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Tropes from The Lord of the Rings (the book)

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  • Abandoned Mine: The mines of Moria were once overflowing with dwarves, but their mining awakened a demon that slaughtered them all. Now, the mines are empty except for unmanned equipment and decaying skeletons.
  • Absurdly Long Stairway: The peak called Zirakzigil by the dwarves had a stairway (appropriately enough, called the Endless Stair) that reached from the peak to the bottom of the Moria, and was destroyed during Gandalf's battle with the Balrog.
  • Achey Scars: Frodo Baggins's wounds received from the Morgul blade and Shelob often pain him afterwards and make him ill, especially on their anniversaries. He actually sails to the True West with the elves because of this, in the hope of finding a way of reducing this physical pain and the emotional scars from bearing the Ring.
  • Act of True Love: The entirety of the trilogy is one of these for Samwise Gamgee. He followed Frodo into Mordor, being his keeper for the whole trip.
  • Actual Pacifist: Frodo towards the end of the story.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Many examples.
    • Fellowship:
      • Gandalf asking Sam if he had been eavesdropping, and Sam responding that there weren't any eaves at Bag End. Also, Gandalf's threatening to turn Sam into a frog and fill his garden with snakes if he talks.
      • Sam 'saying goodbye' to the beer kegs before he leaves Bag End
  • Addictive Magic: The One Ring gives its user power of a sort, but at the same time creates an addiction to it, to the point where the user couldn't give it to anyone else, thus making him the only one powered by it. Only its maker Sauron is immune to this, as the "Lord of the Ring".
    • During the period when Sauron was thought to be dead between his defeat by the Last Alliance and his return to power, people like Isildur, Gollum and Bilbo were attracted to the Ring for its shiny beauty, but still formed a strong attachment to it. Wearing it also had the handy effect of turning them invisible (a side effect for mortals). When Sauron goes "active" again and the true nature of the Ring is revealed to the heroes, the Ring itself "awakens" also, and the potential power it bestows is extended to dominion over whole realms and races - although it is implied that to fully control the Ring, one would have to first defeat Sauron in a battle of wills for it; not only is that beyond the ability of any of the characters (save perhaps Gandalf), but the Ring is inherently tainted and the new master would not end up being any better than Sauron, if that.
      • Tolkien went so far as to say that had Gandalf claimed the Ring, he would be far worse than Sauron ever was. Sauron at least had the good grace to leave the line between good and evil unmarred so his villainy could be seen for what it was. Gandalf would destroy that line by being so oppressively good that evil would seem preferable.
    • Plenty of things touched by Sauron seem to have this effect. A similar version happens to Pippin with Saruman's old palantir; he maybe held it for a minute or two without looking into it only to have an overwhelming compulsion to touch it again and attempt to use it. Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith and gives the palantir to Aragorn just so Pippin isn't tempted to do so again and the influence can wear off.
  • After-Action Healing Drama: When Frodo has to be rushed to Rivendell, there is some question if the wound he received from the Ringwraiths can even be healed. With some effort, he survives, but the wound pains him for the rest of his life.
  • After Action Patchup: After the mines of Moria, the Fellowship spends some time resting and healing amongst themself. This also gives them time to mourn Gandalf.
  • The Ageless: The Elven race do not age, and do not experience death. Even when killed they are simply re-embodied back in Valinor. Glorfindel is the only Elf known to have returned to Middle Earth after being re-embodied, however.
  • The Alliance: The Free Peoples, the alliance between the human kingdoms of Gondor, Rohan and Dale, the Elven kingdoms of Lothlórien and Mirkwood, the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor, the Ents of Fangorn forest, The Great Eagles and the Hobbits of Shire, was founded during the War of the Ring as a response against Sauron's quest for conquest.
  • All There in the Manual: A lot of epilogues and side stories are in the appendices, including the love story. Tolkien's way of implying that the story of LotR, despite being one of the most important things to happen in Middle-earth, was not the only thing happening.
    • Arguably, from Aragorn's point of view, the whole War of the Ring is merely an Engagement Challenge.
    • The Appendices also makes note of fighting in the North near Erebor and acknowledges those who triumphed and died in the fighting.
  • All That Glitters: The phrasing is reversed—"all that is gold does not glitter"—but it fits the trope description. However it is a complete reversal of the well known phrase "not everything that glitters is gold".
  • All Trolls Are Different: They're 12 feet tall, turn to stone permanently when exposed to daylight, and are implied to be the result of Morgoth corrupting Ents. Then we have the Olog-hai, bred by Sauron shortly before the War of the Ring. They're similar to normal trolls in this setting, but bigger, stronger, and resistant to sunlight.
  • All Up to You: Quite a few times, but most notably with Sam when Frodo is captured.
  • All Webbed Up: Frodo is trapped in a giant web after he escapes from Shelob's lair.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Saruman has turned the Shire upside-down by the time the heroes get back from defeating the Big Bad, ripping apart its forests, destroying villagers' homes, and robbing the Hobbits dry.
  • Alliterative Family: Happens a lot in hobbit families. The most notable example would probably be Peregrin (Pippin), son of Paladin, brother of Pearl, Pimpernel, and Pervinca.
