Sunday, June 8, 2014

Frodo: A Guest Post by Heidi



Frodo Baggins
by Heidi

When first we hear of Frodo son of Drogo, he is an orphan. Brought up among the ‘queer Bucklanders’ and considered by many to be more than half a Brandybuck, he is being adopted by Bilbo as his future heir. Observant and clear-sighted, he is a lover of beauty, and also of maps and of elves, a ‘perky chap with a bright eye’ whom both Bilbo and Gandalf think the ‘best hobbit in the Shire.’ 



(Note, I haven’t watched the movies, so I’ll be discussing all this as it appears in the books.)

With his rich inheritance comes the great and dreadful Ring. Gandalf had said of the Ring, in his first long discussion with Frodo near the beginning, ‘It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.’ Of hobbits he said, ‘Among the Wise I am the only one that goes in for hobbit-lore: an obscure branch of knowledge, but full of surprises. Soft as butter they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots. I think it likely that some would resist the Rings far longer than most of the wise would believe.’

A bit farther on, Gollum’s name enters the conversation. At this point, if we’re picturing the Frodo we know from later, his first reaction may be a bit startling. ‘Gollum!’ cried Frodo. ‘Gollum? Do you mean that this is the very Gollum-creature that Bilbo met? How loathsome!’ ‘I think it is a sad story,’ said the wizard, ‘and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.’ ‘I can’t believe that Gollum was connected with hobbits, however distantly,’ said Frodo with some heat. ‘What an abominable notion!’ And farther still, ‘What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’ ‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.’ …‘I am sorry,’ said Frodo, ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’ ‘You have not seen him,’ Gandalf broke in. ‘No, and I don’t want to,’ said Frodo, ‘I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’

When he realizes what must be done about the Ring he says, ‘I do really wish to destroy it! …Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’ Nevertheless, he sets out -- going through hard adventure and dread fear and frightful pain to Rivendell, and once there, voluntarily takes on the further horrific task.


He is called to a mission, a mission stressing with horrible intensity the very places where he most needs change, and -- shaped by grief and pain and the weight of his burden -- he does change. The Frodo who meets Gollum above the Dead Marshes is a very different Frodo from the Frodo at the beginning. Grown in wisdom, he has learned the place of mercy, and knows also that the dealing out of final judgment -- final doom -- is not his.  

He has grown in wisdom and mercy, but at the same time, he is desperately fighting the growing power of the Ring. We see a lot of this through the eyes of dear, faithful Sam. As, in torment and travail, they near Mount Doom, Sam ‘guessed that among all their pains he (Frodo) bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind.’ Twice, he tries to fight Sam off. The second time, ‘A wild light came into Frodo’s eyes. ‘Stand away! Don’t touch me!’ he cried. ‘It is mine, I say. Be off!’ His hand strayed to his sword-hilt. But then quickly his voice changed. ‘No, no, Sam,’ he said sadly. ‘But you must understand. It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now, Sam dear. You can’t help me in that way again. I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.’

So we come to Mount Doom -- and to his claiming of the Ring and the final reappearance of Gollum. Frankly, this part always bothered me until recently. But lately, I’ve begun to see just how exciting it is. First off, if Frodo had somehow managed to drop the Ring into the fire himself (as well as trivializing the danger) we would have much more of a straight-forward allegorical tale with him as the central Christological figure. Instead, we have (at least) two other major Christ-type figures, with all of them together contributing to a much fuller, richer glimpse and a tale of marvelous depth and complexity.

Second:  initially, Frodo was sent on an almost hopeless errand, not knowing (if he even reached the mountain) how he would ever gain the strength and will-power to destroy the Ring. Yet the conflict isn’t resolved by deux ex machina, either. Gollum was shown mercy over and over again -- by Bilbo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, and even Faramir -- all with the idea that he had yet a purpose to fulfill and offering further opportunity for repentance. He was under oath to both Frodo and Faramir against treachery. ‘Then I say to you,’ said Faramir, turning to Gollum, ‘you are under doom of death; but while you walk with Frodo you are safe for our part. Yet if ever you be found by any man of Gondor astray without him, the doom shall fall. And may death find you swiftly, within Gondor or without, if you do not well serve him.’ Frodo had earlier warned him that a similar oath on the Ring would twist him to destruction.

So the mission incredibly succeeds -- succeeds as themes of wisdom and mercy flash brilliantly into focus, and a divine, overarching doom falls. From Sam again, ‘Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,’ said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again, and in his eyes there was a peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire. ‘Master!’ cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free.’

Here we come to a really interesting point. Frodo had to be saved. Now again in some ways (his burden-bearing for others, the royal temptations he faces, the pain and the anguish, the knife-wound, and the chilling, torturing, death-like experiences, etc.), Frodo can definitely be seen as a Christ-type figure. But -- while all that is absolutely true -- I think it equally true that he could just as well be a picture of us. I’ve also come to the conclusion that, of any of the characters within the story, he might actually best be compared to Boromir. Both are strong and honorable yet stumble at the same temptation, both are saved by grace and repentance (in seeing their actions clearly), and both are treated afterwards as being no less worthy of all honor and respect. And both see something through all the way to the end of their road, though death (in metaphor or reality) lies at the end of it.


Finally, on the slopes of Orodruin, surrounded by spewing flames and shattering earth, Frodo (and Sam) lie prostrate, starving and thirsting. And against all hope they are saved. The eagles come, bearing Gandalf, and they are brought out of fire and death and the tumult of destruction. Awaking in a place of dappled sunlight and cool green shade, they find themselves in the garden of Gondor and in the keeping of the King -- of the King who has tended and saved them -- of the King whose crown Frodo later bears.

Frodo, a richly adopted heir is, in the fullness of time, given and called to a task. A humble being, fighting and winning and losing against temptation (and yet succeeding because of the wisdom and mercy he has learned), he is led by his calling on a path of sufferings and death and darkness. And he is brought out again to glory -- to light and to joy, to a place of fresh raiment and song. Brought with a multitude of others to a place of piercing joy, to ‘regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.’ And to a place where -- crowned with circlets of silver -- he and Sam are led with high praise to seats of honor at the King’s table.



(Hamlette's note -- thanks for another lovely character exploration, Heidi!  You've added so much to this read-along!)

2 comments:

  1. Oh, you're most welcome... Thank you so much for having me! I really enjoyed it. :-)

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    1. I'm glad you like how it turned out!

      I had never really thought about Frodo as the ultimate symbol of US. I generally just dismissed him as boring and, in the end, not the hero you'd expect a protagonist to be. But perhaps part of the reason I've never liked him particularly well is that he IS so similar to me -- I'm not a hero, I'm not always that interesting, I don't always conquer my problems. But now that I've read your post, I think I finally get what Tolkien was doing with the character -- thank you so, so much!!!

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