Frodo: a Suffering War Hero

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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, allows the contrast between the two to reveal the hidden message therein. This message suggests how to empathize with the true sacrifices that everyday heroes make in order to carry out their missions in the world of Middle Earth, as exemplified through the tale of Frodo Baggins.

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Before analyzing the monomyth, however, 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 an overarching structure that the protagonists follow. The ‘classic’ hero starts off in his/her ordinary world where everything is tranquil and they are just living their life. Their known world disappears when they are called to an adventure by an outsider or a force of evil.

The main character then struggles to accept their mission and eventually crosses the threshold into the unknown world. Here, in this new place that exists outside the comfort zone of the hero, he/she is exposed and vulnerable. This is why the hero often receives help in the form of a supernatural aid, like a sword or a mentor, to circumnavigate the perils that lay before them. In this new world, the hero will face challenges and/or temptations, and with the help from others, they are able to surpass them, growing stronger physically, mentally, or spiritually. Eventually, the hero faces a climax where good is almost defeated but a last-second revival saves the day – and the mission. The hero can then make the journey back to the ordinary world, having transformed into a new persona that allows them to atone for their past life and return to a new and improved existence. This is the hero’s journey, the structure of which will be compared to how the reader perceives the heroes within The Lord of the Rings, particularly one standout character.

The issue with an overarching plotline is that it does not necessarily accommodate all stories, as they often stand out for their discrepancies. As Caughey notes (404), “The Lord Of The Rings offers the reader not one quest-narrative or hero’s journey but several.” The narrative that follows the monomyth closely is that of Aragorn. His ‘song’ resembles an ‘average’ fairy tale. Aragorn, at the time known as Strider, lives in an ordinary world of adventure and freedom in the land of Rohan. He is free-willed, but his world, like his persona, begins to slowly change throughout the story. Gandalf, the fellowship’s mentor, starts to ask for Strider’s aid in protecting the shire and assisting the hobbits, a task that later involves the ring. Yet this epic figure is mostly a supporting character to an ordinary persona who eschews the typical journey.

Although Strider doesn’t refuse the call, he takes his time accepting it. The book reveals this when he hides his identity upon first meeting the hobbits, and gradually shows his true self. Even so, he might not yet accept his destiny. He faces several challenges as a leader and evolves because of them. The first instance is when he guides the hobbits to Rivendell, as they wouldn’t survive on their own. He needs to step into the role of a leader and prove himself. Subsequently, he moves closer to self-acceptance and leadership by revealing his lineage at the Council of Elrond. This shows the reader how our hero matures through various trials and challenges within the monomyth. He continues to progress throughout the journey, notably in the mines of Moria. After losing Gandalf to the devastating Balrog, Aragorn steps up as a leader. 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), demonstrating how Aragorn furthers his career as a commander, still under Gandalf’s final orders, not yet embodying a true leader.

Aragorn’s character further develops by learning through failure. The end of “The Fellowship of the Ring” finds the team disbanded and the current leader declaring, “I have failed,” and “vain was Gandalf’s trust in me” (Tolkien, iii 4). He blames himself for this turn of events, but this allows him to understand failure as a leader and to accept responsibility, thereby becoming stronger for the true test to come, as is typical in many storylines. The abyss is our hero’s darkest moment. For Aragorn, this is when he ventures into the land of the dead, rallying the troops to carry on and rescue Minas Tirith. Here, after slowly shaping himself as a leader throughout the journey, everything comes together. He “moves forward into a state of social and emotional maturity that fits him for the role of husband and father” (Caughey, 413), signaling that he finally accepts his position as king, or ‘father’, and can find his true love, becoming her ‘husband’. This concludes the foreseeable transformation in any story. He returns to the ordinary world as a hero, a king, transformed, once again bringing peace to Middle Earth. However, this time, it’s slightly improved, with Aragorn as the ruler working to heal his realm. This provides a satisfying conclusion to the hero’s journey.