  • Alternative Calendar: The different peoples have their own calendars, with varying degrees of difference between them. The books generally use the Shire (Hobbit) calendar.
  • Alternative Number System: According to the appendices, elves habitually count in base 12.
  • Always Chaotic Evil:
    • In one possible Back Story, orcs were magically corrupted from elf stock to be Morgoth's minions. Tolkien's own thoughts on this suggest that this may not entirely be the case, though.
    • Although the story required the Big Bad and his various proxies to have foot soldiers, Tolkien couldn't reconcile his own principles with the creation of even an imaginary race that was either a) soulless or b) predestined for damnation. The eventual compromise was that, while not inherently evil, they were raised from birth in a society where a good orc wouldn't survive and in any case were constantly being corrupted by Sauron's will.
  • Ambadassador: Gandalf, ambassador from the Valar; most of the Fellowship were originally ambassadors to Rivendell. Their collected appearance prompted the Council of Elrond.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The doors of Moria have a message in Elvish saying "Speak friend and enter". Gandalf misenterprets this as "speak, friend, and enter" and spends hours trying to guess the password; in the end he realizes that it should be "speak 'friend' and enter".
    • In standard Sindarin (Grey Elvish), the syntax isn't ambiguous: "friend" in "speak, friend" is a vocative, and in "say friend" it's a direct object; those are usually distinguished by consonantal mutation (pedo mellon vs. pedo vellon, respectively). However, the inscription at the Gate seems to be written in a dialect that doesn't mutate M's.
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • The One Ring corrupts by tempting the user with the power to fulfill their personal ambitions, even if those ambitions are noble at the start. Sam's only ambition is to raise a family and live quietly, so he is little affected by it, while Tom Bombadil, who is completely devoid of ambition, is completely immune to its power. Conversely Boromir, who desperately wanted to save Gondor, for love but also for glory, was easily manipulated. Faramir ardently desired peace for his people but understood that it was something the Enemy's weapon wouldn't give him, so while it affected him he didn't succumb to the temptation.
    • The Ring does in fact try to tempt Sam with becoming Garden-Master of the World, Ruler of All That Grows. Sam considers for a moment before realizing how profoundly silly that is.
  • Amplifier Artifact: All of the rings, especially the One. They give power, but mostly by amplifying the powers and skills the wearer already has; as Gandalf says, the One Ring grants "power according to [the wearer's] stature." For example, Smeagol was a mischievous sneak. He became far better at it even when visible, along with secondary things like magically overhearing hurtful information.
  • Ancient Tomb: The Barrow-downs of the Northern Kingdom and the Dwimorberg (the haunted mountain at Dunharrow). The barrows of the Kings of Rohan and the tombs in Minas Tirith are also Ancient Tombs, but not haunted by anything.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The shards of Narsil.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • What becomes of Sauron after the Ring is destroyed. According to Gandalf, he lives on as a "mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape." Makes you almost feel sorry for him...
    • The same fate befalls Saruman after his death, as he isn't allowed to enter the Halls of Mandos (the afterlife) and instead has to wander the Void as a restless and impotent spirit. This fate could also be seen as an Ironic Hell for him and Sauron, who craved power above all else and had every last bit of it stripped away from them.
  • Angels, Devils and Squid:
    • The Istari are the equivalent of angels, and Sauron is the equivalent of a devil, but according to Gandalf there are also Eldritch Abominations 'gnawing' deep in the earth.
    • Shelob is actually the spawn of one 'Squid', the spider-creature Ungoliant (who only gets a brief name-drop in The Lord of the Rings and a larger - but still incomplete - explanation in The Silmarillion.
  • Angel Unaware: The Istari. While all of the Valar and Maiar — being "spirits" created by Eru before the dawn of time — could be considered "angels" in a sense, Tolkien noted that the Wizards in particular are also literally angeloi — "messengers" sent to Middle-earth by the Valar to offer wisdom to Elves and Men and help them resist the forces of evil.
  • Annoying Arrows: Played straight and then subverted; Boromir does get shot by several arrows, and does pull at least one out, but is still weakened and wounded to death and definitely cannot continue fighting.
    • Lampshaded much later by Pippin, who comments that even the mightiest warrior can be killed by a single arrow.
  • Another Man's Terror: "We cannot get out. The end comes, and then drums, drums in the deep. I wonder what that means"
  • Antagonist Title: The Lord of the Rings is Sauron.
  • Anti-Villain: Gollum (to the extent that he isn't "the real hero"; also doubles as The Woobie)
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Hobbits. Used in a heroic example during the Scouring of the Shire.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The Book of Mazarbul, chronicling Balin's failed attempt to retake Moria up until their last stand. It trails off at the end:
    "[...] we rescued Balin's body [...] we have barred the gates but doubt if [...] can hold them long. If there is [...] no escape it will be a horrible fate to suffer [...] We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the bridge and Second Hall... fell there bravely while the rest retr [...] Mazarbul. We still ho[...]g ... but hope u[...]n[...]Óin's party went five days ago but today only four returned. The pool is up to the wall at West-gate... we cannot get out. The end comes soon. We hear drums, drums in the deep." The last line is a trailing scrawl of elf-letters: "They are coming."
