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Gandalf is a wizard who was once passed over for the post of the head of the White Council, which went to Saruman. In the course of the novel, Gandalf is a leader and mentor to Frodo and many others. Gandalf knows his powers and his limitations and refuses the Ring when Frodo offers to him. He uses his powers only for the cause of Good against Evil and never takes advantage of it. It is Gandalf who roams Middle-earth looking for information and allying strength against Sauron. Gandalf not only saves the lives of Faramir and the Hobbits, but also puts himself in jeopardy to let them live.
Gandalf the Grey becomes Gandalf the White after his fight with the Balrog. He is thrown to his death but comes back to life. Everything that Gandalf does is done deliberately and with deep thought. He chooses Sam as Frodo’s companion, just as he chose Bilbo to accompany the Dwarves in The Hobbit. Gandalf is fair and wise, offering Saruman a chance to repent.
Gandalf is a reassuring presence in the novel. Every time he shows up, the tone changes from one of frantic desperation to one of security and direction. Gandalf encourages the other characters to be the best they can be. He often leaves when the situation is under control and returns only when his help is needed.
Sauron is the evil servant of Morgoth who fled from the blessed Realm to settle in Middle-earth. He is the cause of all the destruction and corruption in Middle-earth. Sauron is the one who originally forged the Ring of Power, in order to control the world.
Sauron is the principle agent of evil, commanding the Nazguls to wreak havoc in the world. He brings Sarumon under his control and enlists the help of creatures like Orcs, wargs, trolls, dragons and men to work for him.
Sauron is only a servant of Morgoth. His end signals peace on Middle-earth, but not the end of evil.
Aragorn, who is also known as Strider the Ranger, turns out to be the rightful king and heir of Isildur of Gondor. He is valiant and wise, and nearly as reassuring a presence as Gandalf. He is a fair leader, even making his way through the Paths of the Dead to enlist the help of the Dead and give them an opportunity to rest in peace by helping him.
Aragorn is a close friend of Gandalf. Like the wizard, he seems to come along at just the right time, in order to save the Hobbits or protect their companions. Being a true king, Aragorn has the power to heal, which he uses on Faramir, Eowyn and Merry. He ends up marrying Arwen, whom he loves.
Aragorn reveals himself to Sauron as the heir of Isildur knowing that Sauron might be compelled to act rashly upon hearing this. Being a Numenor he has a life span that is much larger than ordinary men. Arwen gives up her immortality to marry him.
Smeagol was once a Hobbit living on Middle-earth near the Misty Mountains. His cousin Deagol discovered the Ring, but Smeagol murdered him and claimed the Ring for himself. Smeagol was banished by his people and given the name of Gollum (The Ring ultimately ruined him, so that he longed for it as the cost of morality).
Gollum is desperate for the Ring, like an addict in withdrawal. Even when he is tamed by Frodo, and recalls some of his former goodness, he still cannot ward off the evil lust of the Ring. In the end, Gollum actually fulfills Frodo’s destiny by stealing the Ring from him. In his excitement at having bitten Frodo’s finger off (thus acquiring the Ring) Gollum falls over the edge into Mount Orodruin. He is an agent of Fate. No matter what his objective is, in the end he fulfills the destiny that was set for him.