Mountain, in Mordor, home of the Emperor of Darkness known as Sauron. The Ring should Sauron get it would give him the power to control the world.

The obvious difference in the make up of the Round Table and the Fellowship is that the Round Table is made up of humans whereas the Fellowship has humans along with fantasy creatures such as Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and Gandalf and Aragorn who are human, wizard type beings. ‘Hobbits range between two and four feet in height. They dress in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green; but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and clad in thick curling hair. They laugh, delight in parties and love to eat. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 20) Hobbits prefer to live in holes in the ground.

Dwarves are larger than Hobbits but smaller than humans. Elves appear not to age and rather tall around six feet. They live in treetops, love music and worship the stars and even have starlight radiating from their bodies. The moral code of the knights of the Round Table which was renewed at the feast of Pentecost every year was to: ‘only fight in just cause, at all times to be merciful, at a all times to put the service of ladies foremost. ‘; (Malory, p. 344. ) Sir Gawain’s strength was increased for three hours every morning but after noon would decrease.

Once when in battle with Sir Launcelot to avenge the death of his two brothers by Sir Launcelot, Sir Launcelot realizes Sir Gawain’s strength is less so he says to him ‘Sir Gawain, I have endured many blows from you but I see that you have weakened’; and then turns to King Arthur and says, ‘My liege, your expedition can find no honorable conclusion, so I pray you withdraw and spare your noble knights’; (Malory, p. 373. ) showing mercy and fair play. Frodo Baggins also takes on a moral code as he accepts his role as the Ring Bearer.

Hobbits by nature are fun loving and non-competitive, but Frodo says to Elrond, ‘I will take the ring. . . though I do not know the way. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 324) When sitting in the chair of the Guardian Kings of Gordor at the top of Amon Hen in the Seat of Seeing, Frodo sees the world covered by Orcs, Lorien in smoke and Borenings’s land on fire and finally sees and feels the Eye of Sauron. He cries out, ‘I will do now what I must. . . the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the company and it must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. (Tolkien, p. 472. )

The main difference in the moral codes is that the knights often let human desires enter into their decisions as when Sir Launcelot was asked by King Bagdemagus’s daughter to fight King of Northgalis and three knights of the Round Table in defense of her father. Sir Lancelot kisses her on the forehead and says, ‘very well, if you can rescue me out of this prison, I will fight in the faction of King Bagdemagus next Tuesday. ‘; (White, p. 357) King Arthur and Frodo Baggins as protagonists were both elected to be leaders.

Merlin appeared before King Uther and told him, ‘Your child is destined for glory. ‘; (Malory, p. 330. ) In the church yard after the death of King Uther a marble block with a sword in it has the following inscription, ‘Whoso Pulleth Oute This Swerd Of This Stone And Anvyld Is Rightwys Kynge Borne Of All Brytayene. ‘; (Malory, p. 332. ) Many nobles tried to pull out the sword but could not. Arthur pulled it out and thinking it was Sir Kay’s gave it to him. Sir Ector had him put it back in the stone which again no one but him could remove proving to all he was to be king.

Frodo Baggins has been elected to be the Ring Bearer. He questions Gandalf why he was chosen. Gandalf says, ‘You may be sure that it was not for an merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 87) Both Frodo and King Arthur have wizard to advise and protect them. Merlin tries to warn King Arthur against marrying Gwynevere because, ‘Gwynevere is destined to love Sir Launcelot and he her, and many disasters will result from their love. (Malory, p. 342)

In battle with King Arthur, King Pellinore is afraid that he will not be shown mercy if he lets King Arthur live so he starts to kill him with his sword when Merlin puts him to sleep with a magic spell. Frodo’s wizard companion is Gandalf whose staff lights up the darks halls of Swariondelf and Durin’s Khazaddum so the Fellowship can find their way. His wisdom always leads them in the right direction. He even saves the Fellowship from Balrog when he jumps into the abyss to fight him.

Though the protagonists differ physically, Frodo being a Hobbit and King Arthur being a human, both find the strength and courage to carry out their mission. King is Arthur is powerful fighter and as his ‘first task as king had to re-establish those nobles who had been robbed of their lands and establish peace and order in the counties near London. ‘; (Malory, p. 333). Hobbits are not competitive and do not seek power. Frodo admits, ‘I am not made for perilous quests’; (Tolkien, p. 87. ) when told how the Ring must be destroyed. Sir Modred and Sauron serve as antagonists both showing evil but in different ways.

Sir Modred sent false letters saying King Arthur was dead so he could take over not only the throne but his wife, Queen Gwynevere. Sir Modred is killed by King Arthur’s spear and his sword strikes King Arthur’s skull eventually killing him. He shows the dark side of human nature with disrespect for God, King Arthur, the Queen and his fellow knights. Sauron, The Dark Lord of Mordor, represents evil in his attempt to get back the One Ring he lost. The Ring holds enough power to make him emperor of the world. He often appears to Frodo as the Eye always looking for a way to get inside of him.