  • Arcadia:
    • The Shire. The characters even make a point of not even letting the hobbits know Gondor and Rohan are duking it out against Mordor. On the other hand, the hobbits are also portrayed as unimaginative and parochial, which is atypical.
    • Tom and Goldberry Bombadil really live in an Arcadia. Many people like to think this is a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment from the first part of the story, but it might be the only place on Middle-Earth that would be safe from Sauron's ravages should he win.invoked
  • Arcadian Interlude: The time spent with Tom Bombadil. The episode serves as character development for all the hobbits (especially Frodo), and to provide the hobbits with their swords, one of which becomes vitally important in the battle of the Pelennor Fields. Tom Bombadil was content with himself and thus couldn't be tempted by the Ring. Tolkien himself stated that he considered the Tom Bombadil sequence one of the most important sequences in the entire story. From a narrative perspective, he represents the mystery that remains even after a reader thinks he knows all there is to know about Middle-Earth and represents what could be lost. From a writing perspective, he gives Tolkien a chance to present backstory exposition in a way that interests the reader. Still, considered a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment by some readers, which might be why it is not found in the Movie.
  • Arc Number: 9 - Nazgûl, Fellowship (chosen to match the Nazgûl), Rings for Mortal Men (make them into the Nazgûl), number of people who touched the One Ring (Sauron, Isildur, Déagol, Sméagol, Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, Tom Bombadil, Sam), and Frodo's fingers at the end.note 
  • Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving: Beregond deserts his post, kills a porter, breaks into Rath Dinen, and kills two fellow members of the Guard...all to save the life of Faramir.
  • Artifact of Attraction: The One Ring has this power. Everyone who loses the ring wants to retake it. Even worse, anyone who brings the Ring to the one place that can destroy the Ring, then decides to keep the Ring.
  • Artifact of Doom: The One Ring contains the power and will of the Dark Lord of Mordor, allowing it to manipulate any man with promises of glory. A wizard as wise as Gandalf refuses to touch the Ring for fear of corruption and justly so, since perpetual possession of the Ring reduces Smeagol from a hobbit to an emaciated animal known as "Gollum."
  • Art Shift: In the first authorised American paperback, Tolkien complained about the creative artwork for the covers. "Horrible colours and foul lettering." The Hobbit featured the part of this work showing a "tree with bulbous fruit" and "lions and emus" on the covers. The editors' representative called Tolkien up to explain that Remington hadn't had time to read the book and that the ornaments on the tree were "meant to suggest a Christmas tree". Tolkien said (in somewhat more colourful language) that he felt like the Only Sane Man. The Ballantine edition, with its expressionistic covers, is nicknamed the "Hippie Edition". (Interview with Remington here.)
  • Asleep for Days: Frodo does this in Rivendell after being near-fatally wounded by the Nazgûl. It happens again to both him and Sam after getting rescued from Mount Doom, due to their near starving, wounded state.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Between Gimli, Legolas, and Boromir, the Council is sufficiently full of this trope.
  • Athens and Sparta: Gondor is a human kingdom that is noble and heir to a powerful and advanced civilization, but on its final legs by the time of the book. Sadly, it's right next door to Mordor.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Mûmakil are enormous elephant-like beasts that the Haradrim ride into battle against Gondor.
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage: The Watcher in the Water is only seen as an uncountable number of tentacles - in the books, its body is never revealed.
  • Audible Sharpness: Grishnarkh's sword "rang faintly" when he drew it. In general, swords are described as ringing as they are drawn.
  • Author Avatar:
    • Faramir, whom Tolkien considered himself to be most like out of all the characters. An early version of him explained in depth about the Elves.
    • On a more literal note, the minstrel at the Field of Cormallen, because he actually tells the whole story to the characters present in it. Word of God implies this as well.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • Théoden is King of Rohan and pretty handy with a sword as well, Aragorn is Chieftain of the Dúnedain and King of Gondor and hacks his way through a whole mess of orcs and Uruk-hai.
    • Gil-Galad. Last High King of the Elves, was described as an unmatched fighter/leader and died taking Sauron with him (who may have been barely weaker than Morgoth at the time).
    • Elendil and Isildur.
    • Tolkien's works are generally rife with this trope - as is most High Fantasy. The Silmarillion provides further examples from Tolkien's world.
  • An Axe to Grind: Gimli proudly carries an axe into battle with the forces of evil.

  • Babies Ever After: Sam marries his longtime sweetheart the year after the end of War, and the next year sees the birth of little Elanor. He goes on to have twelve more, although, as the epilogue was cut, this is revealed in the Appendices instead of in the narrative.
  • Back from the Dead: Gandalf left the realm of "thought and time" after battling the Balrog, only to be sent back among the living to help end the reign of Sauron.
  • Backstory: The Shire, Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor all have ancient legends and histories that inform the story, as found in The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Children of Húrin.
  • Bad Dreams: Frodo is stated to have these throughout the quest, though they get worse as he approaches Mount Doom and the effect of the Ring increases.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Éowyn's is probably the most famous.