Aragorn provides us with the typical hero’s journey archetype. A high-mimetic character starts to transform and mold themself over the story to become the person they were meant to be in order to save the story. They 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, p.45). We see Frodo, who has no real strengths or powers, assume the role of a hero to save the day. The whole objective of his quest is contrary to a normal story, “Aragorn’s is a true quest to win a kingdom and a princess … Frodo’s is rather an anti-quest.” Frodo doesn’t go to win something but to throw it away. Here Frodo is forced into destroying a ring to which he has no prior connection or interwoven relation. It is simply thrust upon him to deal with the problem given to him by Gandalf and Bilbo. This is a step in a different direction from most stories and draws the reader’s attention to inspect Frodo’s story more closely.

Frodo starts out in his peaceful world of the Shire, where he can go about his day-to-day life without worrying about the outside world. He then gets shoved into this atypical journey and, although he initially 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). It is about how Frodo’s mental state gets corrupted and his innocence is lost with the temptation of the ring, rather than him successfully completing his mission like an average hero. The quest itself is abnormal; as Rosebury states, “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 occur when he stands on top of Mount Doom with the ring teetering over the edge. The entire journey has led to this one crucial event in history, with the hero about to vanquish evil. Yet, he fails. Frodo keeps the ring instead of destroying it, failing in his one mission as the ring bearer. Frodo completes his mission only because Golem, corrupted by his future, turns on his “master” and selfishly steals the ring after Frodo spares his life, hoping there is still some good in him. As a result, Frodo has difficulty reintegrating into society. He fails in his job, but the mission is a success because he spared Golem’s life and still had hope. But the ring is thrown into the fire because it corrupted Golem to betray his ‘master’, thus enabling Frodo to accomplish his duty. This leaves Frodo’s mental state in ruins after he and his future self fail to resist the temptation.

Once Frodo returned to the Shire after the War of the Ring, he had trouble restoring his role within society. This was similar to a war hero returning home with potential survivor’s guilt, particularly because his other half, Gollum, did not survive. Added to this was the fact that the true events on Mount Doom were omitted: Frodo did not throw the ring in himself. So, in the eyes of everyone, Frodo is a high-mimetic hero who was able to overcome the temptation of the one ring and destroy it. Deep down, however, Frodo believes he failed at his mission and in preserving Gollum. 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). This explains why he ended up leaving the Shire and setting sail with the elves on an atypical journey, created to stand out to the reader subconsciously and highlight 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 who is 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 willingly accepting and being thrown into a quest. This demonstrates how Tolkien first starts to deviate from the typical adventure readers are used to seeing when Frodo does not have a choice to go on the quest or not, unlike most heroes.

It leaves the reader reflecting on how an average low-mimetic hero such as Frodo (who is paralleled to the everyday person) is able to make such a significant difference in the world and win the war, but at a cost. And during the War for the Ring, the main hero loses a part of himself on the battlefield and can never truly return. Even though Frodo never really fought in a battle, he was undoubtedly 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. He grew up on a nice little farm similar to the shire and was forced into WWI; there is no way of knowing for sure what happened to Tolkien during his time as a soldier. But, like with most soldiers, he most likely had to make sacrifices to survive during the war. This would have made him leave a part of himself on the battlefield, which changed him forever. He was always wishing he could go back to the time when he was on his little farm with his family. This could have been an inspiration for 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 it has changed throughout history. The author then analyzes 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 established with most books, stories, and films. This pattern is called the mono-myth or otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey.

In this journey, the main character of most books goes through 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 heroes’ paths in stories. She uses Aragorn, Frodo, and Bilbo as main evidence, as well as citing other analyses of The Lord of the Rings 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 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, making it 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 identify with, and Aragorn, a classic Epic hero portrayed 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, looking at both Tolkien’s manifest of documents as well as the main Lord of the Rings books. However, it does veer off into an unnecessary tangent into the critiques of the film adaptation. Beyond that, there is valuable information. 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 Sale’s essay criticizes The Lord of the Rings, delving into the connection between Frodo Baggins and Tolkien. It examines how such an insignificant species became the driving character of a world-altering quest within Middle Earth. The author also attempts 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 from the ring and his lengthy journey. He deeply analyzes Frodo’s mental state and why it led to his decisions that played out in the Lord of the Rings fantasy.

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Frodo: A Suffering War Hero. (2020, Feb 14). Retrieved from