R The Barrow-Downs: Articles - The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit - Agon: The Conflcit Part I : The Fellowship

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T.A. 3018: The Company of the Ring stays in Rivendell preparing for the journey ahead.
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The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit:
A Comparative Study of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Agon - The Conflict
Part I: The Fellowship


"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" (H 1). The opening line of The Hobbit gives away much of the style in the book. Even though many adult readers love the book, it directs its narration to children, using the language of children, and very often talking directly to the child as in: "Now you know quite enough to go on with" or "as we shall see in the end". One of the reasons why adults enjoy it is because of the multitude of allusions it makes to something much grander, i.e. names and places that are explained or revealed later in The Lord of the Rings, or mythological aspects related to the complex "bible" Silmarillion. But as a whole, it is a story for children and consequently may seem difficult to find any deeper changes in the character of Bilbo, as seen in The Hobbit. One major change that we do find is related to the Ring. After finding it, Bilbo gradually becomes more self-confident and tough. T.A. Shippey makes a note of this: "Before he had it he was essentially a package to be carried, his name as a 'burglar' nothing but an embarrassment even to himself. With the ring he can take an active part" (The Road to Middle-Earth 60).

To find more damaging effects on him, we need to turn our attention to The Lord of the Rings. At the beginning of the story we are met by a Bilbo who is sixty years older than in The Hobbit. He is of course not the young and vigorous hobbit he once was, but he is neither the old and typical hobbit of the Shire that he is expected to be:

He's often away from home. And look at the outlandish folk that visit him: dwarves coming at night, and that old wandering conjurer Gandalf, and all...Bag End's a queer place, and its folk are queerer. (LR 36)

He is considered strange and unhobbitlike and has been so since the day he left Bag End for his adventurous journey. Hobbits are not supposed to act like that, even if they do have some Took in them.

It is not only Bilbo's strange behaviour that his fellow hobbits dislike. Bilbo does not seem to age, and that is definitely not natural. As the years pass and others grow old, Bilbo does not: "At ninety he was much the same as fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark." Not only is he rich but he also possesses "perpetual youth" (LR 33). But things are not what they appear to be, and this is where we find a negative effect on him, or rather the Ring's negative effect on him.

In The Hobbit the Ring is just a funny magical ring that makes the bearer invisible. In the sequel, its evil and corruptness is suddenly laid bare. Here we find that it has a will of its own, and that it can control the mind and actions of its bearer. It also stops the ageing of its owner, but only on the outside. While the appearance stays the same year after year, the inside goes through a dramatic change. Bilbo might be fifty to the world, but on the inside he is ageing in an unnatural way. He tells Gandalf that he is tired and in need of a holiday (LR 37). By holiday he means a permanent one. For one thing, he does not feel connected to the Shire and its hobbits anymore. He has seen a world outside the Shire and feels an urge to go join that world again, the same urge that Frodo feels later on: "Both have lost something of their substance and have moved off their own position in the scale of being toward a more elvish nature. It is significant that neither can live among hobbits" (Zimbardo 106).

The other reason for his holiday is the direct effect of the Ring:

I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with [the Ring] any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. (LR 47)

He feels drained and worn out, "thin and stretched" (LR 60), and the Ring is searching for his soul, never giving him any rest. He cannot get it off his mind, always wondering where it is if he has not put it on, and then always feeling that he has to put it on. It is a completely different picture of the Ring than that we see in The Hobbit. There it was only a positive thing helping him develop his character.

When it comes to Frodo, he also has a background that separates him from the ordinary hobbit. He is an orphan, both his parents having drowned in a boating accident on the Brandywine River. He is a Baggins, which is a very respectable hobbit family, but he also has Took and Brandybuck in his blood. The Tooks, as we already know, are famous for their adventurous legacy, which is apparent in Frodo. He begins "to feel restless, and the old paths [seem] too well-trodden. He look[s] at maps, and wonder[s] what [lies] beyond their edges" (LR 56). The Brandybucks are also looked at with scepticism. Their land, the Buckland, does not lie within the borders of the Shire, and they are very fond of boating on the river, which plain good hobbits are not.

