Hobbits are the main focus of the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring and supply the primary characters of the rest of the story. They're merely an offshoot of Men, but they and everybody else (except Elves) view them as a separate people. They're most notable for their small size, about three or four feet tall; Hobbits usually have curly brown hair (on their heads and the tops of their feet) and a light tan complexion, looking very much like small, plump Men. They live primarily in the Shire, where they blissfully ignore the rest of Middle-earth aside from the occasional traveling Dwarves, living lives of leisure, gossip, feasting, and frequent parties. Despite their softness, Hobbits have good common sense and sober up quickly when trouble comes calling, taking up arms to protect their communities.A few Hobbits also live in the town of Bree, east of the Shire, where they mingle freely with the local "Big People" and are on the whole a little more worldly.Like all Mortals, Hobbits have the "Gift of Men" (see below).
Arcadia: Subverted. Though Tolkien's love of the English countryside are part and parcel of the Shire's conception, effort is made to show that it is no more a utopian paradise than any other nice place to live.
Audience Surrogate: The Shire is the rural hinterland of nowhere as far as most big, important historical events of Middle-earth are concerned, and the Hobbits are largely ignorant of what's been going on outside their borders. They are thus used (and intended) to receive some of the exposition the audience needs. (Of course, lots of other exposition had to go into the Appendices.)
Badass Normal/ Badass Adorable: The Shire has only ever been invaded twice, three times if you count the wolves during the Long Winter. All three times, it ended very badly for the invaders.
Beware the Nice Ones: Saruman found out the hard way that when backed into a corner, hobbits fight back.
Big Eater: Hobbits are really, really into food. Maybe it's their small size giving them a hyperactive metabolism, but they eat more than full-sized Men. Legolas at one point comments, while Aragorn tracks Merry and Pippin, that the mere fact that they sat down to eat immediately after escaping from Orcs proves the tracks were left by Hobbits.
Binding Ancient Treaty: The Shire is theoretically a protectorate of the King of Arnor and while Arnor no longer exists, the Rangers do. Hobbit laws are based on the laws of Arnor.
The Clan: Prefer to live in large family groups almost like Scottish clans, although usually not for self-defense reasons.
Close-Knit Community: Gandalf's appreciation for Hobbit-kind began when, in the brutal Long Winter of 2758-2759, he saw neighbors who had little enough for themselves taking pity on their neighbors and sharing. It was through this community spirit that the Shire survived.
Does Not Like Shoes: Hobbits don't usually wear shoes since the tops of their feet grow curly hair and the soles are thick as well. When they do wear shoes, Dwarf boots are good enough.
The Everyman: Specifically created, more or less, to be an Audience Surrogate, splicing modern Englishmen into sprawling fantasy epics without overly straining the elaborate fantasy mythology that supported them.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The culture of the Shire is based on Tolkien's idealized view of the English countryside... though they're also not without rural England's perceived faults as well, such as small-mindedness and an overly provincial worldview.
Home Guard: Their primary defense is from a militia called the Shire-muster. Only a few times in the Shire's history has the Muster ever been called to military duty. The last time before the story opens was hundreds of years ago.
Jerkass: Only a couple, like the Sackville-Bagginses and Déagol. Sméagol rather transcends Jerkass.
Humans* Tolkien preferred "Men" and "Mannish" over "human", probably because of the former words' Germanic roots. Men are the last of the Free Peoples to come into existence (aside from Hobbits, who are really an offshoot of Men) and are the most easily swayed to darkness. They possess "the Gift of Men" — mortality and freedom from fate — and unlike the Elves, they depart the material world after death.The greatest civilization in history was Númenor, home of the Dúnedain, or Men of the West. Númenor fell to hubris and its successor states were destroyed or weakened by Sauron, leaving only the crumbling kingdom of Gondor and the scattered Rangers of the North as heirs to Númenor's glory.See also Gondor, Rohan, and the Men of Darkness below.
