Frodo: a Suffering War Hero
After reading the Lord of the Rings one might think that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth does not provide a universal structure for the heroes within J.R.R Tolkien’s life’s work. Frodo’s deviation from the hero’s journey while other characters follow a traditional story arch allowing the contrast between the two reveals the hidden message within. Which is how to empathize the true sacrifices of everyday heroes that they made in order to carry out their missions through the world of Middle Earth while following the tale of Frodo Baggins. Before analyzing the monomyth it is important to reveal the significant aspects that pertain to Tolkien’s work. Joseph Campbell created a theory that in every story there is this overarching structure in which the protagonists follow. The ‘classic’ hero starts off in his/her ordinary world where everything is tranquil and there are just living their life. The world they once knew is gone when they are called to adventure by an outsider or a force of evil.
The main character then struggles to accept their mission and eventually cross the threshold into the unknown world. Here in this new place that is outside the comfort zone of the hero he/she are exposed and vulnerable, which is why the hero receives help to avoid the perils that lay before them in the form of a supernatural aid like a sword or a mentor that facilitates the main character’s journey. Where they will face challenges and/or temptations that the hero is able to surpass them due to the help from others; and when the hero does, he/she grows stronger physically, mentally, or spiritually. Eventually, the hero succumbs to a climax in the face of evil where the good is almost defeated but a last-second revival saves the day and the mission. Where they can then make their journey back into the ordinary world where they have transformed into a new persona that allows them to atone for their past life and return to a new & improved life. This is the hero’s journey that will be compared to how the reader perceives the heroes within the Lord of the Rings and how one character, in particular, stands out.
The problem with an overarching plotline is that it doesn’t fit all stories, as they stand out for their discrepancies. In particular “”The Lord Of The Rings offers the reader not one quest-narrative or hero’s journey but several”” (Caughey, 404) and the narrative that follows the monomyth closely is Aragorn. His ‘song’ resembles an ‘average’ fairy tale. Aragorn (at the time known as Strider) has his ordinary world set in the land of adventure and freedom. He is a rider of Rohan that is free-willed, But his world, as with his persona, starts to slowly change throughout the story; Gandalf, the fellowship’s mentor, starts to ask for Strider’s aide in protecting the shire and assisting the Hobbits. Which later comes with the ring. Yet the Epic figure is still only a supporting character to an ordinary persona that strides away from the usual journey.
Although Strider doesn’t refuse the call, he takes his time accepting it. The book reveals it when he hides his identity when first meeting the hobbits and slowly reveals his true self, even though he may not yet accept what is to become of him. He faces several challenges as a leader and grows into one because of them. The first of these leading the band of hobbits to Rivendell because on there own they would not survive so he must step into the entry level position of a leader and prove himself. Afterwards, he takes another step to self-acceptance and leadership by revealing his identity in public at the Council of Elrond that he has the royal bloodline. Showing how our hero is maturing right in front of the reader throughout the proposed trials and challenges within the monomyth. He continues to progress throughout the journey particularly when in the mines of Moria, where the fellowship has just lost Gandalf to the devastating Balrog and Aragorn steps up as a leader when the text states, “”With a cry Aragorn roused them. ‘Come! I will lead you now!’ he called. ‘We must obey his last command. Follow me!”” (Tolkien, Book 1 pg 371) showing how Aragorn is furthering his career as a commander yet still doing so underneath the final orders of Gandalf as to not solidify him as a true leader yet.
Aragorn yet again grows as a character but this time by learning through failure. The end of the Fellowship of the ring leaves the team broken up and when the current leader yells out “”I have failed”” “”vain was Gandalf’s trust in me”” (Tolkien, iii 4)blaming himself for this turn of events but allowing him to learn failure as a leader and to accept responsibility ultimately making him stronger for the true test later on as a typical storyline goes. The abyss is the darkest moment for our hero, for Aragorn, it is when he makes his way into the land of the dead where he rallies the troops to fight onwards and save Minas Tirith. Here he commits to being a king after slowly molding himself as a leader throughout the journey this is where it all comes together. Where he “”Moves forward into a state of social and emotional maturity that fits him for the role of husband and father”” (Caughey, 413) showing how he finally accepts his position as king or ‘father’ and can find his true love as her ‘husband. Completing the foreseeable transformation in any story. He returns to the ordinary world as a hero, a king: transformed to where middle earth is once again in peace but in a slightly better way as Aragorn as the ruler to heal his realm and provide a nice closing circle to the hero’s journey.
Aragorn provides us with the typical hero’s journey archetype where the high-mimetic character starts to transform and mold him/herself over the story to become the person they were meant to be in order to save the story, and then return to the old world but it is transformed into a slightly positive aspect. This is where the story differs, instead of a Superhero, Auden made the point that The Lord of the Rings focuses on an average little hobbit that is representative of the reader (Auden 2004, 45). We see Frodo who has no real strengths or powers assume the role of a hero in order to save the day. The whole objective of his quest is opposite compared to what a normal story entails: “”Aragorn’s is a true quest to win a kingdom and a princess … Frodo’s is rather an anti-quest”” “”he goes not to win something, but to throw it away”” (here Frodo is forced into destroying a ring that he isn’t already connected or interwoven with. It is just thrown upon him to deal with the problem given to him from Gandalf and Bilbo. A step in a different direction than most stories that draws the reader’s attention to inspect Frodo’s story more.
