19

There's constant reference to courage and good-will of Hobbits, which makes them a natural choice for resisting the Ring, as well as being more easily overlooked than any other race, when delivering it to Mordor.

But are they any more resilient against the Ring than other races? Gollum definitely gave in to it, Sam almost did, and Pippin had that obsession with the Seeing Stone. So Hobbits are not that much immune than any other race, surely.

Frodo is landed gentry, so maybe it's a comment about Hobbit nobility? But then again, so is Pippin.

The one thing I can maybe grasp is, that Bilbo, though corrupted indeed by the Ring, was far less corrupted than he had a right to be. So maybe it's something to do with being a Baggins?

Or a Baggins with just enough of Took goodnaturedness that was the winning combination for being the ideal vessel for transporting the Ring?

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    Bilbo et al are travelling Hobbits. Hobbits normally have no desire to travel. I notice that there were no Hobbit refugees after Saruman's gang took over the Shore. Commented May 7 at 19:07
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    Re, "Gollum...gave in" Gollum had no way of knowing the danger. Even after he murdered his brother, he may not have understood that the ring itself played an active role in that crime. And, it took hundreds of years for the ring to transform him into what we saw. Bilbo never knew the danger either, but at least he had Gandalf continually warning him that something was not right about the ring and, in the end, he had Gandalf to help him let go of it. Frodo and Sam, on the other hand, knew exactly what it was (though maybe they did not fully appreciate its power) before they ever touched it. Commented May 7 at 19:37
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    "What's so special about Frodo?" - First of all, how dare you? :)
    – StuperUser
    Commented May 8 at 12:43
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    We don’t see many humans touching the Ring, but of the ones that do, Faramir is the only one able to resist the temptation – and if I’m not misremembering, he never even touches the Ring. Isildur, Boromir and pretty much everyone else of human stock that we see touch the Ring are immediately corrupted by it. Not after 60 or 17 years of possession or travelling with it for a year, but within minutes. Even Galadriel damn near fails when she touches it. So yes, I’d say hobbits are definitely more immune to its influence than at least humans, probably also Elves. Commented May 9 at 10:20
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    It seems to me that the hobbits are frustrating to the Ring because, uniquely among the races of Middle-Earth, they aren't the least bit tempted by the will to dominate others, which is the only motivation the Ring understands. Even Bilbo and Frodo, after months or decades of exposure, show no signs of wanting to conquer the Shire, much less the world. Frodo has, if I remember correctly, a single vision of personal power, and it only terrifies him. Commented May 10 at 12:55

5 Answers 5

41

It was a team effort, and not the only one in Tolkien's heroic romance.

Frodo spent all of himself just getting the Ring to the Cracks of Doom, and never would have made it without the help of Sam; who himself was willing, reluctant but willing, to carry on with the errand alone if need be. Gollum was dead set against the effort, yet without meaning to carried out the last step. Frodo was special in being willing to sacrifice himself, but so was Sam. Frodo was the nexus.

For other teamwork see, for example, the arguments about whether Eowyn or Merry killed the Witch-king. It took both of them, and like with Gollum it was an unwitting partnership.

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    I really like this answer. Sam was a necessary crutch to get Frodo there, and Gollum was chaotic enough to tip the scales at the end. Each Hobbit was principal in their unwitting role in this delicate trio. You could likely switch Sam and Frodo in their roles, but it was Frodo the ring was entrusted to.
    – tetris11
    Commented May 7 at 10:39
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    I am not convinced that Gollum was "dead set against" the effort.
    – Spencer
    Commented May 7 at 13:38
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    Gollum was, in modern psychobabble, dissociated. We see flashes of Gollum as he was before he set out down an evil path, rather more of Gollum as he became on that path, and a lot of Gollum as a completely dominated tool of the ring. It's his "precious", but I'm pretty certain that at his core he hates it. Then he swore an oath by the ring which tied an impossible knot, sealing the ring's own fate as well as Gollum's. Perhaps invisible strings were being gently pulled by a much higher power.
    – nigel222
    Commented May 8 at 9:21
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    @nigel222 His core hatred of the Ring is explicitly addressed by Gandalf, even: “He hated it and loved it, as he hated and loved himself”. Commented May 9 at 10:24
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    @Spencer - What Gollum behavior? Overcoming the power of the Command Frodo gave him via the Ring, while holding it, not not even wearing it; deciding to chase after him and take the Ring Command or no; fighting Sam and overcoming him immediately; noticing where Frodo must be, tackling him, and taking the Ring from his finger by biting it off. I can't reconcile that behavior with Gollum's being anything other than dead set against the destruction. That it was meant to happen does not change Gollum's motivation. Indeed, without his motivation the evil would not have been removed. ...
    – Lesser son
    Commented May 9 at 18:45
35

I reject your premise. Frodo wasn't any more resilient than any other Hobbit.

