by Varda, with responses
I am collecting the Lord of the Rings chess
set, and recently I got one of the 'white pawns', and it was Frodo.
I was quite taken aback to find Frodo classed as just a pawn. He is
equal hero with Aragorn in the book. In my book, he is the absolute
hero (sorry, A
) But the back row of figures in the set are all tall characters in the
book, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Theoden, and the front row, the pawns,
are all short, Gimli, Frodo and Eowen sitting down. So poor Frodo was
relegated to pawn because he was short.
In the book, Pippin says he feels like a pawn in a chess game, because
he is being treated like 'baggage'. Merry too becomes indignant when
Theoden tells him he is too heavy for any rider to 'bear him as a
burden'. But these are characters who are taken as unimportant because
they are, well, small. But in fact they are only small in size, in
deeds they change the course of events. As Galadriel says; even the
smallest person can change the world.
Er....not in this chess set; here, size is everything.
Response by Linaewen:
An excellent point!
Maybe the game of chess bears that point out a bit, though. A pawn is
as capable as any other piece in taking out a queen or putting a king
in check, if given the opportunity. And a pawn is not always noticed as
easily as those bigger pieces that swoop about the board looking tall
and powerful and get targeted by the enemy pieces.
Kind of like hobbits!
Response by Primula:
And who would ever think to discover that a
true hero, a savior of Middle-earth, could come from such a lowly place
as among the pawns? Surely the Wise would presume he would be found
among the Kings of old... and thus miss him when he slips past them!
It might be more appropriate this way... I am also mindful of how he
went back to wearing his regular clothing and quietly faded away from
Shire social life afterwards - no keeping him up on a pedestal, even if
he were not short.
Response by Lithilien Quicksilver:
Perfect analogy, imho, Lin. Small yet
deceptively powerful, in a completely humble fashion. That fits Frodo
to a "t", if I may say so.
Thanks folks, and Lith and Lin it is true
a humble pawn can, in the right circumstances, prove a formidable foe.
Sadly however, mostly in chess you sacrifice a pawn to win something
greater. Chess manuals never talk about 'sacrificing a knight' or a
queen, but they give away lowly pawns all the time.
That is something I have wondered about; Tolkien was a lowly soldier in
the Great War, just about the last where ordinary soldiers were
regarded as pawns to be sacrificed, 'cannon fodder' as the term came to
be. Just throwing countless lives at some daft objective seemed to be
the order of battle, and the 'back line' of the chessboard, the
monarchs and generals survived, but the pawns did not.
Yet when Tolkien came to write The Lord of The Rings, he said that a
pair of small quiet feet, stealing into Mordor could achieve what
armies could not. Where did he get this belief? No other First Wold War
writer, that is any who actually were in the trenches, thought like
this. Robert Graves write about the horrible futility of it and
Siegfried Sassoon called the pawns the 'unremembered dead', despite all
Under all the horrible mistakes of strategy was the top brass and their
idea that the life of a common soldier wasn't worth very much. There
was a nasty class thing going on. And Tolkien maintains the class
system; nobility matters in The Lord of The Rings; Eowyn is keenly
aware that she is a 'daughter of kings' and Denethor can't stand the
idea that the Stewards should yield up their rule to a 'ragged
wanderer' from a house 'long bereft of lordship'
Pawns, however noble, must stay in their place; when Sam speaks
before Frodo in Ithilien, Faramir, who strikes the reader as far less
class-conscious than his father, tells him sharply 'don't speak before
So it is really a bit of a miracle that Frodo is the central hero
at all, and one wonders was Tolkien a bit bemused by the character he
had created. There are bits of Everyman in him, bits of Beowulf, bits
even of Hamlet, all wrapped up in a comfortably English homeliness, wry
humour and endless common sense, a love of the countryside, a nice pipe
and good but plain food, and great learning that he keeps well hidden.
A bit like that other typically English hero, James Bond, his very
ordinariness is a cloak for extraordinary powers. Frodo saying 'I am
Frodo Baggins of the Shire....' is a bit like saying 'My name is
James Who? Tolkien loved that typically English disdain for
ostentation; when Frodo the Ringbearer meets Aragorn the heir to the
throne of Gondor, they are just Mister Underhill meeting Strider the
ranger out of the wilds. A veritable convocation of pawns.
