I’ve stopped keeping count of the times people have told me that Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and that Frodo is weak and a whiner. It’s mostly the people who have only seen the Peter Jackson movies – which I love – but there were some book readers as well. And you know what? That makes me mad. Very mad. That’s why I’m writing this defence of the hobbit known as Frodo Baggins.
Frodo Baggins. Son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck. Shire-hobbit. Elf-friend. Ring-bearer.
Frodo spends most of his childhood being a cheeky rascal and listening to the stories of the adventures of his uncle Bilbo Baggins. His own adventure, however, turned out to be quite different. There would be no barrel rides, no slaying of Dragons and no chests of well-deserved gold for Frodo. It’s not that kind of quest, and he’s not that kind of hero.
But a hero is exactly what Frodo is.
I don’t usually care for heroic rankings, but I guess you can split up the fellowship into heroes, greater heroes and the greatest hero. Think of the members that make up the fellowship: Aragorn, a ranger well-versed in tracking, hunting and the killing of the foul servants of evil. Legolas, an Elven prince who is more than a thousand years old and is a highly skilled warrior. Boromir, the soldier from Gondor and son of the current steward. Gimli, a dwarven warrior with a love for battle. Gandalf, Istari (basically of the same order as the Balrog of Morgoth, by the way) and wise man. Heroes one and all.
Then you have Merry and Pippin. Two regular hobbits who had to become fighters if they were to survive. And Sam, who arguably achieved great feats through sheer willpower and the power of friendship alone. Greater heroes.
Frodo, the one who became the Ring-bearer of the One Ring as much through circumstance (being Bilbo’s nephew) as through choice. The greatest hero. The true hero.
Frodo was the one who offered to take the One Ring into Mordor and destroy it at the council of Elrond in Rivendell. And by that time he’d already been hunted, nearly killed more than once (barrow wights, Old Man Willow, ringwraiths, etc.) and nearly became a wraith himself after being stabbed by the Witch-King. He knew what kind of evil was after the Ring, he’d already felt some of the effects of the Ring and he knew he was just a regular hobbit. Yet he volunteered.
Sure, the fellowship was formed immediately afterwards, but he couldn’t have known that was going to happen. And he then left the fellowship after seeing the effects the Ring had on poor Boromir. He decided to go it alone; he only took Sam with him because he forced Frodo’s hand.
Some people point towards the many brave acts the other fellowship members have pulled off and call Frodo weak and reactionary. Yes, most of the fellowship gets to fight; orcs, goblins, Uruk-hai, etc. Sam gets to fight Shelob. But I would like to point out that these are all physical fights and tangible enemies. They get to fight evil with sword, bow and axe in hand. Frodo fights as well, but his is a fight of the mind.
From the moment Gandalf sends Frodo to Bree to meet up with him so they can travel to Rivendell together, the Ring is trying to assert control over Frodo. It’s trying to take over his mind, to corrupt his spirit, to bend him to its will and the will of Sauron, the Dark Lord. And from that same moment, Frodo fights. It was surprising he even made it as far as Rivendell with his mind and being intact and uncorrupted. He fought the effects of the Ring for eleven months – from setting out to Rivendell until Sauron was finally defeated when the Ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. And that doesn’t even take into account the shenanigans that went on afterwards in the Shire.
Let me tell you, personally, as someone who suffers from a severe case of dyscalculia, I’d rather fight my disorder physically (like the rest of the fellowship got to do with evil) and actually be able to defeat it (perhaps) if I just kick its ass hard enough. It’s easier to defeat a tangible thing.
But, some people will (maybe even gleefully) point out, Frodo didn’t defeat Sauron. He failed. He arrived at Mount Doom and took the Ring for himself. Yes, Frodo went through all that hardship and all those troubles and then failed. But let me ask you this: which is more exhausting?
A) Having to climb up and down a mountain every day for a month.
B) Having to climb up and down a mountain every day for a month, without so much as a little sleep at night and with harrowing visions of what will happen if you let evil win during the day.
The answer is B. Frodo went through everything Sam went through with the added ‘bonus’ of the assault on his mind and spirit during the day and bouts of insomnia at night. And we haven’t even taken into account that the Ring also physically gets heavier the closer they get to Mordor. Boromir nearly succumbed to the Ring only by being near it, Sam was already more heavily affected by carrying the Ring only for a short while, and by the time Frodo is betrayed by Gollum near Shelob’s lair, he’s already half out of his mind from exhaustion.
So when he’s standing there, in the place where the One Ring was originally forged, he fails. For eleven harrowing months he’s fought – not just for himself, but for the fate and freedom of all the free people of Middle-Earth – and when he finally gets to the endgame of his quest, exhausted mentally and physically, he breaks and fails. This shouldn’t make people mad; it should make people sad.
All the other members of the fellowship, except for Boromir obviously, get something out of the quest in the end. Aragorn becomes the King of Gondor and marries Arwen, the love of his life. Legolas and Gimli have become the best of friends and go traipsing all over Middle-Earth to look upon beauty. Merry and Pippin (get to grow taller than most hobbits and) marry beautiful hobbit women back home in the Shire. Sam marries his beloved Rosie Cotton, has thirteen children and even becomes the Mayor of the Shire at one point.
For Frodo, there was nothing to go back to and nothing to gain. Plagued by the wounds of his quest, both the mental ones and the physical ones, he can never truly be happy again. Not in the Shire, and not in Middle-Earth. The world he tried to save could no longer enchant him and give him joy. His spirit was so damaged he decided to join Gandalf, Elrond, Bilbo and Galadriel on their journey to the Undying Lands, hoping he could heal his broken spirit and find some inner peace.
Frodo broke and was never quite whole again.
If that isn’t true heroism, I don’t know what is.