Sam, for examples, was tempted - but he overcame his temptation, thanks to his "plain hobbit-sense" - "he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him."

And don't forget that both Bilbo and Frodo were similarly tempted. Bilbo almost failed to hand over the Ring to Frodo; and Frodo did fail, at the Cracks of Doom, and the quest only succeeded because of Gollum.

Neither Pippin nor Merry showed any desire to possess the Ring, despite being companions with Frodo for longer than, say, Boromir.

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    That would be entirely speculation. In any case there is the matter of divine predestination: Bilbo was meant to find the ring, Frodo was meant to bear it, etc (but not because of any particular quality of his). As with other questions like this, eg could anyone else have killed the Witch-King, it was meant to happen how it did, so there's no point in speculating whether someone else could have done it. Commented May 7 at 12:39
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    @tetris11 Sam's saying "I can't carry it for you but I can carry you" was not indicating that he could not have carried the ring, but that he was unwilling to take the ring from Frodo. Commented May 7 at 17:12
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    Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were all unusual hobbits. They went off on adventures when the opportunity arose, and they attracted Gandalf's attention. It's perfectly possible that all of the five were unusually resilient. (Note that I don't mean "supernaturally resilient", but more resilient than, say, Lobelia Sackville- Baggins). Humans, Elves and even Maiar seem to have different levels of resilience. Commented May 7 at 20:53
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    @MichaelRichardson Yes! <nit> I take it to mean Sam could not carry the ring with Frodo's cooperation (since Frodo would not have cooperated). If Sam had taken the ring, he would not be carrying the ring "for Frodo", so in that sense he literally could not carry the ring for Frodo. </nit> The key point is that "I can't carry it for you" is a statement about Sam's relationship with Frodo, not a statement about Sam's relationship with the ring. Commented May 7 at 21:47
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    At one point, the book states that Gandalf and Bilbo both privately felt Frodo was "the best hobbit in the Shire."
    – RC_23
    Commented May 8 at 18:51
6

Nothing much. He was in the right (or wrong?) place at the right (or wrong) time. He had the strength of character to accept the monumental role which fate or higher powers had thrust upon him.

He never sought to be a hero. That wasn't in his nature. But he had the moral courage to see that he couldn't relinquish his unsought responsibility. He had to see things through to the end. Sam was similar though more motivated by personal loyalty.

As we are told, Hobbits in general are particularly resistant to being corrupted by the ring. They are down to Earth and in general honest and hard to corrupt by temptation. But Frodo was never selected as the best of them.

(This sort of leading character seems rare in fiction. Not a flawed hero. A character who doesn't want to be any sort of hero, but ends up with no alternative choices but to try his utmost).

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    Just a nitpick for the last sentence: It's not that rare at all. In fact, the typical "Hero's Journey" has a step at the beginning where the hero first rejects the call to action and something must happen to convince him to become the hero, after all.
    – Tom
    Commented May 8 at 13:10
  • Yeah, the reluctant hero is a common and codified trope.
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 10 at 20:14
1

Frodo was special because he was meant to have the Ring. Gandalf explains that there are powers at work that have created this situation and somehow chosen Frodo to be the Ringbearer. Gandalf, of course, is an agent for these powers -- we can assume that the powers to which he refers are the Valar -- so he knows what he's talking about. Others of the Wise, as they are known, understand that Frodo has been chosen, and if he cannot succeed in destroying the Ring, no one can. Elrond and Galadriel both say something to that effect.

This is all bound up with Tolkien's ideas about fairy-stories with a heavy dose of his notion of a Savior. The Hobbit is the same fairy-story in several ways. Gandalf chooses Bilbo to go with the Dwarves as a "Burglar", knowing or guessing that this will somehow set events in motion that will lead to the end of Smaug.

