LOTR--The Books This Time--Frodo as True Hero

"The Lord of the Rings--The Book This Time" posts address the following topics:

Tolkien is rightly perceived as the man who, alongside C.S. Lewis, brought fantasy to the modern world. Granted, it was here all along, even in America. But the popularity of The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books opened up markets for British and American writers of sword and sorcery. Alongside the growth of mystery novels (and, much later, the elevation of romances), I call this the Genre Revolution!

Here is the "however": although Tolkien is responsible for (re)establishing all the classic elements of a fantasy novel--the quest, the companions, the magical item--he didn't just stick all such elements in a bag and shake them up; the elements did not dictate content (in fact, one could argue that Tolkien, like Lewis, was so steeped in Norse and Anglo-Saxon tales and legends, he didn't even realize how consistently he was utilizing their motifs).

Consequently, when Tolkien brings Frodo to Mount Doom, he does not have Frodo just toss the ring in on the classic justification that he is the hero--ergo, he can do everything!
Sam & Frodo's trip takes a week. Aragorn attacks
Mordor at the top-hand Northwest gate. As the
map illustrates,  this would distract the eye at Bara-dur.

The ring has been a true burden, not a token one (ha ha). No one else could have carried it so far, as Gandalf and Galadriel acknowledge when they refuse to take it. The ring, by its nature, consumes will. It is the ultimate nothingness which sucks up light and hope and thought. It must have an impact, and its impact must go beyond the physical (although it does weigh Frodo down). Frodo must be affected psychologically in order for the entire trilogy not to be a waste of time. The pay-off must merit the problem.

Frodo doesn't throw the ring in Mount Doom. I know some people consider this a lack of heroism, but to me, Frodo's heroism is everything he has done before arriving at Mount Doom, everything that makes the climax possible. Gollum's arrival is not a deus ex machina; Gollum is there precisely because Frodo made it possible for him to be there. Like his uncle, Frodo spared Gollum's life (Frodo more than once). Frodo used Gollum (in the absence of other guides) to lead him into Mordor. Frodo crossed Mordor despite great weariness, bringing himself, the ring, and Gollum in his wake to the crucial place.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo contemplating
what to do with the pitiful Gollum.
To me, Tolkien is painting the ultimate picture of grace, and I find it downright comforting. Frodo--who has suffered so much--is only required to do what is possible, what he can do, what is within his abilities. He is stretched to the limit, but in the end, he really isn't expected to be some supranormal superhero who can do everything and resist everything, etc. etc. He is only supposed to be himself.

Consider that Frodo surely tells Gandalf and Aragorn what occurred at Mount Doom--he did lose a finger! No one reproaches him. No one behaves as if he was a failure. He is, rather, honored by wizards and men and elves. The point is that he got the ring where he said he would against fearful odds, not that he adopted the proper role of "hero" at the proper time.

Tolkien is completely underestimated in this regard. Since he was writing world fantasy and since he created a good versus evil story, his comprehension of basic human nature is sometimes ignored. Granted, C.S. Lewis was a little more obvious and direct in his explorations of human fallibility and variability. But it's all there in Tolkien!

Take for instance Jackson's brilliant casting of Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The personality that Tolkien ascribes to the master is fully realized in Stephen Fry (who can capture pompous-political-nabob better than anyone on record).

The Master of Laketown's portrait.
In the book, the master is extremely self-serving and coolly political. He funds Thorin's expedition because he believes that the dwarfs are imposters who will die in the wilderness as soon as they run out of food. He doesn't for a moment expect them to succeed! However, despite disbelieving their claims, he sees no reason not to capitalize on their popularity! What a politician!!

Jackson simply builds on this--it is ALL in the book. And Tolkien put it there. His villains may not all be as subtly drawn as the Master. But his heroes are real heroes, not cookie-cutter heroes-as-already-constituted (just add fairy dust).

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