for National Geographic News
Sometimes the greatest heroes are found in the most unlikely characters: Consider Frodo Baggins, the diminutive hobbit and ring bearer in J.R.R. Tolkien's majestic tale The Lord of the Rings.
Frodo is small, weak, and possesses no special abilities. His Shire folk are described as unnoticed and insignificant. Not exactly the kind of hero we might look for to save the world.
But that's exactly what makes him great, says Michael Stanton, the author of Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards: Exploring the Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Frodo, an unlikely hero, rises to the occasion when necessary.
"This occurred to me most strongly after [the terrorist attacks of] 9/11," said Stanton. "Hobbits are like firemen, policemen, and rescue workers; they are ordinary people with extraordinary qualities and potentials that come out only under the most dire and urgent circumstances."
The enormous popularity of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogythe last film, The Return of the King, opens December 17has spawned a spirited debate about who our greatest heroes are, and what it means to be a hero.
A documentary, Beyond the Movie: Lord of the Rings, which airs this Saturday, December 6, at 9:00 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel, uses characters, events, and themes in Tolkien's stories of Middle-earth to explore some of history's greatest heroes.
Heroes of Middle-Earth
In mythology and legend, heroes were often masculine, endowed with great courage and strength, and celebrated for their bold exploits. Born of one mortal and one divine parent, he is a man favored by the gods.
The Lord of the Rings follows the tradition of heroic fantasies like Homer's The Odyssey, in which every boy's life is a rocky journey from childhood to adulthood, littered with trials meant to enable him to ultimately care for and protect others.
But it also reflects Tolkien's beliefs as a devout Catholic and his experience as a soldier in the trenches of World War I, which had a profound impact on his life.
"The hero of the Christian story is not a warrior-lord, but a humble servant," said Sarah Arthur, author of Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through The Lord of the Rings. "Tolkien gives a starring role to a common, uneducated gardener from a small corner of the Shire, Sam. [This is] an echo of the ordinary Englishmen who served on the front lines in World War I and made its victory possible."
In addition to Frodo and Sam, the tale has some more conventional heroes in the king-to-be Aragorn and the brave warrior Faramir.
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