Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Gardener as Hero, or Why Sam Gamgee Is the Best

"Well, I'm back."

The words with which JRR Tolkien chose to end The Lord of the Rings are basic but effective, just like the character who speaks them. Sam Gamgee seems at first like a secondary member of the Fellowship. Over the course of their journey, return and restoration of peace in the Shire, though, Sam becomes much more than just Frodo Baggins' accompaniment and guard. He becomes the reason the Ring is destroyed at all--his willingness and ability to support Frodo throughout the latter parts of their journey are the reason the pair manage to get to Mordor. Sam, unlike Frodo, is able to complete his mission, overcome it and return to the Shire to live. Unlike Frodo, he shows no long-term ill effects from the journey the Fellowship took.

It is Sam, not Frodo, who is the ultimate hero of The Lord of the Rings.

There are many different hero archetypes on display throughout the books--Aragorn, born into a noble family and destined for great things; Frodo, the doomed hero who ultimately fails to overcome his personal "dragon"--the Ring; and Eowyn, whose martial prowess conflicts with the position she is intended to hold in life. Sam is different from all of the other heroes in the book because his ultimate mission is not inwardly driven. He wants to go along with his master to help keep him safe.

At the council of Elrond, he betrays his hiding place out of worry for Frodo. "'But you won't send him off alone, surely, Master?' cried Sam, unable to contain himself any longer, and jumping up from the corner where he had been quietly sitting on the floor" (LotR 271). Significantly, Sam doesn't specifically ask to be sent with Frodo. He is simply concerned that Frodo not be sent on his own. Merry and Pippin, on the other hand, beg to be allowed to be a part of the party. While Gandalf supports their request, Elrond is initially unsure. This stands in stark contrast to the situation with Sam--he stood and protested Frodo being sent alone and was immediately told he could accompany his master. Clearly, Elrond sees some moral fortitude within Sam that will make him invaluable to the Fellowship.

In the later stages of the journey, Sam becomes increasingly important. In the encounter with Shelob, Sam's character makes a huge stride. The title of the chapter, "The Choices of Master Samwise," reflects this change. At the beginning of his battle with Shelob, "'now come, you filth!' he cried. 'You've hurt my master, you brute, and you'll pay for it'" (LotR 730). It is not only concern for Frodo that enables Sam to defeat Shelob. His own confidence is boosted by anger and allows him to channel some kind of power from the sword and send Shelob back into her cave once and for all. Sam's conversation with the comatose Frodo after the battle demonstrates Sam's character progression--"'O, wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!'" (LotR 730). He has moved into the final stages of accomplishing his journey.After this point, Sam and Frodo's relationship is one of caretaker and cared-for rather than master and servant.

Ultimately, Sam's selfless mission allows him to come out of the journey relatively unscathed. His desire to put down roots in the Shire and make a life for himself ultimately overcomes his feelings of servitude to Frodo--he doesn't choose to sail west with Frodo and the elves. Frodo is right when he tells Sam, '"You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years'" (LotR 1029). No longer does Sam need to take on both his own burdens and Frodo's. He can now focus on his true purpose--restoring the Shire. Sam is not broken by the journey because of his selfless motives and his next demonstration of selflessness--getting the Shire back to its former glory--will allow him to get past his need to constantly be serving Frodo.

The message in Sam's story is that the best hero is one who serves by choosing to do so and that accomplishing the mission of helping someone else can ultimately be the key to that person finishing his or her mission. Without Sam, the Ring would never have been destroyed; even if it were, the Shire would not have been restored to its former glory. Sam is not a tragic hero like Frodo or a born king like Aragorn. His breed of heroism is one of selfless service and trimming leaves.

--Micah Sperling

On Degrees of Heroism the Failure of Heroes

Much of our discussion on Wednesday was devoted to classifying characters as heroes: in particular, the parallels between Aragorn and Frodo. Over the course of our discussion, however, I began to find the idea of a clinical, objective definition of heroism to be problematic, if not impossible, to reach. If we are to reduce the conditions of possibility for heroism to their barest qualifiers, we might arrive at the following list:

  • A hero must go on a quest
  • A hero must oppose evil
  • A hero must be prepared to sacrifice for the good of the quest

It is important to note that all of these criteria must be met willingly, if not with gusto; again, the selfless, sacrificing nature of the hero is important. It is not that he wishes to do so, but puts the journey over his own wellbeing; he stands in opposition to evil out of moral obligation, not by accident or self-preservation. Merely slaying a creature of evil – it can be imagined that Orc infighting was not unheard of – does not recreate an opposition to evil. The opposition must be moral, and only physical where the quest necessitates it.

