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The Good, the Bad, and the Funny Fellowship—August 2023 Reader Mailbag
Plus a Fascinating Map of Middle-earth
Once a month or so I do a Reader Mailbag and answer questions from you, readers! If you have any questions—serious or silly—that you would like answered about The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth, or other related topics, send them to JRRJokien@JRRJokien.com. Today we have a great question about how different characters from literature might fare as part of the Fellowship of the Ring!
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Reader Mailbag: Ask Jokien
What character from other literature would do the best if they had to join the Fellowship? What character would do the worst? Which would be funniest? I would personally love to see pre-undragoned Eustace Clarence Scrubb being dragged along by Gandalf.
—The Good, The Bad, and the Funny
The Good, the Bad, and the Funny,
What an wonderful question! The composition of the Fellowship is such a crucial part of the narrative of The Lord of the Rings: each member plays their part and has pivotal contributions to the arc of the narrative. I love your suggestion of Eustace being part of the Fellowship in his dragon form: he almost deserves such a fate! So what other characters from literature would rise to the task and fit well as a member of the Fellowship? And which would find themselves a poor fit?
First, it might be helpful for us to remind ourselves about the purpose of the Fellowship itself. Why nine companions? And why the mix of members that they ended up with?
Describing the reasoning behind the small size and composition of the Fellowship, Elrond says to Frodo, “The number must be few, since your hope is in speed and secrecy. Had I a host of Elves in armour of the Elder Days, it would avail little, save to arouse the power of Mordor.” Aside from Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf, it’s Elrond’s intention that the rest “shall represent the other Free Peoples of the World: Elves, Dwarves, and Men.”1 And Gandalf adds when the subject of Merry and Pippin joining the fellowship comes up 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.”
So the aim of the Fellowship is some speed, stealth, some diversity, and some good vibes rather than just what seems wisest on paper. Brute strength or power is not necessarily the key to success, otherwise a character like Glorfindel would have taken Merry and Pippin’s spot.
So let’s take each of the Free Peoples and their Wizard companion in turn. I’ll offer some suggestions of characters I think would make the best, worst, and most hilarious additions to the Fellowship for each category, but I’d love to hear all your ideas and contributions in the comments as well!
Drizzt Do'Urden, the heroic drow (dark elf) from Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms setting and books would make an excellent member of the Fellowship. He’s a ranger and an excellent fighter, plus his panther companion would come along too. Straying outside of literature into video games, I think that Link from The Legend of Zelda would also make an excellent addition to the Fellowship (yes, he’s technically Hylian, not an elf, but that’s close enough in my opinion). Problem-solver, archer, strong silent type, what’s not to love?
Unless we need shoes, presents, or cookies made, I don’t think that shoemaking, Keebler, or Santa’s elves will be of much help to us, so I’m going to put them in the “worst” category. But there’s one “elf” (again, not from literature) who would be a hilarious addition to the Fellowship: Buddy the Elf. And since the Fellowship leaves Rivendell on December 25th, what could be more perfect? He can keep them all merry with songs of Christmas cheer and tales of Father Christmas.2
The best dwarves to join the fellowship would be loyal and skilled fighting dwarves like Trumpkin from Prince Caspian or Bruenor Battlehammer, Drizzt Do-Urden’s dwarven friend and companion. Bad examples would include Nikabrik from Prince Caspian, who betrayed Prince Caspian and the other Narnians. Of course, any of Snow White’s seven dwarfs in the original Brothers Grimm tale could also serve as good companions in a pinch, though you could find good (Doc, Happy), bad (Sleepy, Grumpy), and funny (Sneezy, Dopey) members for the Fellowship from among the Disney versions of the Seven Dwarfs.
Some of the best humans from literature to join the fellowship that come to mind are Robin Hood, Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and al’Lan Mandragoran, Warder and heir to the throne of Malkier from The Wheel of Time. Their fighting and leadership skills as well as their individiaul characteristics would make any of them excellent companions on the journey to Mordor.
