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Is Frodo Baggins a Christian Archetype?


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Initial post: Dec 22, 2012 3:59:06 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
I know this is a somewhat strange question to ask.

Most people would say the LOTR trilogy is just a sci-fi fantasy, I suppose. And that's good enough, really. Not that I'm knocking it. I actually really admire the way the trilogy is crafted to keep your attention for, what, 8.5 hours.

So I'm reading that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, right? And a professor of Anglo-Saxon and a professor of English and English literature.

One of the main works of that age is Beowulf, of course. Again, sounds like a Nordic fantasy. But I found this in the wiki entry:

'Whether seen as a pagan work with 'Christian coloring' added by scribes or as a 'Christian historical novel, with selected bits of paganism deliberately laid on as 'local color', as Margaret E. Goldsmith did in "The Christian Theme of Beowulf,' it cannot be denied that Christianity pervades the text, and with that, the use of the Bible as a source. Beowulf channels Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel in its inclusion of references to God's creation of the universe, the story of Cain, Noah and the flood, devils or the Devil, Hell, and the Last Judgement.'

So I'm wondering if LOTR has the same kind of coloring.

Frodo doesn't wear the ring on his finger. He simply has it on a chain round his neck. Reminiscent of when somebody says they have a cross to bear. Only here it's the ring he's bearing that has to be destroyed.

The most interesting relationship, imo, is that of Frodo and Gollum. It's the interaction of these two that actually in the end leads to the destruction of the ring. Frodo himself doesn't throw the ring in the fire. He is constitutionally unable to do so at the crucial moment. This is because goodness apparently cannot destroy evil in a one-on-one encounter. In this story, Gollum, consumed with covetousness, has to become the unwitting instrument to fulfill the goal of destroying evil.

Frodo lunges at Gollum toppling them both over the edge when Gollum has finally fulfilled his own quest of reclaiming the ring. Gollum falls into the lava with the ring while Frodo hangs on to the ledge and has to be saved by Sam.

Frodo's ultimate strength is the pity he shows for Gollum when Sam suggests they tie up Gollum and leave him to perish. It's the same pity that Bilbo Baggins felt for Gollum in the first episode of The Hobbit. This pity seems to me to be an archetypal Christian trait. The loving of your enemy, I guess. Course, they need Gollum as their guide to Mordor, too.

There are other motifs in the story that suggest its religious coloring.

Boromir is the one of the fellowship who like Judas wants to betray the cause. He seeks the ring for Gondor. He pays for it with his life. The only one of the fellowship to do so.

The fellowship itself is reminiscent of the apostles. 9 rather than 12, granted. Or then it is at least a Christian brotherhood.

There are three moments where you think a character has perished but returns later in the story. Gandalf fighting the Balrog, for instance, the demon of the deep. His victory turns him from Gandalf the Gray into Gandalf the White. A kind of resurrection with a promotion. - Then there's Aragorn going over the edge of the cliff during a skirmish. And Gollum falling over the edge into the precipice at the end of his fight with Frodo.

Well, this has turned out to be way longer than I intended. Thanks and apologies to anybody who makes it this far.

Course, maybe the story was just meant to be a seriously ripping yarn. And I'm reading too much into it......

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2012 5:25:20 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 22, 2012 5:28:46 PM PST
A Customer says:
People have for years theorized that Frodo allegorizes the sinless Christ and the ring allegorizes Original Sin, which is his task to remove/destroy. Tolkien always denied this. We can never know if he just didn't want to admit clearly that that is what was going on or not. Interestingly he thought his friend C.S. Lewis was way too blatant with his Christ allegory with Aslan in Narnia. Maybe Tolkien wanted it to be subtle, or maybe there never was an attempt at allegory.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2012 6:42:35 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 22, 2012 6:43:17 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
He's said that he dislikes allegories. Intensely.

'J. R. R. Tolkien, emphatically stated in his introduction to the second edition, "It is neither allegorical nor topical.... I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.'

per wiki's entry on allegory.

No, I was just wondering if the character was infused with a certain view of how a Christian should behave.

There's a scene in The Hobbit where Gandalf and Galadriel are in conference and Gandalf turns towards the camera and sez something along the lines of 'I've never believed that evil is fought solely with large armies. I've always thought it depended on the everyday actions of little people to keep evil at bay'. It's like the author's addressing the audience directly with his main message.

I don't know if that passage was contained in the book. Maybe I'll have to read it to find out.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2012 7:37:08 PM PST
>>"I don't know if that passage was contained in the book. Maybe I'll have to read it to find out."

J.H.--Peter Jackson's Middle Earth isn't J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. It's a beautiful resemblance. Tolkien offers a polytheistic vision of creation in his work, The Silmarillion, which resembles the 'sometimes' Catholic syncretic adoption of the old gods into the Catholic cannon of saints. Thanks for sharing that spoiler scene from the new Hobbit movie. I haven't been out to see it yet. Is it true they're dividing that one book, The Hobbit, into several movies?