We talked in class about slaying monsters in relation to heroism; slaying a beast out of desire to be a hero is not, in my opinion, heroic in the sense that Tolkien’s heroes are meant to be, but rather is reminiscent of heroes of the Beowulf mold. Acts of valour may be considered a factor in increasing the degree of heroism, which certainly needs to be addressed, but are not in themselves a qualifier for heroism. Rather, the hero’s main preoccupation should not be self-serving, but should be centered on his quest, be it a literal or metaphysical one. The opposition of evil will necessarily serve his quest, and speak to his moral stamina; he opposes evil at his own expense, not because he is not afraid, but out of obligation to his task. This lends him appearances of valour, and indeed does allow him to perform acts of bravery, but it must be in the name of his quest.

The questions we are left with, then, by the contents of the Tale itself are these: Can one who meets the above criteria be nonetheless, non-heroic, owing to some other factor? What precludes one from heroism? And finally, what determines degrees of heroism, i.e. how can we consider one character more of a ‘real hero’ than another, as Tolkien does in declaring Samwise the true hero of the Tale?

Can a character who meets criteria for heroism not be a hero?

The first question is inspired by Frodo himself – Frodo, who squarely meets the basic criteria for heroism listed above, but ultimately fails in his quest. The question is less, ‘can a self-sacrificing person on a quest, who stands willfully in opposition to evil, be a non-hero?’ due to some personal moral defect – this could be explored, and certainly we could argue examples, but such a blemish of character would likely lead either to an unwillingness to oppose evil, or self-interest that would subvert the importance of the quest. In Frodo’s case, it was neither of these things that led to his failure. Frodo unarguably meets the criteria outlined above – he offers himself for the journey, in spite of dangers both known and unknowable, with no expectations but that he would carry the Ring as far as the body and mind of a Hobbit newly thrown into a world of darkness could do. His inability, at the end, to let go of the Ring, did not result from a lack of desire to oppose the forces of evil, nor from his own personal interest or desires. Rather, it was the Ring’s power, at the cracks of Mount Doom, the strongest it had ever been, that halted him. Tolkien himself, in Letter 246, acknowledges that it was a physical and mental impossibility for Frodo to relinquish the Ring at this point – indeed, that none could have done so, even Gandalf. Frodo’s intent to see the journey through was evident from the beginning – “I will take the Ring,” he said, “Though I do not know the way.” His inability to destroy it, I think, cannot rob him of the title of hero – else, we are left with a world entirely devoid of them.

That said, it can hardly be thought that Frodo is the only hero of this tale. Tolkien calls Sam the “chief” hero of the story; This is perhaps a lofty claim, and one that cannot be applied to one character alone, which brings us to the second question, the answering of which may prove impossible at the end, and indeed a moot point. For the sake of exploration, however, we shall continue, in brief.

What actions or attributes influence one’s degree of heroism?

The Fellowship was necessary because the quest could not be undertaken by one hero alone. All those involved in the destruction of the Ring, in fact, meet the essential criteria for heroism. If we are to declare one a ‘truer’ hero than the others, what factors are we to use? Royal or divine birth? A tragic past? An ordinary man with greatness thrust upon him? Acts of valour, possession of great wisdom or bravery, or admiration of a people? The list is inexhaustible, and all of these factors have been used at one time or another to define a ‘hero.’

