The Members of the Fellowship of the Ring, Ranked
Posted by Alan Edwards
I love The Lord of the Rings more than any other collection of slaughtered tree corpses that have been smashed flat and sliced thin and then stained with runic symbols made from dyes and solvents. You probably knew that already. One day, I was pondering who the most useful members of the Fellowship were, as one does, and decided to write this here post.
So here is the definitive ranking of the members of the Fellowship from the books only, from best to worst. This list is based on the following criteria:
Contribution to the quest relative of power: Gandalf is an immortal spirit with a level of power basically equivalent to Sauron (it’s complicated, I know, since much of the strength of the Dark Lord is tied to Middle-Earth itself, but from a base level, it’s like comparing one Elf to another). Sam is a short fat gardener. One should expect Gandalf to be more useful than Sam, so I try to weigh a character’s potential impact to their actual impact.
Notable achievements during the quest (Pros): pretty self-explanatory.
Bone-headed dumb shit done during the quest (Cons): How badly the character Pippined things up. (Or should it be Pippinned? I feel grammatically it should be Pippinned, but I’m going with Pippined because I like it better.)
Intangibles: The little things the character does that make their impact greater than the sum of their actions that may not be obvious on the surface, which sounds a hell of a lot better than “how I justify ranking someone higher than they might deserve because I am biased in one way or another” which is what this actually factors in.
I will also provide the ranking I would assign if this were based on the movies. Here we go!
Pros: Drives off the Nazgul on Weathertop. Gets the hobbits to Riverdell. Co-leads the Fellowship before taking over entirely after Moria. Is a one-man Orc wrecking crew. Kills almost all of the bosses on each level. Successfully maintains a long-distance relationship during very trying circumstances. Frees thousands of trapped and tortured souls after getting them to turn the tide of battle. Willing to sacrifice himself and most of an army to get Sauron’s attention away from Mordor and the Ring. Becomes King of Gondor and resurrects the lost kingdom of Arnor. And this is just the highlights.
Cons: Leaves the really important part of the quest – the Ring – to kind of sort itself out and take care of itself while he chases after two pretty pointless members of the party mainly because he wants to go to Gondor and do shit there. At least he feels bad about it.
The story of The Lord of the Rings is essentially Aragorn’s. He’s the hero, he does all the best shit, he fulfils the promise and potential of Men and leads the lands of the West into a new golden age, allowing his kinsman Elrond and the rest of the Elves to leave Middle-Earth knowing that at least it’s in good hands. He’s noble, self-sacrificing, good to his friends, the glue that holds the Fellowship together despite the weight of prophecy and the world resting on his shoulders. He is one of my favorite characters of all time and he is the model of the ideal person that I want to be. There isn’t much competition.
Movie ranking: 6th (points off for bad singing, literally falling off a cliff, terrible speech-making voice, looking more like a hobo than a king)
Pros: Only person in the Fellowship who can cook a meal, or honestly knows how to take care of a group in the wild in general. Redefines the meaning of loyal. Resists the pull of the Ring better than anyone. Carries Frodo on his back both figuratively and literally to Mount Doom itself. Rescues Frodo from an Orc-tower single-handedly. Drives off Shelob, a demon in spider form and the last surviving child of Ungoliant (a being so powerful that MORGOTH, A FREAKING GOD, was afraid of her) single-handedly after climbing a mountain. Sees through Smeagol’s duplicitousness. Comes up with the Orc disguises that get them through Mordor. Leads the Shire as mayor after the war. Gets the girl in the end. Finishes the Red Book of Westmarch. Not afraid to show his emotions. Loves Elves as much as I do.
Cons: Has to single-handedly storm an orc-tower to rescue Frodo because he thinks Frodo is dead in the first place and leaves him in the middle of a path to get easily discovered, which all in all is pretty excusable.
Sam manages to do nearly as much as Aragorn, despite the disparity in lineage, upbringing, training, stature, and ability, and is pretty much solely responsible for the quest succeeding. Sure, Gollum makes the Ring take the plunge, but I feel pretty confident that if Frodo had actually died, Sam would’ve killed Gollum, walked to Mount Doom, tossed it into the fire, and sat down with a “Well, that’s that”. Sam is the ultimate wing-man, someone who could be the alpha but doesn’t need to be, because he always does what’s right. I’m almost talking myself into making him number one on this list.