Although published as a children's story, the Hobbit is truly a complex fantasy novel. As Tolkien's lifetime spanned both the first and second world wars, he was exposed to personal loss of both childhood friends and adults later in life, from the touch of death and greed which fed those wars. If there's some Christian viewpoint interspersed in his literature, it tends toward an apocalyptic ending, the "nothingness" or the "abyss" which awaits the evil angels/demigods such as Melkior/Morgoth, and his henchman Sauron.

And yes, Catholic Christianity very much concerns itself with the little resistances to evil, made by individuals in everyday ordinary life.

Posted on Dec 22, 2012 8:03:23 PM PST
Astrocat says:
As far as Frodo Baggins goes, have you people heard about the guy who went to see "The Hobbit", carrying a sidearm, and was so bored he fidgeted so badly the gun dropped on the floor and was found the next day by some 7th graders? I haven't a clue as to what the point of this is, I just think it's hilarious - or would be if it weren't so darned disgusting that a grown man would think he had to carry a gun to see "The Hobbit". Does that make any sense at all?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2012 9:10:19 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 23, 2012 11:24:12 AM PST
'probabilist says:
Bairn wrote:

> I was just wondering if the character [Frodo]
> was infused with a certain view
> of how a Christian should behave.

I think it's more likely that Frodo, as a native of the Shire, reflects Tolkien's view of how a goodhearted Englishman from the countryside would behave under stress. As an Englishman.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2012 9:13:18 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 1:31:34 AM PST
Nancy says, "Does that make any sense at all?"

J.H.--Which part, the part about the gun that didn't get found during nightly clean-up, mandated by state business and professions code? Or the part about carrying a gun to see a movie in the theater?

If it were here where I live in sunny So. California, not two hours drive from Los Angeles, murder capitol of the world, he might feel the need to carry his side arm. But our laws would prohibit this unless he's a certified security guard (carded), or if he's off-duty law enforcement officer. (And that could also include some attorneys and judges I believe.) I've heard ex-military can apply for private guard card concealed carry license in CA.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 5:02:06 AM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
'Is it true they're dividing that one book, The Hobbit, into several movies?'

Yeah, haha, when I first heard about it, I rolled my eyes and thought it was a marketing gimmick. But the film is shot so beautifully that you don't mind being immersed in that world for so long. The dwarf characters aren't as well-defined as, say, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in LOTR. And the action takes a while to get going. But it's worth the wait.

I'm looking forward to the next installment and will go to a movie theater to see it. Hopefully in 3D.

Thanks for your thoughts. Appreciate it.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 5:04:00 AM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Cheers, 'prob.

I've been googling 'Tolkien and religion' and came up with this.

'J. R. R. Tolkien once described his epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as 'a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.' Yet nowhere in its pages is there any mention of religion, let alone of the Catholic Church, Christ, or even God.'

http://www.decentfilms.com/articles/faithandfantasy

Now I didn't know that before I wrote the OP. Make of it what you will.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 5:05:16 AM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Excellent stuff, horsey. You've excelled yourself.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 7:53:16 AM PST
'probabilist says:
What's bizarre is that he didn't notice that the gun was missing.

Posted on Dec 23, 2012 9:40:53 AM PST
A. Caplan says:
Like any good fiction, it is open to interpretation based on the readers thoughts.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 12:17:23 PM PST
Astrocat says:
Jonathan, carrying a loaded weapon in a movie theater, or a school, or a National Park, or a church. It's all senseless.

I hadn't thought about the fact that it wasn't found during the clean-up. That's an interesting fact in itself.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 1:28:11 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 23, 2012 1:28:49 PM PST
I would say that Frodo represents the concept "all men are sinners and ultimately fallible." Frodo is chosen to carry the Ring because he is a Hobbit, which are thought to be less corruptible than dwarves or humans. Frodo himself is even more incorruptible than the typical hobbit (we see later in the third book that hobbits aren't quite incorruptible in the material that didn't make it into the films.) Even Gandalf and Galadriel reject carrying the ring themselves. But ultimately even he fails, the burden of the ring overcomes him, and luckily Gollum bites his finger off and accidently falls into the lava. Frodo feels so guilty about his failure that he wants to travel "across the sea to the land of the west," which is the Middle Earth equivalent of Heaven. So I can't really seee Frodo as Christ.

Boromir isn't Judas, since he isn't planning from the start to get the ring for himself. He is simply "the weakest link," the most easily corruptible.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 2:21:20 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
'So I can't really seee Frodo as Christ.'

No, I don't see him that way either. It would be allegorical. What I was referring to was the ultimate nature of his actions.