The fact that Frodo is an orphan must have a psychological effect on him, as it has on all young people who lose their parents at an early stage. Tolkien himself was left an orphan in early childhood and that must play a significant part here, and just as Frodo is adopted by an eccentric and peculiar character, so was Tolkien and his brother Hilary taken into the community of the catholic priest Father Francis Morgan, a man who was religiously strict and correct but "had an immense fund of kindness and humour and flamboyance" (Carpenter 34). In other words, Frodo is as much shaped by his early experiences as he is shaped by his ancestry. What we know of Bilbo is that it is only his ancestry that is responsible for the outset of his journey, but both of them are probably the best suited hobbit at the time.

It is Gandalf that picks Bilbo for the quest of the Lonely Mountain, and we must trust Gandalf's judgement because he symbolises a higher consciousness in the two novels. Even if it is not Gandalf directly that picks Frodo for the quest of the Fire Mountain (it is in fact the Ring that makes that choice, given to him by Bilbo), he is certainly involved in the matter. He knows that Frodo probably is the one best suited for the quest, not only because the Ring has found its way to him, but because he has what it takes to perform such a deed, and Frodo is also aware of this fact: "[He] knows he 'is not made for perilous quests', and yet he can see that no one else is better suited" (Sale 253). This stage of the quest corresponds to Propp's ninth function: the connective moment. It brings the hero into play and his departure from home. It is a decision that the hero makes on his own, without giving the true reason for his departure (33-34). As discussed above, Frodo makes this decision more or less on his own, while Bilbo is not given the chance to make his.

At the outsets of the two quests we are immediately confronted with a difference in the attitudes of the two hobbits. Even if Bilbo does not have much time for consideration, he is not totally against the idea of leaving his cosy home, and "[begins] to feel that adventures [are] not so bad after all" (H 29). Although he from time to time wishes to be back in his good old hobbithole, it is still with a rising expectation that he accepts his new role as a burglar. He has been hired for his qualities, "the small size and ability for unobtrusive movement of the hobbit is deemed valuable for reconnaissance" (Fuller 19), even though he is a little bit insecure about these abilities himself. As mentioned, he has no time for preparations. He leaves his home in disorder because he is almost certain to be back very soon.

Frodo, on the other hand, leaves Bag End under totally different circumstances. Gandalf has informed him of the evil that now sweeps across Middle-Earth. Sauron, referred to as the Necromancer in The Hobbit, has finally revealed himself, and is looking for the one weapon that will help him conquer the world - the Ring. Frodo is confronted with the frightening and devastating news that the one person in the world that Evil incarnated is looking for, is him - Frodo Baggins:

Alas! Through [Gollum] the Enemy has learned that the One has been found again....He knows where Gollum found his ring. He knows it is a Great Ring, for it gave long life.... He knows that it is the One. And he has at last heard, I think, of hobbits and the Shire... I fear that he may even think that the long-unnoticed name of Baggins has become important. (LR 72)

Doom is hanging over him, and he knows that he must leave the Shire and, however unlikely, take it to the house of Elrond. He has no expectations of success, in fact he is quite convinced that he is never coming back. This is evident in his effort to say goodbye to all and everything that is dear to him: "he had suddenly realised that flying from the Shire would mean more painful partings to merely saying farewell to the familiar comforts of Bag End" (LR 77), and most obvious in him in selling his beloved Bag End, and that to the hobbits he most detest - the Sackville-Bagginses.

Randel Helms applies the psychoanalytic theories of Freud to the events that take place in The Hobbit. He follows the theme of children but unlike Moorcock, who believed that the hobbits stayed "quasi-children" throughout their adventures, Helms finds that The Hobbit is about growing up. The comfortable Bag End with its round door stands as the womb and vagina from which Bilbo is delivered. Leaving Bag End for the quest, he is "symbolically 'born' with all the helpless nakedness of the infant" (50). Frye also remarks on the personal development of character so familiar in this genre. Desire controls the goal of self-achievement: "the quest-romance is the search of the libido...for a fulfilment that will deliver it from the anxieties of reality" and in the end "the quest-romance is the victory of fertility over the waste land". The womb image is a part of the first phase of the hero's life, the birth (193, 198), and even if it is not a birth in a literal way, in Frodo's and Bilbo's case, it is a birth as a hero, i.e. leaving the womb.