Response by Icarus:
If you're talking about the Noble Collection
chess set, then I am doubly upset about the Hobbits as pawns bit,
because there are actually two of each of them in order to fill out the
full line. That definitely doesn't fit... though it does allow for both
you and Lin/Lith to be correct: Sacrifice the pawn... we have a Frodo
clone available anyway! If it's a different set, please let me know
where I can see it, or post pictures. I love the LOTR chess sets!
However, on a couple of the more generic chess sets, they got it a
little better in that Frodo is a bishop.
Personally, I think Frodo should be the King... slow in movement,
but capable... and if you lose him, you lose the game! Of course, the
argument could be made that Sam could pick up the ring (or anyone from
the Fellowship earlier in the story), but I think that would be why Sam
should be the Queen... quite possibly the most important piece, but you
don't necessarily lose if you lose him... her... him... whatever ;-).
I do like Lith's and Lin's explanation, though. Definitely does mark
well the Hobbit/pawn correlation.
Varda, I've always wondered how Tolkien managed to come out of the
trenches with any kind of positive thought about the common man. There
are many bits that ARE easy to see coming from that (dislike of metal
and machinery, etc.), but not that one. Maybe it's just part of the
English ingrained acceptance of royalty and nobility?
I just thought of this, so it might make sense or not: I see a
parallel here with our own American 'royalty'... the movie star. Even
though we see more and more how low-down and nasty, or just plain
stupid many of them can be... the majority of us common-folk still wish
we could be them, or even just meet them. And that's only a couple of
generations old, so I would guess that scores of generations would make
it even more a part of the psyche.
Reply by Varda:
I don't think this is a Noble product, if
you want to look at the figures, I think this link will take you to the
The figures are pretty much the same as that LOTR die cast collection,
most of which I have. But the chess figures are mounted on heavy
plinths with baize underneath, so they feel like chess pieces. They
actually look better in the hand, the detail is very good, the
expressions are just right. I just love the White Castle piece,
Osgiliath, and its opposite, Barad-dur.
No, there is only one Frodo in this set, and he is a pawn. So are the
other three hobbits and the rest of the pawns are Eowyn, Faramir and a
Gondorian soldier. I think the last will be Eomer.
I would have thought Frodo should be the king too, but Aragorn is also
indispensible, as he is the only one who can succeed as king of Gondor.
Also, who would be Queen to Frodo's king? Galadriel? Hmm, you have that
old size difference again. ;-)
I think when you look hard, you can see the elements of the trenches
that Tolkien did put in the book, the blasted land of Mordor ('pits,
pits pits' ) could be the shell holes and trenches of the Western
Front. Also, poor JRR spent most of his war in hospital, as he got some
kind of fever which recurred and he was invalided out several times. He
did not actually spend that much time in the fighting zone. Luckily.
I suppose he also belonged to a class that believed in doing ones duty,
and prided itself on doing it however bad things got. I think things
got a bit worse for Sassoon and Graves, but how can you quantify that
kind of experience?
Yes the British love of the royals does a bit resemble the American
love of stars. But the problem with British class consciousness is it
runs down through the whole society, it is not just the royal family.
Everyone is desperate to stay that bit above the poor folks just a few
thousand a year below them. The most ferocious snobs are in the middle
The Sackville-Bagginses were probably Tolkien's comment on them!
Response by Celedor:
Somebody at a theater showing ROTK agreed
with you. A little boy kept
bugging his father throughout the film about things he didn't
understand, and one of the last things was, "Wait, [Aragorn] gets to be
King? Dad, why doesn't Frodo get to be King? He should be King."
(That little boy is probably a 6' teenager by now... )
Response by Icarus:
Definitely not Noble Collection. That
much better... and much, much more expensive! (especially with overseas
shipping and the pound/dollar problem ;-)) Beautiful pieces and board,
though! Thanks for sharing!
BTW, according the website, Eomer is one of the nights. I forget who
the last pawn is, though.
I think some of you are so gender-traditional! ;-) I still think
Sam would be Frodo's Queen (and not because of the nassty thoughtss
people keep having... just because that's the way it worked!)
I definitely see a lot of the trenches in Mordor (and even just
outside of Bree... I'll bet there were some BUGS out there in France!),
but I'm just surprised at the things we don't find... lack of hope and
disgust with one's superiors and so on.