I found another link that looks into the religious aspect.
http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0108.html

It sez 'And Frodo is not specifically Christian, nor does he need to be. It is his action that reveals inner meaning of Christian living.' That's what I meant by the archetypal nature of his character: the actions.

'But ultimately even he fails'

That's true to a certain extent. But ultimately the story leads to a vindication of the quest.

'Furthermore, it is not Frodo who saves Middle Earth, nor Gollum, but One who works through the love and freedom of his creatures, and who forgives us our trespasses "as we forgive those who trespass against us. In the end we witness "eucatastrophe". Not merely the triumph of Providence over Fate, but also the triumph of Mercy, in which free will, supported by grace, is fully vindicated.'

It seems that Tolkien felt strongly that stories, especially fairy tales, can reveal things held to be deeply true.

'In his famous Lang lecture on Fairy Tales, Tolkien describes the three functions of fantasy as Recovery, Escape and Consolation. The fairy tale by leading the reader away from things he knows so well, can make him or her re-think their true vocation. A chance to glimpse the real beneath the appearances, "to see through the look of things. Recovery of sight to see the meaning of the simple and homely, perhaps for the first time.

Escape is closely linked to that of Recovery, "escape from" in order to find what we are "created for".

Tolkien describes the third function of the true fairy tale as Joy:

'It is a sudden and miraculous grace that is in fact evangelism, giving a fleeting of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief . . .'

So in summary I think Tolkien has deliberately chosen a form of story telling that at first seems very unfamiliar and otherworldly. But when you get down to the bare bones of the story, the actions and motivations of its agents become strangely clear and familiar again.

Course, I wasn't expecting to come to this conclusion about the story. I would've been quite happy to stay on the superficial level. But once I'd thought about the basic nature of the characters, it revealed something else. And that's all I wondered about here: whether others had caught a glimpse of the religious nature of the work, too.

Posted on Dec 23, 2012 2:39:29 PM PST
Is Frodo Baggins a christian archetype? No, he is a hobbit. Just a character in a story. Fiction. Don't muck it up with religious carp.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 2:42:34 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Thanks, POE&AG.

I think that ties up this thread nicely as far as I'm concerned.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 2:47:08 PM PST
A Customer says:
You didn't think it was going to last fovever without at least one militant whine did you? Look at the forum you're in ;)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 2:55:34 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Well, there's not much else I can do than try to find out what I'm dealing with re that story.

If Tolkien himself sez it's a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, and somebody else replies 'no, it ain't', I'm not gonna argue on Tolkien's behalf.

I still think it's a magnificent piece of work regardless of my own leanings.

Posted on Dec 23, 2012 2:56:44 PM PST
A Customer says:
http://www.be-ready.org/tolkien.html

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 2:59:05 PM PST
Amy Hall says:
It is magnificent. Despite Tolkien's intentions, we are free to interpret however we want to. It never gets old. I read it in high school, again in the 70's, 80's, 90's, and restarted it last night, and there is always something new that I never saw before.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 3:17:16 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Oh, enjoy.

I make a point of watching the trilogy at least once a year. It was just last week that I completed another viewing. Then thought 'Wait a minute, that's something I recognize from a different context'.

Reminded me of when my younger siblings were watching Narnia when I was 16 or so. I watched Aslan being killed and then returning stronger than ever. And I thought 'Uh oh, this isn't entirely what I thought it was'.

Well, doesn't matter with LOTR. It's so beautifully crafted that you needn't get hung up on that aspect if you don't want to.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2012 3:27:48 PM PST
Amy Hall says:
Yes, the story changes as we, ourselves, change. I was thinking of Gollum. In my twenties, I thought of him as somebody really disgusting and couldn't figure out what they meant by having compassion for him. He was so slimy, then. But now, I really understand the purpose of compassion. Everybody has their own histories and a little compassion to understand what it was like in their shoes goes a long way.

What bugs me is how "they" took liberties with a hobbit's characteristics. There is nothing written that says they have pointy ears, and yet in the films, every hobbit has 'um. I try not to let it bug me, but it is does. LOL "How dare you guys mess with my imagination! That's not how it's supposed to look like!" HAHA

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2013 6:54:12 PM PST
E. Hansen says:
Yours,

"Course, maybe the story was just meant to be a seriously ripping yarn. And I'm reading too much into it..."

E.--I guess someone beat me to the punch, that you can read into it as much as you like. The Lord of the Rings presents the Ring as a possessed artifact, the embodiment of the evil of Sauron. Where it succeeds, imparting hope, without being evangelistic, maybe it conveys some of Tolkien's own faith. I've just watched the Hobbit movie this week, it was rather touching hearing Galadriel ask Gandalf "why", why send the Hobbit? To which Gandalf responds, "I don't know" perhaps because I'm afraid, and he gives me courage.

This courage may be synonymous with hope.
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Discussion in:  Religion forum
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Initial post:  Dec 22, 2012
Latest post:  Jan 3, 2013

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