Frodo starts out in his peaceful world of the shire, where he can go about his day to day life without worry of the outside world. He then gets shoved into this a-typical journey and although he tries to refuse. In fact, Sale argues that the journey of The Lord Of The Rings is similar to a descent into hell. (Sale, 1973) and how Frodo’s mental state gets corrupted and his innocence lost with the temptation of the ring rather than prevailing his mission like an average hero. The quest itself is abnormal compared to most, Rosebury states it well by saying “”the purpose of most quests is to acquire a sacred object, rather this quest is to get rid of something unholy.”” (Rosebury, 2003). Frodo’s climax and the true test is when he is on top of mount doom and with the ring over the edge of mount doom. The entire journey has led to this one crucial event in history; The hero about to vanquish evil, and yet he fails: Frodo keeps the ring instead of destroying it, his one mission as the ring bearer and he fails to accomplish it. To Frodo the only reason the overall mission was accomplished because of the corruption of his future self (Golem) to turn on his “”master”” and selfishly steal the ring from him after Frodo allowed him to live so that there was still hope in the hobbits future after being taunted by the ring. This is the reason Frodo has difficulty reintegrating with society. He failed his job, yet the mission was a success because he spared Golem’s life in hopes that there is still good in him so that Frodo can’t become that corrupted. But the ring is thrown into the fire because it corrupted Golem to betray his ‘master’ and Frodo to accomplish his duty. Leaving Frodo’s mental state in ruins after himself and his future-self failed to avoid the temptation.
Once Frodo returned to the shire after the War of the Ring he had trouble restoring his role within society; Similar to a war hero returning home with potentially some survivors guilt because his other half, Gollum, not surviving. That combined with the fact that the true events on Mount Doom were left out being: Frodo didn’t throw the ring in himself. So in the eyes of everyone, Frodo is a high-mimetic hero that was able to overcome the temptation of the one ring and destroy when deep down Frodo believes he failed at his mission and preserving Golem; He cannot truly trust himself as he believes he is still corrupted. Frodo’s departure is best explained by Stanton saying Frodo left due to being “”too severely wounded both physically and emotionally to continue living in the primary world”” (Stanton 225) which explains why he ended up leaving the shire and setting sail with the elves. An A-typical journey to make it stand out to the reader subconsciously and see the message behind it. The departure from the typical monomyth for the main character in the lord of the rings combined with a contrasting high-mimetic Aragorn whos secondary to Frodo allows the message behind Frodo’s adventure to stand out. Outside of the world of literature, there is a vast difference between a willing acceptance and getting thrown into a quest Showing how Tolkien first starts to deviate from the typical adventure the readers are used to seeing when Frodo does not have a choice to go on the quest or not, unlike most heroes.
Leaving the reader thinking about how an average low-mimetic hero such as Frodo (who is paralleled to the everyday person) is able to make such a difference in the world and win the war but because they are human, it has its costs. And during the War for the Ring, the main hero loses a part of himself on the battlefield and can never return. Even though Frodo never really fought in a battle he was certainly at the epicenter of the war and sacrificed a part of himself as the ringbearer to ensure its success.
This leads me to ponder whether Tolkien could’ve subconsciously created Frodo’s journey about his past. Where he grew up in a nice little farm similar to the shire forced into WWI; there is no way of knowing for sure what happened to Tolkien during his time as a soldier. but as with most soldiers, he most likely had to make sacrifices to survive during the war that made him leave a part of himself on the battlefield which changed him forever, always wishing he could go back to the time when he was on his little farm with his family and could an inspiration towards the shire and the journey of Frodo Baggins. Annotated Bibliography Auden, W.H. “”The Quest Hero”” Understanding the lord of the rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2004. This essay shows the variants of the common “”Quest Tale”” and how its changed throughout history. The author then goes to analyze Frodo as a hero and his storyline and progression within the Lord of The Rings. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With A Thousand Faces., commemorative ed. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2006. First Published in 1949 the hero of a thousand faces is a book that analyzes and recognizes the pattern that’s established with most books/stories/and films. This pattern is called the mono-myth or otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey.
In which the main character of most books goes through these archetypal transitions throughout the plot and ends up in a circle which could be repeated if necessary. Caughey, Anna. The Hero’s Journey., First Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2014. Caughey analyzes Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and uses several Hero Story Arcs within The Lord of the Rings to prove that there is not one central timeline that fits all Heros paths in stories. Using Aragorn, Frodo, and Bilbo as main evidence, as well as citing other analysis’s of The Lord of The Ring’s to support her claim. Drout, Michael D.C. “”Heroes”” In J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge, 2006. The Tolkien Encyclopedia offers a broad spectrum of knowledge with anything related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his writing works. This book is used to connect the ideas and views of the majority of Tolkien scholars and critics so that it is easy to see all viewpoints. Flieger, Verlyn. “”Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero.”” In Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1981. Flieger’s Essay consists of analyzing the contrasting storyline and hero roles between the two major characters within the Lord of the Rings. Frodo an ordinary hero who the reader can see themselves as, and the classic Epic hero portrayed through the role of Aragorn as a high mimetic hero. Rosebury, Brian. Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
This Book Traces the cultural development of Tolkien’s creation over time. And looks at both Tolkien’s manifest of documents as well as the main LotR books. However, does go off into an unnecessary tangent into the critiques of the film adaptation. But there is valuable information beyond that. Sale, Roger. “”Tolkien and Frodo Baggins”” in Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973 Roger Sales essay criticizing The Lord of The rings goes into the connection of Frodo Baggins and Tolkien as it sinks in how such an insignificant species became the driving character of a world altering quest within Middle Earth. The author also tries to draw special connections between the life of Tolkien and how it could potentially mirror Frodo’s. Stanton, Michael N, 2007. “”Frodo”” in J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopedia. London, Routledge Stanton’s Entry follows Frodo’s character as a hero and his journey throughout middle earth along with the decomposition of his mentality throughout the journey due to the corruption through the ring and his long winded journey. He really analyzes Frodo’s mental state and why it led to his decisions that played out in the Lord of the Rings fantasy.