we think of Frodo we might think of the 'jolly, apple-cheeked fellow'
in the book, or of Elijah, or even that sweet-voiced Frodo with the
huge brown eyes in the feature length cartoon. But where did Tolkien
himself get Frodo from?
We have to face a brutal reality; few people today have an education
like Tolkien's, even academics. So the trail of Tolkien's Frodo is gone
cold, for there are few who can duplicate Tolkien's own mix of
classical education, Anglo-Saxon lore and modern literary learning. Yet
it must have been this which moulded his own written Frodo....
From the classical world perhaps Tolkien took Odysseus as a model, who
like Frodo journeys through many adventures on a quest, learning as he
goes, with Ithaca ever the Shire. Like Odysseus, Frodo is quite clever,
even cunning. He fends off Faramirs's questions;
'You spoke with skill in a hard place...' says the Captain of Gondor.
And Galadriel says to him after she fails in her attempt to test him;
'You begin to see with a keen eye...'
But there is in Ulysses a lack of morality alien to Frodo, who more
resembles the great hero of Roman literature, Aeneas, who also goes on
a quest, to found Rome, and who is more concerned with the good of his
country than with saving his skin.
'We set out to save the Shire' as Frodo sums it up.
Frodo's ability to endure might owe much to the ideals of Stoicism, the
most popular philosophical system of ancient Rome. And the hobbit love
of good food and wine points to their natural philosophy being
Epicureanism, also popular in ancient Rome....
From his own field of study, Beowulf, Tolkien might have drawn a hero
who is called on to eradicate a great evil from the land, and also the
beautiful but melancholy tone of the ancient saga which resembles the
atmosphere of the Lord Of The Rings.
From other later medieval literature like the Morality plays and Piers
Plowman Tolkien might have drawn the idea of a hero who is just an
ordinary Everyman, battling Vice, who could almost be Gollum, speaking
evil in his ear. From Renaissence literature Tolkien might have got
ideas for Frodo from Shakespeare, whose Hamlet has been compared to
Frodo by many critics, both heroes who are hard to pin down but
familiar and attractive to us, and with whom we sympathise even while
we think 'rather him than me!'
From the 18th century Tolkien might have drawn an idea of Frodo the
hero of his people, sacrificing all for the common good of man, the
oath-taking of the Fellowship in the film becoming almost a modern Oath
of the Horatii.
From the 19th century Tolkien would have been aware of a revival in
studies of myth and medievalism, and he might have been influenced by
Arthur Fraser's Golden Bough as well as re-tellings of the Arthur
stories such as Mallory's Morte D'Arthur.
Over all would have been Tolkien's Christian faith, and the aspects of
Frodo that resemble those of a saviour must strike anyone who reads the
Lord of The Rings. Frodo is also a martyr, and in the film Peter
Jackson gives him one scene where he perfectly embodies a martyr; in
the tower of Cirth Ungol where he puts the ring back on, closing his
eyes as if it is some kind of ecstasy to regain the Ring, but also a
Tolkien also draws on his own literature; Frodo, bearer of the light of
Earendil, is in many ways more akin to a hero of the Silmarillon than
of his own age, he has an otherworldly, doomed air by the end of the
book. Yet as Bilbo says, he is a Baggins, as in the Hobbit....
We can see pretty clearly that Tolkien did not have much time for the
modern age. It is hard to believe he is almost contemporary with Joyce
and Beckett. There seems little literature of the 20th century he could
have drawn on for Frodo. Yet there is an echo of Frodo in every modern
hero of fiction and film who although an ordinary little guy,
tragically vulnerable, heroically takes on the great evil corporation
for the sake of his community and his friends....
Of course, this could all be bunk. Tolkien might have just sat down and
written a great yarn about a person who popped into his head as real as
you or me. But Tolkien was a scholar among scholars, even his social
life was shared with writers and teachers, so I think Frodo can stand
with Beowulf and Hamlet as one of the great heroes of English
Additional commentary by Eilenach:
Re: Frodo's cleverness and cunning:
Frodo is indeed cunning, although it is so subtle in the
books that it
is often missed. He uses the tactic of throwing people's own words back
in their faces.
Galadriel tests Frodo at their first meeting,
and although he does not reveal what she offered, I believe she offered
to take the Ring. He in turn tests her by offering it to her, sort of a
tit-for-tat, "You tempted me with the offer of taking the Ring, so I'll
test you by actually offering it to you!" She replies, "Gently are you
revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting."
Similarly, when Faramir protests that Frodo
should not go on the route by Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol, Frodo
essentially shows Faramir what would happen if he followed Faramir's
advice. "But where else would you direct me?...If I turn back, refusing
the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men?
Would you have me come to Gondor with this Thing, the Thing that drove
your brother mad with desire? What spell would it work in Minas Tirith?
Shall there be two cities of Minas Morgul, grinning at each other
across a dead land filled with rottenness?"
Both Galadriel and Faramir are forced in the
end to acknowledge the disaster that would occur if their own "advice"
was followed -- Galadriel setting herself up as a Dark Queen, Faramir
seeing his city of Minas Tirith enslaved by lust for the Ring. And
Frodo drives home the point with a simple offer of the Ring to
Galadriel, and a few pointed questions to Faramir.