June 14, 2016

the hero's choice

the hero's choice

Rereading the Fellowship of the Ring this fine spring I've been struck by Frodo's journey as the hero of the story. Most particularly, how there is very little of said journey at the start. Learning of his Ring and the gathering darkness outside the Shire he recoils in horror. He didn't choose to have the Ring and despite Gandalf's assurance that he was 'meant' to have it, no sign of courage seems to spark in his heart.

There is much he now must do. But each thing he procrastinates into the last moment. He clings to his birthday tradition, to every shred of comfort, saying goodbye slowly. He lingers. There is little urgency and whether facing neighbors, the Sackville-Baggins, Black Riders, Farmer Maggot, or even his own friends he avoids and delays confrontation. This is no flight from the Shire. His friends in fact show more cunning and bravery than he, conspiring to protect and attend to him even if he won't do so himself.

Frodo appears as a character filled with regret and depression. Doubting. Second guessing. Pretending he would leave his friends behind to protect them, but appearing more like he rather not have a tough conversation. Not even the prospect of seeing Bilbo again gets his feet moving. He has some head knowledge and wisdom and can speak with Elves, but little else to recommend him. Certainly nothing to justify Gandalf and Bilbo's high regarding for him.

In fact, faced with his first true test against Old Man Willow it is Sam who shows some sense and bravery. Frodo ultimately runs away crying for help. Throughout the story Frodo even ignores good advice from Gandalf, Gilder, Farmer Maggot, and Tom Bombadil. This may be the journey he is meant to go on, but he does not do so willingly or wisely.

He says as much himself: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened"

To which Gandalf replies: "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Frodo seems determined to not decide. Like you or I drafted into such a perilous quest he resists. He objects. The addition of years has matured him little from his days as a mushroom thief.

But then the Hobbits get caught by the Barrow-wight. And here at last Frodo is alone. His friends are in a frozen enchantment. Doom crawls like a spider around the corner. And he is awake. Why? Why was he not frozen like the others?

Then the thought took me, is it because of the Ring? As the greater power, did the ring give him some resistance to the Barrow-wight's spell? And now it feeds on him, offering him what he wants most - escape. Just slip it on and vanish. He could run free on the grass. Even Gandalf would agree there was nothing he could do. He would mourn his friends - but he would be free and alive.

And here, perhaps, we see the Ring undone ultimately by its own power. For while it could feed his selfishness and inflate his sense of being a victim of circumstance - it may even be able to offer protection from death. It could only do so by robbing him of his honor and his friends. And here, finally, we see the same spark Gandalf and Bilbo saw in Frodo kindle into a flame. He puts the ring away, takes the sword, approaches the enemy, and hews the Barrow-wight no thought of himself. Here, at the very last, he decides. He may not have hope of victory or escape, but he will do what he can with the time that is given to him.

This is the hero's choice - fleeing from comfort towards trial. Sacrificing for what is sacred. Risking for what is right.