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September 7, 2000
Heroism: More Than Necessity
I have to agree with the author of "True Hero? A Bad Question." The question itself is bad because all of the characters are heroes. There may be a true protagonist but there are unquestionably several heroes. But I do not think that the reasons Mike gives to justify his position necessarily make each character heroic. They simply make them necessary. In that sense, Sauron was darned well necessary and therefore heroic, else none of our heroes would be.... well, heroes, to be blunt.
Heroism is not a question of the mere necessity of a
character but rather revolves around the choices he made. Each of the listed characters
(except Gollum) had the courage, endurance, and most importantly the will power to make a
choice and commit himself selflessly to the service of others. Aragorn was ready to die
for Frodo as early as Bree, and it's a virtual certainty that Eomer's comments about
hunters becoming prey weren't exactly news to him. And when he led the troops off to
Mordor, I seriously doubt he expected to come home alive himself. He understood the risks
involved and decided that his life ultimately wasn't too high a price to pay in the
service of a higher cause. What made his actions even more heroic was that he was willing
to take responsibility for others in a hopeless situation. It's hard to go off to almost
certain death with the lives of three thousand others on your conscience as well. Gimli
and Legolas didn't march after Aragorn on the Paths of the!
Sam... I think Mike did him a disservice by reducing his role to saving the ring from the Orcs in Cirith Ungol. Sam was steadfast beyond the constraints of mere duty; he went into the quest expecting to be in over his head, and that did not deter him. His selfless loyalty to Frodo is unwavering. In this light, taking up the ring in Cirith Ungol was merely the completion of a choice made long before. His heroism is in his dedication.
Gandalf is a no brainer: he abandoned his form as a Maia to become a human being with many of the pains and pressures that that state entails. He devoted his entire earthly existence to the preservation of good and the eradication of evil. He died for the cause, was ressurected, and went right back to work. No rest for the weary, no complaints either.
Frodo of course took on the burden of the ring without any pressure from anyone else. A greater act of faith and heroism no one could ask for, and at the end, he ultimately gives up all that he fought for: peace and prosperity in a land free of evil. This is the courage of a hero.
Boromir is also a hero, though one who had to redeem himself. His heroism is the kind we understand best, I think, for it is very, very human. He takes responsibility for his actions and drinks the cup to the bitter dregs, dying a painful and lingering death (even at Aragorn's pace, it would've taken at least ten or fifteen minutes for Aragorn to reach Boromir, just assuming there were no trees in the way) without even the satisfaction of having attained his final goal, since Merry and Pippen were captured. No complaints there, either, only self-recrimination and regret for past action.
Gollum is really the only listed survey character that I would not classify as a hero. Smeagol may be another story. Gollum, as such, doesn't have will-power. He has no real choice, not even the choice of his malice, which is why I think Gandalf pitied him so. A character has to have at least the power to choose in order to qualify as a hero. Gollum could not choose; Smeagol did. Ultimately, Smeagol lost, but in the striving one might consider him heroic.