      Éowyn: "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn am I, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
  • Badass Bookworm: Faramir is a scholar but also a formidable fighter.
  • Badass Family: Théoden and his niece and nephew; Boromir and his brother Faramir; and Aragorn's lineage. Tolkien seemed to be inordinately fond of this trope.
  • Banishing Ritual: Gandalf's invocation: "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor! The Dark Fire shall not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the Shadow. You! Shall! Not! Pass!" is, apparently, an attempt of such an abjuration against the Balrog of Moria.
  • Barbarian Longhair: The hobbits initially do not trust Strider due to his barbarian appearance. The movies keep Aragorn (and most of the rest of the cast) attractively unkempt throughout.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Orcs are a culture of slave-driving cannibals who cannot sustain their own nation and who rely on stealing the resources of tributary states. As soon as a group of them has an argument away from their commanders, they settle the matter by slaughtering each other until only one orc is left alive.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: The Dead Men of Dunharrow are cursed to an undead life until they have fulfilled their oath to aid Gondor's king in battle.
  • Baths Are Fun: The hobbits sing a bath song after arriving at Frodo's new house in Buckland, and have a lot of fun splashing around in the tubs. "Sing hey! For the bath at close of day..."
  • Batman Gambit: Gandalf used one of these to distract Sauron from the true location of the One Ring, convincing him that the Free People were planning to use it against him. The whole thing was a diversion to allow the Hobbits to enter Mordor unnoticed.
  • Battle Butler: Sam is described as the "batman" (no, not that batman) to Frodo's inexperienced high-born WWI officer.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Gandalf has quite a reputation for this in many places. The Rohirrim don't like him much because of it — they call him Stormcrow. Of course, as Gandalf himself points out, he has this reputation because he tends to seek out the places where his help is most needed.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Rings of Power ran on this.
    • The Three helped the Elves to preserve the past, which made them more insular as time went on.
    • The Seven Rings made the Dwarves richer than ever, but also made them paranoid.
    • The Nine Rings granted the Humans who bore them longevity and great power, but at the cost of stretching their lives past endurance and ultimately replacing their wills with Sauron's.
    • The Hobbits who bore the One used it for stealth, but in Mordor or when the Nazgûl were in the area they got the opposite of stealth. Plus, in The Hobbit, Bilbo's invisibility had meant his getting knocked out went unnoticed.
  • Because Destiny Says So: "There are other forces at work besides the will of evil... Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker."
  • Being Watched: Being eavesdropped on by Sam (for the most heart-warming conspiracy ever) and several times with Gollum. Also, there are several moments when the good guys either perceive directly the gaze of the Eye of Sauron, or feel themselves watched from above by the winged Nazgûl.
  • Berserk Button: When Éomer speaks of 'the Sorceress of the Golden Wood' with suspicion, Gimli immediately challenges him to single combat.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Sam and Pippin, thanks to the marriage of Goldilocks Gamgee to Faramir Took, are war buddies and grandfathers to the same children.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: The Oathbreakers were cursed by Isildur when they ignored his call to join his army to fight against Sauron, even though they had pledged allegiance to him.
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: Many examples, done very well, of characters noting they are like, or are, characters in a saga and that some trope applies to them. "Give us a story, I want to hear about 'Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom'", et cetera.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Denethor burns himself alive rather than die protecting his city from the forces of evil. This is presented as an utterly reprehensible decision — it comes closer than anything in the book to actually being called a sin. Tolkien deliberately has Gandalf use the term "heathen" (the only "religious" term he uses) when he lambastes Denethor.
  • The Berserker: Éomer finds Éowyn fallen on the Field of Pelennor and enters a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Few - if any - of the 'nice' characters are harmless once their anger is roused. Hobbits demonstrate the trope most strongly, but they're hardly the only ones.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Sam and Frodo reference this when Gandalf catches Sam eavesdropping in Fellowship, and Gandalf plays along, though there's no evidence that he would be able to actually do it.
  • Big Bad: The books are about the war to defeat Sauron, the sorcerer-king of Mordor who wishes nothing more than to dominate the free races of Middle-earth. He commands other villains like the Ringwraiths, Saruman the Wise, Wormtongue, and the Orcs as they battle the Fellowship of the Ring throughout the land.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Subverted. Saruman seems to consider himself Sauron's equal partner and has long-term plans to double-cross him, but Sauron is far more powerful and smart enough to be fully aware of his pawn's ambitions. It's quite clear to everybody else that there is only one Big Bad in The Lord of the Rings.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Saruman, for the reasons above, is this on the whole, in the War of the Ring. It must be added though that his treason consistuted at the very least, half of the danger that the Fellowship faced during their journey and that he was more or less the Big Bad for the one half of The Two Towers and for Rohan in particular, which he threatened on his own terms.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted when Boromir fails to rescue Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai, but played straight thereafter: Gandalf brings a host to Helm's Deep, Merry comes to Eowyn's aid against the Witch-King, Aragorn turns the tide at the Battle of the Pelennor, Sam rescues Frodo from Shelob and from imprisonment, and - toward the end - the four hobbits return from abroad and lead an uprising to deliver their nation from one last peril. There are also many cases where secondary characters save the day - see The Cavalry.
