16 June 2020

In defense of Frodo

Throughout what is proving to be one of the more difficult years of any of our memories, I find myself turning towards familiar comforts. One of my greatest delights is, of course, Middle-earth and the world of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve taken to it both in its digital form and by reading through passages of the novel itself yet again. In this time of difficulty and introspection, I find again that I am drawn to a particular character who perhaps does not receive the acclaim he really deserves.

Of course I’m talking about Mr. Frodo Baggins.

http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/tolkien-book-store/jay-johnstone-22.htm

Initially, and like many others with me who were more involved in the film than the books at first, I didn’t think much of him. At first glance he seems like little more than a sad mule for the Ring itself. This feeling is amplified by Elijah Woods' piteous performance. But as time has gone on, and as I’ve paid closer attention to Frodo, I find that both the character of the novels and his portrayal in the films are acutely accurate, commendable, relatable, and heroic. In fact I may go far as to say that Frodo is the hero of our current age.

I say this because Frodo’s battle is largely internal. Many of us are waging wars in ourselves, especially during this time of pandemic and social unrest. I know more people today with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and various other internal struggles than I have ever known, and I think more than the world or history has ever known (though this is likely in large part due to our current awareness, thanks to the field of psychology). To put it more bluntly, Fr Seraphim Rose said that the internal struggles we face in the last times are like the physical struggles faced by the early martyrs.

Though Frodo is “wounded by knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden,” his struggle is found in the greatest sense in his own person (largely thanks to the latter). The damage that Sauron‘s malicious spirit does to him through its embodiment in the Ring is absolutely unmendable.
How many of us can relate to such a struggle? Surrounded by the comfort of our own little hobbit holes, bent over a desk, trying to do what we feel we are meant to do, while completely crushed on the inside.

The book even alludes to this. Frodo is very saintly in his quietude and isolation. His trauma will not allow him to wield a weapon. He is almost monastic in his chastity and inner life, but the virtue of this is seen by none except Sam. The hero of the War of the Ring is mostly ignored by his own people.

This is not a discount Sam at all. Tolkien himself even called Sam the real hero of the story. And this is true, if by hero we mean anyone who behaves heroically, with courage, and with fortitude. But we find in him, even in his absolute undiminished humility and loyalty to his master, a more visible and I daresay worldly kind of heroism. If Aragorn is the mighty, noble warrior-king of renown, then Sam is the great folk hero of the Shire and the whole west of Midde-earth.Sam, even while remaining loyal to Frodo and his family and acting an unmitigated humility, is still very capable.

Frodo feels more like those of us who are incapable, who are preyed upon by our own inherent difficulties. Who don’t have the means to achieve worldly success. We simply don’t have "it" when that is what life demands of us.

So Frodo Baggins, the unsung tragedy of The Lord of the Rings may be the hero we need these days, the one whose happy ending doesn't come until all is said and done.

I don't mean to be grim, but I do mean to point out that while the histories of Middle-earth (and of course our own world) are full of great deeds and champions, there are also full of dead ends and heartache, made doubly hurtful when suffered by kindly hobbits. We may be in a time that requires us to pay attention to Frodo more than we have.

No comments: