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20 Years On, What The Fellowship of the Ring Taught Me About Middle-Earth & Morality

Two decades since Fellowship landed in theaters, its lessons are timeless.

what reading and watching lotr taught me about life and love
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  • Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

December 19th, 2001, marked the debut of the first installment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy—and fandom hasn't been the same since. 

Decades on, Fellowship and its successors continue to inspire. For myself, the 20th anniversary of Fellowship's release is a reminder of how Jackson's movies made Middle-earth more accessible, and shaped my perspective on men, morality, heroism, and more. 

Growing up, I read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia but was hungry for more fantasy books. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien was a natural successor. 

My edition had all six books, the appendices, maps, and other bonus material, and was a heavy tome to sift through. I had just started middle school, and by the time I reached the battle of Helm’s Deep, I was befuddled. 

So, I took a break. Over three days, I watched the trilogy of beautiful films by Peter Jackson. I swore my 12-year-old heart to Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn, the heir of Isildur and the rightful King of Gondor. After rewatching all the deleted scenes on YouTube, I returned to the books—and this time, I breezed through them. 

Middle-earth finally felt like home.

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  • Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

I returned to the books and movies as the years passed, looking for answers to questions on life and eager to be swept into the grand narrative alongside hobbits, elves, dwarves, and noble men. 

Overburdened with studies, I pretended I was Frodo, carrying a great responsibility bequeathed by my teachers. Snacking on apples became my “second breakfast." 

I hadn’t discovered fanfiction yet, but my notebooks were filled with the lengthy adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. I’d memorized the map of Middle-earth so well that I could’ve been a tour guide.

"Years later, I can firmly say that my crush on Aragorn is probably why I’m still single."

One of the reasons I returned to LoTR was that, unlike most fantasy novels, these books didn’t have just one protagonist or a single quest. LoTR is Sam's story just as much as it is Frodo's. It is also an epic story of a king reclaiming his birthright, as well as a saga about greed, power, and betrayal. 

Women are largely absent from the picture, but in Éowyn, Tolkien portrays a girl desperately trying to break gender norms, who achieves what even men could not—she slays the Witch-king of Angmar. Middle-earth inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and seek thrilling adventure and new experiences.

RELATED: Lord of the Rings Characters, Ranked

Years later, I can firmly say that my crush on Aragorn is probably why I’m still single. Simply put, the king of Gondor set impossible standards for the average cis-het man. He always strove to do the right thing, remained loyal to Arwen, led the fellowship with bravery and compassion, and was a just and righteous king who ruled illustriously for 122 years. 

Even more impressive than his charisma or his prowess in combat, Aragorn was a healer. If Frodo’s mission was concerned with the destruction of evil, Aragorn’s quest had to do with the restoration of peace and harmony after years of war and strife. 

After all, goodness is its own reward, and a victory isn’t a victory if the wounded are not healed. In many ways, Aragorn’s sense of morality inspired me to be a better person. Even the smallest acts of thoughtfulness matter, as he tells Éowyn, “yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”

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  • Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

Characters like Aragorn (and to an extent, Faramir) made me realize the values of kindness, decency, and mercy over the allure of appearances, teaching me not to settle. Moreover, through Aragorn's romantic subplot with Éowyn, I understood that unrequited love needn’t always be painful if the other party handles it with compassion. 

Since Éowyn is one of my favorite characters, I’ve always empathized with her. Growing up in a stifling court and constantly sidelined, it isn’t a surprise when she falls head over heels in love with a man like Aragorn. 

Aragorn is betrothed to another, but instead of simply spurning Éowyn’s affections, he treats her with empathy and respect, wishing her happiness. He is so concerned for her well-being that when she finally finds love with Faramir, he tells her, “I have wished thee joy ever since first I saw thee. It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss.” Despite being aware of Éowyn's feelings, at no point does Aragorn take advantage of her or lead her on or act in a cruel and insensitive manner towards her.

RELATED: Which Lord of the Rings Character Are You, Based on Your Zodiac Sign?

LoTR also taught me the importance of prioritizing friendships and platonic love. In a culture that valorizes heteronormativity and holds monogamous romantic/sexual relationships to be sacrosanct, platonic friendships, queer-platonic partnerships, and asexuality discourse have the power to radically reframe the way we view human connections and intimacy. 

The friendship between Frodo and Sam is a love story on its own, built on kindness and understanding but uncolored by sexual tension. 

Similarly, Merry and Pippin’s friendship is equally wholesome and pure. As an elf and a dwarf respectively, Legolas and Gimli have to overcome their prejudices to work and collaborate with each other, with Aragorn acting as the human bridge between the two races.

"The friendship between Frodo and Sam is a love story on its own, built on kindness and understanding."

The One Ring itself can be interpreted as a metaphor for the corrupting nature of power. The absolute nature of power is such that it tempts and corrupts even the best of people if it is wielded for far too long. 

That is why an aging Bilbo, fearing the Ring’s influence, bequeaths his quest to young Frodo instead. And to protect Frodo, Sam must accompany him so that the two can share the Ring’s heavy burden together. 

This, in turn, taught me the importance of not getting too attached and to always set personal boundaries. Sometimes, willpower and intention are not enough. Despite our best intentions, we are fallible and make wrong choices, and we need trustworthy friends and family to hold us accountable and remind us of our core values. 

The Fellowship of the Ring is a reminder that interdependence and mutual cooperation are necessary for success. If that little hobbit from the Shire hadn’t received help and support, the One Ring could not have been destroyed and Frodo might have turned into another Gollum.

RELATED: 7 Must-Read Tolkien Books for The Lord of the Rings Fans

Finally, LoTR is a reminder that evil cannot be completely eradicated. Eon after eon, it stages a return in different forms, disguised in characters like Sauron, Saruman, Wormtongue, the Nazgûl, and the bloodthirsty orcs. 

If one isn’t careful, it is easy to get misled like Boromir. Unlike Aragorn, Boromir sought personal gain and glory and his actions led to the fellowship breaking up, even though at the moment of his death, he was full of remorse for his mistake. 

Similarly, Saruman’s choice to desert his old allies to seek power destroyed him. Like the fellowship, communities can only prosper if people put the needs of others over their own selfish wants.

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  • Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

December 19th, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring—the film that introduced the majesty and mythos of Middle-earth to countless viewers worldwide, as well as to the fictional characters that now feel as familiar as old friends. Rewatching Jackson's movie brings back fond memories of my teenage years and gives me a chance to re-evaluate the life lessons I learned from it. 

On my most recent viewing, I noticed smaller details, wondered about the fates of minor characters (like Elrond, Éomer, and Théoden), and realized how every person has a vital role to play in the grand scheme of things. To quote Galadriel in the film, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”