Heroism Redifined: Lord of the Rings

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Heroism redefined

Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, offers the reader a truly compelling picture of the world of Middle-earth. The author, in great detail, depicts a complex reality which abounds in a whole variety of creatures, cultures, languages and histories. If we take a closer look on Tolkien’s masterpiece we will easily notice a complexity of themes, motifs, symbols which add to the semantic richness of the text. It is necessary to mention that Tolkien was considerably influenced by the literary tradition. Fascinated by literary genres such as a heroic epic, a chivalric romance or a fairy tale Tolkien skillfully weaved many characteristic conventions of these genres in Lord of the Rings. Among many other features drawn from the literary tradition the theme of heroism occupies a prominent position in Tolkien’s trilogy. On the one hand Tolkien follows a well known model of a courageous epic hero, but on the other hand he operates with the theme in an innovative way. Apart from a careful depiction of a well known image of noble heroism typical of great figures of historical significance such as Aragorn, the novel surprisingly offers a completely new image of heroism which is represented by small hobbits. Providing at the same time two parallel faces of the concept, Tolkien significantly changes and challenges the traditional meaning of heroism and, as a consequence, significantly enriches the literary tradition.

A significant part of the trilogy is devoted to the deeds of great Men such as Aragorn. Drawing extensively on the tradition of heroic epic and chivalric romance Tolkien presents a powerful image of a knightly hero full of noble virtues. Aragorn is a “born hero” - a true heir to the throne of Gondor, “born to achieve great deeds in his time” (Zimmer Bradley 83). He is a courageous man of action, endowed with physical strength, who combats evil, brings order and restores peace. Respected and admired by other characters, Aragorn is a hero of indomitable spirit who never commits mistakes and always serves as an epitome of bravery and virtue. Although Aragorn is one of the most prominent characters in the trilogy, the most important mission, to destroy the malevolent Ring, falls upon a completely different figure. The future of the whole Middle-earth does not depend on noble Elves or brave Men or even strong Dwarves but lies in the hands of the seemingly weak and insignificant hobbits (Gulisano 131). Tolkien’s surprising choice falls upon small and rather funny creatures which, in fact, do not really have any particular achievements. Though small and weak, it is Frodo and his faithful servant Sam who are burdened with an extremely difficult task. Contrary to all expectations Frodo is chosen to carry the ring: “You may be nobody in particular in yourself, yet for some inexplicable reasons, through no choice of your own, the Ring has come into your keeping, so that it is on you and not on Gandalf or Aragorn that the task falls of destroying it” (LotR, I, 284)

At first the small hobbit is full of doubts. He is neither a great wizard like Gandalf to plan the strategy of war against Sauron, nor Aragorn, an outstanding warrior who is destined to be the leader of the army of Gondor. Yet, the Ring has clearly chosen the hobbit. Unlike other significant figures of the trilogy Frodo has “heroism thrust upon him” (Zimmer Bradley 84). In contrast with Aragorn, Frodo is not born to gain glory, yet through experience and ability to endure hardships he finally rises to heroism. Though hesitantly, Frodo humbly accepts the task: “’I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.”(LotR, I, 284) Even though Frodo would rather “stay at home than risk my life on the very slight chance of winning glory” (LotR, I, 284) eventually he resigns from his own comfort and safety and full of hope takes up a dangerous journey to save...
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