Humans Are Warriors: Except for the Bree-men, who have the remains of Arnor to look after them, most humans in Middle-earth seem to be quite skilled at fighting, mostly out of necessity.
Humans Through Alien Eyes: In The Hobbit and the first third of The Lord of the Rings, Men are seen exclusively through the eyes of Hobbits, who view the "Big Folk" as exotic, dour, and just a little scary.
Immortal beings of unearthly beauty. Elves were "the Firstborn" — an older race than Men, more powerful, more learned, more beautiful, and (from a mortal point of view) more "magical." They are not The Fair Folk, though, for they are no more ethereal or amoral then Men. Elves are nearly immortal — they live forever without aging, and while their bodies can be killed, their spirits can never leave the world until the end of time.The Elves in The Lord of the Rings are broadly split into two groups: the Wood-elves of Middle-earth, beautiful but earthy people who inhabit secluded valleys and woodlands (Legolas for instance); and the High Elves, great kings and warriors who came across the sea from the West in ages long past and fought many wars against the Enemy (such as Galadriel and Elrond). The Elves are a people in decline, their realms shrinking and their numbers dwindling as more and more forsake Middle-earth to sail across the sea.The Silmarillion is in large part a history of the [High] Elves, and goes into much greater detail on their origins and divisions.
The Beautiful People: With a few exceptions, elves are good-looking and looked up to by most of the more artistically-inclined peoples of Middle Earth.
Can't Argue with Elves: "And it is also said," answered Frodo: "'Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.'"
Dying Race: Most Elves are heading for Valinor or about to. The rest are fading in power and importance. Tolkien implies that Elves are still around in modern times, but have irreversibly faded into invisible, intangible creatures.
Really 700 Years Old: They don't even reach adulthood until age 50 at minimum, and continue to be gloriously beautiful and youthful for their whole lives. Only their eyes show their full age.
Great craftsmen who live in mines and palaces under the Earth. Small like Hobbits but physically much tougher than nearly any other Free Peoples, except maybe Ents.
Dying Race: Dwarves have an abysmally low birth rate due to men outnumbering women three to one, and the women's frequent unwillingness to take a husband. The constant warfare after the fall of Khazad-dûm didn't help. It's implied that they become extinct some time in the Fourth Age.
Heroic Willpower: Race-wide (and justified in the story of their creation). To cite the most evident example, Sauron's One Ring utterly enslaved the wearers of the Nine (and supposedly would have done so for the Three as well): the seven dwarf-kings wearing the Rings of the Dwarves were pulled toward The Dark Side to some extent, but retained their own wills. Even their aging wasn't affected.
One-Gender Race: Subverted. They all look male to non-Dwarves, because the women are just as flat-chested and beard-y as the men, and they all sound male too, leading some Men to think they're all guys. But Dwarves themselves can tell the difference, somehow. This is subverted in the recent film adaptation of The Hobbit, where in the prologue, the dwarven women of Erebor are depicted as noticeably more feminine.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: ...Kind of. Obviously, these dwarves are the template from which the modern fantasy dwarf was built, but there are notable deviations. For just one example, these dwarves love music and song more than strong drink. Every dwarf in The Hobbit is an adept musician, and the melancholy poem of Durin in The Lord of the Rings devotes an entire verse to the instruments that played in Khazad-dûm when the people relaxed after the day's work was done.
Really 700 Years Old: Although not as long-lived as the Elves, they still live for hundreds of years.
Ultimate Blacksmith: In their backstory, they were designed by the Vala of earth, metal, and crafts, and they're one an all obsessed with crafts and phenomenally, superhumanly good at them. Only the greatest High Elves could rival their skills.
The "Shepherds of the Trees". The most physically impressive of the Free Peoples, but also the fewest in number. Ents are giants with vast physical strength who closely resemble the trees they protect. By the end of the Third Age, there are only a couple dozen Ents left, which isn't helped by the fact that the females (known as Entwives) have apparently disappeared, thus no Entings (Ent children) can be born. Relegated to the ancient Forest of Fangorn, they have grown world-weary and sleepy. Treebeard is the oldest remaining Ent and their leader.
