J.R.R. Tolkien has a foundational role in the stories we still tell today. Lord of the Rings is hugely influential because of the world it created, and the way that world came to fascinate so many people over decades. The influence of Tolkien’s story also extends to its characters, though, and they have also had lives that extended over decades.
With the first season of Prime Video’s The Rings of Power now over, it’s time to look at the best characters who have ever existed in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. These are the very best characters he ever created from across The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and the various other texts he wrote to build out his world.
10. Bilbo Baggins
The Hobbit is Bilbo’s story, and it’s meant to be a much lighter tale than Lord of the Rings. Bilbo’s story would eventually become an archetype for many of the hobbits and harfoots that we would come to know and love. He loves his life, but longs for adventure, only to find that his wandering is not all he thought it would be. Bilbo is also the finder of the ring, and without him, there would be no Lord of the Rings at all.
9. Prince Durin
Prince Durin is not a character in the Peter Jackson films, or in the books on which they’re based. The only time we’ve seen him outside of Tolkien’s appendices and other expanded works is in Rings of Power, where we come to understand him as a deeply humane man who has a particular fondness for elves. Above all else, though, Durin is both pragmatic and joyful, and it’s that unique combination that makes it impossible to stop watching him.
When we meet Elrond in Lord of the Rings, he’s wise, but also hard and cold. He’s ready to be done with Middle-earth, and take his people away to a better place. Eventually, though, we see cracks appear in that façade, and he ultimately comes to the aid of men one last time as they battle their greatest enemy.
In Rings of Power, we get an even deeper understanding of who Elrond is, and his longing to prove himself as an elf in spite of his mixed heritage. He’s clever and wise and values fellowship above all else, which makes him a quintessentially great Tolkien character.
Aragorn’s story would be much less impactful if Boromir wasn’t right alongside him. Another noble knight convinced that his family should rule, Boromir ultimately finds himself tempted by the ring, believing that it could be used to save Gondor from ruin.
His intentions are noble, but Frodo and Boromir himself quickly come to understand that he would be corrupted by its influence. Boromir’s moment of weakness ultimately leads to his demise, but that death is so beautiful and sad that it resonates through the rest of the story.
6. Frodo Baggins
The hero forced to take on an immense burden that none of the other characters are willing to face, Frodo is good in ways that almost no other character in the story can reckon with. He carries the ring for such an extended period without falling into despair, and it’s his ability to keep moving forward that saves Middle-earth.
The fact that Frodo loses his way in his final moments speaks not to any weakness in him, but to the incredible power of the ring to corrupt. When, after his journey is done, he is incapable of resuming his former life, Frodo’s story reminds us that you can’t always go home again.
5. Aragorn New line
The leader who doesn’t want his job is a bit of a cliché, but Aragorn was one of the characters who invented this tried-and-true trope. Aragorn is so much more than that stereotype might suggest, though. He’s noble and wise, but can be selfless to a fault, and he accidentally fell in love with an elf to boot.
It can be hard to make the conventional hero of a story like Lord of the Rings feel interesting, but Tolkien’s text does plenty to complicate the character, as does Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal.
Cate Blanchett’s version of Galadriel is wise and immensely powerful, but she’s also distant and ethereal. Her character gets moments to shine, but Galadriel has already been deepened and complicated by the portrayal of the character on The Rings of Power.
In the prequel series, we understand her as a character driven by vengeance, utterly convinced that Sauron has returned even though no one around her believes this. She’s immensely compelling, in part because she doesn’t seem to have everything figured out yet.
3. Smeagol/Gollum Image taken from The Hobbit film 20th Century Fox
The most tragic, tortured character in the entire saga of Lord of the Rings, Smeagol starts out as a simple, hobbit-like creature who is almost immediately corrupted by the immense power of the One Ring. The ring becomes Smeagol/Gollum’s sole reason to exist, and he falls completely under its power.
The split between Smeagol and Gollum is wonderfully performed by Andy Serkis in the film, but the character itself is genius, and that proves to be especially true in the final moments of his story, when he falls into Mount Doom with the thing he treasures most.
We get two versions of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, so combining him into one entry may seem like cheating. What’s wonderful about the character, though, is that each version feels distinct, even though they have a lot in common.
Ian McKellan’s performance is filled with both wisdom and frivolity. From his first moments on screen, we know that Gandalf is wise beyond belief, and it’s that wisdom that makes joy such an essential part of his existence.
1. Samwise Gamgee New Line Cinema
In a story filled with heroes, Sam rises above the rest. His loyalty to Frodo is coupled with the clarity he has about the fight they’re facing, and what it means to retain hope in the face of immense darkness and despair. Sean Astin may have seemed like a strange fit for this role, but he brings exactly the right simple charm to it.
Sam is nothing more than a humble farmer, and that’s all he’s ever wanted to be. He saved all of Middle-earth, but he would have been just as happy tending to a garden at home.
You can find out where all of the Lord of the Rings movies and TV shows are currently streaming by reading our useful LOTR streaming guide.
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