Those that know me on a rather personal level, know that there are few things I love more in this life than Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. I mean really, please do try and point me toward a film trilogy that can even begin to rival The Lord of the Rings films. In terms of Academy Awards, the three films together were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17.
The cast is incredible, the art direction, sound, score, make-up, writing, it’s all perfect in my book, though I would point out an obvious lack of diversity in casting. Above all, the costume design by designer, Ngila Dickson, is extraordinary and brings this story to life. Her goal was not just to make incredible costumes, but costumes that were not distracting. Costumes that felt real, therefore making Middle-Earth feel real.
When I started The Art of Costume, I knew at some point I had to do an article or perhaps a series regarding the legendary costume work in The Lord of the Rings. Earlier this month I sat down and began to do some research. To my surprise, I came across an article where these OSCAR AWARD-WINNING costumes were described as “plain”, “lackluster”, and even “a bit lazy and too obvious”. I about fell out of my chair! The nerve! So, in the words of Gandalf The White, “I come back to you now at the turn of the tide”, ready to present 20 memorable costume moments that were not only beautiful works of art but integral to the storytelling of this film trilogy. In this first article, we will be covering the first film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
1. Frodo Baggins – The Fellowship of the Ring
The story of The Lord of the Rings largely centers around Frodo Baggins (played by Elijah Wood) and his quest to Mordor to destroy the One-Ring. The natural question would be, “why is this costume important to the storyline?” Frodo is a nephew to none other than Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End. Yes, the same Bilbo Baggins that is the main character within the story of The Hobbit. I bring this up because Bilbo profited a ton of treasures from his journey to The Lonely Mountain during The Hobbit storyline. With Frodo being Bilbo’s heir, that makes him a pretty wealthy hobbit. This costume serves as a starting point for Frodo’s character, tracking his mountain of character development he goes through during the trilogy.
When we first meet Frodo in the shire, his outfit is clean. Not a single speck of dirt on him, Frodo is also dressed quite leisurely I would say, as though he is retired like his uncle. I can imagine Frodo spends all of his time laying around, reading stories, and spending his uncle’s coin on drinks at The Green Dragon. You may also notice that Frodo’s costumes are a bit more colorful compared to the other hobbits. In short, Frodo is a privileged, upper-class Hobbit who might not have a real idea of what hard work looks like. We will revisit this costume story later on.
2. Samwise (Sam) Gamgee – The Fellowship of the Ring
Samwise Gamgee (played by Sean Astin) is certainly the “anti-Frodo” character and in my opinion, Sam is the true hero of the story. Sam is very different compared to Frodo. When we first meet Sam, he lacks the level of confidence that Frodo carries around. Unlike Frodo, Sam does work – he is a gardener. He does not come from a wealthy family like Frodo. Sam is also known as a daydreamer- fascinated by the elves, wondering of the world beyond the borders of The Shire, and is also a talented poet. Yet, Sam’s lack of confidence keeps him leveled, making him a humble, hard worker. Sam’s costume’s within the first film show exactly that, drawing a muted tone compared to Frodo’s flashy wardrobe. Sam’s costumes serve as the antithesis to Frodo’s costumes, being worn, dull in color, and aged. I’m not saying his clothing is dirty, but you can tell these are clothes worn often and practically in coordination with Sam’s hardworking, humble lifestyle. In every way, opposite to Frodo.
3. Gandalf The Grey – The Fellowship of the Ring
Ah, good ole Gandalf The Grey (played by Sir Ian McKellen), easily one of the greatest characters of all time. This costume is not only valuable to the storyline of The Lord of the Rings, but it also lends heavily to the world’s idea of wizards across the board. There are not many wizards out there more famous than Gandalf. The entire silhouette of this costume, from the tall pointed hat down to the drape of the robe is instantly recognizable. This costume conveys a sense of mysticism and mystery of course. If this guy rolled up into your town dressed in a grey robe with a tall-pointed hat as such, you would know something odd is going on. On the other hand, the grey drape of the silhouette also gives off a wise, human feeling to the character that brings a sense of safety -making Gandalf a truly, loveable character.