As the journeys continue, Bilbo encounters "his first experience outside the womb" (Helms 50). Out in the wilderness, Bilbo and his companions are confronted with their first obstacle. Cold and wet as the rain is pouring down, Bilbo is sent forward to do his job as burglar, in the scene with the three trolls. This is a very witty and funny passage in the novel, including stupid rustic trolls, talking purses, and a cunning wizard. But if we look at Bilbo's perception of the situation behind the words and lines, it is evident that the experience is frightening. As it is, Bilbo is already among strangers. He has not known the dwarves very long, and they do not have much faith in him. Gandalf, although already known to him as a legend, is also a new acquaintance, even though Gandalf is trying to be supportive as opposed to the dwarves. He feels lonely as it is, and as if this was not enough, he is sent forward on his own to do a job he knows nothing about in the presence of three hideous beasts. It takes a considerable amount of courage on Bilbo's part to pick the pocket of the troll.

It is of course going to an extreme trying to convert a fairy tale into hard-core realism, but I am trying to prove a point here. Bilbo's first adventure is just as frightening as Frodo's, as we shall see, yet Bilbo's confidence and strength only improves as he goes on, as does the novel's language: "the tone and style change with the Hobbit's development, passing from fairy-tale to the noble and high and relapsing with the return" (Letters 159). Frodo on the other hand, deteriorates as he presses on. One aspect that we must consider here is that Bilbo is not affected by the Ring as he has not yet acquired it, while Frodo brings it with him from the start of his journey. This, in turn, leads us to the conclusion that it is not only the Ring that brings forth the courage in the elder hobbit. The underestimation of Bilbo's experiences is even seen in his greatest admirer - Frodo. Faced with the fact that he must leave the Shire, he confesses to Gandalf: "I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday, a series of adventures like Bilbo's or better" (LR 76).

After Bilbo has successfully dealt with his first "job", he earns "the first symbol of his heroic 'manhood'" (Helms 51) in finding the sword Sting. Frodo acquires his "manhood" in a similar way, in the episode where the four hobbits find themselves in trouble, on that eerie and foggy day on the Barrow Downs. Here we see an almost identical situation to the one including Bilbo and the trolls. Sam, Pippin, and Merry have been taken by a beast just as the dwarves were taken by the trolls. Frodo is alone and feeling rather helpless and "dared not move, but lay as he found himself" (LR 155), just as Bilbo felt "not daring to move for fear they should hear him" (H 37). They are both cast into a hellish situation, and get involved in something that seems to be taken out of their own legends and fairy tales. In the end they are all rescued by a divine saviour - Tom Bombadil and Gandalf respectively, and from the treasures of the mound of the conquered wight they equip themselves with a dagger each - the "manhood" - as a token of their first victory.

After having faced danger upon danger for so long, both heroes and readers need a respite and some rest, an element that both Frye and Propp seem to have overlooked in their schemes. Before we can continue our two journeys we need to reload the batteries. One such sanctuary is the house of Elrond. Rivendell does not play any significant part in Bilbo's plot more than that the characters are able to get some valuable help from a higher authority. As readers, we feel secure and relieved that characters like Elrond, or Gandalf, are able to direct the two parties in the right direction, from time to time.

Gandalf is the member with supernatural powers in both novels, something that corresponds to Propp's fourteenth function "receipt of a magical agent" where "various characters place themselves at the disposal of the hero" (40-41), even though he does not appear in that set order Propp had in mind. In The Hobbit he is with the company from the start, leaving them from time to time and later appearing again to help, or to rescue Bilbo and the dwarves. In The Lord of the Rings he is with Frodo before the outset, but becomes a member of the fellowship quite late in the story, and then only for a brief period. Frodo has to do without an agent possessing magical powers, for the major part of the quest.

Frye talks about "the wise old man" as seen in Prospero or Merlin (195), but he does not develop this concept further. The divinity and wisdom of the wise old man is important, as it gives comfort to those involved, i.e. heroes as well as readers. Auden, on the other hand, talks of Gandalf as "the natural vocation of talent". He is strategically important as it is he who is the organiser and commander of the good side, because he is "a very wise man" (55). Gandalf is there to tell us what to do in times of need. You could say he is a kind of father figure.