  • Big Eater: Pretty much the entire Hobbit race. Six meals a day is considered normal for them, and many young Hobbits learn to cook before they learn to read (if ever). This trope is taken Up to Eleventy-one when it comes to special occasions like Bilbo's 111th birthday party...
  • Big Good: Gandalf was sent to rally the Free Peoples against Sauron by the Valar and their leader, Manwë, who are the highest authority for good on the physical plane, and above them is Eru, who is, in a nutshell, God. After the Ring and Sauron are gone, Aragorn takes over to lead Middle-Earth into the Fourth Age.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: Gondor has one of these with Rohan, leading to a great call for aid.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Most of the Meaningful Names. Generally speaking, the rest have translations given.
    • For instance, "Gamling" is Swedish for "old man". A fitting name, considering the character is, well, an old man.
    • Tolkien loved to do this, especially with the Rohirrim. For instance, Théoden's name is an Old English word for "king". Meduseld, the name of Edoras' central mead-hall, means.... "mead-hall." In fact, if you look at the lineage of Rohan in the appendices, all the rulers, from Éorl to Éomer, have names that are Old English words or epithets for "king" or "nobleman".
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Although Sam, Merry and Pippin have long, happy lives, Frodo can't go back to enjoying life and leaves for the Undying Lands.
    • The ending is also this for the world as a whole. While the destruction of the One Ring means that the malice of Sauron has been defeated and he can never grow to power again, it also means that the decay of the world which he helped to artificially prolong can no longer be stopped and the fantastical elements of the setting will gradually fade. Still, hard to argue against its being a worthy sacrifice if it means that the threat of global tyranny is stomped out forever.
  • Black Cloak: The powerful Nazgûl wear black cloaks to interact with mortals, since their flesh is permanently invisible.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands:
    • The Nazgul seem to do this to Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen, forcing him to drop his sword and making it break.
    • One of the Riders of Rohan shoots Grishnákh in the sword-hand, making him drop his sword. The shot is specifically noted as being "aimed with skill, or guided by fate."
    • When Denethor is about to strike Beregond with his sword, Gandalf casts some sort of spell to make Denethor's sword fly out of his hand.
    • A variation appears in Gandalf's final showdown with the defeated Saruman. Saruman's staff shatters in his grasp when Gandalf revokes the power Sauruman was granted by the Valar.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation:
  • Blood-Stained Letter:
    • The account of the failed attempt to recolonise Khazad-Dum, discovered by Gandalf and the Fellowship when navigating through Moria, is explicitly described as hacked, chopped, partially burnt and smeared with long-spilt dried blood. Especially on the final page, carrying only the scrawled runes "They Are Coming!"
    • Tolkien went so far as to create several pages from the Book of Mazarbul, writing the text first in English and then translating it, then carefully burning it, tearing it and staining it with his own blood.
  • Blow That Horn:
    • Boromir uses the Horn of Gondor to rally the rest of the Fellowship to fight off an orc attack.
    • The fort at Helm's Deep is called Hornburg, named after a horn, that the Rohirrim (or in the film, Gimli) blow before they ride out to attack the besieging Uruk-Hai.
    • In the last book, Merry blows the Horn of Rohan to call out the hobbit militia to fight off Saruman's men.
  • Blunt "Yes": It isn't as explicit in the book as it is in the Movie, but Denethor admits he wished Faramir died in his brother's stead (the discussion is superficially about which brother should have been in Ithilien, but the message is still clear):
    ‘Do you wish then,’ said Faramir, ‘that our places had been exchanged?’
    ‘Yes, I wish that indeed,’ said Denethor.
  • Body-Count Competition: Legolas gets an early lead on Gimli at the Battle of the Hornburg, but Gimli ends up winning, forty-two to forty-one.
  • Body Motifs: A subtle theme throughout the book is that good guys tend to be gifted with better sight and/or hearing; clean, human senses. Bad guys, meanwhile, have much better smell, which lends them an animalistic or Uncanny Valley feel. Sauron is an exception, although the eye that he uses as his symbol still is uncanny, being 'a great eye, lidless, and wreathed in flame'. On the other hand, Frodo finds that his sight (in the dark) and hearing are improved after he has been stabbed with the Morgul blade, an evil weapon.
  • Boring Return Journey: Traveling is a lot easier when you aren't being pursued by Sauron's servants. (Also an ironic callback to The Hobbit, since it ends with unexpected trouble when they finally get home.)
  • Bottle Episode: The arc with Tom Bombadil and the Barrow-Downs. It comes out of nowhere, then almost never gets referenced again. Basically the only purpose it serves is to arm the minor hobbits.
  • Braving the Blizzard: The Fellowship attempts to cross the mountains in a frigid snowstorm. They lose, and end up having to go down Moria instead.
  • Breaking Lecture: Saruman harangues all of his triumphant enemies, and all are swayed by the power of his voice; likewise, the Riders of Rohan (except for Théoden, as it happens) are wholly overcome by it, while Pippin is particularly shamed. Gandalf breaks the effect by laughing.
  • Break the Cutie: Frodo mainly, but Sam to a lesser extent.