Another fascinating fact, it is said that this character is actually in part inspired by the Norse-God, Odin.
it was specific attributes that Gandalf and Odin share that suggested a link between the wizard and the god. They saw that the most distinctive features of Gandalf — his hat, beard, staff, and penchant for wandering — were, as well, the key characteristics that Odin displays when he leaves Asgard and travels in disguise through the plane of human existence, the middle-earth of Norse mythology. During these earthly journeys, Odin does not appear as a stern and forbidding deity or a bloodthirsty god of battle — but rather as a grey-bearded old man who carries a staff and wears a hood or a cloak (usually blue) and a wide-brimmed, floppy hat.Verlyn Flieger, and Carl E. Hostetter – Tolkien’s Legendarium Essays on the History of Middle-Earth
4. Aragorn (Strider) – The Fellowship of the Ring
Okay, I seriously have a lot of love for this costume. The first time we meet Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortensen), he is a shady-looking character skulking about in the back of an inn, The Prancing Pony. At the time, he is known to the community of Bree as Strider.
Now, this costume has a lot of significance. To some, this might just be a dark costume with an ominous hood. But we have to look at where this costume is seen in the storyline. At the same time, the hobbits are arriving in Bree, they are being chased by another group of dark, cloaked figures known as The Ringwraiths. This is all also quite early in the film series, not much has developed in terms of the story, and that is exactly the point in the costume for Strider. The faces of good AND evil have not yet revealed themselves in this world, or to the audience.
While The Ringwraiths are clearly evil looking, the characters haven’t come to pass with them yet. They had a little chase, but the Hobbits ran from them as they would from any other figure of questionable background, for example, they even ran from Farmer Maggot like he was the dark lord himself. Aragorn is similarly cloaked in the veil of darkness and mystery. Aragorn will come to be one of the most loved characters of the story, but at this moment the costume is telling the audience that we have absolutely no reason to trust this man. He could be good, or he could be evil. Either way, the audience will have to proceed cautiously until the faces of good and evil emerge on this journey.
5. Arwen – The Fellowship of the Ring
I could easily do a whole article on the costume contributions of Arwen (played by Liv Tyler). The costumes worn by Arwen are often considered fan favorites, and I can validate that claim. Arwen first appears in what feels like a mirage of bright light. She glows, much like the Evenstar necklace around her neck. This is the first real interaction we have with the elves, not counting the opening scene of the film. So in ways, I feel like this first initial costume serves two purposes. First, it establishes the audience’s interpretation of the elven race. The elves are in every way, flawless. Their clothing is exquisite, beautiful, and intricate. The textiles feel superior, and the costumes usually have a glow of bright light to the theme, sparkling under the moonlight. The way you describe the clothing goes hand-in-hand with describing the elves in general.
The second purpose behind this costume is a part of the overall journey of this trilogy which we will recap toward the end of this article. Arwen, in many ways, represents hope. In our first meeting with Arwen, she is glowing in a radiant white light, as she extends her hands towards a very sick Frodo. When Arwen emerges in this stunning costume, the audience almost instantly knows everything is going to be okay. This is the first real resolution of conflict within the story. The last time we see Arwen in The Return of The King, Arwen is revealed in a very pale green dress that always came off as white to me, signaling the end of another conflict. We shall talk about that costume a little later!
6. Elrond – The Fellowship of the Ring
I am a big fan of Elrond (played by Hugo Weaving). Honestly, if I could be a Lord of the Rings character, it would probably be Elrond. Elrond lives in Rivendell, which is easily one of the most beautiful lands in Middle-Earth. He sits upon The White Council along with his good friend Gandalf. Elrond is a war-hero, as well as a father to Arwen. All in all, Elrond is the pinnacle of polished leaders within the story of The Lord of the Rings. Elrond is not exactly a “politician” type character, but an overall leader. With that, his costume is very elaborate. Using rich colors such as maroon, gold, orange, white. The embroidery details show very intricate details. What this costume tells the audience is that Elrond is someone who is in charge, and that should make you feel at ease. Elrond has been around for a very long time and will be here until the end. So while some characters might not be ready to put their trust in Elrond, the audience certainly is.
7. The Fellowship of the Ring
At this point in the story, we get to see The Fellowship of the Ring all together now! Joining the story for the first time is Legolas (played by Orlando Bloom), Gimli (played by John Rhys-Davies), and Boromir (played by Sean Bean). Ah so exciting, I feel like I am watching the film all over again! Finally, we get to see how all of the costumes work together, and what they say about the group as a whole!