Finally, the British class struggle always makes me think of the
BritCom 'Keeping Up Appearances'... especially the 4' x 6' 'country
home' they get (that show had a number of funny moments if you're into
the BBC comedies).
Reply by Varda:
Thanks, Icarus. I will go out on my day
buoyed up by the thought of Queen Sam. :-P
Yes it is a nice set, and the cost is spread out over a few months. One
thing however that is pretty tacky is the board. It looks good in
pictures but in the flesh, as it were, it is horrible and plasticky. I
think I will just lop off the sides and leave the plain chequered board
with the figures.
Take up less room, too, might leave space for the light-up Minas
Yes I know, I need help, lots of help.....
Response by Doctor Gamgee:
My guess would have been that Tolkein's
theology would have allowed
these things to occur, and given him hope that Mankind might find hope.
(Christ was sacrificed like a pawn, as it were) That and he was a
writer. Afterall, in my non-writing mind (though I compose music) it is
the ideas tha literature carries that makes it great, and one can
always hope that these ideas may change the world for the better. At
least in my feeble mind, it is the difference between Literature (LOTR)
and HP (Stories) -- one has great ideas that changes the way people
perceive the world, the other just fills the time to while away the
hours, entertaining as they are.
But Frodo has too much sense to be King. Hobbits don't seem to need
kings, as that type of "lording over" others would be against their
good Hobbit-Sense. Mayors were elected, not entitled as kings are, and
it is based on merit, not kinship. At least in Hobbiton if not the real
world *wink* . Lotho would want to be king, and that is no life for a
Baggins of Hobbiton (He was a Sackville-Baggins, I recall).
But I'm sure that there are others whose ideas are clearer than mine,
so I will sit quietly and await them.
Response by Erech the Undead
Interesting analysis. The virtue and
decency found in ''everyman''
Frodo does seem to be a metaphor for the common Brit-- lives of quiet
desperation and all that-- though I would ask an obvious question: does
Frodo represent a kind of idealisation of these qualities; a rare
hobbit, who would be an equally rare human being?...It's not as though
there were hundreds of Frodo's running around, ready to exhibit total
self-sacrifice in Frodo's place, if Frodo fell...
Reply by Varda:
You are perfectly right, Frodo is perhaps
typical of hobbits in his
likes and dislikes, his dress and temperament and homely good nature.
But in other ways, he us utterly exceptional; he has learning far
beyond any other hobbit that ever lived. He is a friend of Elves and
knows some of their language. He is not afraid to wander and set off on
a great journey; as he says to Gandalf;
'I have sometimes thought of going away, ...a series of adventures like
...whereas most hobbits won't go beyond the next hill. Gandalf
believes that Frodo is the greatest of his race, and he proves it.
But sometimes it is only in the exceptional that the typical is seen.
Frodo is head and shoulders above his kind, but he loves his land and
their people, as he says to Gandalf;
'I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I
shall find wandering more bearable; I shall know that somewhere there
is a firm foothold even if my feet cannot stand there again.'
Somewhere, there is an England. Or an Ireland. This is powerful
stuff; it has sustained the exiled people of many countries over the
centuries and it bears out not just that Frodo loves the Shire, but
that it is so deeply a part of him that he will be happy if it
survives, even if he does not. I dare to suggest that many of Tolkien's
comrades on the Western Front, who knew it was unlikely that they would
ever see home again, felt like that about England. Perhaps Tolkien drew
on that. And in the portrait he created he gives us not a typical
hobbit, perhaps, but someone who embodies what is best in hobbits and
captures the soul of the Shire.
You say; 'It's not as though there were hundreds of Frodo's running
round, ready to exhibit total self-sacrifice in Frodo's place, if Frodo
But Erech that is just what does happen; Sam takes the Ring when he
thinks Frodo is dead. And he says those very words, 'that is why Frodo
was given companions, so the quest might be carried on if anything
happened to him'
And Sam, although no way as accomplished or clever as Frodo, bears
the Ring too, and has the strength and self-control to hand it back. So
we must conclude that Frodo was not the only hobbit to be able to bear
the Ring. Three bore it, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, without doing evil or
succumbing to it (we will omit Mount Doom for the sake of present
argument *wink* )