The Ageless: As Treebeard explains, Ents don't die "from inside" (from old age). Treebeard himself is one of the oldest living beings in Middle-earth, and still strong. However, they get "sleepy" and one by one they eventually stop moving and become like the trees they protect. This is the eventual fate of the whole race.
Dying Race: Without Entwives, there haven't been any Entings since the end of the Second Age. They don't age, but they are getting killed or turning "tree-ish" one by one.
Gaias Revenge: They were created specifically to protect trees and forests from overexploitation, violently if necessary. They are very well equipped to rip armies and castles to pieces with their bare hands.
Green Thumb: Both Ents and Entwives had control over plants. While the Ents watched over the great trees and the forests, the Entwives watched over fruit-trees and smaller plants. They were obsessed with gardening and apparently taught Men the arts of agriculture.
One-Gender Race: There used to be Entwives, but they grew apart and later, they disappeared.
Plant People: It isn't clear to what extent they are literally plants — for example, they drink and speak through their mouths, and don't seem to have roots — but they seem much more like trees than humans.
Starfish Language: Just like the Ents themselves, Entish is not a hasty language. It is a tonal language filled with subtle vowels and is extremely long-winded. It is unlikely that any other race could speak Old Entish, for example the word "A-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lindor-burúme" is part of their "word" for "hill" (or even a part of one specific hill in Fangorn Forest).
Treebeard: You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.
When Trees Attack: They do so in armies led by Ents, thronging out of The Lost Woods to destroy those who threaten their existence. Unless the trees in question are ents that have grown sleepy and "tree-ish", the text is deliberately ambiguous.
Usually called "wizards." Not really a race, but certainly not part of any other race mentioned on this page. Unbeknownst to nearly everybody in Middle-earth, Istari are spirits sent in the form of old men to counsel the resistance to Sauron. Gandalf is the most prominent, being a major character in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Saruman appears extensively in the latter, and Radagast is mentioned in the former and shows up in a flashback in the latter.
The Chessmaster: With the exception of Radagast, every Istar in the stories has played a very long game at least once.
Friend to All Living Things: Radagast the Brown especially, but Gandalf also has the ability to befriend animals, such as his horse Shadowfax.
Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Gandalf takes up smoking a pipe while thinking, something Saruman ridicules him for. Later Saruman hypocritically takes up smoking himself and conceals it from Gandalf, being rather vain.
Magic Wand: They each carry staffs which they use both as a walking stick and a weapon. After Saruman turns to evil and is defeated, Gandalf breaks his staff and expels him from the order.
Old Master: According to the Appendices, the Istari had the appearance of men, but were never young and grew older very slowly.
Our Angels Are Different: Despite their appearance as bent old men with long beards, the Appendices hint and Word of God explicitly states that Istari are Maiar sent from Valinor to assist the Free Peoples in resisting Sauron. Maiar are the rough equivalents of Christian angels in Arda.
Power Corrupts: Out of the five, Gandalf is the only one who we know saw through his mission to the end, and he has a decisive role in the winning of the War of the Ring. Saruman, the most powerful wizard and their leader, ends up turning to evil, and the other three may have simply forsaken their missions.
Really 700 Years Old: They do seem to age a little over time, but none of them looks his actual age. Even if you only count from the time they were incarnated in physical bodies, they're around 2000 years old by the end of the Third Age.
Token Good Teammate: Gandalf, although Radagast remains on the side of good but doesn't help much with the war against Sauron.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The two blue wizards are unnamed in the book and go into the east of Middle-Earth. What they do there, and their ultimate fate, is unknown, and Tolkien's ideas of what they did there changed throughout his life.
Praetorian Guard: Sort of. Manwë doesn't need a bodyguard. They are, however, his household soldiers, so to speak.