When it comes to Frodo's adventures, Rivendell functions a little differently. It is not only a place for rest and reloading batteries, it is also a rescue and an asylum. Frodo has been exposed to both physical and mental attacks, Propp's sixteenth function: "the hero and villain join in direct combat" (47), where he has not been safe even in his own body, as the Ring is the link between the Black Riders and Frodo's mind. He has been on the brink of death, and at Rivendell, he is able to heal and recover from the dangers of this first part of the journey. It is also here that he is prepared and morally supported for the next stage of the quest.

The time at Rivendell is very soothing for Frodo and his companions. They are able to forget their worries for a short time, and Frodo also gets to see his beloved Bilbo. After leaving the Shire and travelling about in Middle-Earth, Bilbo has finally settled down in that particular place where he felt he could stay "for ever and ever" (H 47). The Bilbo we meet here is an old and tired hobbit. He has finally been given the chance to age and enjoy his days of retirement. The Ring has lost its control over him more and more since the day he gave it to Frodo: "He felt better at once....I don't think you need worry about Bilbo. . . for he gave it up in the end of his own accord: an important point" (LR 62). He has let it go but he has not forgotten it completely.

The relationship between the two hobbits is not what it once was. The Ring has become a wall separating the two friends. With the Ring in his immediate presence, Bilbo again feels a desire for it. When Frodo shows it to him, for a brief moment Frodo is filled with disgust and "he [finds] himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony grasping hands. He [feels] a desire to strike him" (LR 248). Here we see a Bilbo filled with resignation and guilt, and he feels that he has laid a burden on a friend, a burden from which he cannot relieve him: "Put it away! I am sorry. . . sorry about everything. Don't adventures ever have an end?" (LR 248).

At the Council of Elrond much of the Ring's history and characteristics are laid bare. The big issue at this meeting is to decide what shall be done with it and who is to do it. The two hobbits again perform actions that seem similar to each other but are in fact very different. They both offer themselves to take the Ring to the Cracks of Mount Doom. To Bilbo this is the last desperate chance to once again lay his hands on the Ring. He cannot get rid of this urge now that he knows that it is again within his grasp. The offer is of course turned down, partly because the intentions of Bilbo are quite obvious, but also because he "cannot take this thing back. It has passed on" (LR 287). He has played his part in this affair, and now it is for others to finish.

Frodo's offer, or should we say sacrifice, is of a totally different nature even though, theoretically, it would be almost impossible for him to hand the Ring over to somebody else. The wound that he received on Weathertop has healed physically but mentally it will never really heal. The scars on his mind and soul are to grave to be overcome. In spite of this he still speaks up at the council: "I will take the Ring...though I do not know the way". Again he feels that he is the chosen one, but this time he must take it to the end of the road. This feeling is confirmed by Elrond when he says: "I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will" (LR 288). In the midst of his deterioration he stands up and makes this brave and admirable offer, and after that he has never any intentions to deviate from this task: "Once he has chosen, Frodo is absolutely committed" (Auden 55). He must sacrifice himself so that the rest of the world can go on living, a theme that is not entirely unfamiliar to us.

The question of the Christ-symbol has often been discussed when it comes to The Lord of the Rings. Often it has been ascribed to Gandalf who in his fight with the balrog in Moria dies and then is resurrected. He sacrifices himself in order for the others to escape, and that means the Ring as well. Thus he saves the world. Frodo in a similar way gives up his life for the sake of others, and even though he does not literally die on the mountain when the Ring is destroyed, he later finds himself in a state where he cannot enjoy life and feel happiness, not even in the Shire. He is too marked by his experiences, and in the end he has to give up his life and go into the West. Edmund Fuller talks of Frodo as the "Cross-bearer" but with the big difference that Frodo all along wishes for someone to relieve him of the cross, and since no one does, he goes on bearing it. This is quite contrary to Christ who knows that no one can relieve him from his appointed task, and thus does not hope for it either.

