Schema for a Tolkien Heroís Mode of Action

 

Tolkien has three modes of action for his Hero: Outlaw, Quester, Captain. These are arbitrary terms, but I hope this will make them clear:

 

Outlaw can be solitary or in a small band, but the essence of the his action is that it is hopeless. Brave deeds mean nothing, and he is doomed to defeat. He and his band have no support, and are outside of any society, both the one they attack and the one they originate from. The Outlaw is on the defensive, and his movements are static. Outlaws have a hide-out (of course) that is ultimately indefensible; and the outlawís career always ends in defeat (betrayal, capture/death) or by changing mode (i.e., going on a Quest or rejoining society to fight as a Captain).

 

Quester can be solitary or in a small band too, but he is differentiated from the Outlaw because he has a goal, he has hope. Although he is outside his society, he still represents it, and carries their hope with him. The Quester is on the offensive, and is always on the move. He has left his home, and hopes to succeed at his quest and so regain his home (sometimes the quest is actually to regain the home or homeland; sometimes the quest is to defend or save the home; sometimes the quest is for personal fulfillment in a matter of honor or love).

 

Captain is a leader of regular soldiers. He and his company of men are part of a larger army, which is headed by a Lord or King. Captain is an action mode that cannot be solitary; it relies on society for support and validation. The Hero Captain cannot act alone, and his strategy is determined by his Lord, or if he is the Lord (always an interesting case), by his duty to his people rather than his individual interests. The Captain is the least interesting of hero roles for Tolkien, because he has the least leeway to express his individual heroic character. The Captainís career ends either with heroic victory in battle, heroic death in battle, or defeat in battle, which may result in a new solitary mode of action, either as Outlaw or Quester.

 

It is interesting to see that all of Tolkienís heroes are, at one point or another, Captains. But the stories of those parts of their careers are usually rushed over, or left in the background. Captains fight in wars, and Tolkien was never really interested in telling a war story. What he likes is when the Captain is deprived of his army, and of the society that supports an army. He likes his Heroes to be on their own.

 

No, Tolkienís heroes are variously Outlaws and Questers, who always act alone or almost alone, on the marches, in the wilderness, or in the enemyís territory.

 

One of the major elements in the Silmarillion is the heroesí transitions from Captain to Outlaw to Quester and vice-versa. We might interpret these changes as demonstrating how the heroes gain and lose hope at different points in their stories.

 

It is interesting and notable that The Silmarillionís stories strongly feature the Outlaw mode for their heroes, while the stories of the LotR/Hobbit cycle on the whole do not.