As Frodo looks into the Mirror of Galadriel, he sees total blackness then ‘a single Eye that grows, until it fills nearly all the mirror. . . the Eye is rimmed with fire. . . The Eye begins to rove, searching this way and that and Frodo knows with certainty that among the many things he seeks he himself is one. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 430. ) Sauron, unlike Sir Modred, uses evil creatures and Ring to help him. The Black Riders are his main helpers. There are nine of them in search of Frodo and the Ring. They use Black Breath that smells bad and causes their victim to go into a coma.

They are blind and cry out at night or use Black Speech to one another. Orcs are creatures with squatty legs, squinty eyes and fangs. They are good fighters coming out at night. The Ring allows the Black Riders to see Frodo when he puts it own because he becomes part of Sauron’s plan to take him over along with the rest of the world. Both Malory and Tolkien use swords, magic potions or spells and dreams or visions supernaturally in their stories. King Arthur is given the magic sword Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. Merlin asks King Arthur which he preferred the sword or the scabbard given to him by the Lady of the Lake.

King Arthur seeing the beauty of the sword says the sword. Merlin replies, ‘You are a fool. The scabbard is worth ten of the sword, because while you wear it, regardless of how seriously you are wounded, you will lose no blood. ‘; (Malory, p. 341. ) Frodo and Gandalf have swords, ‘Sting’; and ‘Glamdring,’; which give off a cold light when Orcs are nearby. Aragorn has a magic sword ‘Anduril’; which once was broken but is now reforged. All the swords were used for good and protection of those who were honorable. Magic potions and spells are used in the stories. Merlin puts a sleep spell on King Pellinore when he is about to kill King Arthur.

Glorfindel gives the Hobbits a magic drink which is clear as water and has no taste but ‘strength and vigor seem to flow into all their limbs as they drink it. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 258-259. ) This magic drink helps the Fellowship carry own several times when they think they can go not further. Often dreams or visions help warn or let them see the future. Sir Modred offers to battle King Arthur on Sallisburg Down. King Arthur has a dream where his sister’s son, Sir Gawain, comes to him and says, ‘we plead with you not to give battle to Sir Modred, for if you do not only will you yourself be killed but all your noble followers too. (Malory, p. 364. )

King Arthur did not take the warning and was later killed by Sir Modred. Frodo leaves the Fellowship and goes up to the top of Amon Hen alone. Through the mist he sees several visions. Sitting in the ‘Seat of Seeing’; he sees a world covered with Orcs, Lorien in smoke and the Beorning’s Land in flames. He sees the Fortress of Sauron rise above all. He struggles with himself wanting to run but suddenly cries out, ‘I will do now what I must. The evil of the Ring is already at work even in the company, and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 72)

Tolkien’s use of the Ring is the most important use of supernatural in his book. It has the power to make the wearer invisible and ageless. It also makes the wearer’s personality fade away taking it over. The wearer does not die but loses the will to go on. The wearer wants to get rid of it and at the same time cannot bear to part with it. At times it is like a heavy weight around Frodo’s neck. It cannot be destroyed except in the Cracks of Doom. Its greatest evil power is that if Sauron gets it back he will be able to rule the world. King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, could also have been used for evil if it had gotten in the wrong hands.

The bearer would rule and never bleed from a wound. Sir Launcelot, Aragorn and Frodo all carry out knightly quests in the stories. All these knightly quests revolve around righting a wrong. The knightly quest of Sir Launcelot in the tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake is to vindicate the honor of the knights of the Round Table that Sir Tanquine put in prison. Sir Launcelot ends up beheading him and going on to fight a knight who has robbed and done many bad things to a noblewoman and her people. Aragorn does many knightly quests as he leads the Fellowship in their quest to Mordor to destroy the Ring.

He takes over as the leader when Gandalf gives his life to protect the Fellowship from Balrog. Aragorn also has the quest of returning as ruler to his kingdom. Going down the river, Aragorn sees Argonath, the Pillars of Kings. This is two giant statues of the kings of Isildur and Anarion. ‘In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land. ‘; (Tolkien, p. 463. As much as he wants to return to his home land, he knows he must first lead the Fellowship to destroy the Ring before Sauron rules over all of them.

Frodo Baggins begins to know the evil of the Ring. He feels it pulling on him and sees the destruction while he is seated in the Seat of Seeing. Frodo’s quest as the Ring Bearer is to take the Ring to the one place where it can be destroyed, the Cracks of Doom, before Sauron gets it and takes over the world. Inscribed inside of the Ring seen only after it has been place in fire is as follows: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. ; (Tolkien, p. 75)

With one story having a ring that offers eternal youth and another with a sword that keeps its owner from ever bleeding, it is hard to imagine what the two could have in common. After looking at the make up of the groups, the heroes, the villains, moral codes, supernatural elements and knightly quests, it is easy to see that they do share many similarities. Tolkien’s work deals more with fantasy characters and places but all in all they are very similar.

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