Is Frodo Baggins a Hero?

by Lorenzo Baehne

Over the last few nights I re-watched the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson's now-classic adaptation of Tolkien's famous trilogy is always a delight to sit through. Fair warning, though: I've not read the books upon which the movies are based. Or rather, I've not read all of them.

It took me a year to get through the first book of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. If allowed a brief moment of literary blasphemy, the reason for this is I found Tolkien's style not to my liking and the story altogether long-winded. To add to his verbosity Tolkien quite unnecessarily included a good many songs which particularly grated upon my patience. I hardly need say, then, I did not attempt reading the other two volumes. Therefore, these observations of mine are based solely upon the Peter Jackson films.

It may elude one's notice upon the first viewing (or even the fourth) that Frodo Baggins contributes little to the fellowship of nine. If pressed, I would have to concede that Frodo's solving the riddle above the door to the Mines of Moria, thus granting his friends access, is the only moment in which he does anything helpful.

Apart from this singular instance Frodo is essentially a glorified strong box which must be carried—and upon two occasions this was literally the case—from point A to point B. But he's not very good in this capacity either, for Boromir at one stage, due to Frodo's carelessness, lays his own hands upon the ring, and in another our would-be hero freely offers the ring of power to Galadriel. However, those around Frodo (Gandalf, Boromir, Aragorn, and others) act with all the valor and heroism a lover of heroic fantasy could hope for. But Frodo himself seems little more than a blundering tourist on this harrowing adventure across Middle Earth; a tourist who must be saved at nearly every turn.

Perhaps the most stinging slap to the face of his comrades is the fact that once he and Sam reach Mount Doom, and after everyone's sacrifice, Frodo succumbs to the wiles of the ring. Poised above the fiery depths below he impishly declares, “The ring is mine!” And although the ring is ultimately destroyed, its destruction came about only by accident. Gollum leaps upon the invisible Frodo, they tussle over the ring of power, and the pair of them tumble off a precarious ledge. Ring in hand, Gollum plummets toward the molten lake, but is so enamored of the artifact he's oblivious that he falls to his doom.

One has to wonder, too, at the cold, shameful reality of this final act of weakness. Frodo must surely have felt a keen sense of fraudulence whilst receiving a hero's welcome by his friends and others. (Knowing all the while that Sam bore witness to the entire episode and knew the truth only too well). We cannot blame Frodo, then, for departing with the elves for a land unknown. A place where he would not be confronted by his crushing failures mirrored daily in the face of Samwise, a perpetual reminder that when it mattered most Frodo failed to rise to the occasion. This is hardly a hero's answer, though, is it?—running away. For Frodo knows in his heart that he was tested and found wanting, and there is no escaping that very personal truth.

Which leads me back to my original question: is Frodo a hero? He is a protagonist, certainly. But a hero? If we answer yes, then let me ask one further question: in light of this admittedly unconventional perspective wherein Frodo does nothing heroic, how then do we justify labeling one a hero who lacks heroism?