Basic Motivations of Tolkien’s LOTR Characters
There are two main groups here, although some chars (like Aragorn and Arwen) are a blend of both groups. Older characters are people with power who are busy using it. They’ve already figured out what they want to do with life; the only question is how to achieve their goals. (These chars are largely misrepresented in the movies, because Hollywood only lets villains have long term plans. So Elrond and Denethor become even more semi-villainous, while everyone else is made planless.) Younger characters are people with some or no power who want to do something with their lives but aren’t sure just what. They want adventure, power, parental and community respect, experience of the world, and members of the opposite sex. (These chars are largely misrepresented in the movies, because “reckless, hyper, and imperfectly clued” is consistently replaced by “stupid”.)
Frodo: do something with his life as cool as his uncle/fosterfather did, get away from annoying people, get rid of this stupid ring, see the world, and move out of his own basement.
Sam: stick with Frodo, get out of father’s basement, see the world and elves! Also, do something to impress Rosie (and Rosie’s dad).
Pippin: stick with Frodo, see the world and be a hero!
Merry: stick with Frodo, see the world and find a father who cares.
Gandalf: get the job done and clean up Saruman’s and Sauron’s mess. Do a little Machiavellian powermongering as a hobby on the side.
Tom Bombadil: Machiavellian powermonger with plans so long term even the Valar can’t figure ’em out.
Goldberry: Machiavellian powermonger.
Aragorn: Machiavellian powermonger with longterm plan coming to fruition, who fully intends to get the kingdom and the girl. He must impress her father (his fosterfather and ever-so-many-greats-granduncle) to get her.
Arwen: Machiavellian powermonger with longterm plan coming to fruition which will allow her to get the boy and move out of her father’s basement.
Elrond: Machiavellian powermonger who just wants to see his wife again, and has to either see his daughter Queen of Gondor or Aragorn definitely a loser before he can leave Middle Earth. Also, needs to defend his kingdom against major orc and troll offensive and clean up Sauron’s mess. Loves, respects and funds his fosterson Aragorn and his Machiavellian plans.
Galadriel: Machiavellian powermonger who has trained Arwen and Aragorn well, and whose really long term plans of finessing the Valar are coming to fruition. Also, needs to defend her kingdom against major Mordor offensive and clean up Sauron’s mess.
Saruman: Machiavellian powermonger who knows better than anyone and thinks it’s time for progress and for academics to rule the world. Well, one academic, anyway. Getting rid of the Valar is a soluble problem.
Legolas: See the world, do something fun and exciting, and get out of his father’s cavernous basement.
Gimli: See the world and get out of his dad’s cousin’s basement. Impress Galadriel.
Boromir: Be a hero! Also, semi-Machiavellian powermonger who finds out he may not get the kingdom after all, which might make getting girls harder.
Denethor: Machiavellian powermonger who’s losing the kingdom and lost the girl long ago. Win, dammit! And if winning is impossible, then nobody can have Gondor or his son! Especially not Aragorn, who was annoyingly good at impressing the kingdom and the girls back in the day. Really wishes Faramir didn’t remind him of Aragorn, as it makes him wonder. (J/K! But seriously, the whole goodlooking scholar/bard/warrior thing apparently sets Denethor off something fierce.)
Faramir: Non-Machiavellian powermonger who doesn’t want the kingdom or expect any girls. Just wants his father’s love and respect. (This the movie kept, though without most other char parallels.) A really nice guy who is heap psychic used to fighting off temptations to grasp at his brother’s power, and thus can fight off the Ring just like Aragorn. (This the movie dumped.)
Theoden: Non-Machiavellian powermonger who thinks losing the kingdom’s inevitable. Protect the kingdom and his sister’s kids. Avenge himself on Saruman and keep the faith with Gondor.
Wormtongue: Machiavellian powermonger who’s out to steal the kingdom and seduce the girl. (Him the movie just made stupider; the motivations they kept.)
Eomer: Get his uncle/fosterfather’s respect. Die well. Protect Eowyn and Theoden, his only family left alive, and defend the kingdom.
Eowyn: Get people to take her seriously. Die well because life sucks. Get the guy she wants, or die well so he’ll be sorry. Figure out something to do with her life when suicide-by-orc fails her.
Ioreth: Say “I told you so” with gusto.