  • Break the Haughty: Saruman goes from the most powerful wizard in the world to a powerless old man trapped in a tower by some old trees to a dirty beggar lost in the woods in the course of a few short months.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Early in the quest Gandalf is incredibly pleased to hear from Butterbur that the Hobbits have left with Aragorn, and shouts "May your beer be under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!" At the very end of the book the Hobbits find that while everything else has gone to hell in their absence, Butterbur's beer is better than ever.
    • In The Hobbit, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was caught trying to take the silverware from Bag End when Bilbo returned from Erebor and he had been declared Legally Dead. After the Party, Bilbo's semi-comedic will states the Sackville-Baggins are to receive his spoons. Lobelia is not amused. She did take the spoons, though.
    • When Frodo and his companions arrive at the inn in Bree, they realize they're going to need a plausible explanation for their wandering out of the Shire — so Frodo claims to be a historian who's thinking of writing a book about the relationship between the Shire and Bree. Two volumes later, as they're returning home through Bree, Frodo is asked if he's written his book yet. He says he's still getting his notes in order.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Éowyn and Merry nearly died after killing the Witch-King. Éowyn's left arm was literally broken, but this was the least of her hurt.
  • But Now I Must Go: With the destruction of the One Ring and the elimination of Sauron's threat, all the beings who only remained among men to fight Sauron fulfill this trope. Tragically this means that Gandalf, who was meant to serve as a paragon in Middle-Earth, must leave forever: in the longer term, all the Elves (except Arwen and a few silvan-elf holdouts) are departing too. Frodo technically doesn't have to leave, but the pain (both physical and mental/emotional) that he feels as long as he stays in Middle Earth effectively forces him to.
  • Butt-Dialing Mordor:
    • Frodo sits on the hill Amon Hen while wearing the One Ring, which allows him to see vast distances. Unfortunately he looks at Mordor, which allows Sauron to detect him and start searching for him. Luckily Frodo gets a telepathic warning from Gandalf (who's supposedly dead at the time) and takes off the Ring just before Sauron reaches him.
    • Pippin tries to use the Palantir and unintentionally ends up getting face time with Sauron himself.

  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Pipe-weed (tobacco), Oliphaunts (large elephants). Though oliphaunt is an archaic English usage, so not literally Smeerp territory, and they're described as something mightier than modern elephants.
  • Call-Back: The Battle of the Black Gates has one to The Hobbit, with Pippin hearing the shout of "The Eagles! The Eagles are coming!" In a parallel with the Battle of the Five Armies as well, Pippin is knocked unconscious immediately after hearing it, as Bilbo was just after saying it. He doesn't even believe that he actually heard the cry, since he thinks 'That came in his [Bilbo's] tale, long long ago.'
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Frodo never actively resists the Call, but by delaying his departure until the last minute (waiting for Gandalf), he barely avoids meeting a Nazgûl literally on his front doorstep; it's his neighbor, Ham Gamgee (Sam's father), who tells the Black Rider that Frodo has gone away — and doesn't quite tell him precisely where Frodo has gone.
    The Gaffer: Where? Where's none of my business, nor yours!
  • Came Back Strong:Gandalf the Grey dies and comes back as Gandalf the White.
  • Camp Cook: Sam is always the cook, but he is neither bad at it nor comic relief.
  • Camp Straight: Tom Bombadil. He embodies the reason why "gay" changed meaning from "enormously happy" to "campy homosexual". He's very happily married. In fact, he's very happy in general.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: When the Ringwraiths attempt to pursue Frodo across the river Bruinen toward Rivendell, the waters rise up and overcome them at the command of Elrond, with a little help from Gandalf. The Ringwraiths seem reluctant to enter the water until Frodo provokes them. This seems to be a call back to an earlier draft where the Nazgûl were afraid to enter water, an idea that Tolkien ultimately abandoned due to the existence of multiple river crossings between Mordor and the Shire. The earlier thwarting of the Nazgûl at the Brandywine is justified by the depth of the river, forcing the Ringwraiths to go north ten miles to cross the bridge there.
  • Casting a Shadow:
    • The Nazgûl, and Shelob. Unlike her mother Ungoliant, Shelob's Weakened by the Light but does not actively consume light to weave her webs of shadow.
    • There is a moment where Frodo and Sam pass by Shelob's actual lair and can feel or see nothing but the stench of her lair, which is suggested to be even blacker than the pitch black around it, as if inhabited by the actual absence of light. A very effective case of Nothing Is Scarier, since you don't know if she's home or not.
  • The Cavalry: Gildor's high elves unknowingly save the hobbits from the Nazgul in the Shire. Glorfindel shows up in the nick of time to help get Frodo to Rivendell. Gandalf brings Erkenbrand to the relief of those besieged in Helm's Deep. Theoden rides to the aid of Gondor at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. And the Eagles fly in to rescue Frodo and Sam from the eruption of Mount Doom.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Inverted. The fleet of ships of the Corsairs of Umbar, allies of Sauron, arrive at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields to the rejoicing of his armies... only Aragorn had intercepted and captured it, and the ships are flying the royal colours and filled with soldiers from southern Gondor.