We spent a lot of time comparing Aragorn and Frodo, in terms of what makes them heroic and who is the ‘real’ hero of Lord of the Rings. Eventually we came around to Sam, as Tolkien did. Of less import to our conversation were Merry and Pippin, and we did not, as they were not relevant to the topic of the day, even consider Legolas or Gimli or Gandalf. Their roles as heroes, however, cannot be ignored. They cannot be classified as “mentors” or “companions” or otherwise instruments of the struggle, while ignoring the things that make them heroic. Yes, they are all of these things, but they are also heroes in their own right. It could never be said that any of them failed to oppose evil, or did not sacrifice their own interests in the name of the journey the Fellowship was bound for. Nor, I think, should we attempt to ‘rank’ them as heroes; Éowyn’s slaying of the Witch King, Legolas’s diplomacy at Lothlórien, and Sam’s constant fidelity are vastly different attestations to their status as heroes, but none should be considered worthier than the others. Rather, they are different kinds of heroes, all of whom play a necessary and irreplaceable part in the service of the quest.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Modern Heroism

                Merry and Pippin are central points of view and are clearly main characters in the story, and yet they are an archetype apart from the epic hero Aragorn or the fairy hero Sam.  In fact, it is difficult to say exactly what archetype they fit into.  I would argue that they are not meant to fit into either hero archetype Flieger discusses, but something different altogether.
                Considering the various myths describing heroes, we can get a pretty accurate sense of how to identify a typical one.  Heroes go on quests.  They seek to rule a kingdom, or win the heart of a princess, or rescue a damsel, or find a holy grail.  They travel to far-off lands, often into Faerie, and come back changed.  Many of them are born into obscurity and rise to a challenge.  And, as we have discussed in class, heroes slay monsters and fight evil.
                Tolkien’s main characters fit these attributes in varying degrees.  Flieger draws a distinction between two kinds of heroes that can somewhat classify the Men and Hobbits we know.  The epic or romantic hero is a noble doer of great deeds, a person of almost superhuman ability and renown, who influences great events.  Aragorn, for example, as the heir of Elendil and leader of Men, sways the political landscape of Middle-Earth as he wanders back into the world.  “We admire him, but we do not identify with him.”  The fairy-tale hero is more a commoner, thrust into events beyond their control but with their own goal to accomplish.  Many are also elf-friends with access to Faerie.  Frodo is quite literally a small person in a big world.  Tasked with destroying a magical object of power, he ventures through Faerie and returns with more than a few scars.  (Flieger, “Frodo and Aragorn”, 124)
                But Merry and Pippin have no grand task on the scale of Aragorn or Frodo.   Their background isn’t mysterious or particularly obscure; in fact, it’s pretty average for two hobbits.  Neither of them possesses superhuman ability or commands political sway outside the Shire.  They would seem closest to a fairy-tale hero, but they aren’t elf-friends either; even though they are allowed into Lórien and Rivendell, they have no knowledge or much curiosity for the elves.
                Flieger speaks about the epic-romantic hero compared with the fairy-tale hero as a medieval-versus-modern relationship, which characterizes Tolkien’s story as well.  The epic-romantic hero is someone we as readers can’t identify with very well, and derives inspiration from mostly ancient stories like Homer’s epics and Norse myths.  The fairy-tale hero is much more identifiable and common in contemporary work, particularly the works of Brothers Grimm, but tales of the sort have existed as long as the epic has. (Flieger, 124-125)
                Still, the typical fairy-tale hero leaves something to be desired in terms of modernity.  They are common people, but still have ties to the ancient Faerie.  In the case of Frodo and Scyld Scefing, their mysterious qualities and knowledge of Faerie somewhat remove them from the reader.  This is not to say that we cannot identify with Frodo; Flieger describes accurately how Frodo’s emotions strike home much more than Aragorn’s. (Flieger, 125)
                Rather, Merry and Pippin exemplify an altogether different, more modern hero in The Lord of the Rings than either archetype discussed by Flieger.  Their story begins in the humble beginnings of the Shire, much like Frodo and Sam.  They both follow Frodo to Rivendell out of friendship, to protect him as well as to face his troubles beside him. (Book I, Chapter V)  This is markedly different from Frodo’s motives, which are more out of a sense of duty as well as a desire to protect the Shire.  In fact, these motives are quite similar to Sam’s, given that his goal throughout the narrative is to do his best to serve Frodo, as was discussed in class.  At the same time, the story lines of Merry and Pippin diverge away from their friends, at the sundering of the fellowship, such that this goal is no longer their focus.  Instead, these hobbits do their best to protect the Shire, however they can.
                But Merry and Pippin are also very different characters.  Merry is possibly the most reliable of all the fellowship, and certainly one of the most level-headed and practical characters despite his moments of hastiness.  Pippin, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.  He is brash, foolish (particularly according to Gandalf), and immensely curious, with a surprising sense of duty and guilt.  Their relationship is often one of an older and a younger brother, particularly if Merry has some measure of jealousy for the (albeit negative) attention Pippin receives, as was suggested in class.
                When they are separated, both take on similar roles under a lord with markedly different intentions.  Merry gives his loyalty to Théoden, who he sees as a father figure.  (Book V, Chapter II)  Pippin swears his sword to Denethor, out of a sense of obligation to Boromir.  (Book V, Chapter I)  But neither of them is able to carry out this pledge per se, as Merry’s service is ultimately rejected and Pippin defies Denethor in an effort to save Faramir.
                Perhaps it’s this rejection in both cases which causes their character development.  Merry is forced to ride without hope of recognition or friendship into battle and ends up finding both in Dernhelm.  Pippin is required both to make his own decision – between duty to Denethor and the life of Faramir –and to be relied upon by someone rather than the reverse.

