Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Of Frodo Baggins, Temptation, and Community


Last week I was reading an article on depression*, which contained examples of fictional characters that have depression. Surprisingly enough, one of the characters the article highlighted was Frodo Baggins. I never thought about Frodo having depression in the traditional sense, and I'm not sure he does. (did, schuyler, did. frodo isn't around anymore) But still, it gave me some things to think about with reference to Frodo. 

Fair warning that this is an opinion piece, and I'm making it sound pretty and convincing on purpose.

Some people say Frodo is a weak character. That always makes me see red, but understanding that there are different opinions in the world, and this isn't worth taking a bullet for, I'll just write an article instead. 

I think Frodo's character dramatizes what it is like to go through severe temptation and mental distress. Just like the ring came to him without him asking for it, sometimes we are placed in situations that are very challenging that we didn't ask for. We're simply called to be faithful with them. Frodo stumbles now and again, but overall he knows what he needs to do and he keeps his goal fixed before his mind: to take the ring to Mordor. 

But the longer he journeys, and the more power the Ring gains, the more he struggles. He has to face physical weakness as well as mental fear and temptation. Those three things together can send anyone staggering. And I don't think Frodo struggles in an unsympathetic way. However messy or despairing he grows, he still manages to understand the right choice, even though sometimes it's after he despairs and has to have a friend point him in the right direction. That is very honest reality for any human being. 

Perhaps the perception is that he should have been strong enough never to despair in the first place. Perhaps in a perfect world that would be the case. But the fact that even in despair, he allows voices of truth to continue to guide him, speaks for the inner character that has supported him to this point. He gets up and keeps going. He doesn't put on the ring. He's horrified and weak and afraid, but he keeps taking one day, one stage, one step at a time. And that is the grace in our weakness. We will always deal with weakness until the day our obedience is perfected. But God gives us grace to obey even when our emotions don't line up. 

And that brings us to Sam. Samwise Gamgee is often held up as a better, "stronger" character that could have done better than Frodo did. Sam wouldn't have put on the ring. Sam wasn't as emotional. Three things come to mind in that regards. 

Firstly, Samwise Gamgee may have had a different temperament than Frodo. I'm going off the movies here since it's been a while since I've read Fellowship, but I suspect that Sam was a naturally happy and simple-hearted person, while Frodo was more inclined (though not a depressed person in general) to be melancholic, with the tendency to obsess once he put on the Ring. One is not stronger than the other. They are simply different, and they have to deal with and find balance for those natural tendencies. 

Secondly, Sam cannot be compared in strength to Frodo simply because Sam did not have Frodo's same burden. He didn't have the sense of heaviness, the oppression of evil, the constant temptation of putting the ring on his finger, tearing at his mind and weakening his body at the same time. If he had been under the same temptation, or perhaps under a different temptation which was just as horrible to him as the Ring was to Frodo, he may have needed the same amount of help and encouragement. 

Thirdly, even though Sam wasn't carrying the Ring, he had an equal and legitimate burden of his own. Supporting someone who is carrying a heavy burden is in itself a heavy burden to carry. Sam was supporting some undergoing temptation and anxiety, and that in itself shows what a strong hobbit he was, that he was able to help cheer and think for Frodo. People with anxiety struggle with very basic things like eating and drinking and getting up in the morning and getting enough sleep. The fact that Sam was there to help with these basic things got them as far along on their journey as they made it. Frodo would never have been able to care for the Ring and for himself the entire time. 

Frodo and Sam were called to different burdens. Both had to be strong in different ways. I think that this story beautifully expresses the community that we are often called to as believers. Sometimes a particular Christian is given a burden that makes them feel weak for a time, even though they must choose to be faithful in carrying it. For them, it is important to seek out community to help strengthen and keep them accountable. Their community is given the burden to help them, and that burden is just as great. Each task requires strength. 

Frodo and Sam could not trade burdens. It is fruitless to argue who would have been stronger, because that's not what it was about. They were called to be faithful with the role that was assigned to them. But I think the community and the support the fellowship gave to Frodo and to each other is a beautiful picture of bearing each other's burdens. 

And that fulfills the law of Christ.


*Articles referenced: (not all article content is endorsed.) 
http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-to-write-characters-with-depression.html?utm_content=bufferbc930&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
https://dragonharris.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/in-defense-of-frodo-baggins/

16 comments:

  1. This is beautiful. I so so SO agree with you, dear Schuyler! One of the many things I love about LOTR is the portrayal of the Church and the different roles of God's people within it. And bearing each other's burdens.

    Hmm, I loved what you pointed out about Frodo, about his character, that it is not weaker than Sam's, just different, with different strengths and weaknesses. And that the struggle that Sam had was just as intense, to be a Samwise, and help Frodo in his suffering and despair... I think my favourite scene is in The Return of the King when even Sam looses hope at the foot of the Mountain, but he somehow, against hope, keeps on and sacrifices. It is just what Frodo has been doing all along, and I think in that moment, more than ever, Sam gets a hint of maybe what Frodo has struggled with and suffered all this time.