  • Cavalry Officer: Éomer is an example of a Cavalry Officer in a non-western setting.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: discussed by the author Tolkien himself in his Letters. The book started out as a shorter sequel to The Hobbit and the earlier chapters display much of the whimsy of the latter. Gandalf's personality also gets Darker and Edgier as time goes on. Less surprising when recalling that the Hobbit's story was moved to Middle-earth, and its previously existing tales had already been even darker.
  • Character Title: "The Lord of the Rings" is none other than Sauron, the main antagonist. "The Fellowship of the Ring" refers to the nine protagonists in the Fellowship, and "The Return of the King" to Aragorn.
  • Charm Person: Saruman, until the heroes break free of it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Galadriel's gifts to the Fellowship and the elven rope from Lórien play useful parts later. The Númenórean barrow-blade given to Merry proves vital in defeating the Witch-King. The One Ring itself is a retroactive Chekhov's Gun from The Hobbit.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Frodo's mithril shirt, given to him by Bilbo. It saves his life in Moria. Later it comes in handy when it incites the Orcs to fight over it. After coming in useful for the enemy during the parley at the Black Gate, it proves helpful yet again when it foils Saruman's attempt to stab Frodo.
  • Chessmaster: Sauron, Saruman, Gandalf, and Denethor make their continent-wide battle-plans in chess terms. Denethor's "he uses others as his weapons" is probably the main doctrine of Chessmastery.
  • Chess Motifs: Gandalf analogizes the war to a chess game and calls Pippin a "pawn." Pippin glumly agrees to this, but says he's "on the wrong chessboard."
  • The Chew Toy: Poor Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, couldn't catch a break. His parents named him "Last King" because a seer told them he'd be last. He inherited Arthedain when it was little more than a rump state reduced by wars against Angmar, and his claim to kingship of Gondor (through marriage to the daughter of King Ondoher) was rejected because only male inheritance was valid in Gondor, Arthedain was not nearly powerful enough to lay claim to Gondor, and Arvedui himself was Overshadowed by Awesome, namely by the victorious general Earnil who was related distantly to Ondoher. Then Angmar invaded Arthedain again, overran Fornost, and Gondor comes too late to help. Arvedui fled north to take a ship to Lindon, but the ship crashed and he drowned, taking the palantíri of Annúminas and Amon Sûl with him.
  • The Chosen One: Frodo (and Bilbo) were meant to have the Ring. Also, Aragorn is Isildur's heir.
  • Chronoscope: The Mirror of Galadriel can show visions of the past and the future. Sam sees events that will occur in The Two Towers during his and Frodo's entry into Mordor, as well as events in the Shire during Return of the King. Frodo sees the fall of Númenor and the founding of Gondor, which occurred in the distant past.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The wizard Radagast the Brown delivers a message to Gandalf, is mentioned in passing at the Council of Elrond, and... and then isn't in the book anymore. Glorfindel is established as a very powerful Elf-lord, puts in a few lines at the Council of Elrond, and... then he isn't in the book either. Possibly cases of Hero of Another Story - the War of the Ring was much bigger than a single assault on Gondor.
  • Citadel City: Minas Tirith being one of the codifying examples. Minas Morgul as well.
  • City of Spies: Bree in one style: Minas Morgul in quite another.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The One Ring. Justified: the Ring wants to be found.
  • Clueless Boss: Theoden was this due to the schemes of Wormtongue, before Gandalf came and restored him.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Orcs do it to anyone they can get away with doing it to, including each other.
  • Collectible Card Game: Two, Middle Earth in the 1990s and [one of] The Game[s] Of the movie.
  • Collapsing Lair: Barad-dûr collapses to ruin when the Ring is destroyed. A bit unusual in that no heroes are escaping it when it collapses, but according to Gandalf, no prisoner has ever escaped Barad-dûr anyway. ...whoops.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown. There's also the Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando, but they do not appear in any stories; we're told that they went far into the east and were never seen in the West of Middle-earth again, and no-one there knows precisely what they got up to. Saruman was prompted to reveal his plans to Gandalf when Gandalf noticed Saruman was not wearing white. Saruman goes on a rant to the effect that he is no longer the White but now Saruman of Many Colours.
  • Come with Me If You Want to Live: Aragorn gets introduced this way in Bree, albeit in a particularly slow-moving fashion. While it's implied the hobbits would have been quickly ambushed in their beds without him, they do spend some time gathering supplies prior to departure (though a great deal of that is due to the hobbits' ponies having fled, denying them a quick exit and forcing them to procure another—Bill—to carry their excess supplies). This is more pronounced in the film, however.
  • Come to Gawk: After his impoverishment, Saruman's accuses the Hobbits of returning to him to take joy in his misery. He maintains this even as they do him charity.
  • Common Tongue: The Trope Namer. During the timeframe of the story, the Common Tongue is spoken by lots of peoples either as a mother tongue or as a second language lingua franca.
  • Compelling Voice:
    • Although his is more of the charm and persuade variety, Saruman has a voice that allows him to turn whole populations to his will, allowing him to arrange an army around Isengard with little difficulty.