                To return to the main inquiry, it’s clear that Merry and Pippin – and perhaps Sam under the right light – are an altogether different type of hero than Frodo and Aragorn, perhaps in the loosest sense.  Their goals are less clear-cut, and their paths more controlled by the forces around them rather than vice versa.  Their development as characters could be described as growing up, and it seems as if they follow the archetype of a modern fiction protagonist in a coming-of-age story.  The effect of this archetype seems almost to draw connection to the zeitgeist of war-bound youth in Tolkien’s time, though this is a discussion for another day.


The “Maimed Kings” Théoden and Frodo

On Wednesday, I was somewhat surprised that King Théoden wasn’t listed on the “Board of Heroes.”  Of course, the Lord of the Rings is a tale of many heroes, and a one-hour-twenty-minute class period doesn’t give us ample time to cover them all. But I believe Théoden also holds a heroic role worth considering further. In fact, I believe he and Frodo have a similar role as “maimed kings” within their respective storylines.[i]
            In her chapter, “Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero,” Verlyn Flieger presents Frodo as the “maimed king,” in contrast to Aragorn, the “healer king.” According to Flieger, “The Maimed King in the Grail Stories is counterposed to the Healing King, the Grail Knight,” (Flieger, p.134). Although the “healer king” is the active “renewer” in the story, the “maimed king” is still crucial, for “without [his] sacrifice the efforts of the Healing King would be in vain.”
            Flieger subsequently lists the criteria that make Frodo a “Maimed king,” akin to that of the Grail legend: First, he is literally maimed (by the Witch-king, by Shelob, and by Gollum). Second, his “loss of the Ring makes possible the renewal of the land” (both of Middle-earth in its entirety, and more specifically of the Shire) (Flieger, 144). Third, he is “associated with and finally committed to water.”
            Interestingly, Théoden fits these criteria, too. In Volume II, Théoden is introduced as an ailing king, deceived and poisoned by Gríma Wormtongue. While he does recover physically, he has lost his only son, Théodred; the Arthurian “Maimed King” is infertile due to his wounds, but Théoden is similarly wounded when he loses his only offspring. Théoden subsequently rallies his people to victory both in the Battle of the Hornburg and when they are called to aid Gondor, where he ultimately dies on the Pelennor. Merry and Eowyn actually immediately rise to avenge his death, and take on their own roles as heroes. Finally, Théoden’s body is returned to Rohan, which is oddly referred to as a “sea” of grass at points throughout the text. For instance, when Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas follow the riders of Rohan to Edoras, Tolkien writes, “Often the grass was so high that it reached above the knees of the riders, and their steeds seemed to be swimming in a grey-green sea,” (LOTR, p.504). Considering this, Théoden is also associated with “water,” and is finally committed to “water” when he dies.
