Downsizing Frodo: The arguments against.
A few days back I posted Juliet Waldron’s essay discussing whether the movies downplayed Frodo’s heroism relative to the role he played in the books. We got quite a few responses, many of them in agreement but also some people felt strongly that the movies did not ‘downsize’ Frodo.
Meredith wrote some interesting things to counter Juliet’s view: “…she was more negative to Peter Jackson’s version than deserved. Really, the important thing to understand is that Peej wasn’t interpreting Tolkien’s text, he was retelling the Peter Jackson version of the story, which plays out very well as a trilogy of movies, and brings out different aspects of the story the book doesn’t really explore.
“Overall, I think Peej’s characterizations are in some respects superior to Tolkien’s, Tolkien didn’t always have a realistic sense of the psychological effects of some of the stuff going on in his stories. For example, his Faramir is very different from the book’s Faramir, and yet far more of a believable person than the book’s Faramir ever was. His Boromir isn’t just a foil to Aragorn, but a person as well. Where the brothers exist as illustrations of the two states of Aragorn in the book, they exist as people in the movies. Do I mind the change? Not at all. Do I respect Tolkien’s original vision of them existing more as foils than flesh and bone men? Yes, because both are in their place.
“As in all retellings, the story comes to resonate with the time it is being told in. Peej’s Frodo is a hero for the modern era. Like many people in the modern world he feels overwhelmed by the challenges life has put before him. In this age of high divorce rates and an unstable job market, Peej’s Frodo is a hero that endures rather than overcomes, as we are expected to endure these things rather than overcome them. The world is a lot bigger and us a lot smaller nowadays. This makes him different from Tolkien’s Frodo, but does not necessarily make him inferior to him.
“I entirely disagree with her interpretation of the Osgiliath scene. Yes, Frodo went up on the tower to face the Ringwraith, heeding its call, but I think clearly he went up there intending to fight, as evidenced by his immediate attack of Sam. He is not attacking Sam because Sam is Sam, he is attacking Sam because he went up there with the idea to attack the first thing that came at him through his semi-trance-like state of mind.
“Overall, there are enough flaws with the original work that there really aren’t many more flaws with Peej’s telling. It’s simply a different telling of the story, reflecting modern sensibilities and ideals. One can take either story and say they enjoy it more, but I don’t think it’s fair for one to hold either version against the other, either, because Peej wasn’t disrespecting Tolkien when he told the Peter Jackson version of the story, because Tolkien wasn’t disrespecting the Icelanders when he told the J.R.R. Tolkien version of their traditional stories, because the Icelanders weren’t disrespecting their ancestors when they told the elaborated story version of those Icelander’s lives. Everybody’s got their own telling of it, every telling applies to the generation in which it was told. That’s how legends go.
Sulky wrote in to disagree strongly too:
“I myself feel the character was very well interpreted and have heard Peter Jackson state in many interviews that he feels Frodo is the true hero of the story – so enough of this ‘maybe the writers didn’t like Frodo’ talk. I have never heard Jackson state that the true hero is Sam, though many book readers and film fans have felt this. The key reason that Jackson cites Frodo as the ‘true hero’ is because he is the character who has to make the biggest sacrifice. It is interesting to hear this critic sniffing at the notion of Frodo as a ‘sacrificial hero’ as if to sacrifice oneself for the sake of Middle Earth isn’t brave enough for them. It seems they are ignorant to the fact that this is exactly what Tolkien intended Frodo to be and that it is precisely his ‘sacificial situation’ which most reveals Frodo’s strength. A hero is some one who RISKS their life for the sake of good (as Sam does). A sacrificial hero or martyr is some one who OFFERS their life for the sake of good. This is the key element of Frodo’s heroism and it is not taken away or even downsized in the films.
“It is interesting to see that one of the major ‘downsizings’ was considered to be his rescue by Arwen. It seems to me that this scene is wildly misinterpreted. Frodo’s resistance to the wraith poison is an internal battle of his strengh of will. It is because of his inner strength, that in the book and the film, Frodo survives his injury. As Gandalf remarks ‘You have some strength in you, my dear hobbit,’ and I don’t hear any character giving Arwen the credit for Frodo’s recovery. The point of this scene is Frodo’s inner strength, which does not require an external flourish of bravery such as Frodo jeering and waving his fists at the Black Riders. If you are able to pick up on subtleties as a viewer you might notice that Elijah’s eyes express the same contempt as the line ‘You shall have neither the ring, nor me!’
“Another so-called ‘downsizing’ which I feel has been misinterpreted is Frodo turning on Sam in ROTK. Again, if you are really concentrating you will see that it is the ring that turns Frodo against Sam, not simply Gollum (though Gollum does work as an agent of the ring). Though this does not happen in the book, it is plain to see where the writers drew their inspiration. Twice in the books when Sam offers to carry the ring, Frodo turns on Sam, insults him and rejects him. It is not that much of a stretch to imagine that his paranoia over the ring might cause Frodo to send his friend from his side. For me, Frodo and Sam’s separation in the movies does not ‘weaken’ the friendship. Rather it highlights the hobbits devotion to each other when we see both of them alone and desperate to find one another again.
“But I am sick of this focus on the ‘downsizing of frodo’. There a many additions in the movie that raise the status of the character! Though I love the books, Frodo’s choice to take the ring in the council of Elrond is made much braver and bolder than in the novel – in which he seems reluctant and is almost forced into being the ringbearer. To further support the movie, I can’t tell you how moved I was to hear Aragorn whisper the words ‘for Frodo’ before the Black Gates or to hear Merry cheering Frodo’s name when the dark tower collapsed. Though I’m sure the Fellowship are aware that Sam made the journey too, it is Frodo who actually bore the ring to Mount Doom for the sake of all Middle Earth. Nothing expresses Frodo brave and selfless ‘sacrifice’ more so than Pippin’s silent whimper – ‘Oh Frodo…’ It is also worth noting that the hobbit’s recovery and awakening is shown through Frodo’s eyes where in the book it is shown from Sam’s perspective. In fact all of the final twenty minutes of ROTK is centered upon Frodo where as in the book Tolkien switched the focus to Sam. And what could place Frodo more firmly in the spotlight as the movie’s hero than showing him writing a book entitled ‘The Lord of the Rings’? It is and always was Frodo’s story!”
Sulky sent in an additional comment that claimed the middle ground and made sense of the movie’s interpretion in those terms:
“How could Frodo be the one true hero? He could never have done it without Sam. And do the people who suggest Sam is the true hero really believe he could have done it without Frodo? Both these characters’ heroism is dependant on them working together! And would Frodo and Sam even have had the chance to achieve their quest if it wasn’t for the heroics of the rest of the fellowship, the Rohans and the Gondorians? I don’t think so. Most importantly the quest could not have been achieved without Gollum – or more specifically Frodo’s, Bilbo’s and eventually Sam’s mercy towards Gollum which is the real heroic factor.
“What Tolkien seems to be making very clear is that you can’t have one, incredible, evil defeating hero. It is the heroes unity against ONE all powerful foe that allows them to suceed. I don’t know why fans are so obsessive over the notion of ‘the real hero’. The idea of a fellowship of heroes is far more inspiring to me.”Posted in Old Special Reports on February 17, 2004 by Tehanu