    They both have their burdens, and they are both willing to lay down their lives for what is right, AND for each other. This is true Christian love and faithfulness.

    I have to say, with what Frodo suffers, mentally and physically and the losses he's experienced, it is SO understandable and relatable that he is under depression. It also very closely echoes the experience of the young soldiers during WW1, I think.

    P.S. thinking of those themes makes me miss Frodo and Sam so much!!! <3 Also, funny enough I've found a lot of Lord of the Rings/Frodo and Sam nods to Merlin in the tv series, and his relationship with Arthur, and his burden and destiny to protect Arthur and save Albion. It's beautiful!

    Thank you for sharing this post, Schuyler! You wrote it beautifully, and voiced an opinion I've longed heartily had, and wished to proclaim ;).

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    1. Joy, I love the point you make about Frodo with the WW1 soldiers--that is a very apt comparison, and very fitting, I think! I can easily see the two parallels--a Hobbit with a great burden, and the soldiers with the great burden of the war. And now that I think about it, Frodo probably did struggle with depression especially towards the end chapters of the book.

      It *is* a good portrayal of the Church. I love these stories. :)

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  2. I first read the Lord of the Rings when I was eight, and I've read it scores of times since then, and it wasn't till quite recently that I've heard people calling Frodo weak. Which is odd, because from the book I didn't get that impression at all. People ask for human characters, flawed heroes, conflicted protagonists --- then they get one, and they complain that he's weak. Not at all. But he's more than ordinary too; an ordinary Man, even a strong one, would have succumbed much, much faster (see: Boromir and Denethor [the latter seriously tempted by the Ring even though he never saw it]), but Frodo had the strength to carry it for two years. An honest reader would have to admit they couldn't equal that.

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    1. They would indeed! I love Frodo's strength of character--perhaps at first because of his innocence of how much power the ring had. I need to think more about emotionally flawed characters, what gains audience sympathy and what doesn't. That would be a fascinating subject to consider! :)

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  3. It's been quite a while since I read Fellowship, and you already know I haven't seen the movie, either, so I'm just going to comment based on the article. I believe you are spot on. I'm glad that Tolkien made Frodo the main character--he sounds very realistic and "human" (even though he isn't...which means it's perfectly fine to speak of him in present tense). I'm thankful that there's room for all the Frodos and Samwises.

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    1. Me too. We need both kinds in the world to help each other. ;)

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  4. This was beautifully written, Schulyer. Thank you!

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  5. Beautiful post. I quite agree with your thoughts on this. I've never thought of Frodo as a particularly "weak" character, either in the way he was written or in his own inherent strength. (Just as I've never seen Boromir as a particularly weak character, either, and dislike people picking on him simply because they only version they know is the movie-version). Sam's heroism might shine a bit more because he's a more relatable character... a supporting character as opposed to the hero of the story, swept along in matters greater than he ever meant to get involved in... and I think most of us tend to gravitate towards identifying with the supporting characters rather than the traditional "hero" characters. But that shouldn't lessen Frodo's burden or struggles.... but rather should highlight them. Their burdens were different, but Frodo's was definitely more emotionally taxing and personal, while Sam's burden was to support his friend through suffering he could not share - a very difficult thing to do in its own right, but not as consuming. There is a beauty inherent in the friendship that drives Sam to stay by Frodo's side, no matter what... and Frodo's total understanding and acknowledgment of how much he is being supported by Sam and relies on him.

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    1. I agree-Boromir was far from weak! He was a man concerned for his people, and wanting to protect them by whatever means he could.

      Yes, yes, yes. Agreeing with everything you say here!

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  6. This is so lovely! I adore how you focused on the allegory of the story and made such a beautiful point. Wonderfully done.

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  7. This post is amazing and beautiful and I LOVE VERY BIT OF IT. I actually teared up. :') Thank you for once again exploring the beauty of Tolkien's work and the inspiration it has for us Christians. I really love your posts about Tolkien. ;)

    Also, I completely agree about Frodo. How anyone can think Frodo weak is beyond me. I'm inclined to believe those who think so have probably only watched the movies, and even then barely given a though to Frodo's struggle and burdens.

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    1. Aww, your comment makes me so happy, Natalie! I'm glad that you enjoyed this! ^_^

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  8. Wow! What an excellent post! You have drawn out so well the person who struggles with the burden or temptation (in some cases that they did not ask for) as well as the burden of those who support the one going through the temptation. So true to real life. I will pay closer attention to this theme next time we see the movies together (hopefully soon). Thanks for the post.

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  9. Having been on both sides, I think it's so, so important to acknowledge the pressure of the caregiver as well as the pressure of the sufferer. Both go through so much. I look forward to following this theme as well!

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