Nations of Men
A heroic, martially inclined people, allied to the Men of Gondor, and famed for their love of horses. Originally from the valleys of the northlands, the Rohirrim rode south to aid Gondor during an invasion of the Easterlings. The Steward of Gondor entrusted them with Gondor's sparsely-populated northern province, now renamed Rohan (displacing the native Dunlendings in the process, who became the sworn enemies of the Rohirrim), and in return the king of Rohan promised to aid Gondor in any time of need. Before settling in Rohan, the Rohirrim lived near the ancient Hobbits and dimly remember them as fairy tales.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Though the Rohirrim don't perfectly align to any real-world people, Tolkien used them to express his love of ancient Germanic culture, and their language is rendered as Old English. Going to the appendices and further back to the Unfinished Tales, the Northmen and Éothéod, the Rohirrim's predecessors, have names derived from Gothic. Also, Rohan is a real place, in Brittany, now part of France, giving them a possible dash of Celtic.
Proud Warrior Race: Their culture is quite martial and they see glory in warfare as something to attain for its own sake.
The sole surviving Númenórean Realm in Exile following the fall of Arnor and Arthedain and the corruption of Umbar. An exceedingly ancient civilization of learning and tradition, now a Vestigial Empire fighting continuously to survive. For all of its history Gondor has fought territorial wars against the Southrons of Harad and the Easterlings of Rhûn, and now contends with the threat of Mordor rebuilt. Hundreds of years ago the last king of Gondor was killed by the Lord of the Nazgûl, leaving no heir, and the nation is ruled by the line of the Ruling Stewards — currently Denethor — until the day a rightful heir — i.e., Aragorn — returns. See The Silmarillion character sheet for its founding rulers, Elendil and his son Isildur.
Cincinnatus: Their effective ruling line, the Stewards, actually boasted that they have never declared themselves king, though it must be noted that this has less savory parallels. After all the emperors of Rome (imperator is simply a military term, like "commander") never declared themselves king either.
Noble Bigot: Though now they are generally more willing to intermarry with other people than their northern counterpart, their Dúnedain elite are, in general, not humble about the fact that they, unlike other men, trace their ancestry to Númenor. In the past, this feeling of superiority has led to the Kin Strife, a terrible civil war, after a King of Gondor married one of the "lesser people".
Proud Scholar Race: As part of their obsession with the lost glory of their dead fatherland.
Vestigial Empire: Their territory was formerly much larger, and at one time they even garrisoned Mordor itself in order to keep the servants of Sauron from occupying it after his defeat at the end of the Second Age. Osgilliath, their once-capital, is now a giant ruin, and its western sub-city is all that they still control.
You Shall Not Pass: Stands for thousands of years between Mordor and the other Free Peoples. Boromir emphasizes Gondor's importance in this role at the Council of Elrond.
Rangers of the North
Descendants of the extinct Kingdom of Arnor wandering about acting as wardens, spies, and warriors guarding such settlements as remain in the North against "dark things". Led at this time by Aragorn (see Fellowship of the Ring above).
Badass Army: Though they don't assemble until the War of the Ring.
"Strider" I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so.
More Than Meets the Eye: Only a few know what they really are. On the whole they prefer it that way and can be expected to generally they play up their appearance as raggedy, seedy, homeless wanderers.
The Stoic: At least the few we meet seem to be. Fighting monsters for thousands of years kind of gets you that way.
The Remnant: The Rangers and some ruins are all that remain of the lost northern kingdom of Arnor.
The foot soldiers of evil. In The Silmarillion, the Orcs (also known as goblins) were bred by Morgoth from captive Elves, twisting them into ruined creatures that know only cruelty and hate; after Morgoth's defeat, his lieutenant Sauron continued to use Orcs as the greater part of his legions, as did Saruman later. Many independent Orcs also live in the Misty Mountains, especially in Moria, which they conquered from the Dwarves.
Always Chaotic Evil: All the orcs we see, although Word of God is that they cannot be inherently evil. In any event, Tolkien was good enough to give all named orcs distinctive (though still evil) personalities.
Orc-hood is almost as much a state of mind as it is genetic (cf. Tolkien's statement that "We were all orcs," re: World War One). Some fans speculate that if an orc stopped being evil, it would no longer be an orc, and become an elf.
