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Why Legolas is Unnecessary

Literary Panic

So, I called my brother in a literary panic the other day.

Let me explain. I have realized that I read books differently than most people. Even, possibly, differently than most authors – though I don’t personally know enough authors yet to confirm this.

I like to read in order to hone and perfect my own writing. So I read masters.

I tend to avoid anything that is subpar in every way.

If something is popular, I will read it to study why. And if something is a classic, I read it for the same reason. I love and enjoy many books this way, and I don’t really look at it as an academic exercise, but that’s why and how I read.

So I often revisit books that I have read before – especially books that are similar to my own stories. And while I was dwelling on The Lord of the Rings the other day, I had my panic moment.

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Legolas Superfluous?

All of a sudden, I was very much afraid that Tolkien made a grave error in his story. I suddenly wondered if Legolas was a superfluous character.

I called my brother, and the first words I spoke were: “Is Legolas a necessary character? Or is he only a convenient one?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, after laughing at my panic. “What does it mean for him to be a convenient character, and what is a necessary one?”

So I explained. An unnecessary character is one that could be removed from the story, and everything would still happen the exact same way. For example, if Sam were taken out of the Lord of the Rings, the ring would never of been destroyed, Frodo would never have made it to Mount Doom, and Gollum would’ve had a very different role in the story. Not to mention the fact that, as a reader, it’s important for us to connect with Sam in order to see Frodo from a distance, instead of being trapped inside his ring-obsessed head.

Frodo is the hero, but Sam provides a foil – a perspective – in which to view him. It’s a necessary point of view, especially the way that Tolkien told the tale. I suppose he could’ve left Sam out completely, but I’m sure we can all agree that the books would’ve been very different.

So I was suddenly worried that taking Legolas out would not fundamentally change the story. Now, there are some arguments against that. For one, Legolas, as an elf and kinsman, seems to be the key that allows the fellowship access to Lothlorien. For another, Legolas tells them the way off of Caradhras and gives them hope with his light heart. And lastly, he is one of the three companions traveling at the beginning of The Two Towers, alone, through the wild, and the reader can latch on to him emotionally through that journey.

But the more I explored these arguments, the more I was confirmed in the opinion that these are merely conveniences. If Legolas had not been with the group in the Fellowship of the Ring, when they enter Lothlorien, there is very little reason to doubt that they would still have been brought before Galadriel. Galadriel had a vision about them, apparently, and sends a message to her warden elves telling them to let the fellowship come to her. She has this vision apart from anything that Legolas does. Also, we learn in the appendixes that Aragorn was very familiar with Lothlorien, and could probably have gained almost as easy access to it as Legolas himself.

“2980: Aragorn enters Lorien, and there meets Arwen Undomiel.” – The Return of the King, Appendix B

For the second argument, Boromir and Aragorn head off to find the way off the mountain with Legolas, and Tolkien had only to change a few sentences to make them the ones who brought back the hope of going down. And this scene is so small that I’m willing to bet that some of you reading this article don’t even remember it. It’s pretty short. I had forgotten it myself.

“‘Well,’ cried Legolas as he ran up…. ‘There is the greatest wind-drift of all just beyond the turn, and there our Strong Men were almost buried. They despaired, until I returned and told them that the drift was little wider than a wall.'” – The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Ring Goes South”

Finally, we are given very little chance to emotionally bond with Legolas in the early scenes of The Two Towers. As I talked with my brother, the most emotional of a connection that I could recall was the moment when he is not sure whether the wizard approaching them is Saruman or not. When he realizes that it is Gandolf, and cries out Mithrandir! we feel elation and bond with him. But it is brief, and passes very quickly. After that, we are shown much more of Gimli and Aragorn’s emotions than Legolas.

“Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame. ‘Mithrandir!’ he cried. ‘Mithrandir!'” – The Two Towers, “The White Rider”

There seems to be no necessity for Legolas as a character, and I was crushed. Especially as my brother kept agreeing with all my arguments. I wanted him to talk me out of them!

I was crushed because I like Legolas. Because I want him to have a reason to exist. Not because Tolkien would be lowered in my estimation: every author has flaws. But I felt like Legolas should exist, and I wasn’t sure why. It bothered me.

