When you type “Frodo is” into a Google search, the first automatic search suggestion that is actually about the character* is “Frodo is gay,” followed by “Frodo is not a hero” and “Frodo is cute.” The hobbit’s name is even used as a gibe in a 2008 comedy, when older brother Rex calls the main character “Frodo Faggins.” (to my LGBT readers, please excuse the language; to be fair, Rex comes out of the closet at the end of the film–spoiler alert!).
This perspective isn’t limited to the layperson on Google, though. Questions about Frodo even show up on Tolkien fansites, including forum threads “Frodo is a wimp” and “How can Frodo be called a Hero at all?” at The Tolkien Forum and “Who Thinks Frodo is a Wimp???” at The One Ring forums.
The truth about Frodo is enormously different.
In the film, Frodo is easily manipulated by Gollum. While Sam sees through Gollum’s true intentions behind the false kindness, Frodo seems blind to what is going on and continues to show blind tenderness to the wretch. Although Frodo is kind to Gollum in Tolkien’s story, he is not manipulated.
When Gollum leads Frodo to the Black Gate, he unwittingly suggests that Frodo forget their hard quest and “Go to nice places, and give [the ring] back to little Smeagol” (623). His suggestion does not go unnoticed for Frodo soon calls out Gollum for all his manipulation, saying,
“I warn you, Smeagol, you are in danger…a danger to yourself. You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Smeagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Smeagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Smeagol!” (626).
Frodo’s brutal honesty and insight into the evil of the ring’s influence is even pointed out by Sam. After Frodo sets Gollum straight, Sam sees in Frodo “a look in his face and a tone in his voice that he had not known before.” He thinks to himself that “it had always been a notion of his that the kindness of dear Mr. Frodo was of such a high degree that it must imply a fair measure of blindness. Of course, he also firmly held the incompatible belief that Mr. Frodo was the wisest person in the world” (626).
In the words of Samwise, “Gollum made a similar mistake, confusing kindness for blindness” (626). Perhaps Jackson did the same.
In the film, Frodo is so deceived by Gollum that on the vertigo-inducing Stairs of Cirith Ungol, he forsakes his best friend Sam, telling him to go home because Gollum has framed Sam. It is almost comical: “Of course! Fat Sam that’s been giving up his shares for Frodo the entire journey lost it and ate the rest of the lambas bread!” (626).
The version of this in the book…well, it just isn’t there. Gollum doesn’t attempt to frame Sam, and Frodo never turns his back on the loyal companion.
OK, so Frodo isn’t so easy, but can he really be called a hero? I think so, and it revolves not on whether he is able of his own accord to toss the ring into Mount Doom, but rather on the pattern of heroic sacrifice throughout the story. I’ll leave the recounting of that pattern for another post, and close this one with a summary of the sacrifices of Frodo and Sam in the words of Frodo. When Frodo and Sam pass through the marshes, led by Gollum, Sam considers whether they have enough food to make it to Mordor and back. Frodo’s response shows his decision to take the ring was a decision to die from the start:
“Sam my dearest hobbit, friend of friends–I do not think we need give thought to what comes after that….If the One [Ring] goes into the Fire, and we are at hand? I ask you, Sam, are we ever likely to need bread again?” (610).
*The actual first search finisher is a YouTube documentary called “Frodo is great…Who is that?” which is not actually about Frodo.
All references are from the three-in-one edition (1994) of The Lord of the Rings.
This post originally appeared on Matt Kantor’s blog Lights, Camera, Construction