            In light of this similarity, I extend Flieger’s claim. Instead of viewing Frodo as the “maimed king” of the text, and Aragorn as the “healer king,” I believe that Frodo and Théoden, both “maimed kings,” each support a league of healer kings. As Flieger mentions, Frodo’s sacrifice of taking on the “anti-quest” of losing the ring allows Aragorn to become King of Gondor, and as we discussed in class, although Frodo is unable to save the Shire himself, his sacrifice allows Merry, Pippin, and Sam to do so. Similarly, while Théoden dies, he inspires those who love him to take on heroic roles. Eomer becomes king of Rohan, and during his reign the country prospers (LOTR, p.1070). Eowyn and Merry first avenge Theoden’s death, and then each become “healers” themselves, helping to restore Ithilien and the Shire, respectively.
Considering the end of both Frodo’s and Theoden’s story reminded me of Tolkien’s words to his friend Geoffrey B. Smith (Letter 5). After hearing about their fellow TCBS member Rob Gilson’s death, Tolkien and the other two remaining members are clearly shaken up—in Tolkien’s words, “something has gone crack.” Yet he writes to Smith about his continued expectation’s of TCBS’ greatness, saying “…when I say that I now believe that if the greatness which we three certainly meant (and meant as more than holiness or nobility alone) is really the lot of the TCBS, then the death of any of its members is but a bitter winnowing of those who were not meant to be great—at least directly.” At first, this sounds startlingly irreverent (in fact, Tolkien qualifies this sentence by saying, “God grant that this does not sound arrogant”), but Tolkien explains that he does not mean that [Gilson] was not meant to be great, and so God removed him from the world. Rather, he means that [Gilson] has now achieved a different greatness, as he as become an unforgettable inspiration for the remaining three members. Tolkien stands by what he claims to be a collective TCBS belief that the club, no matter how small it becomes, is destined for importance: “…the TCBS was destined to testify for God and Truth in a more direct way even than by laying down its several lives in this war.” Further, he concludes that, “Of course, the TCBS may have been all we dreamt—and its work in the end be done by three or two or one survivor and the part of the others be trusted by God to that of the inspiration which we do know we all got and get from one another.”
            In many ways, Frodo and Théoden[ii], the “maimed kings,” are also the Rob Gilsons of The Lord of the Rings (even if Tolkien didn’t directly intend for them to be so, considering his vehement dislike of allegory). Through their sacrifices, they lose their own ability to achieve greatness in Middle-earth, but imbue others with the ability [to] succeed. In some ways, I would still call this healing, but a healing of a more spiritual kind, somewhat similar to Jesus’ sacrifice for human kind in the New Testament.
            As Flieger points out, by “maiming” Frodo on his quest, Tolkien is pointing out that the world is not fair: “In the real world things seldom turn out as we would like them to, and the little man is as subject to tragedy as the great one” (Flieger, 145). Tolkien’s real-life loss of his friend Rob Gilson highlights this theme. Overall, considering Flieger’s concluding remark, that “By giving us both Aragon and Frodo [Tolkien] has used the contrast between them to widen and deepen the meaning of his story,” I think it is further enlightening to consider that there are other characters in “maimed king” roles occurring in synchrony with Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.