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Is that OK?

But then I asked the next question. Is it OK to have a character who exists only out of convenience? Who is not well developed, and doesn’t fundamentally contribute to the plot line?

We explored that question next, and after a lot of discussion, we decided that it was. We allowed Legolas to remain. We realized that the biggest flaw was just that Tolkien had underdeveloped him. Not that he should not exist, but that he has so much more potential than he was given in the story. You could say it was the fault of Tolkien, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem with the story or the world. Legolas very much belongs in Middle Earth. Our understanding of Middle Earth is enriched simply by his being there, and that alone is enough of a reason for him to remain. But even more than that, he does not intrude into the story. His presence is not abrasive, or misleading, or distracting. It fits. And if a character fits, even if they are not as perfect as they could be, they should exist.

We started naming off some of our favorite classics that have underdeveloped characters. Even as main characters. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, does not give us an adequate understanding of the Pevensie children – especially in Prince Caspian. They have no character arcs, no faults, and no struggles in that story. They simply exist as a convenience to place Caspian on the throne. Does that mean CS Lewis should not have written Prince Caspian? No! It simply means he did not elaborate as much as he could have.

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We also talked about the Lord of the Rings films, and how Orlando Bloom was given the opportunity, because Legolas exists, to elaborate on the character presented in the books. My understanding of the Lord of the Rings is intrinsically tied up with the films themselves. I saw the films before reading the books, and have very little desire to separate the actors’ portrayals from the book characters. And Legolas does have a little bit more presence in the films. As my brother said, ‘He kills Wormtongue!’ (He said that sarcastically though – our family is not a fan of that moment in the films! Why would Legolas kill Wormtongue? It makes no sense!) His presence in The Hobbit films is unfortunate, only because of the way that the films themselves turned out. I think his presence in the Middle Earth world could have been further illustrated, but that entire project was handled indelicately – which is a great disappointment!

So what do you think? Is it OK to have a character who is less developed than they might be? Should all the characters be thoroughly worked out, and always present a foil to those who are more central? Or do you think it’s OK for someone to slip in through the cracks, present more world building, and enrich our experience? Love to hear from you!

Who is your favorite Lord of the Rings character? And which do you like better, the films or books?

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Action/Adventure Genre

Action/Adventure is an EXTERNAL GENRE.

External Genres, as opposed to Internal, are primarily driven by a problem that comes up outside the person, and solving this problem results in the end of the story.

The problem usually looks like a large-scale villain. Someone the protagonist has to face off against and prevent them from doing permanent harm to the world.

Mystery, Horror, Thriller, Comedy – these are all External Genres. However, it is HOW these stories are told that determine what genre they fall into.

My brother and I determined the genre according to the emotion the story raises in us, and Action/Adventure raises the emotion of excitement. It puts us, with our hearts racing, on the edge of our seats, wondering at each moment what is going to happen next. It’s a lean forward, hands on you knees, emotion.

This is one of the largest genres of all time.

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Example Action/Adventure Stories are:

  • All the Marvel Films
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • All Star Wars Films
  • Dark Knight Trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Cowboys vs. Aliens
  • Bourne Identity
  • Mission Impossible
  • The Matrix

If the story is edge of your seat action, but takes the action lightly, it is not an Action/Adventure genre. Action/Adventure takes itself seriously. Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest you get to comedy without being a part of the comedy genre, only because it is part of a larger universe, and the characters are in real, permanent danger throughout the the story.

The story begins with a problem – someone is kidnapped, someone is running for their life, someone is pulled out of normal life and thrust against an evil force. The story ends when that someone defeats the evil force. All in between is full of nail-biting action – this is the Action/Adventure Genre.

I’ll do the comedy genre next.

The Dove Princess

Princess - The Dove PrincessOnce upon a time, a king’s daughter loved dogs as her dearest friends. She had all manner of species about her all the time, and whenever she went for a walk, she always brought at least two with her. She trained the dogs herself along with her brother, who loved them almost as much as she did, and they spent all their free-time with them.

One afternoon, the princess decided to train one of the newest puppies, so she set off on a walk with Klitus and Grimus, two old, wise dogs, and OrangeYellowBlack, OYB for short, the frisky puppy.

