Tolkien's Frodo

by Varda
When 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 torment...

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 literature.

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.