Boromir, Theoden & Frodo: Tolkien, Bringer of Hope Through Failure
This article was initially submitted to the Tolkien & Lewis contest hosted by Aquinas College. Although not a finalist entry, Seton staff believed it interesting enough to share with the Bayley Bulletin community.
If someone had suggested to Tolkien that his tales of hobbits and elves would someday be world-famous, he probably would have laughed and dubbed it an outrageous idea.
However, sixty-two years after its first publication, The Lord of the Rings is considered a welcome addition to the list of classics of great literature. For years, children and adults all over the world have enjoyed reading of Tolkien’s characters’ high adventures and their many failures and successes in their various lives.
And yet, something deeper is happening in every person that reads The Lord of the Rings than just enjoyment of a good book.
For Tolkien came from a staunchly Catholic background, and his famous novel is completely and utterly overflowing with Catholicism and Catholic ideas. Though masked by fantasy and a magical realm, these ideas are seeping into the brains of ordinary readers, unbeknownst to them, and they have the power to change a person if given the slightest indication of the will to progress forward.
Although there are many different ways in The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien uses to spread the goodness, perhaps the most noticeable form in which he does this is in his characters who fail and fall.
These failing characters, primarily Boromir, Théoden, and Frodo, by their struggles with sin, give hope to our world that we can always find the strength, in ourselves and in God, to conquer sin and live in the light of virtue and goodness.
Boromir: The Courageous Sinner
Boromir is usually seen as the “traitor” in the Fellowship, but it is clear from Tolkien’s writing that he didn’t actually fail at all. While the Fellowship was together, Boromir never made a move towards the ring, though he did encourage using it as a weapon against the enemy.
However, when the Fellowship arrived at the River Anduin, and Frodo was faced with the choice of the further passage for their journey, Boromir tried to influence Frodo into traveling first to Minas Tirith and saving his people by using the ring for good.
In his anxiety, Boromir attempted to force Frodo into his choice, with the result that Frodo slipped on the ring and fled. Boromir fell to his knees, realizing what a grievous mistake he had made.
A few moments later, he gave his life for two of the hobbits in an effort to save them from the coming Uruk-Hai. Valiantly he blew into his horn to call his friends to aid him in his endeavor. Aragorn came and saw the arrow-filled pincushion that was Boromir.
With his last few breaths, Boromir confessed his sin to Aragorn, concluding with, “I have failed.”(1) However, Aragorn told Boromir that he had not failed saying, “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace!”(404).
It is evident from these lines, from an allegorical point of view, that Boromir, a sinner, confessed, was forgiven by Aragorn, one of Tolkien’s Christ figures, and was rewarded for his actions.
Boromir’s tale is an ordinary one of any sinner who has the courage to face up to his sin and receive forgiveness.
Théoden: The Exorcised King
The casting out of demons is the second form of redemption from sin that Tolkien used and he placed this problem upon Théoden, King of the Golden Hall. The demon that possessed Théoden was called Wormtongue, a servant to Saruman, both evil men and figures of Satan.
Tolkien wrote the part of Wormtongue particularly well, for he was constantly by the side of the king, whispering in his ear and polluting his thoughts, continually tempting him to evil’s side.
When Gandalf came to attain Rohan’s aid, he found that King Théoden was not so well as many believed him to be. Théoden was stooped over, using a black stick for support, and yet his eyes shone with a fierce light, showing that perhaps there was still some small bit of life in him beyond Wormtongue’s corrupt influence.
Clearly seeing Wormtongue for what he was, Gandalf commanded him to be silent, and when he did not obey, Wormtongue suddenly fell to his face and could not speak. However, Gandalf did not stop there; he took Théoden out of the dark room and into the light and air telling him to stand up straight and look well again.
Théoden threw away his staff and straightened up. Tolkien showed the grasp of sin and evil receding from the soul of Théoden when he wrote, “He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood” (504). By the casting out of sin (“dull toil”) by Gandalf, another Christ figure, King Théoden had been given back his life that he could live it out in the fullness of virtue in time.
The dispelling of evil from his heart gave Théoden a new chance on life, a life that would not have been possible had he still been corrupted with sin.
Frodo: From Fall to Rise
The most famous character in the book, Frodo Baggins, is the person who gave up the fight only to find that good can come of evil.
Throughout the long journey from the Shire to Mount Doom, Frodo had resisted sin and the seducing evilness of the ring. But the arduous conflict was sure to affect the life and the very quest of the ring bearer himself.
After fighting over such an extensive amount of time, Frodo finally grew too weary to avoid sin and simply gave in to it. At the pinnacle of the quest, Frodo refused to drop the ring into the fires of Mount Doom and instead pushed it onto his finger and disappeared to the world of goodness.
However, as soon as Frodo vanished, Gollum, a previous wearer and slave to the ring, flew at the invisible Frodo and, in a fierce tussle, bit off Frodo’s finger and grabbed the ring for himself.
Leaping about with joy, Gollum slipped upon the edge of Mount Doom and fell into the fiery pit, which consumed himself and the precious ring. Although Frodo could not, by himself, avoid sin, some greater source, allegorically God, strove to do it for him and attained good out of evil.
As Tolkien shows that the struggle with sin may be difficult, strength can be found in God and therefore, even failing people, such as Boromir, Théoden, and Frodo, can triumph over evil.
If Tolkien illustrated this fact with the three primary forms of sin changing for good—Boromir with the well known story of sin and forgiveness, Théoden inhabited with a demon but then freed, and finally the fall of Frodo and then his rise with good made out of evil—then it is easy to understand that Tolkien is giving hope to a troubled world when every single person who picks up The Lord of the Rings and reads even a small content of the book encounters these real to life characters who face in an allegorical sense the same challenges we face today.
If they can conquer with God, then surely we can too.
This hopefulness is being read and taken in by the thousands of readers of The Lord of the Rings, and therefore, it is evident that Tolkien has given a wondrous light for our troubled world to follow in the hope and the knowledge that good can ultimately conquer evil.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954), page 404. All subsequent references are from this text and cited parenthetically by page number.
About Ashlynn Fayth Smith
Ashlynn Fayth Smith is a brand new Seton alumni. She is going to start college this fall, and plans to study accounting. She lives with her wonderful parents, her two beautiful older sisters, and her two adorable younger brothers. When she is not at work perfecting her fake British accent, she enjoys art, sewing, reading, and writing. Ashlynn Fayth has been an altarserver for ten years, and loves her Catholic faith. She is a Texas girl at heart and has the cowgirl boots to prove it!