Elite Mooks: Uruk-hai (Black Speech for "Orc-people"), Saruman's ambiguously "human-ish" orcs that can function in sunlight and tend to perform better than their fellows. By reputation, at least, the black uruks of Mordor are stronger and tougher than their brethren too.
Enemy Civil War: The only thing keeping the orcs held together is the will of the Dark Lord, whoever that may be at the time. Whenver that slackens for whatever reason, they remember that they hate each other almost as much as they hate non-orcs and almost immediately go for each other's throats. Unless there are people of other races nearby, in which case different tribes of orcs will band together to kill them, then turn on each other.
Even Evil Has Standards: They regard accusations of cannibalism (that is, eating other Orcs — eating other races is fine) as a grave insult. (Though whether or not they do it anyway is an open question...)
Evil Minions: Of Sauron, Saruman, and anyone else who can dominate or threaten them enough to control them. Considering that every Dark Lord is horrifically cruel and treats them as canon fodder, this makes their lives literally a living Hell.
Fantastic Racism: Against Elves, Dwarves, Men, and even other Orcs (there's a rivalry between the Orcs of Mordor, the 'Northerners' from the Misty Mountains who are used to running their own affairs, and Saruman's Uruk-hai, who are proud of their unusual abilities).
Half-Human Hybrid: The most likely origin of the Uruk-hai, especially given their large size and total nonchalance about running and fighting in daylight.
I'm a Humanitarian: They're not very... selective in their diet, though unlike in the movies they generally don't eat each other if they can get anything else. Shagrat does threaten to eat Snaga, though.
No Cure for Evil: Averted. Orcish medicine is pretty good, though it tends to be somewhat painful and causes scarring. It's designed to get you back into the fight as quickly as possible, and if you're not tough enough to take it you don't deserve it.
Our Orcs Are Different: To a degree they are, despite being the Trope Namer. Tolkien's actual orcs are much more advanced and intelligent, and not as physically powerful, than the crude barbarians Always Chaotic Evil orcs are generally portrayed as. And there are umpteen breeds of orcs, both because Morgoth and Sauron bred them for different uses and because they absolutely refuse to mate outside their own tribe.
Punch Clock Villain: Subverted. They usually don't sound any different then a sterotyped grousing British soldier with a Cockney accent right out of Kipling; that is until they say they want some "sport" and you realize they mean torturing captives.
Torture Technician: Just about any orc with brains (and there are more than you think) will be one of these, though a bit more... enthusiastic about it than the norm.
Created by Morgoth in mockery of the Ents, Trolls are hulking, brutish giants with rocky skin who turn to stone when exposed to the light of the sun. Most Trolls are barely more intelligent than wild beasts and live in small groups in the hills, mountains, and caves of Middle-Earth. Shortly before the War of the Ring, Sauron bred the Olog-hai, a more intelligent breed of Trolls that were extremely resistant (or even immune) to the debilitating effects of sunlight and may have been totally unrelated to the Stone-Trolls.
All Trolls Are Different: Tolkien's trolls are giant-like monsters with rocky hides and beast-like intelligence.note Though, since Aragorn recognises their old cave as a typical troll-cave (which had a hinged door), trolls smart enough to build simple shelters are implicictly at least relatively common. (The talking trolls in The Hobbit may or may not have been artistic license on Bilbo's part.) They permanently turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. The exceptions are Sauron's Olog-hai, more intelligent trolls that are resistant to the effects of sunlight.
Always Chaotic Evil: Though the standard Trolls (barring the trio from The Hobbit) are barely above animals in intelligence, it seems. The trio from The Hobbit are mentioned having been geniuses among trolls in the Appendix of the Lot R.
Dumb Muscle: Aforementioned trolls were also stupid enough to be easily tricked by a wizard mimicking their voices until the sun came up and they literally argued themselves to death.
Elite Mook: The Attack Trolls, followed by the Olog-hai.
