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Essays by Juliet Waldron
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Frodo Downsized

It’s hard to further downsize a hobbit, but the movies have done it. As crazy as I am (friends will abundantly testify) about the Jackson movies, I was dismayed by so much screenwriting aimed at knocking down the main character.

Why was the character of Frodo diminished by the otherwise insightful and sensitive scriptwriters of Lord of the Rings? They knew the books! Still, that’s what happened, and even though I’m just back from my fourth RotK and am still palpitating with something approaching Nirvana (sorry, but I’m as conflicted as Gollum), I wish I knew why Jackson sold his Frodo short.

Sam and Frodo

PJ goes with the flow brilliantly, but I suspect he always carried a conceit of the Ringbearer as a kind of accidental tourist, not as Tolkien’s bookish gentleman officer bravely facing a dirty, ignominious death. Is a sort of 21st Century inverse snobbery at work here? Didn’t the screenwriters like Frodo? I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know, but Peter Jackson’s Frodo isn’t Tolkien’s.

It’s like revisionist history—revisionist Tolkien--and I don’t buy it. I’m one of those geeks who wore a “Frodo Lives” pin through the 60’s. Frodo Baggins was my hero, then and now, and not even the glorious spectacle created by Peter Jackson can make me forget that. And before someone jumps on me about Sam, yes, it wouldn’t have got done without him. He is the common man evolving into an uncommon hero. It took two — no, three - hobbits to complete the quest! Still, let’s not forget that if Samwise had been in charge, there would have been no Gollum left alive to bear the Ring into the fire.

And while I’m discussing Tolkien’s Frodo, I’ll also take time to cheer for Elijah Wood’s selfless performance. He took Jackson’s direction and did his best, although he was given an impossible task, as pointed out by Michael Sragow, the tough critic of the Baltimore Sun. Wood had to “play a character who is constantly losing character.”

As a matter of fact, in Tolkien, Frodo does not entirely lose himself during the journey to Mordor, but only at the very end, when he stands inside Sammath Naur, the door into the volcano, with the lava below, and the One Ring casting a spell from the ground of it’s own dreadful power. Frodo is Tolkien’s hero, and Elijah Wood should have played the movie’s hero, too, but it didn’t get written that way.

To Weathertop! Here we see a clear instance of Frodo’s diminished role as well as violations of the laws of Tolkien’s world. Changes in the character of Frodo, and violations of the rules of Tolkien canon go hand in hand.

Programmers have to keep their code straight, but a filmmaker is allowed to twist our heads, because we are trapped in the dark with his enormous storybook. His illustrations move, the pages are enormous, the brilliant soundtrack roars. Logic and notions of continuity vanish when body slammed with CINEMA Such a flood of data enters in through eyes and ears that the viewer can’t process.


Tolkien tells us that during this confrontation at Weathertop it is Frodo’s three companions who are lying on the ground, quivering. In Jackson’s screenplay, unfortunately, Frodo does most of the quivering. In the book, the hero, although terrified, dares to act, to defend himself. For some reason, however, Jackson robs Frodo of this gesture of hopeless courage. The film Frodo quails as the others are tossed aside. Insult to injury - he trips, falls, and looses his sword. The Wraith stabs him as he lies on the ground. We get a close up of Frodo’s scream.

Frodo on Weathertop

Frodo as Sacrifice! Over and again in The Two Towers we see Elijah Wood with his head tilted, his blue eyes rolled heavenward, a veritable Lamb of God. But this is mythically off center. In the ancient stories, the sacred victim possesses potency. Balder, Dammuz, Osiris, are all strong men. It is their strength that is magically made available to the tribe when their blood is shed. By constantly underlining Frodo’s fears and doubts and never showing his bravery, Jackson removed an essential heroic quality.

Tolkien’s Frodo may have the Ring accidentally, but he accepts the burden and bravely shoulders his “appointed” task. He is thoughtful, but active, accepting the burden of the Ring twice. The first time he assumes the terrible responsibility is in Hobbiton, in order to protect his beloved Shire. The second time is at the Council of Elrond, which has degenerated into a shouting match between the races of Middle Earth. Frodo is still recovering from the Weathertop stab wound. The later decision is even more heroic, because Frodo has faced the enemy, and knows now that he may die during the quest.

Bring on the next downsizing, which is — OH NO! — Arwen to the rescue! I didn’t want Arwen to show up with a sword. If one woman warrior per thousand pages — Eowyn – was sufficient for Tolkien, that was good enough for me, too.

In the book, it is a powerful Elf warrior, Glorfindel, who finds the wounded Ringbearer and his friends in the wildness. Glorfindel sets Frodo on his horse for the flight from the Wraiths to the Ford of Rivendell. Frodo, by himself, in agony, manages this with the help of Glorfindel’s splendid steed, Asfaloth.

Instead of being merely Arwen’s semi-conscious baggage, as he is in the movie, Frodo is the one who, alone, turns at the Ford to defy the Wraiths.

Frodo heard the splash of water . . .   He felt the quick surge and heave as the horse left the river and struggled up the stony path . . .  He was across the Ford.

But the pursuers were close behind. At the top of the bank, the horse halted and turned, neighing fiercely… There were Nine Riders at the water’s edge…and Frodo’s spirit quailed before the threat of their uplifted faces. He knew of nothing that would prevent them from crossing as easily as he had done...  Suddenly the foremost Rider spurred his horse forward. It checked at the water and reared. With great effort Frodo sat upright and brandished his sword.