    • Saruman has it turned around on him after the Ents take Isengard. When he tires of treating with Gandalf, he tries to retreat back into Orthanc. Gandalf tells him simply to come back, and he is unable to refuse.
    • The One Ring allows its wielder to command bearers of lesser Rings and others mastered by the Ring, if their will is strong enough. The one case of this that we see occurs when Gollum attacks Frodo and Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom. Frodo uses the Ring to force him to go away, saying, "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom!" And indeed, when Gollum returns and attacks Frodo, he falls into the Cracks of Doom, taking the Ring with him.
  • Compressed Hair: Played straight when Éowyn reveals her presence on the battlefield by removing her helmet and unloosing her hair. In an early draft, though, Tolkien averted the trope by noting that Éowyn had cut her long hair short before donning armor.
  • Confusing Multiple Negatives: As part of the build-up to his "joke" with the Ring, Bilbo drops into his birthday speech the amusing line "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like—and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!" This sends the party into a moment of confusion, including a widespread counting of fingers, to see if that's actually a compliment...note 
  • Conlang: Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin, some of the most developed in literature. And other less detailed ones, like Khuzdul (Dwarvish), the Black Speech (Sauron and the orcs), etc. Tolkien was a philologist, after all.
  • Constantly Curious: Pippin during the ride with Gandalf to Minas Tirith. Gandalf tries answering questions, but finds each answer just leads to more questions; they wind up joking together about Pippin's curiosity. Exposition nicely done.
  • Constructed World: Set in the world of Tolkien's legendarium, on the continent Middle-earth.
  • Contralto of Danger: Galadriel speaks in a deep contralto, and she's often described by lesser mortals as incomprehensible and dangerous (which isn't surprising considering she hails from an age when her kin were the main source of trouble in the Middle Earth).
  • Contrived Coincidence: Gollum just so happens to have found his way into Moria, and is lurking there at the exact same time the Fellowship pass through. There are a few other instances, supporting Gandalf's belief that a hidden hand is opposing Sauron very, very subtly.
  • Cool Horse: Glorfindel's "elf-horse," Shadowfax (and the Mearas of which he is 'the chief'). The pony Bill is a comic-relief example.
  • Cool Old Guy: Gandalf. His impressiveness isn't just because he's a wizard, but because most of the hobbits he's friends with usually describe him in grandfatherly terms.
  • Cool Sword: Gandalf has Glamdring, Frodo has Sting, and Aragorn has Andúril. The Witch-King of Angmar wields a flaming sword at the Siege of Gondor, and the Balrog of Moria uses a burning sword as well.
  • Corpse Land: The Dead Marshes, a foul bog stretching for miles filled with corpses from the first war with Sauron. Spirits of the men, elves, and orcs that were buried there try to lure travelers into the marshes to add to the body count.
  • The Corruptible:
    • Boromir was the one in the Fellowship most open to the seduction of the Ring.
    • Without Isildur's fall to the corruption of the Ring, it would not have survived Sauron's fall. The race of Men in general are often seen as easily corrupted.
    • And then there's Gollum...
  • Cosmopolitan Council: The Council of Elrond. Possibly also The White Council — which we know included Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Celeborn, and Elrond.
  • Counterspell: While the Fellowship is in Moria being pursued by orcs (and worse), Gandalf stays behind to hold a door closed. The opposition breaks through anyway, but the door's destruction also causes a cave-in, blocking the passage behind. A few moments later Gandalf tells the rest of the Fellowship what happened.
    I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. [...] Then something came into the chamber [...] and then it perceived me and my spell.
    What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces.
  • Courtly Love: Gimli praises Galadriel for her beauty without seeking her hand. He prizes three strands of her hair above the more precious and practical gifts she gives to the rest of the Fellowship, and offers to fight anyone who sees her face and does not declare her the World's Most Beautiful Woman, but since she's married that's as far as it goes.
  • Creepy Crows: Crebain are crows allied with the forces of Evil, serving as spies for Sauron and Saruman.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass:
    • Tom Bombadil has quite a few supernatural abilities. Most of which he doesn't ordinarily use.
    • Gandalf sometimes cultivates this image, such as when he pretends to be a harmless old man at Meduseld. Hama the doorwarden isn't fooled — "A staff in the hands of a wizard may be more than a prop for age" — but he still trusts in Gandalf's essential goodness.
    • A racial trait in hobbits. Hobbits, in their natural state, are bucolic hedonists, fond of food, drink and music, and largely too sanguine and easy-going to keep up any genuine malice towards anyone for any amount of time. However, as Orcs, Goblins, Wolves, Saruman and Nazgûl have all learned the hard way, hobbits do have a limit as to how far they are willing to be pushed, and a hobbit pushed over that line is a force to be reckoned with. Even the narrator in The Hobbit notes that hobbits are very stealthy when they want to be, and far more resilient than anyone gives them credit for.
  • Cruel Mercy: Saruman warps Frodo's decision to spare him into a cruel attempt to deny him the joy of Revenge Through Corruption.
  • Crystal Ball: The Palantí­ri ("those that see from afar") are glass orbs of ancient kingdom that grant knowledge infallibly, if not always contextually, to whoever looks into them.


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