“Shall I come with you?” asked her brother eagerly. He wanted to get out of a long meeting with his tutor. “OYB might be troublesome.”

She laughed at him. “I’m sure I can handle him,” she said, and made the prince watch her run away with the dogs while he had to go to his lesson.

The woods beside the palace were a golden green, full of playful shadows, butterflies, and trilling birds. She knew to stay only in this wood, since further on, against the very edge of her father’s kingdom, there was a deep, dark forest, ruled by a sorcerer.

 

OYB - The Dove Princess
OrangeYellowBlack, the frisky puppy

Klitus and OYB ran ahead, and then back again, and then on ahead. The princess practiced calling OYB’s name and making him learn to obey. Grimus plodded on patiently beside her – her loyal, faithful watchdog.

Out of the trees beside the path hobbled an old, ugly, hunchbacked man. He was pulling himself along with a gnarled staff, and grunting as he came. He did not seem to see the princess until he nearly ran into her, and she had to hop out of his way.

“Watch it! Ah, princess, I didn’t see you. Have a few coins for a poor old traveler?”

The Encounter in the Forest
The Encounter in the Forest

The princess was frightened by his awful appearance and brisk manner, but she was too polite to show it, and fumbled in her purse for some coins.

He stomped over to receive them and, as if by accident, hammered his staff into Grimus’s paw. With a squeal, Grimus jumped back and growled lightly in his throat. He did not like or trust this old man, and his paw pounded so painfully he could not walk on it, and had to limp on three legs.IMG-5755

“Oh, Grimus, my darling, are you alright?” The princess bent over her friend and the two other dogs danced excitedly nearby, unnerved by the event.

“Oh, terrible accident that,” mumbled the beggar. “Whoops. Didn’t see him!” He whirled about as if to help, sending his stick going in every direction and nearly whacking the princess’s head off. Though it missed her, it hit OYB in the rear, and with a cry of panic, the puppy took off running into the forest.

“Ho, there! All this fuss is putting me out!” cried the old man, but the princess ignored him and called and called for OYB to come back.

“Oh, where is he? OYB!” She was so upset that she ran after her lost puppy without a second thought, closely followed by Klitus. Grimus whined on the path, torn because he wanted to go too, but knowing he would be no help hobbling on three paws. So finally, he turned back toward home, leaving the beggar grumbling to himself on the path.

When he reached the palace, he barked like a mad pigeon, and everyone yelled and told him to be quiet, but he only got louder and louder, until the prince, who was studying geography and finding it exceedingly dull, heard the noise and ran downstairs.

“What is it boy?” he asked, and Grimus started limping back toward the forest. “Something’s wrong,” said the prince to himself, and followed after.

Grimus led the prince to the place where they had met the beggar, but there was no sign of him. So he began to sniff the ground, and then took off after his beloved princess’s scent.

To both their horror, the scent led them right up to the dark forest, and there, against the outermost tree, lay Klitus, dead.

Grimus whined and wept over his fallen companion, and the prince knelt beside him. “You must go home,” he whispered. “This is no place for an injured creature.” Grimus looked at him with large, worried eyes. “I’ll be alright, you know,” the prince assured him. “The sorcerer never harms young men.”

Dark ForestSo with his tail between his legs and his ears hanging past his mouth, Grimus trudged back to the palace, and the prince disappeared into the black shadows of the dark forest.

Immediately beneath those trees, day turned to night, and he could see no further than the stretch of his arm. As he searched for his sister, he began to despair. There was no sign of her. Instead, there was a big black toad the size of his fist sitting on a mushroom.

“Have you seen my sister?” he asked the toad.

“No,” he croaked. “All I see all day are the black flies that fly around my head.”

A little further into the forest, he found a lion. “Have you seen my sister?”

“No,” he growled. “All I see all day are the scuffling hogs I eat.”

Even further, a snake was coiled around a tree limb. “Have you seen my sister?”

“I have sssseen only the miccce that I sswallow whole.”

The prince searched for two more days until his strength relinquished itself to the weight of his desperation, and he fell to the ground and slept.

