Frodo Baggins: The silent hero of Lord of the Rings
By: Zoe Ramsammy
It’s Hobbit Day! Something I feel very keenly as a relatively short lover of food, drink, and minding my own business… And of course, a lover of all things Lord of the Rings.
There is an argument, that seems to happen every single time I sit down to watch this trilogy with my family. (And that folks, is actually quite often.)
Who is the real hero of the story?
Without a doubt, you could make a case for at a good number of characters as to how they could be classified a hero in the trilogy. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jake made a good case for Samwise Gamgee, last hobbit day.
One argument that never fails to come up with my family, is that Frodo doesn’t really count as the hero even though he is technically the main protagonist. Much of the argument is something in the vein of: ‘well Frodo is only the hero because he carries the ring, and even if that’s difficult, he doesn’t actually destroy it himself in the end.’
If there is one thing that I stand by, it’s that it is downright harsh to argue Frodo is only a hero because he carries the ring.
Frodo is very much a typical hobbit, though it is his character which makes him the right one for the role of ringbearer. The one thing that has always struck me is that he doesn’t want the job. He offers the ring to Gandalf when it first passes to him, and his next suggestion is to hide it. Even when he does agree to take it outside of the shire, Frodo’s only goal is to take the ring to Rivendell. When he quickly comes to understand that there is no one else to fulfil the role entirely, he offers himself; he steps up to the task not because it will grant him honour, but because he knows that it is the right thing to do. At the end of the Fellowship of the ring, things come to a head with the Uruk-hai pursuing the fellowship and Frodo’s first instinct is to separate himself (and the ring) from the others. His heart is pure, and at every step of the journey he tries to do what is right. He bravely stepped up to do what was demanded of him, and that is the first mark of any hero.
This selfless good heartedness sets him apart from the other hobbits. That’s not to say that the other hobbits don’t make selfless sacrifices because that would be a bold face lie. However, Frodo’s selflessness goes beyond the good of middle earth, and beyond the kinship of the fellowship. He extends compassion to the creature who undoubtedly had ill intentions towards him from the moment he began following them in Moria: Gollum. Though he does not trust Gollum, Frodo still recognises that Gollum may still play a role in their journey; he spares Gollum’s life when Sam thinks it better to kill him, he allows Gollum to travel with them, and all the while he holds out hope for his redemption. Though Sam also spares Gollum’s life, he is a) not happy about it, and b) never treats Gollum with anything less than suspicion and disdain. It is Sam’s accusation that eventually pushes Gollum over the edge, though he resolved to serve Frodo.
Whilst we’re on Gollum, can we talk about how terrifying it must have been for Frodo to have a real-life mirror of the power of the ring’s corruption, following him around like a shadow?! You could argue that every time Frodo looked at Gollum, he was looking at his own potential future if he failed.
As the rings power slowly affects him, Frodo only becomes more compassionate. More than that he is humble; he is not afraid to ask Gollum (his frenemy) for help as a guide; he leans on his friendship with Sam, going as far as to admit that he wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam’s help; he recognises the change happening within him and apologises to Sam (more than once) for his troubling behaviour. There are not many kinds of people that would grow kinder in their suffering, it is one more way I’d argue that Frodo is most definitely heroic.
Now, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and as a fellow Catholic it’s impossible to ignore how much Catholic-ness is fused into this masterpiece. Tolkien is so loud with it, I’m sure Haldir could shoot it in the dark. (Seriously, I’ve been trying to hold back throughout this entire blog from being all nerdy about it… but I’ll save that for another time perhaps.)
Everything I’ve argued up until this point, leads into my next, which is that Frodo is a ‘Jesus’ figure. So perhaps the most evident testimony of his heroism, is not in his physical ability but the fact that he manages to carry the ring for as long as he does.
When Frodo takes on the journey to destroy the one ring, it kind of draws a parallel to Jesus carrying his cross- most especially in the final third of the trilogy. Frodo’s suffering is one he accepts and takes onto himself, for the good of not just himself but all of Middle Earth. Frodo understands what it will cost him, and he suffers every moment along the way, and yet he persists anyway. In Catholicism this is called ‘redemptive suffering,’ the very same concept that Jesus completes in his passion. It is at the heart of the Christian faith, and by extension (to the very Catholic Tolkien,) the highest form of heroism possible.
But of course, Frodo is not really Jesus, and so he fails. Right at the very end he fails; it is only by providence that the ring ends up destroyed. So, whilst even though could argue Frodo doesn’t technically destroy the ring, it does not take away from Frodo’s accomplishment at all. If anything, it is proof of his strength; nobody could have lasted as long against the ring’s corruption. I would even argue that Frodo’s failure is more important and relevant to us than if he’d been able to give it up easily.
The reason you could argue a case for each member of the fellowship is proof enough that Lord of the Rings is not about who is the hero. In many ways, there is no hero, every member of the fellowship is integral to the task’s success. So, the real question is, what credit is due to each character for their contributions?
It may be easy to dismiss Frodo because his battle is entirely invisible; while the rest of the fellowship are all battle cries and bloody swords, (even Sam kills an Orc or two) Frodo’s battle is always silent and internal. His battle against the corruption of the ring is the most important part of the entire quest, and we’ve pretty much established he’s the only one who could have done it.
Frodo is a hero, even if accidentally so. He is a hero that does not even believe that he has done a heroic thing; he asks for no praise, and instead shows deep gratitude to those that went with him. He reflects all of us: ordinary, unassuming, and not entirely immune to the power of evil, but with hearts that are initially good. Frodo that reminds us, when it comes to battles between good and evil even ordinary hearts can make a difference.
So, let’s pay this hobbit his dues, it’s more than deserved.