Fuller makes one important point with which I totally agree. One should not make "a too-eager search for supposed Christ-figures in literature" (35). It is all right to draw parallels and find patterns, but to look too ardently for a Christ in Frodo or Gandalf, can be misleading. After all, the concept of the human sacrifice to save others is an old and omnipresent theme to be found in many religions as well as myths, and old myths have been the main source of inspiration to Tolkien. Keenan has widened this aspect and instead talks, from a psychological point of view, about of the more universal "eternal child who must be sacrificed so that man may live" (67).

As both parties, Bilbo's and Frodo's, set out from Rivendell the first obstacle they must climb, or rather go under, is the Misty Mountains. These episodes are both of significant importance. Frodo and his companions are here faced with a disaster and loss that no one had imagined. Bilbo is for the first time left entirely on his own and must now make his own decisions, and trust his own feelings. These incidents are similar in many ways but a big difference is the individuality versus the spirit of community matters. Bilbo is all alone while the fellowship works and functions as a group.

Under the Misty Mountains, Bilbo gets separated from the rest of the company. He loses consciousness and when he wakes up he is all on his own. Gandalf and the dwarves have lost Bilbo without even noticing it: "everybody ought to have followed. We thought everybody had" (H 86). The notion of not being missed is not something that helps in building up one's already fragile self-confidence. There is an attitude of unconcern from the dwarves part, and even Gandalf, who seems to be the only one who cares for Bilbo, is negligent in their chaotic flight.

Frodo's fellowship is also attacked by orcs in the mines of Moria, but they function as a group and never leaves a member behind. They retreat step by step not even leaving the dead:

Aragorn picked up Frodo where he lay by the wall and made for the stair, pushing Merry and Pippin in front of him. The others followed; but Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas....'I am all right,' gasped Frodo. 'I can walk. Put me down!' Aragorn nearly dropped him in amazement. 'I thought you were dead!' he cried. (LR 344)

The only member they do leave behind is Gandalf who is caught by the balrog's whip "and [slides] into the abyss" (LR 349), and thus is beyond salvation. Here we see that there is much more care and concern for each other in Frodo's party than in Bilbo's, and to be left alone deep down in the mountains, in complete darkness, and not knowing where to go next, "just imagine the fright" (H 63), ought to be a harrowing experience. However, we will find that it is another step in Bilbo's growth as a character.

Helms talks about the growth of Sam and Frodo after their preliminary adventures, "they take their initial steps forward in preparation for the major quest" (91-96), and this very much applies to Bilbo as well. He does not despair, instead he adapts to the circumstances and is determined to find a way out: "His style of courage shows up when he is in the dark and alone" (Shippey 61). But the horror is not over yet. He is confronted with Gollum, and again he deals with a most distressing situation in an admirable way. In the end, of course, Bilbo wins the riddle contest because he is able, along with a little bit of luck, to keep his head clear in spite of the dangerous position he is in.

This scene, though it is insignificant for the rest of the plot in The Hobbit, is very important in the history of Middle-Earth. It is of course the One Ring of Sauron's that he has found, and which has become Gollum's "preciouss". To Bilbo, the Ring becomes a tool in building up his self-confidence. This has already improved quite a bit as it is, but with the Ring he is able to put a finger on this change within him, which I am sure he must have noticed himself. The Ring also functions as a hiding place for Bilbo. When this heroic growth becomes too overwhelming, he can put on the Ring and disappear for a while and retire to a safe place. The Ring becomes a womb substitute. Helms also see this growth of character due to the Ring, and that it is important that he goes through the ring-finding episode before he can move on to the real quest. He calls this the "first symbol of the 'treasure hard to attain' ". He has got to go through this stage to be able to continue his quest: "he must find the ring before he can use it" (56-57).

The fact that Bilbo is not as harmed by the Ring, as Gollum is, raises the delicate question "why". Gollum started his possession of the Ring with murder, mischief, and lies. He murdered his best friend Déagol and then used it for thievery and deception. Bilbo, on the other hand, started his possession with an act of pity. He did not kill Gollum though he had the chance: "it was pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need" (LR 73). It is the same pity that Frodo shows when he is confronted with Gollum. He recalls his conversation with Gandalf about Bilbo's show of pity and mercy, and where he wished that Bilbo had killed Gollum. Now he is struck by the same feeling and declares: "I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him" (LR 640). Sale suggest that this sympathy, which Sam definitely does not share, is because there is a bond between Gollum and Frodo, caused by their distant kinship of beings, combined with the fact that they are both Ringbearers (272) 3 .