Movie Ranking: 2nd (some points off for looking like he’s about to try out for the Notre Dame football team any second)
Pros: Immensely valuable fighter in a group that lacks them, despite getting overshadowed by Aragorn. Tries to sacrifice himself to saved Merry and Pippin, despite their uselessness (at that point in the story). Does his level best despite all the pressure from a crazy-ass father and the burden of being the guy in charge of saving the kingdom that is about to be hammered by Sauron.
Cons: Tries to take the Ring from Frodo, which causes Frodo to flee the Fellowship entirely and causes chaos at the time that an Orc army is descending upon them, meaning his timing could have been a little better.
Poor Boromir. He tries hard, despite being saddled with daddy issues and way too much pressure. Everyone treats him like a second-class citizen, acting incredulous that he would suggest using the Ring to topple Sauron when it’s his kingdom that’s on the front lines and even bitching at him when he blows the Horn of Gondor as the Fellowship sets out. Boromir’s is driven to do what is best for his country and the people within and is bold and knightly when doing it. He gets the least respect out of anyone in a group that includes two useless tagalongs (Merry and Pippin). I love Boromir.
Movie ranking: 1st (Seven million bonus points for Sean Bean; best-dressed Fellowship member)
Pros: The best scout, plus the only guy who thought to bring a bow. Guards the camp every night because he doesn’t sleep. Kills a whole bunch of folks at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Kills the mount of the Nazgul Khamul the Easterling with essentially a no-look shot which basically saves everyone in the Fellowship (NBD). Brings Elvish class to the whole undertaking. Helps the Fellowship get into Lorien. Ends millennia of Elf-Dwarf tensions by becoming friends with Gimli. Is an Elf in Middle-Earth which is my favorite race in any fantasy setting ever. Is remarkably humble for being the child of a King. Is the only person not wetting his pants in the Paths of the Dead.
Cons: Helps elevate some tensions in Lorien by refusing to be blindfolded for a while.
Legolas is the perfect utility guy. He brings a lot of needed skills to the table, executes when asked, doesn’t showboat or demand the spotlight. He helps everyone around him despite having nothing to gain personally from the endeavor and doesn’t seek any kind of reward. For all the talk of arrogance and haughtiness of Elves, Legolas is nonjudgmental and humble, and that leads him to be pretty much overshadowed by everyone else – which he’s totally cool with. He could easily be #3, but I’m a sucker for tragic heroes dying in vain, so Boromir edges him out.
Movie ranking: 1,383rd (don’t get me started)
Pros: Like Boromir, a strong warrior in a group short of them. Wins the contest with Legolas at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. With Legolas, helps end millennia of hostility between Elves and Dwarves. Founds a kingdom after the war in Aglarond. Is generous and kind-hearted instead of greedy and jerkish like the Dwarven stereotype. Declines to participate in sing-alongs.
Cons: Helps elevate some tensions in Lorien. Can’t ride a horse. Pushes the idea of going to Moria despite it probably not being the best place to go.
Like Legolas, Gimli fills the roles he’s asked to play and doesn’t demand much in return. He manages to charm Galadriel by being honest, becomes a long-time ally and friend to the peoples of Gondor and Rohan, and manages to be a Dwarf-lord who isn’t a greedy jerk. He’s a rock-solid guy that just gets outdone by the people above him on the list, and there is a considerable gap between 5 and 6 on this list. Plus, he handles the fact that Aragorn and Legolas sing a song, taking the North, West, and South Winds, and Gimli is like “that’s cool, I won’t sing about the East wind because of Sauron being in the East”, and Aragorn faces him by essentially saying “No shit, no one would ask its opinion anyway”, meaning Aragorn intentionally snubs Gimli from a song with three parts – and Gimli is too cool to sweat the disrespect.
Movie ranking: 19th (horrible jokes, too much comic relief ineptitude)
Pros: Helps Eowyn slay the Witch-King, which is pretty freaking impressive. Helps get the Ents to fight Saruman. Leads the charge against Sharkey’s minions. Leads the Conspirators who ferret out Frodo’s intentions on leaving the Shire. Is not Pippin. Keeps Eowyn’s secret.
Cons: Takes up space that could be filled by literally anyone else (including Bill the Pony, who honestly should be #6 on this list) and it would be an upgrade. Gets captured because he runs around yelling for Frodo instead of being smart and safe, forcing the split of the Fellowship. Forces other members to take care of him instead of dealing with problems like Orc attacks and other dangerous activities.
