Recently I was discussing novels with a friend, who said that all major characters should change and develop across the course of any good novel. But it seems to me that in LotR (which no SFF fan can deny is a brilliant piece of literature!), a lot of the major characters don't change that much. Let's look at the Fellowship:

  • FRODO changes a great deal as a result of the burden of the Ring, his wounds, and the hardship of the whole ordeal

  • SAM, MERRY, and PIPPIN go from being fairly average young hobbits to the heroes of the Shire as a result of all their experiences in other lands

  • GANDALF gets 'promoted' from Grey to White, but his personality remains much the same (one of the hobbits says this explicitly somewhere, but I haven't got the quote to hand)

  • ARAGORN goes from wanderer to king, but again his personality doesn't seem to change

  • BOROMIR remains proud, Gondor-oriented, and unchanging throughout, unless you count his dying apology for his action towards Frodo (which could have been just due to being away from the Ring's influence)

  • LEGOLAS and GIMLI remain much the same throughout, except for Gimli's change in his attitude to elves (and possibly Legolas's to dwarves?)

So it seems the only characters who develop much across the novel are the hobbits who leave their peaceful insulated existence in the Shire to travel across the world, meet all manner of creatures, fight in wars, etc. Am I right in this - thus either proving that development of all characters isn't really necessary or finding a weak point in LotR, depending on your point of view! - or is there some change I've missed in characters like Aragorn, Legolas, or Boromir?

Thanks in advance for any answers!

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    Depends, then, on who you regard as "major characters" in The Lord of the Rings. It's arguable that the hobbits are the only really major characters. (Perhaps because they're the only characters to undergo major character development.) – Matt Gutting Sep 10 '14 at 18:19
  • @MattGutting - Aragorn not a major character? Surely not... Look at the title of book 3, even! – Rand al'Thor Sep 10 '14 at 18:21
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    Both Legolas and Gimli are very substantially older with Gimli well into his second century and Legolas approaching the big 1000. Personality change would presumably come much slower for them. – Valorum Sep 10 '14 at 18:40
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    The question itself is based on the premise that all major characters should develop over the course of the novel. Don't know that I agree with that. Take a characters like the elves or Gandalf who are very old. Why would you expect significant personality development ? As @Richard points out they already have well developed ones. And prior comments make reasonable points as to development. Question seems very broad and open to opinion. – Stan Sep 10 '14 at 19:05
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    As a novelist and lecturer in creative writing, I can categorically state, without fear of justifiable contradiction, that there is no necessity for universal character development. While it's often desirable, it's not essential even that the protagonist's character develops across the course of the novel. You can certainly write about characters who are blithely unaffected by the events of the narrative, if you wish, providing you give the reader something else to engage them. In fantasy this is often the world that is built around the characters, as in this case. – Cugel Sep 10 '14 at 20:43

This is a bit of an overly-simplistic view of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself outlined the major theme of the book (aside from the Big One, i.e death) in Letter 131 (written in 1951 to Milton Waldman after negotiations with Allen & Unwin to issue both LotR and the Silmarillion together had broken down):

But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. But through Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in 'world polities' of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole (after the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies) is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.

Lord of the Rings is therefore emphatically not about development of characters, but rather about the symbiotic relationship between lesser and greater characters at a time of crisis in the invented world.

The idea that major characters should necessarily change seems flawed to me, but since discussion of that would be off-topic for this site I'll pass over further comment, other than to state that identification of all of the Fellowship as "major" characters is also flawed: we certainly never see events through the eyes of Legolas or Boromir as we do through those of Frodo, Sam, or even Gimli.

It's therefore correct to say that the Hobbits are the characters who develop the most in the novel, but it's important to realise that this is incidental or consequential to the main theme, rather than being a main theme in and of itself.

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I disagree with your assesment of the character developments. For example:

Aragorn - Does not only change from Ranger to King, but in doing so, he changes his entire view of himself. He was a Ranger because he was running away from his true lineage for fear of suffering the same fate as his ancestors. Once he accepts his lineage and his destiny, he goes on to take his place as the one true King. So his personal transformation is quite evident.

Gandalf - In becoming Gandalf the White, he becomes the most knowledgeable wizard in Middle Earth. His fight with the Balrog lasts ages and as he "dies" he becomes a part of the universe thus learning all of its secrets and laws. His transformation of power also transforms him in wisdom.

Legolas and Gimli- as you stated, change their attitudes towards each other and by default, the other's races. They both learn humility at the foot of the other and go on to become as close as brothers.

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  • Are you sure about what you say re Aragorn? I remember reading in one of the Appendices that Elrond told him he could only marry Arwen if he became king of both Arnor and Gondor, and so that's been his aim since before the start of LotR. – Rand al'Thor Sep 10 '14 at 19:15
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    The statement re Aragorn here is true in movie-universe only. This doesn't exist in the books. – user8719 Sep 10 '14 at 19:24
  • @randal'thor come to think of it, you're right. I seem to have replaced the movie Aragorm with the the literary Aragorn in my head. Aragorn does not doubt himself at all as Isildur's heir or his fate. Perhaps Peter Jackson saw the same issue that the OP saw with this character. – MikeV Sep 10 '14 at 19:39
  • Even in the books, Aragorn had to grow from leading a few men in the wilderness to being a warleader and making and breaking the fate of kingdoms and the entire West. Challenging Sauron with the Palantir (without asking Gandalf), the Paths of the Dead, the final battle outside the Black Gate...this is much more than the fellow who started out scaring Hobbits in a bar. – Oldcat Sep 11 '14 at 18:38

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