Some of the worst characters from literature that I can imagine joining on the quest to destroy the Ring include Don Quixote, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo,3 and Doctor Victor Frankenstein. Each of them are too obsessed, deranged, or both to lend much aid to the quest, and many of them would doubtless become obsessed with the Ring itself and the power it held.
As for some funny companions, I immediately thought of Westley, Inigo Montoya, Vizzini, and Fezzik from The Princess Bride. Each of them would contribute laughs for their own reasons (such as their wit, scheming, innocence, etc.) and yet they each could also contribute in their ways as well.
Hobbits (well, Hobbit-esque Folk)
Hobbit analogues are rare in literature, so I used this category to list some fantasy creatures or characters of a more diminutive size. Daughter of Eve though she is, Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia strikes me as about as close to having a Hobbit heart as you could find in literature and would make an excellent addition to the Fellowship. Matthias from the Redwall books and Reepicheep from Narnia also would make great members of the Fellowship: they’re brave, loyal, and skilled fighters. Peter Pan and the Cheshire Cat would make dubious additions, as likely to mess with you as assist you, and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, and Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle from Narnia’s The Silver Chair would make for some hilarious scenarios and interactions with their fellow members. And (grant me the liberty of straying from literature one more time), I can’t stop chuckling at the image of Jar Jar Binks joining the Fellowship, much to the ire of Gandalf. Fool of a Gungan!
Foremost among the wizards or magicians that I could see joining the Fellowship would be the Archmage Ged from the Earthsea Cycle, Moiraine from The Wheel of Time, Vin from the Mistborn trilogy, Hermione, and Merlin, while some of the worst wizards to have as part of the Fellowship include Rincewind from the Discworld series and Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter.
I think that all of these provides us plenty of configurations with which to construct some Fellowships that pack some serious punch, some that are disasters waiting to happen, or others that fall somewhere in between.
Consider how impressive and effective a Fellowship comprised of Drizzt Do'Urden, Trumpkin, Robin Hood, Inigo Montoya, Reepicheep, Archmage Ged, Lucy Pevensie, Arya Stark, and Matthias would be!
Or consider the absolute ineffectiveness and hilarity of Buddy the Elf, Sleepy the Dwarf, Don Quixote, Vizzini, Gilderoy Lockhart, Jar Jar Binks, the Scarecrow, the Cheshire Cat, and Puddleglum attempting to get the Ring five feet down the road together, let alone all the way to Mordor. Middle-earth would be doomed.
Or perhaps a middle ground, with a mix of best, worst, and funniest? After all, this is not a matter of great wisdom but of friendship, right? Hmmm…on second thought…
And this doesn’t even get into the idea of mixing characters from the original Fellowship with some of these characters! Can’t you just imagine Aragorn fighting side-by-side with Westley and Hermione? And Legolas joining forces with Robin Hood and Katniss! Reepicheep and Gimli having an orc-slaying contest! Gandalf and Lucy having long talks and sharing many laughs. The possibilities are so interesting and exciting!
Perhaps the real Fellowship is all the characters we read along the way. Well…when I go back and read that previous sentence out loud…not really. The real Fellowship is definitely Tolkien’s Fellowship as he designed it. But what a wonderful thought experiment to imagine how some slight—or major—changes to the group might have affected the course of events in Middle-earth.
What about you, readers? What other characters from literature do you think would make a good, bad, or funny addition to the Fellowship?
One Map to Rule Them All shared this map with me last week on Substack Notes and I knew I had to pass it along to you all! Your one-stop-shop for descriptions of the regional foods of Middle-earth:
There we have it, the Reader Mailbag for August. Farewell, friends. Go towards goodness!
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J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Ring Goes South,” The Lord of the Rings Illustrated Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), 276.
The mention of whom Tolkien would have expressly been against, since Middle-earth is a world set before any Christ-event. Hence the punchline of this Tolkien/Lewis chat.
The book version! The movie version is much less singularly focused on revenge and does not go nearly as far in his quest for vengeance.