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This essay is from Austin Johnson
Published on November 21, 2002

Frodo and the Force:
A Comparison of Modern Epic Stories

Frodo as the Suffering Savior

All of this was, no doubt, on Tolkien's mind when he wrote the story of Frodo's refusal to use the Ring of Power. Frodo denied himself, literally, by refusing to use the Ring, and symbolically, as the Ring symbolizes Self.

Frodo learns firsthand of the evils of self-gratification on Amon H?n. Amon H?n is one of the few places where Frodo gives in to the temptation to use the power of the Ring. It is here that he receives a wound from one of the Nazgul, terrible beings totally corrupted by the power of the Ring, slaves to Self. This wound will never fully heal, and is a constant reminder of what he could become under the power of Self.

One of the other great moments that define Frodo's status as a hero, and ultimately, a Christ-like savior figure, is the fact that he is betrayed by Gollum on two occasions. The first, and in the long run, less important, of the two betrayals occurs in the lair of the Grendel's Mother-esque Shelob. The cave of Shelob the Great, a gigantic spider-beast, "the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world," (The Two Towers, Tolkien, 393) is where Frodo loses the Ring.

Here, in the lair of the monster, the hero's abyss, Frodo falls to the poison of the Spider. As Frodo suffers from the poison of the beast, Sam, believing Frodo to be dead, relieves him of his burden and opts to bear it for him for a time. Here Sam receives the Ring, and consequently discovers himself. Sam's journey, in fact, closely resembles Bilbo's. Both of them rise from obscurity to heroism by slaying monsters and performing great deeds. Sam kills Shelob, then discovers that her poison only causes sleep, not death. He then leaves to rescue Frodo from the orcs that had kidnapped Frodo while he slept.

The other time that Frodo is betrayed is on the footsteps of Mount Doom. This is also one of the only times that Frodo uses the ring. The poison of the Ring overtakes his mind, and he gives in to its power. He asks Sam to forgive him, then puts on the Ring. All would have been lost, but for Gollum's betrayal.

Gollum appears out of the gloom and leaps onto Frodo, fighting him by scent and the pull of the Ring alone. Gollum bites Frodo's finger off. This is an eerie echo of the point where Sauron loses the Ring to Isildur and sets the story in motion. Gollum jumps and dances with glee:

" 'Precious, precious, precious!' Gollum cried, 'My Precious! O my Precious!' And with that even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone." (Return of the King, Tolkien, 249)

At this point, one of Tolkien's recurring themes throughout all of his works is illustrated masterfully. " 'He is bound up with the fate of the Ring'" Gandalf says of Gollum, " 'My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet'" (The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien, 86) What is meant for ill does not always work for ill. In much the same way, the Author of this World used Judas' betrayal of Jesus to save the entire world.

These aspects of self-denial, and the similarities of Jesus' and Frodo's respective "passions" reflect the truths that Tolkien, intentionally or not, wove into his story. These ideas make Frodo a much more noble character than Bilbo, Sam, or even Gandalf. All of these are great heroes, but Frodo has risen above heroism. He is a savior character. His self-denial and, ultimately, self-destruction (in the form of the destruction of the Ring) save his world, in a soft echo of the Christian story of Jesus.


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