Where Are There Similes in "The Fellowship of the Ring"?
J. R. R. Tolkien's use of similes in "The Fellowship of the Ring," like most of his figurative language and imagery in the Ring trilogy, connects characters and events to the surrounding dwarf and elven lands, to nature. Tolkien, creating what Michael J. Charron and Alan D. Winegarden of Concordia University have called a Christian epic, finds spirituality not in a Christ-like figure, such as C.S. Lewis' Aslan, but in continual connection to natural forces. His nature similes ground Middle Earth folk in spiritual life.
Tolkien's description of the elves in the "Many Meetings" chapter is fairly routine for epic characters, describing their golden hair and their great height. But when he comes to elven eyes and voices, Tolkien relies on simile. Elrond's eyes "were grey as a clear evening," while Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel have eyes "keen as lances in the starlight" and Glorfindel has a "voice like music." The expressive organs of sight and speech are connected to nature and to spirituality, putting Tolkien's elves into the realm of otherworldly sensibility.
Bombadil and Goldberry
Tom Bombadil in the chapter "The Old Forest" is peerlessly close to nature in his habitat and with his beloved mate Goldberry. He first enters the novel singing of her in simile, "slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the river." Upon beholding the singer, Sam and Frodo freeze "as if struck stiff" and Bombadil chides them for "puffing like a bellows." He leads the Fellowship to his home, where his wife is enshrined by nature: "she seemed to be enthroned in the midst of a pool." Tom and Goldberry, creatures of nature, naturally live in similes.
Bilbo's and Frodo's Path
Frodo begins a quest to destroy the ring, assisted by the wizard Gandalf and the Fellowship. In the chapter "Three is Company," he remembers the original ring-bearer, Bilbo Baggins, and his advice about setting out on journeys. This remarkable simile binds Frodo and Bilbo to the ring quest, and to the natural spirit world that gives Tolkien characters strength: "[Bilbo] used often to say there was only one road; that it was like a great river ... every path was its tributary." Huck Finn would agree; the river-as-rebirth simile connects Frodo to heroic literary archetypes.
Bilbo's Parting Simile
The most poignant simile belongs to Bilbo, titular character of Tolkien's "The Hobbit," prelude to the Ring trilogy. In the "Fellowship" chapter "A Long-Expected Party," he says farewell to Gandalf and the ring. His powerful farewell simile speaks not only to the insidious Mordor-forged ring's power, but also to Frodo's coming troubles with it: "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.