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    I think that you are conflating two senses of "special". Frodo was special in that he was (apparently) chosen by divine providence for a major role in destroying the Ring, but does not mean that Frodo himself was special in any intrinsic way -- in his looks or character or strength or wisdom or endurance or sense of humor -- (which I believe is the meaning used in the question) to accomplish this.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 8 at 17:13
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    Thank you. Now that you've raised that objection, I see that the point of my answer is that "his looks or character or strength or wisdom or endurance or sense of humor" are all irrelevant. It's a frame challenge to the question, you might say. What was "special" about the Little Tailor who killed 7 flies at once and stitched "Seven At A Blow" on his belt? Nothing intrinsic, as you say.
    – Wastrel
    Commented May 9 at 14:45
  • @MarkOlson why was he "chosen" if there was nothing special about him? Isn't it circular? He's special because he's chosen, ok, but why was he chosen? Did Eru pick randomly?
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 10 at 20:15
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    "we can assume that the powers to which he refers are the Valar" Pretty sure the Valar aren't involved in the "give the ring to Bilbo and thence to Frodo" plan - it's Eru's project. Commented May 10 at 21:36
  • @Andres F.: The bolt you use to hold two beams together with is no different than any other bolt, yet it was chosen and not one of the others. Frodo may or may not have been special, but the fact that he appears to have been chosen by Eru to do the task is not sufficient to say so. (I think there's ample basis in what we read about Frodo and of his actions for a good argument that he was, indeed, special. Looking there is IMO more useful.)
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 11 at 0:50
1

What was so special about Frodo?

Nothing. That's part of the point.

Now, the books do make mention of the fact that he is, in some ways, special: Fellowship makes mention that Gandalf thought him to be "the best Hobbit in the Shire" (quote may be a little off, my daughter has my copy atm). He's an exemplar, a "class act" among his kind.

But that isn't necessarily saying much: Hobbits do not necessarily possess any particular special qualities.

The protagonist of LoTR isn't wise Gandalf or heroic Aragorn or valiant Gimli or skilled Legolas. It could have been, so why wasn't it? Frodo has at best modest amounts of those qualities, or at least in comparison to the other central characters.

Part of the point Tolkien is making is that in contrast to the heroic virtues of cultures past he's highlighting the nobility of the willingness to pass on the temptations of power, and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for friends and/or the greater good. Doing the right thing when it costs you is more important than being good with a sword. Contrast this take with say, Homer's Odyssey.

The influence of Tolkien's devout Catholicism on the themes of the work is no doubt worthy of a greater exploration, but hopefully the ties to teachings of the Bible are at least somewhat obvious.

It's also worth noting that Tolkien seems to consider the more classically epic virtues worthy: the characters embodying these traits are portrayed rather positively. But when push comes to shove and faced with moral compromise as the price of power we see the deliberate contrast between Boromir who's epic virtues did not save him and Frodo who despite being small, weak, and inexperienced made the right call.

In keeping with this theme, to me the single best change the movies made was the scene towards the end of Fellowship where Aragorn passes up the chance to take the Ring and takes on impossible odds in a last-stand effort to allow Frodo to flee with it. Although not in the books, that scene reinforces one of the central themes (as I've argued here) of the work: Aragorn isn't great because of his woodcraft or swordsmanship but because he makes morally correct choices even when it would be more "wise" not to.

I realize the question is looking for more of an "in universe" answer, and maybe the text could even support that, but it would be of minor importance compared to the out-of-universe thematic choice.

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    Aren't you conflating "special" with "good as a classic hero"? Even your own answer makes it clear Frodo was special in the most important attribute: being able to do what's right even if it costs you; and he was better about this than even other sturdy Hobbits. This is the one skill that is truly useful against the power of the Ring, in a tale where we see many powerful lords and warriors of noble blood fall prey to the treachery of Mordor. Frodo was chosen because of this trait, and he was special in the most important sense of the word.
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 12 at 3:04
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    Being "traditionally" good (at war or fighting) makes no difference against the Ring, and makes you more dangerous once you fall. Being virtuous and able to resist the Ring is the most important attribute one can have! Well, that and being inconspicuous enough to deceive Sauron (which is why someone of higher profile wouldn't do -- but this is in itself something that makes Frodo special too).
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 12 at 3:07
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    "Aren't you conflating "special" with 'good as a classic hero'?" yeah kinda, I'm using epic attributes to stand in for a more nebulous concept of "things other people aspire to". Most of people don't aspire to be a moral person, that's either secondary or just taken as a given. Except that it isn't really given: it takes effort, dedication, and sacrifice. And it isn't secondary, in Tolkien's work it's the most important thing. Does that quality make Frodo special? Yeah, to Tolkien it does. And that's kinda the point of my answer: Tolkien set out to change our collective notion of "special" Commented May 12 at 11:52
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    And to that end I think part of the reason LoTR has stood the test of time is that the message is still relevant: a lot of the media we produce today still suffers from the conflation of martial virtue with moral virtue. And while most of us don't face combat on a regular basis, we do make moral choices every day of our lives. Most people even today wouldn't think of Frodo as special, we retain the classic notion of virtue. So when I opened by saying that Frodo wasn't special, I was temporarily assuming the default cultural view of special in order to subvert it. Commented May 12 at 11:54
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    it seems we're in "violent agreement" then ;)
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 12 at 15:37

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