Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Was Frodo a Calvinist?

Have I admitted recently that I am a Tolkien nerd? If not, I humbly admit it now. {{grin}}

I recently re-watched The Lord of the Rings (LotR), and was having a conversation with someone that made me stop and think. First of all, I don't despise the movies as some die-hard fans do. I think Peter Jackson did all right most of the time. The Faramir thing, tho, and the Sam/Gollum/Frodo thing on the stairs in Mordor, are almost unforgivable. I do confess to fast forwarding through the latter during my last viewing. (And I probably will again, next time I watch!)

But here's my biggest beef, I think. I'm just not crazy about the way Elijah Wood plays Frodo. Or at the very least, how he was directed to play Frodo (not sure if that was an actor or a director failing). In the books you get the sense that, yes, Frodo was "pulled" into this adventure through no design of his own. But once he gets on the Road, he is determined to see it through to whatever bitter end may come. You read about his fighting against the power of the ring, resisting it at every moment. For me, that internal struggle is very important. He knows what he has to do. He's fighting every step to do it, despite incredible pressure to surrender the ring to Sauron.

In the movies, Frodo seems much weaker. Sam saves him from surrendering the ring to the Nazgul in Osgiliath. Aragorn saves him on Weathertop. The few times you see him "fight" with the ring's power, he simply looks like he's about to barf (You know that look on his face - it's more reminiscent of indigestion than determination!). You just don't get that same sense of deep and abiding struggle that you read page after page in the books. Now, I do know that there are some scenes where you do see him fight... at least twice (off the top of my head) I can thing of Frodo and Gollum locked in battle. But in these cases, Frodo isn't fighting against the ring, Frodo is fighting to KEEP the ring. But I'm digressing....

Anyway, as we were talking about this after the movie ended, my conversation buddie said... "In the movies, Frodo is a Calvinist. In the books, he's a Thomist." First I must say that I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher, so what follows here can probably be picked apart by just about anyone. But I thought I'd throw it out for further consideration anyway! Why is he a Calvinist in the movie? Because everything that happens is external to him. Sam saves him from the Nazgul. He's mainly just going with the flow - you don't see him initiating or changing events, but reacting. Yes, I do know he's changing events by destroying the ring in the end, and changing events by saying he'll take the ring in the first place!) But on the whole, you don't see any internal motivation. In the books, he has an inner grace (I'm thinking here of the Anglican phrase: "The sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace") that gives him strength and courage to keep up the struggle. That's more of a Thomistic (or Augustinian) attribute. You are given grace to draw upon in daily (or dire) struggles. The grace comes from God, but it is held within yourself. Calvinism would have that grace being from "without."

Tolkien even speaks of it outright in many cases. After Boromir tries to take the ring and Frodo has put it on to escape, he is seen/felt by the Eye on Amon Hen, which calls him to Sauron. We find later that Gandalf fights on his behalf, and the ensuing (internal) battle reads like this:

He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the ring!

The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose... (Fellowship, p. 404)

This deep internal struggle doesn't come across very well on screen. The force of will (the grace) he summons to defy Sauron is seen in the movies as events imposed upon him as opposed to through him. At the most, when we see Frodo make decisions, we get no sense of struggle when the decision is made.

So there's my foray into theology for the night. A pitiful attempt, I am sure, but that's all you get from a Zana of very little brain! 8-)


Shane Hendricks said...

Little brains? Ha! The movies were fine with me, probably because I've never read the books.

J said...

This was awesome! I must say this distinction was lost on me until you mentioned it. I wasn't particularly fond of the movie Frodo, though I like the book Frodo. Now I might have an insight into WHY that is.