We Need to Talk About Frodo

Recently there was a Lord of the Rings marathon on television, and seeing as it’s been a while since I visited Middle Earth, I decided to watch. As I watched, I realized that Frodo Baggins deserves way more credit than he gets. So many people talk about how Frodo is weak, how all he does is walk around and whine and he must be weak because he barely makes it to Mt. Doom. Well. I have a bone to pick with you people.

In my opinion, Frodo’s journey throughout the Lord of the Rings is the most difficult because most of the battles he fights are mental. Sure he walks a long way, but walking that far would take its toll on anyone, and the entire time, the ring is waging war on his mind. As someone who knows what it’s like to feel you have to enter your mind armed to the teeth, I think Frodo needs a little respect. The ring is doing everything it can to be reunited with its master, and as the book/movie progresses, you can see the toll that takes on Frodo. He grows quiet, smiles less, is weakened due to lack of appetite, and all the while the ring is literally digging into his neck. His skin is rubbed raw from the metal, and yet he still goes on. That is brave. That is courageous.

In the Two Towers film, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum have been brought to Osgiliath by Faramir, and a Nazgul attacks. There is moment when Frodo is done. He’s tired. He’s had enough, and he goes to meet the Nazgul on a bridge, ready to give up the ring and be finished with it all. I don’t see this as weak. I see this as realistic. When you are so mentally exhausted and an outlet is presented, the temptation to give in is so strong. It’s in this moment when Sam saves the day, knocking Frodo over and removing the ring from the grasp of the Wraith. When Frodo realizes what he’s done, that he nearly gave in and put a sword to Sam’s neck, you can see the horror wash over his face. Sam, being the incredible friend that he is, gives Frodo the encouragement he needs to hear the form of this incredible speech- “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding onto something.” And then Frodo looks at Sam with such despair and hopelessness in those big, blue eyes and asks, “What’re we holding onto, Sam?” And Sam Gamgee, the wonderful, steadfast gardener gives Frodo the hope he needs when he says, “That there is some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” This simple truth is enough to get Frodo up, to get him on his feet and ready to keep going. The reminder that the shadows pressing on his mind won’t linger, that when the sun comes again it will be more glorious than ever compared to the present darkness gives Frodo something to cling to. It’s amazing that he can keep going and it’s true; he wouldn’t have made it very far without Sam.

Which brings me to another point. A side note, really. There are those who mock or twist the relationship between Frodo and Sam; try to make it into something it was never meant to be. That makes me so angry because what wouldn’t you do for your friend? If your friend is struggling, do you leave them to wallow and thrash in the muck or do you offer to help them? To carry them if they need it? Of course you do. You sit with them and remind them of the good things, you cry with them, and encourage them, and you love them. You do everything Sam did for Frodo because that is what friends do for each other. Okay. Done with that. Back to Frodo.

I relate to Frodo and his mind wars so much. The devil loves to attack my mind, to wear me down and try to get me to quit, and there have been two times in my life when Frodo and his determination have been so encouraging to me. In the Return of the King film, there are three scenes that will always bring tears to my eyes.

The first comes after he evades Shelob the spider for the first time and he collapses, just so tired. When he “wakes up”, the Lady Galadriel is before him and she reminds him that he is the only one who can complete the task set before him. When she extends a hand to Frodo, he looks from her face to her hand, resolve settling over his features, and he decides to keep going. Even though the odds are overwhelmingly against him, he gets to his feet and keeps going. People underestimate how difficult that is. And, like before with Sam, having Galadriel show faith in him is enough to keep him believing in himself and his quest.

The second is when he and Sam are crawling up the side of Mt. Doom. Their lips are cracked, steam is curling up from the rocks, and Frodo falls. He lands on his chest and eyes the top of the mountain. They are so close to their goal, and Frodo is at the end of his strength. But even so, he still tries to crawl up the side of the mountain; inching his way up until he grabs a loose rock and falters. The music in that scene is incredible. You can feel how hard it is for him, how he’s trying everything to accomplish what he set out to do, but his body is spent. It’s at this point when Sam proves his loyalty and strength as Frodo’s friend. He reminds him of what will come when the task is completed. He reminds him of home. And when he sees how mentally lost Frodo is, he carries him to the top. He can’t take the ring from Frodo, he can’t get rid of the burden for him, but he can help him make it to the end. I can’t tell you how often this has mirrored my life. When I’m struggling, my friends and family come alongside me and help me make it to the end of the day or week or hour, depending on the situation.

The third is a scene that isn’t in the book, but I love it so much. After Frodo and Gollum have fought over the ring and Gollum and the ring have been consumed by the lava, we see that when Frodo went over the edge with them, he managed to catch himself. Just barely. He’s holding on by a hand, and when Sam reaches over to help him, Frodo tries to grasp his hand, but misses. Then we see Frodo look down to lava and then back to Sam. Elijah Wood kills me in this scene. His face is so sad, so tired, so ready to be done with everything. He wants to let go. It would be easier to let go. The physical and mental battles have taken their toll, and letting go means an end to all of that. Elijah manages to convey all of that perfectly with just a look and it’s heartbreaking. Sam can see what Frodo is thinking. He sees the look on Frodo’s face, and it scares him into pleading with Frodo, “Don’t you let go. Don’t let go.” It takes a moment, but Frodo clenches his jaw and reaches for Sam again, and this time it works. Sam grabs Frodo, pulls him up, and they race out of Mt. Doom. As they sit on a rock, Frodo glances around, looking more light and free than he has in ages and proclaims, “It’s over. It’s done.”

So. There you have it. Frodo Baggins is an incredible character. He is selfless. It would have been easier for him to ignore the problem with the ring and go back to the Shire and live his life. He is determined. He keeps going. Seems like a little thing, but it isn’t. And he is brave. He is so brave to keep going when everything is screaming at him to stop. When the ring and all the darkness that comes with it are trying to pull him under, he has the courage to look up, grit his teeth, and keep going. That is so brave. And so overlooked. So, here’s to you, Mr. Baggins. Here’s to your amazing strength of character and here’s to getting the appreciation you deserve.