Merry and Pippin are baggage, toted around the world because for some reason they couldn’t think of anyone better suited to accompany them. I mean, Glorfindel could have joined the friggin’ Fellowship. I have a feeling he would have been able to accomplish a bit more than Merry. Instead, the Fellowship gets saddled with the equivalent of children. The pair somehow manage to not derail the entire quest. As noted above, Merry edges out Pippin for two reasons: he helps slay the Lord of the Nazgul, and he is not Pippin.
Movie ranking: 8th.
Pros: Saves Faramir from his crazy father by going and telling on Denethor. Helps get the Ents to fight Saruman. Leads the charge against Sharkey’s minions.
Cons: Everything else, but especially the following: Alerts the Orcs of Moria to the presence of the Fellowship because he’s bored, leading to them getting attacked, Frodo hurt, the Balrog coming out and thereby killing Gandalf. Not the best moment. Also, stealing the Palantir from Gandalf and contacting the freaking Dark Lord and getting dominated, forcing Gandalf to leave Aragorn just so he can stow Pippin someplace where he can’t cause the utter destruction of Middle-Earth, which he nearly manages to do anyway.
As for Merry, but way, way worse. Pippin is, for all intents and purposes, an idiot who is almost actively working for the enemy throughout the books. The only thing that keeps him from being #9 on this list is that no one should or did expect anything better from him. They knew he was useless going in, and he proved them right. His ceiling wasn’t very high, so that saves him from the bottom of the barrel.
Movie ranking: 12th.
Pros: Kills Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Moria. Drives off the Nazgul to save Faramir and the retreating troops. Turns the Witch-King from the Gates of Gondor. Breaks Wormtongue’s hold on Theoden. Inspires lots of folks. Provides a bunch of wisdom and good turns of phrase.
Cons: Dies about three days into the quest. Can’t remember how to get into Moria. Gets lost in Moria. Gets captured by Saruman. Doesn’t keep his lunch dates. Lets Saruman go where he wreaks mischief in the Shire. Lets Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas think he’s Saruman for no other reason than to be a troll.
Gandalf is a victim of the “contribution to the quest relative of power” corollary. He, along with Saruman and Sauron, is one of the top three most powerful beings in Middle-Earth. Yes, the other two use their power for bad ends, and Gandalf attempts to work quietly behind the scenes to avoid attracting attention from the other heavyweights. He ends up being the Wizard Who Casts No Spells, and the ones he does cast don’t work (every opening spell in the tongues of etc etc etc). He’s incredibly valuable, yes, but most of his work happens before the quest or after he dies, and if he knew he’d get more powerful after he died he should have gotten that over with a long time ago. Gandalf is a great character, a mover of men and responsible for total victory, but not really during his time as part of the Fellowship. I love Gandalf, but no one else spent most of the quest dead (except Boromir).
Movie ranking: 5th.
Pros: Volunteers to carry the Ring to Mordor and bears that burden. Is kind enough to take pity on Smeagol.
Cons: Puts the Ring on every single time it’s a bad idea to do so. Gets wounded in every fight. Decides to go alone to Mordor, which if not for Sam would have meant the quest totally failed because he would have died in a week at best. Becomes as emo as dancin’ Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3. Goes all the way to Mount Doom and decides not to destroy the Ring, making everything everyone else did up to that point useless. LITERALLY HAS ONE JOB TO DO AND REFUSES TO DO IT.
I like Frodo. I do. He goes through something that destroys his spirit and leaves him a shell of a person. But his decisions lead to Pippin and Merry getting captured, Gollum nearly getting the Ring, and freaking SAURON nearly getting the Ring. He means well but isn’t up to the job. Bilbo had the Ring longer, and manages to let it go. Frodo can end the rule of the most evil being in existence, and he can’t do it. His will is his one defining attribute and it fails him in the end. He gets outshone by his own manservant who is a better person than he is in every way. He held the fate out the world in his hands and just said, Nah, this thing is mine. The whole quest fails because of him, and the only reason it ends up succeeding is Gollum’s inability to be a gracious winner. Nearly every decision he makes is bad, he trusts the wrong people, betrays everyone, and fails in the end. Then he becomes a politician.
Movie ranking: 14th.