[i] I do not mean to say that Théoden is a fairy-tale hero, like Flieger claims Frodo is. As King of Rohan, he certainly isn’t a low-born person who finds himself on a grand quest. I am limiting my comparison to the “maimed king” component of Flieger’s argument regarding Frodo’s brand of hero.   

[ii] I do not think that Frodo and Théoden are the only “maimed kings” of Middle-earth, either. For me, the first good example to compare with them that comes to mind is Thorin Oakenshield. 

A starting definition for hero in the Lord of the Rings

What is the definition of a hero in the Lord of the Rings? For those present in class on May 28th, this was one of the unresolved questions we were left pondering.  Building off of Verlyn Flieger’s Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of a Hero, I will attempt to establish a broad definition of a hero in the Lord of the Rings.  My current definition is as follows: Heroes in the Lord of the Rings are unequal, role-playing actors who can share characteristics and who participate in the War of the Ring as loyal defenders of the cause of opposition to evil.  This blog will attempt to describe this definition in closer detail. 

Heroes are unequal, role-playing actors who can share characteristics. These characteristics are of different degrees and in different senses.

Flieger argues that “the conventional medieval story, whether epic, romance, fairy-tale, or some combination of these, most often focuses on one figure –the hero of the tale…[but] in the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has written a medieval story and given it both kinds of a hero”, that is, one who represents the “extraordinary man” and one who can identify with the “common man” (p.124.).  According to Flieger, these two characters are Aragorn and Frodo respectively as she claims Aragorn is the traditional epic/romance hero, larger than life, a leader, fighter, lover, healer” in contrast with Frodo who “on the other hand is a fairy-tale hero (p. 124)” with the “mythic significance of a bringer of peace, prosperity, and fruitfulness (p. 136).”
Armed with Sting, however, does Frodo not fight throughout the Lord of the Rings?  Flieger notes, Frodo is “no warrior (p. 134)” but I would argue that though he may not have been one from the beginning, he certainly transforms into one.  We must keep in mind, however, that defining Frodo as a warrior is not identical to the definition of a warrior relative to Aragorn.  In other words, Frodo and Aragorn are both warriors but their position as warrior in the War of the Ring is unequal.  Furthermore, is Frodo not a leader in the sense that he bears the burden of the ring and ultimately brings it to Mount Doom?  Flieger would claim that Frodo “accepts an intolerable burden not from a sense that he is the proper one to bear it but because no one else volunteers (p. 134).”  While Aragorn was more assertive with his mission and Frodo more hesitant and less inclined to lead an army of men with a charge into a group of orcs, they both ultimately exert their moments of leadership throughout the epic and Frodo does such in his offering to bear the ring and ultimate completion of his mission with Sam.   It would also be difficult to say that Aragorn fails to display the characteristics of peace, prosperity, and fruitfulness.  While not to the same extent as Frodo perhaps, he still has his moments with these qualities. 
Furthermore, Tolkien explicitly notes that Samwise Gamgee is the “chief hero” of the Lord of the Rings (Letter 131 p. 161).  What this implies is that defining a hero does not necessarily have to do with his or her social status or qualities and/or skills that may be of a heavy attraction to readers.  In other words, Aragorn who is a King, an assertive leader, and “larger than life” is not the highest ranked hero in the Lord of the Rings even though it seems as thought he very well might likely appear to be as such.  Thus, what we have seen so far is that heroes are unequal.  They can share the same characteristics, but just in a different sense and to different degrees, which reveals the importance of relative role-playing in heroism. 

Heroes participate in the War of the Ring as loyal defenders of the cause of opposition to evil.  Heroes fight monsters in this defense, but they do not necessarily have to slay the monsters in order to be classified as a hero.

Flieger notes that “Gandalf fights the Barlog, Sam fights Shelob, Aragorn fights orcs (p. 141)” and states “the function of the monster in medieval narrative is to oppose the hero, to body forth tangibly the evil to be overcome, to be the force against which the hero’s strength and courage are tested (p. 142).”  All of these enemies here can fit this definition.  A monster is not necessarily meant to be evil in its completeness.   Sauron, “the greatest enemy” does not meet the criteria for a monster according to Flieger because monsters “must be denizens of the material world, in it and of it (p. 141).”  Thus, as all of the heroes are opposing the ultimate evil in the Lord of the Rings, the monsters are its representatives who the heroes must fight as a test and as an obstacle to overcome. 
 The heroes, however, do not have to slay the monsters they encounter in order to be classified as heroes but rather they just must simply fight in opposition.  Sam, the “chief hero," for instance, does not slay Shelob, as her fate is uncertain.  Gollum, a monster according to Flieger, is not slain by Frodo or Sam either.  In the end, it is the fight and the opposition that defines the hero because  “man always loses…but in losing he wins a greater victory" and ultimately “evil destroys itself (p.144)." Therefore we can see that it is the loyalty and defense of the cause that makes one a hero, not whether or not the person slays a monster.  

In conclusion, we have seen a closer examination of this definition of a hero and what remains complicated and unaddressed as a result of space is the concept of love (ex: what kind of love is necessary to be a hero?) within this definition.  Comments welcome.

- AM

Interpreting the Modes of Hero

            In class we spent much of the time discussing what constitutes a hero in the world of Tolkien and what characteristics marked the heroes as heroes. While looking at the list of characteristics on the board, I started thinking about the hero arcs of Frodo and Aragorn and why they echoed each other the way they do. As we discussed in class, they do echo each other by having mysterious beginnings etc., but what really caught my attention wasn’t how they mirrored each other, but instead how they differed and why their stories are different in contrast to their similar beginnings.