“Go back!” he cried. “Go back to the Land of Mordor and follow me no more!” His voice sounded thin and shrill in his own ears. …His enemies laughed at him with a harsh and chilling laughter. “Come back! Come back!” they called. “To Mordor we will take you!”

“The Ring! The Ring!” they cried with deadly voices; and immediately their leader urged his horse forward into the water, followed closely by two others...

“By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair,” said Frodo with a last effort, lifting his sword. “You shall have neither the Ring, nor me!”

Then the leader, who was now half across the Ford, stood up in his stirrups, and raised his hand. Frodo was stricken dumb. He felt his tongue cleave to his mouth, and his heart labouring. His sword broke and fell out of his shaking hand…

At that moment there came a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. Dimly Frodo saw the river below him rise, and down along its course there came a plumed cavalry of waves…he half fancied that he saw amid the water white riders upon white horses with frothing manes . . .

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To Tolkien, it is Frodo’s will to resist that is significant—that even the small resistance of a small being can make a difference in the battle for freedom. Frodo’s hopeless but enduring fight against overwhelming odds is a major theme, but Jackson passes up nearly every opportunity to give his courage a similar weight.

Frodo’s diminishment in The Two Towers is capped during the Osgiliath scene, another major departure from the book. This scene, written to give Faramir’s character a conflict to overcome, does little but shrink Frodo yet again. Under the influence of the Wraiths (now mounted on dragons instead of horses) he goes up onto the city wall to offer his enemies the Ring. When Sam seizes him before the Wraith does, they roll to the bottom of a stairway, and Frodo comes up sword in hand — ready to kill Sam, who has just saved his life, and the quest. When Frodo shakes off the spell of Wraith, he is dismayed and horrified at what he has almost done to his faithful friend — and Middle Earth. Then Sam gives the “what are we fighting for” speech, lecturing Frodo on the meaning of the quest.

Frodo dishes it up

Ugh! Not in the book — and for a good reason — Frodo was Tolkien’s hero!

Why would Frodo go up onto the wall to offer the Wraith the One Ring? We haven’t had any build up to such an extreme loss of will, except in terms of his desire to put the Ring on when the Wraiths are present, exerting their evil influence. Even if you argue that this is simply another instance of Frodo stripped of his will by the Ring, why wouldn’t the Wraiths be hot on the Ringbearer’s trail after such a display? And why, if this has happened, would Sauron believe Pippin has the Ring, after the impulsive hobbit’s misadventure with the palantir? According to The Two Towers screenplay, Sauron’s agents have already seen the Dark Lord’s One Ring at Osgiliath. Not only does this script change pull down Frodo, it does not bear much scrutiny.


To have Frodo with a sword at Sam’s throat during The Two Towers — and then never again — is too much, too soon. Did they imagine Frodo’s Tolkienesque probity and hobbit common sense were dull? Did they have to make a constantly self-doubting and neurotic Frodo because a hero of the old-fashioned kind wasn’t interesting enough? I don’t know the answer, but The Two Towers, which deviates the farthest from Tolkien canon, is the least satisfactory of the three movies.

In Tolkien, the story arc of Frodo’s fateful relationship with the One Ring climaxes where it should, inside thundering Orodruin--Mt. Doom, at the end of the final book of the trilogy. Here, at last, the malevolent power of The One Ring overcomes the hero.

The light sprang up again, and there on the brink of the chasm, at the very Crack of Doom, stood Frodo, black against the glare, tense, erect, but still as if he had been turned to stone.

“Master!” cried Sam.

Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.

“I have come,” he said, “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed! The Ring is mine!” And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.

The timing is right. What’s more, we’ve already been warned, a few paragraphs back, that something is going wrong inside Frodo. As the two faithful friends climb toward the gate, they are attacked once again by Gollum.

Gollum and Frodo were locked together. Gollum was tearing at his master, trying to get at the chain and the Ring. This was probably the only thing that could have roused the dying embers of Frodo’s heart and will: an attack, an attempt to wrest his treasure from him by force. He fought back with a sudden fury that amazed Sam, and Gollum also . . . .  A wild light flamed in (Gollum’s) eyes, but his malice was no longer matched by his old griping strength . . .

Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering.

“Down, Down!” he gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the ring. “Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now.”

. . . Then, suddenly . . .  Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

“Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.”

The final bad moment for all Frodo fans is the RotK scene where Sam and Frodo quarrel. Frodo sends Sam away, because he believes Gollum? NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! That tears the beating heart out of the book--the friendship and loyalty that binds those two characters is the core of Tolkien’s story. What were they thinking?

Frodo and Sam suffer

“I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.”

Yes, this famous line is from the book. Frodo says it. What’s more, it’s true. Still, it’s pretty clear that Samwise is Peter Jackson’s stage center hero. I guessed how it would be from the moment of that preachy “what are we fighting for” speech delivered by Sam in the ruins of Osgiliath.

Sam Frodo Doom

As full of marvels as the Peter Jackson movie is, I was truly disappointed by his interpretation of Frodo. Jackson’s creation is little more than a sacrificial lamb, the sweet guy who pulls the short straw, a soldier who comes home from the war broken beyond repair. Poor, beautiful Frodo — Jackson made him contradictory, fading, expendable, perhaps so we don’t have to cry too hard at the end, when Frodo sails away with the elves, facing a lonely demise in the Valinor V.A. hospital.

~ Juliet Waldron

Frodo Lives!
Frodo dying

All photographs on this page from the movie
© New Line Cinema  ·  All rights reserved.

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 · Frodo Downsized