As I was talking with a friend recently the topic of the Lord of the Rings came up. My friend had never read the book and, while he was entertained by the movie, it didn’t connect with him. I’ve actually had other people say the same sort of thing to me. One person blamed his feelings for LOTR on his playing of Dungeons & Dragons. An idea that is undoubtedly true (I’ll tell you why I think so) and at the same time immensely funny. Without LOTR D&D would not exist, certainly not as we all know it (I wonder how many people know the original D&D included Hobbits but they were renamed halflings after Tolkien’s estate got word).
I think the reason why people have this reaction (and it’s always those who didn’t read the books) is because of their vision of a movie hero. As much as the movie tries to bring out Aragorn as the hero of the story, everyone knows it is Frodo. And that’s where people lose connection. In the film Frodo seems somewhat of a lame duck. He can’t fight, not really, he spends most of his time calling for help, and he’s our hero. People want Aragorn. They want the big swashbuckling hero. Not the little guy who whines a lot.
This is not Peter Jackson’s fault though. He just had the unenviable task of explaining the One Ring. The One Ring is why Frodo’s a hero. “A hero?” you say. “But in the end, he didn’t even throw it in.” You’re right. He didn’t. But perhaps you and even Jackson don’t truly gets what the ring is. The One Ring is not just a weapon, though it can be used that way. The One Ring is sin.
Before I go on, let me back that up a bit. The Ring was created by the “Dark Lord.” Sin was first brought to the world through Satan (our “Dark Lord” so to speak). The film sums up the Ring this way:
“into this one ring he poured his malice, his hatred, and his will to dominate all life”
Sounds like sin to me. Throughout the book (and films) you can see the Ring changing Frodo (easier to see in the book). Sin corrupts your character. The Bible says that sin can be your master. By the end of the story Frodo has carried the Ring so long he no longer wants to be rid of it. Gollum in the book clearly represents someone who is given over to sin. Obsessed with it, his desire is all that matters. And in the end it is this obsession, the inability to let go of the Ring that sends Gollum to the lake of fire.
That’s why the battle that Frodo makes seems so weak, or non-existent. It’s internal. The Ring is corrupting his mind and soul. You don’t see it but it is the most important battle in the book. It is a battle that must succeed but doesn’t take physical effort. I think that’s why some people don’t connect with the story of LOTR. They want to be the hero, but the hero is not big, or strong, or even especially clever. He’s meant to be more like us how we really are, not us how we imagine ourselves to be. Frodo’s story is our story in our battle against sin.