In his sleep, a dream came to him. He saw OYB run into the forest in fright, and his sister chase after him. He saw a mighty black crow fly across the gray sky and land in a tall, dark tower in the very middle of the forest. The crow changed into the evil sorcerer, the dark master of the land, and with a wave of his staff, he transformed the princess into a beautiful dove.

When the prince awoke, he no longer searched for a princess, but called out in a loud coo for a dove. Finally, a coo came back to him.

From the very tops of the trees flew down a bird on a single beam of light and alighted on his shoulder. He kissed its beak, and the dove nuzzled its head into his cheek.

“Oh, my dearest sister, how shall I save you from this fate?” he asked her. She cooed softly in response and a tear fell from her eye.

“I will save you!” he declared, and headed off for the black tower with his sister still on his shoulder. When they reached the mighty fortress, the prince banged on the door.

The Sorcerer's Dark Tower
The Sorcerer’s Dark Tower

“Sorcerer!” he yelled. “How can I save my sister?”

The sorcerer stuck his head out of the tower. “Go away!” he shouted, and disappeared back inside.

He pounded even harder. “Sorcerer, how can I save my sister?”

This time, there was no response. For ten minutes, the prince yelled and pounded. Finally, the sorcerer returned to the window.

“I said, go away! Or I’ll turn you into a dove!”

The prince pounded so hard on the door that the wood splintered in two, and then he ran up the spiral staircase.

When he arrived, the Sorcerer was very angry. “Go away, I tell you! Why do you test my patience? I’ll enchant you!”

The Dark Sorcerer
The Dark Sorcerer

“Everyone knows you do not enchant men. I’m not leaving here until you tell me how to lift her curse.”

The sorcerer groaned with annoyance, but he saw he could not get rid of this boy. “Very well,” he snarled. “You must leave her in this forest for three years. You cannot return home – instead, you will wander the world as a nameless beggar collecting one whole seashell from each ocean and stringing them into a necklace. After three years, if you put that necklace around her neck, she will turn back into a girl. Now go away and leave me in peace!”

The brother and sister said a tearful goodbye at the edge of the forest. Just as the prince turned to leave, however, he heard a tiny bark and from out of the foliage leapt OYB. With a coo of joy, the dove lighted on the animal’s head, and the prince left them together, relieved that his sister would have a friend in her exile.

At the first cottage he came across, the prince traded his rich royal clothes for the costume of the resident peasant, and then departed into the world to find the shells.

At the first ocean, he encountered a polar bear and wrestled with him on an iceberg until, finally, he overcame the beast and collected the shell. Just before reaching the second ocean, he faced a giant, evil koala bear who tried to kill him with a rifle. But the IMG-5756prince defeated the evil Koala, took the rifle for himself, and found his shell. At the third ocean, he strangled a sea serpent. At the fourth, he slew a gigantic spider. And finally, in the final year, when he had traveled, and suffered, and grown into a man, he came to the fifth ocean.

Evil Shark
Evil Shark

There, he picked up the final shell and threaded it onto the string he had worn around his neck for three years, then he sold the shark to local fisherman who could make use of its parts, and with the money from the sale, headed back to his own country.re, just as he bent to pick up the final shell, a giant shark flew out of the water and came right for his throat. He leapt back, pulled out the rifle, and with one single shot, killed it in the head.

He went straight to the forest, and there, right where he had departed from her all those years ago, he saw his sister waiting. He ran up, placed the necklace over her head, and she transformed instantly back into a princess. The sorcerer knew when his magic had ceased, and he flew instantly to where the prince and princess were embracing.

“I have completed your tasks!” proclaimed the prince.

The sorcerer had never expected to see the prince again, and he was very angry. But a promise was a promise, so he had to let them go. But before they did, he said to them, “You have escaped my power for now, but someday beware…I will come after your descendants.”

The brother and sister headed back to the kingdom with their now grown dog OYB, and their father the King, who thought both his children had perished years ago, received them with tears of joy.

The End

 

Keep a look out for future stories about the Sorcerer! Why doesn’t he enchant men? What will happen when he goes after the prince and princess’s descendants? Why is he always so cranky?

Images were made by myself and my four-year-old brother