They are undoubtedly different. As Verlyn Flieger explains, they represent the two kinds of heroes “the extraordinary man whose mighty deeds give epic sweep to great events (Aragorn) and the common man whose trials lend to his actions a poignancy that draws the reader into the text to experience events with him (Frodo),” (Verlyn, 122).   In simpler terms, Aragorn is a romantic epic hero and Frodo is a folk tale hero. He is Jack who sold his cow for magic beans. He is not on his own extraordinary. He is an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. Yet Tolkien goes through so much trouble in making both of these characters as similar as possible in their origins by giving them both the beginning of the classic hero. Both have a mysterious beginning, are raised in a home that is not of their immediate family, and neither is young when the story begins. There is however one major difference in their beginning, outside of their personality, that I found very interesting. Frodo is not of divine or magical ancestry whereas Aragorn is.

In class, I know there was a discussion trying to turn Frodo into one of divine or magical ancestry, but I personally disagree with that. Yes he comes from a well-educated, rich family, but his family is not magical or divine. The only possible divine or magical figure in his family would be Bilbo, and Bilbo achieved what he did not through birth but experience. Thus I don’t see that as an indicator of divine or magical blood. So, if you approach the origins of these two characters from this lens what appears is a romantic epic hero the form of Aragorn and an ordinary man in the trappings of a romantic epic hero in the form of Frodo.

The next important heroic origin moment for both of these characters surrounds the swords. Aragorn presents the sword that has been forged anew at the council, which as Verlyn points out resembles the weapons of the dragon slayers rather than those of the king. It is instead Frodo’s sword, which is drawn from a wooden beam that imitates the swords of kings such as King Arthur. So at this point they both continue within the romantic epic hero version of a hero, except for Frodo’s grumblings of the every day man.

            This changes when the group separates and Frodo heads out alone with Sam. Verlyn aptly describes this turn of the story and where it leads the characters as “Aragorn’s is a journey from darkness into light, while Frodo’s is a journey from light into darkness – and out again,” (Verlyn,125). Aragorn rises from the general obscurity of a normal individual into that of the heroic, romantic king in the eyes of the world. Yes he reveals himself with the sword, but only those on the council, many of which already knew who he was are party to this information. Once Aragorn leaves Frodo he tells everyone he comes into contact with and the word spreads. His legend as a hero begins. His fights are with orcs and Sauron, the most recognizable of monsters, the ones that are powerful enough to threaten all of mankind. Frodo on the other hand falls. He wanders into the wilderness and fights himself. That is the moment that Frodo is no longer the epic hero. He becomes the folk hero. He is not fighting with power against power. His monster is Gollum, who as Verlyn explains, is what Frodo could become, his darker self under the influence of the ring. His monster is not a threat to society in so far as its independent power, but Gollum is a threat to Frodo’s self, and Frodo loses.

Now this part right here is what really confuses me about the nature of the hero in Aragorn and Frodo. The epic hero almost always falls in the end, yet it is not Aragorn who falls but Frodo. So Frodo begins as an ordinary man dressed as an epic hero, turns into the folk hero we usually associate him with, but he becomes the epic hero in the end. He came by water and so he leaves by water in the tradition of the epic hero. Aragorn on the other hand begins in the world as relatively obscure, even though he seems super human in his leadership, fighting, and healing abilities. From this obscurity as Strider he turns into the King and wins the girl. He lives a happily ever after. That is much more the folk tale ending than Frodo has. Thus I would like to suggest a way of understanding these changing modes of hero, which I fully admit I may have over thought or am just blatantly wrong about. If so, please tell me!

I saw these changing modes of hero as the rise of the humble and the humbling of the great. The humble Strider becomes a king, but in doing so he changes from a king of epics to a folk hero who happens to come in the body of an epic king. Frodo on the other hand, is the epic hero in the body of the ordinary man. He has all the prerequisites for the epic hero except the divine or magical ancestry, in other words, the blood. Frodo thus rises from the folk hero to the epic hero in his ending. This interpretation also helped me come to terms with the roles of several of the other heroes named in class. This would explain the glorification of Eowin’s fall from power. She becomes great in her humility. Sam is also the main hero of the story because he is the humblest of them all. He comes as a servant and as a friend, not as a king or a hero, folk or epic. Sam is precisely the hero because the humblest is the highest and he is the humblest of them all. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite sure how to fit Merry and Pippin in this, so maybe they aren’t heroes? I am not fully comfortable with that idea, but it was the only way I could understand the modes of hero in such a way that included the majority of the heroes we talked about in class.