of the Rings has a timelessness and agelessness that continues to appeal
to new generations, not unlike fairy tales. Unlike fairy tales, it has different
meanings to readers of different ages. For children, it is a morality tale about
good overcoming evil and the virtues of positive traits like confidence and
For older readers, it is an escape to a more idealistic
world, thus fantasy. The very basis of fantasy is the almost complete absence
of "gray" and "fuzzy" material in the story. Fantasy is
not populated by "gray" and thus more "realistic" characters, but instead
has just "good" or "bad" guys. None of the "good" guys are beyond temptation
and corruption, as shown by Boromir's succumbing to the lure of the Ring. None
of the "bad" guys can or will just switch sides without consequences. Many of
the "bad" guys were once "good" themselves, such as Saruman,
but have given into baser desires and fallen.
The only "gray" character is Gollum, who was corrupted
by greed. Gollum is moved by Frodo's childlike willingness to forgive him, when
none of the other characters, including Sam, will. Gollum slides between redemption
and back to evil during the journey to Mt. Doom. Finally, he cannot overcome
the temptation of the Ring that was his for so long. He forcibly takes it away
from Frodo, meeting his final fate as a result, but this final act also saves
Frodo from a similar fate. Frodo had nearly "crossed over" himself
and only Gollum could save him.
Gollum's character is the only "bad" guy that
gains the reader's sympathy, but only because Frodo shows him some sympathy.
Of all the main characters, Frodo is the only one to recognize that the two
of them could easily trade places because of the effects of the Ring. Frodo
wants to think someone would try to save him and forgive him if he were corrupted,
so he tries to forgive Gollum.
Redemption is offered throughout the story. Gandalf
gives Saruman a chance to redeem himself, but he is happy in his "evil." Boromir
admits having greedy motivations for joining the quest, but is redeemed by sacrificing
his life in protecting the hobbits. Tolkien balances the possibility of forgiveness
with paying for the consequences of one's actions. Boromir is redeemed, but
he loses his life doing so.