Evil Counterpart: Apparently intended as Morgoth's answer to the Ents, but nowhere near as strong or wise.
Smash Mook: Big, beefy, and generally designed to break things.
Men of Darkness
A general term for human cultures not related to the Dúnedain, referring to the assumption that they were worshippers of Morgoth; essentially "barbarians." It's quite a derogotory term, as the Dúnedain look down on anyone who isn't related to the Númenóreans, and plenty of "Men of Darkness" weren't allied to the forces of evil at all.In the Third Age, many Men living near Gondor have been seduced and/or enslaved by Sauron, whom they worship as a god-king. Unlike the Orcs, enemy Men are not evil by nature; they evoke sympathy from their enemies (but still die in droves) and are treated fairly in defeat. The Men of Darkness fall into various cultural groups:
The Dunlendings (Men of Dunland), wild hill-people who were forced off their ancestral homelands by the Númenóreans and Rohirrim and squeezed into a little corner of land that the Númenóreans had turned into a desert. Understandably, they hold a massive grudge. Saruman tricked them into fighting for him by spreading lies about Rohirric war-crimes against them.
The Easterlings, a vast but loose collection of nomadic tribes from the plains of Rhûn with a history of territorial conflict with Gondor. Known for their use of wagons and chariots.
The Haradrim or Southrons, warriors from the plains and deserts of Near Harad who also clashed with Gondor over territory. They sometimes fielded mûmakil (huge elephants) as living siege engines.
The Corsairs of Umbar, rebels who broke off from Gondor and merged with the coastal Haradrim. Vicious pirates whose black ships were feared throughout the southern seas.
The Variags of Khand, fierce warriors from south of Mordor.
"Troll-men" or "black men like half-trolls," black-skinned people from Far Harad. (Whether they're just ordinary humans with black skin that the westerners are unfamiliar enough with to find strange or actual men altered with magic to resemble trolls is unclear and varies with the source. In the original text, whether the two are even supposed to refer to the same race is unknown.)
The Drúedain, woodland dwellers who live in the forests of Gondor, who mostly leave them alone. Aragorn forges an alliance with their leader, Ghân-buri-Ghân.
After the War of the Ring, Aragorn establishes peace with all of these peoples and grants them Sauron's former lands as their own.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Dunlendings seem vaguely Celtic, at least in their language and their relationship with the pseudo-Germanic Rohirrim. The Corsairs are also vaguely Carthaginian or Barbary Corsairs. The Easterlings of the Third Age are presumably Eastern Eurpeans and/or Central Asians, judging by their physical description and the location of their homeland, Rhûn, which is located in to the east of Rhovanion. The brown-skinned Haradrim/Southrons native to Near Harad are reminiscent of Muslim/Arabic peoples, while the black-skinned people of Far Harad may be Africans.
Heel-Face Turn: After the War of the Ring, they're implied to live in peace with Gondor and Rohan. (Though in the Appendices both Aragorn and Éomer waged war in the East and South in the Fourth Age because of Sauron's still potent legacy of hatred, but even here the wars are noted to be not clashes between good and evil but simple disputes between ordinary men.)
The Horde: The war-carts give the Easterlings a distinctly Magyar-ish flavor.
Made a Slave: In Númenor's decadent colonialist period, its southern colonies engaged in slavery, among other exploitative practices. The men of Gondor don't like to remember it, but their neighbors dislike them for very (historically) justified reasons.
Mooks: Generally regarded as more disciplined and regimented than orcs.
One Steve Limit: Broken — there was another group of Men called Easterlings in The Silmarillion. There's no indication they were related; it was probably just a generic term for "barbarians" from the east.
Punch Clock Villain: Most of them fought for Sauron because he'd deceived and/or threatened them into joining him, and many more had legitimate grudges against the Númenorians in general and Gondor in particular.
Worthy Opponent: The Easterlings and Haradrim were seen this way by the Gondorians after the War of the Ring. Some Dunlendings apparently also end up seeing the Rohirrim this way after their fair treatment in defeat.