The LOTR Movie Site
September 21, 2000

Heorism: More Than Mere Success
Stacy B.

If I'm killing this issue, I apologize, but heroism is no minor thing. Heroism is a large part of what makes the Lord of the Rings such a seminal work.

Mike B. has agreed that heroism is more than simple necessity, otherwise Sauron too would be a hero (maybe even the hero, since his evil gave rise to the sacrifices of our favorite band of travellers). However, he seems to have picked up on a very teleological definition of heroism, and that seems to me to be still far too narrow, and possibly incorrect.

Heroism is not defined by success, although I would tentatively agree that most successful people have some kind of claim to heroism. At most, however, success is simply a sufficient condition of heroism (i.e., if you are successfuly, you are a hero) but I think that even this is a mistake (not only are not all heroes successful, some people who are successful are not heroes. Take for example myself: I'm a successful student, but that in no way makes me a hero.)

Success depends on the acknowledgment of others, and hence is subject to tradition, cultural expectation, etc. I agree that we cannot make judgments from a neutral standpoint, but an awareness of this fact makes one realize that there may be many brave people who, for lack of recognition or success, could not be called heroes under Mike B's definition. Take, for example, the countless women who have sacrificed their lives fighting for the freedom of their sisters and themselves, and whose sacrifice has not yet born fruit. Clearly, they are conscious of their actions as significant and moral, yet their societies have not changed, their male relatives continue to dominate and oppress them and their sisters, and the rest of the world sails blithely on.  Clearly, this is the epitome of failure. And yet, are these women not heroes despite a lack of success?

Heroism is internal. I agree wholeheartedly that a real hero consciously undertakes a difficult task and rises to the occassion. It is this willingness to make the sacrifice (and the fact that the sacrifice is actually made), for a cause that is greater and more noble than any one person, that makes a hero.

By this definition, heroes can fail: look at Boromir. Under Mike B's definition, I do not see how Boromir could be called a hero, since at most his death would have been an expiation of sin (or his fall, or whatever. I use the term that comes swiftess to my mind in this case), rather than actual heroism because he failed in his objective: to prevent the hobbits from being captured. He had little to do with the destruction of the ring because he didn't survive long enough.

And yet let's face it, most people probably regard Boromir as a hero precisely because he was willing to (and did) die in order to redeem himself. Nevertheless, I doubt he went into that fight thinking "All right, I think I should just fight to die here... that seems like a worthy goal." Most likely, he did think that he wouldn't survive the battle, but that's different from making death one's goal.

Think further. What if Frodo hadn't succeeded? What then of the quest of the companions? I think Tolkien himself lets us in on his opinion when he has characters like Theoden or Gandalf say things like "It is not our place to think of a few lives of men" or "Maybe we shall make a stand worth singing of, though none be left to sing of us." Clearly, these characters understood that "brave deeds are no less worthy for being unknown" (that's a bad paraphrase from RotK). Failure clearly would not have made them any less the heroes.

Once again, I apologize if I'm flogging dead horses here. It is an acquired tendancy of philosophy majors to go on in search of a really good definition, and I could not let this one go by uncritiqued. Thanks to Mike B. for such a great debate (even if I'm the only one who thinks it was fun and worthwhile).