There is however a small discrepancy in this argument when it comes to Bilbo's part. After coming home from his adventures, he never tells the true story about how he actually found the Ring, as opposed to winning it. This raises two important questions about the matter: why would he tell such an unimportant lie; and why did this lie, that concerned the Ring, not do more damage to Bilbo, as it had to Gollum?

The first question is easy to answer. Bilbo later told the true story to Gandalf and Frodo. Frodo thought the second version to be the true version, but cannot understand why Bilbo changed it. Gandalf though, has his suspicions. When he discovers the true nature of the Ring, he knows also why Bilbo had lied: "he had been trying to put his claim to the ring beyond doubt. Much like Gollum with his 'birthday present'. The lies were to much alike for my comfort" (LR 61). To justify his murder, Gollum kept calling the Ring his "birthday present" because he thought that Déagol ought to have given it to him as it was his birthday. In the same way, Bilbo wants to justify his ownership of the Ring by claiming it is a gift. Even if he found it, he is afraid that someone will accuse him of theft and try to take the Ring away from him.

The second question is of a more difficult nature. Why is Bilbo not harmed by his lies as Gollum is? "Clearly the ring ha[s] an unwholesome power that set[s] to work on its keeper at once" (LR 61). One reason could be that it is only a little lie, and as such it has not any permanent effect on him. He is of a good-hearted nature and he is strong-willed. He is after all able to give up the Ring of his own free will in the end, even if Gandalf helps him to do so. This seems however to be an easy way out. No matter how small the lie is, it still concerns the Ring, and as the Ring is of a corrupt and evil nature, it ought to have taken control of Bilbo's mind, just as it did over Gollum's. Tolkien was aware of this problem but left it as it was. He had to change the original manuscript of The Hobbit to fit in with the new more complicated story:

I don't feel worried by the discovery that the ring was more serious than appeared; that is just the way of all easy ways out. Nor is it Bilbo's actions, I think, that need explanation. The weakness is Gollum, and his action in offering the ring as a present. (Letters 121)

It would have taken too much time and effort in a matter that seemed not to be of any great importance. He left it as it was, and we just have to believe that it is Bilbo's strong will that makes him endure the evil powers of the Ring.

While the adventures of Bilbo under the mountains are rough and frightening, they are still just another step in his development of character. For each horrible experience he seems to grow as a person, which makes him the independent and self-thinking hobbit that we meet at the end of the story. Frodo on the other hand, is getting more and more dependant on his companions to help him through the quest. After the mountain episodes, again we are taken to a sanctuary in both novels. Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves receive the kind hospitality of Beorn, while Frodo and his companions are able to rest and recover in Lothlórien, before setting out again.

When the company departs from Lothlórien, and travels down the Anduin, the hobbits again perform something out of the ordinary. Water is an unnatural element to hobbits in general. Merry is very much used to this being a Bucklander, and used to the Brandywine River. Even Pippin and Frodo might have had some experience of this beforehand being well acquainted with Buckland, but Sam, with the exception of the short ride on the Bucklebury ferry, has never made such an "unnatural journey". Yet he shows an amazing amount of courage on this journey, and also later on at Parth Galen when he jumps into the water, without knowing how to swim, in order to follow his master.

What Sam exhibits is a pure act of love, and this shows how Sam and Frodo complement each other. While Frodo is more and more weighed down by the burden of the Ring, Sam grows in order to be able to help his master. Zimbardo describes the hobbits' acts of selflessness not as coming out of heroism, but from love: "The hobbits are the common man, who does not seek out the opportunity for great deeds....Sam is moved to deeds of heroic exploit out of love for Frodo" and that "it is love that binds them" (102). It is the same love that makes Sam give up the Ring of his own free will later on in the Tower of Cirith Ungol (107-108).