First, we can look at the hobbits. We talked earlier about the difference in costume between Frodo and Sam. In comparison to the rest of the fellowship, the hobbit costumes tell us that the hobbits are humble, working people who are also quite leisurely. In terms of a dangerous quest into the dark realms of Mordor, the hobbits are drastically underdressed in terms of armor. Compared to the others, they look as though they are going to job interviews which is quite comedic to me. That storyline of under-preparedness plays out for the rest of the trilogy for the hobbits.
Aragorn and Boromir represent the race of men. Aragorn is in a dark, sophisticated costume- still in the veil of mystery. Aragorn is a major character not only to this fellowship but to the world of Middle-Earth as we come to learn. Aragorn has an identity he doesn’t want the world to know. Boromir on the other hand is the son of the Steward of Gondor, and he wants everyone to know. His costume is bolder in color, sort of that typical hero “knight in shining armor” type of costume. Boromir is driven by delivering glory to his home and family, and I feel like that kind of stands out in his costume.
Legolas is the only elf on the fellowship and has sophistication in his costume similar to Arwen and Elrond. While it becomes more practical as the films move forward, it should be noted his costumes bear a lot of intricate details, which speaks to the very focused, detailed state of Legolas’s mind. Legolas has keen control over his senses and rarely ever misses a shot with his bow.
Gimli is the major representative for the entire Dwarven race within this trilogy. Compared to the others, Gimli is armored for war right off the bat. In this initial costume, the audience gets the sense that the dwarves are strong, courageous, perhaps a little stubborn, and always ready for a fight.
Then lastly, we spoke of Gandalf earlier and I think it is very telling that his costume does not change from the story of The Hobbit to the formation of the fellowship of the ring. Gandalf remains the wise figure who serves as a guide for the fellowship. The overall silhouette still holds a tall stature of dignified wisdom, loyalty, and courage. Gandalf is not only an essential player in the overall story of Middle-Earth but a token of courage to the fellowship, especially the Hobbits.
8. Galadriel – The Fellowship of the Ring
I still get chills, just reviewing photos of Galadriel, The Lady of the Woods of Lothlórien. Played by Cate Blanchett, Galadriel is one of the greatest characters of the trilogy. There is much to say about this character, but I’ll try to focus on the costume. Galadriel is one of the mightiest of the elven race, standing above all others in beauty, knowledge, and power. Not only is she a respected voice within her realm, but within the fellowship. In their first meeting, Galadriel gifts Frodo with a phial containing the light of Eärendil’s star. This gift says everything to me in terms of choices in costume. Galadriel is the physical embodiment of good and light. Throughout the trilogy, Frodo uses his gift to light his way through dark places. Occasionally we hear the echoes of Galadriel’s voice, guiding Frodo through his journey. So in terms of her costume, of course, it is going to be the most stunning, all-white gown the costume designer can conjure.
Pondering this costume, I realized that this costume tells me that this character is almost of a religious statue, Goddess-like.
“Mary is often portrayed in much the same way as Galadriel: ethereal, bathed in light, gentle, beautiful, and inspiring. Each is viewed as a “queen”: Mary as Queen of the Catholic Church and Galadriel as the Lady of Lothlorien. Much as Galadriel is held in reverence by the Elves and the other inhabitants of Middle-earth, Mary is beloved by Catholics. Many in the history of the Catholic Church have been converted and reconciled through Mary’s grace and gentleness. In the same way, Gimli, a Dwarf, a race that does not get along with the Elves, has a change of heart after meeting Galadriel.”by Lady_Nienna – CouncilofElrond.com
Interestingly enough, author J. R. R. Tolkien created The Lord of the Rings not as a religious story, but his Catholic faith can be seen as an inspiration in some aspects of the story. Galadriel is one of the greatest examples.
Join me again next week as we continue this journey with more costumes from
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
“Tolkien’s Catholic Inspiration for Galadriel.” Council of Elrond, http://www.councilofelrond.com/content/tolkiens-catholic-inspiration-for-galadriel/.
Character Biography: Gandalf (Olórin) by Oshun, http://www.silmarillionwritersguild.org/reference/references/pf/gandalf.php.
Verlyn Flieger, and Carl E. Hostetter, eds., Tolkien’s Legendarium Essays on the History of Middle-Earth (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000) 220, Questia, Web, 2 Mar. 2012.