In a larger context, Charles Williams, a member of the Oxford literary circle called the Inklings along with members such as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, also saw this theme: "[LR's] centre is not in strife and war and heroism...but in freedom, peace, ordinary life and good liking" (Letters 105). So when Bilbo in a similar way has to throw himself into the cold threatening water of a river, after having saved the dwarves from the Elvenking's dungeons, he demonstrates this sensible act of the common man. It is not an act of love because Bilbo has no reason to love the dwarves. They have not treated him with the respect he deserves. Aware of this as he is, he does not know to what extent the dwarves disrespect him; they do in fact despise him. In Sagor från Midgård, Gandalf reveals this hitherto unknown fact when he explains how simple-minded and conceited the dwarves really found Bilbo (428). What he performs here is a combined act of duty, respect, and his "ordinary life and good liking".

At Parth Galen, with the breaking of the fellowship, Frodo makes two crucial choices in which one is a display of weakness, and the other a show of strength. In a crazed moment, Boromir 4 tries to take the Ring from Frodo, which ends in Frodo putting on the Ring and he exposes himself to Sauron and the Nazgul: "He felt the eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze" (LR 421). He succumbs to the temptation of the Ring and exposes himself to the enemy. At this moment Frodo's deterioration is almost complete, giving into the one temptation he must not give in to, just as he did on Weathertop.

Here Frodo is filled with two conflicting voices. One urging him to keep the Ring on, the other screaming at him to take it off. It is the common hobbit sense that calls out to him again, saving him at the last moment. He takes the Ring off and decides to complete the quest on his own. He brings up the courage he seemed to have lost, and rises from the abyss he has sunk into:

I will do now what I must....This at least is plain: the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the Company, and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. (LR 422)

Unwisely he does something that contradicts the reasoning he has just made with himself - he puts on the Ring in order to escape his friends.

It is remarkable that he is able to resist the power of the Ring a second time, considering what happened in the previous scene. There are some possible explanations to this. Either it is Frodo's sudden determination that saves him, as he has come to an insight what he must do from now on. It can also simply be another "easy way out" from Tolkien's part, in order to get Frodo away from his friends unnoticed. There is also the possibility that it is just a slip of mind. As we already know, Sam reads his master's mind, jumps into the river, gets pulled ashore, halfdrowned, and consequently, Sam becomes Propp's agent, but instead of a magical agent, he becomes a moral one, i.e. a complement to Frodo. Again, Auden's reflection of the importance of being humble enough to take advice, is confirmed when Frodo accepts Sam as companion.

Helms draws attention to the fact that the two books constituting The Fellowship of the Ring ends in the same way, i.e. with "a separation at a river" (97). Just as the first book ended at the Ford of Rivendell, where he was challenged by the Black Riders, so does the second end with the challenge of Boromir. This has a significant symbolic meaning that goes far back in the history of literature. "Entering or crossing a river" means a transition into a new stage of the quest, or a "final initiation or last irreversible step", and this in turn is proof of Frodo's determination to fulfil and complete his appointed task. As pointed out earlier, this is a temporary rise from his bad mental condition.

It is gradually getting evident that it is the Ring that is the cause of Frodo's bad condition. Even though he has been physically wounded, these wounds are all caused by the Ring, as are his mental wounds. Directly or indirectly, the Ring is to be blamed. Shippey compares the Ring with our modern drug problems. It is "addictive" and its bearer is desperate for "a fix" even though he knows the consequences can be disastrous (106). Therefore he must resist with all will-power available not to have a relapse. Boromir is exposed to a kind of temporary addiction even though he has never owned or touched it, which shows us that as a drug, the Ring is very effective in that it can affect even people who do not use it. Let us be glad that there does not exist a drug like that in our world. Finally, Spacks makes an important observation when she says that Frodo's defence against Boromir is in the knowledge that the burden of the Ring is his, and he cannot give that burden away (88).

Continue to: Agon: The Conflict. Part II: On Our Own

or go to the Table of Contents


FOOTNOTES
3. For further discussion on Gollum, "The Undefinable Shadowland... ", pp 20-25.

4. For further discussion on Boromir see "The Undefinable Shadowland..." pp 8-11


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