Why I've Accepted the Appearance of Movie-Frodo by Larner

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Why I’ve Accepted the Appearance of Movie-Frodo

One of the frustrating aspects of picturing many of the characters from the Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien has given us so little to go upon in the way of description. We have an excellent image of Gandalf’s appearance given us in The Hobbit, and a fair idea as to the appearance of Bilbo Baggins and his untoward guests at his unexpected party. However, when it comes to picturing Frodo Baggins or his companions we are left with a far skimpier set of facts on which to base an idea of each one’s appearance. As for Frodo himself—descriptions are few and far between.

"This one is taller than some, and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin." "A stout little fellow with red cheeks." "…[A] perky chap with a bright eye." So he is described to Barliman Butterbur by Gandalf, as related by the former to Frodo, Pippin, and Sam in the chapter Strider in The Fellowship of the Ring. A brown mat is chosen as a reasonable counterfeit for Mr. Underhill/Baggins’s hair, and used in the construction of the dummy Hobbits and found torn to pieces the next morning when it’s learned the invaders realized the trick used on them.

The few other glimpses of the physical aspects of Frodo tend to be more ethereal in nature. Gandalf, looking at Frodo newly awakened in Elrond’s house, sees him becoming somewhat transparent, and particularly the left arm, foreseeing that Frodo has begun changes that may well lead him to become almost invisible to mortal eyes; on the stairs to Cirith Ungol both Sméagol and Sam see a particularly shining spirit at the core of Frodo Baggins, a spirit that draws their love and fealty. As for Frodo looking on himself in Elrond’s house, he sees first that he’s lost sufficient weight that he almost mistakes himself for the much younger Hobbit he’d been as Bilbo’s ward when he followed Bilbo about the Shire, save for his eyes, which have seen a good deal since that time, and so much concentrated in the past few weeks since leaving Bag End! And as Sam looks on Frodo there in the wilderness, he sees the fine lines of age and experience making of his Master an even more venerable, beautiful form, worthy of honor and worship.

Tolkien, as told in The Return of the Shadow, had once thought to give Frodo a streak of white hair at his temple and a wart on his chin, two features he then scrapped. Instead, he left us with a vague form to whom we’ve tried often to give more defined features in the years since. Most portraits of Frodo drawn by various artists have been fairly vague, actually, which contrasts a good deal to the heroes of other stories. The most familiar images we have of him are, I think, the depictions of him given by the artists who rendered him for Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, and the appearance given him in the person of Elijah Wood in the Peter Jackson films.

Bakshi represents Frodo as the tallest of the four Hobbits who leave the Shire together, and as the one with the lightest hair. The height is probably right, for Tolkien ever portrays height as one of the necessary attributes of particularly noble leaders: Elendil is Elendil the Tall, being well over seven feet tall and perhaps even over eight feet according, I understand, to one of his letters; Aragorn’s long legs are remarked upon by Butterbur, and he stands clearly taller than those about him at his coronation—a particularly tall Man among many tall Men of Dúnadan extraction. It would appear he, too, was close to or over seven feet in height. So it is among the Elves and Dwarves as well in which height and leadership are paired: there is something regal in Thorin’s height at the Unexpected Party that leads Bilbo to recognize his importance on the Dwarf’s arrival at Bag End.

Among those who portrayed the Travellers in the Jackson films Elijah Wood was not the tallest; but he certainly was able to project the lightheartedness of the newly adult Frodo before the Party, followed by the dignity and natural authority of the Master of Bag End, and the one of the Hobbits to whom the others defer during the quest and when they are together afterward. The wariness with which Frodo guards himself when confronted by a Boromir intent on taking the Ring is yet tempered by that innate dignity, that innate appreciation of his own authority that Frodo has as the one who has been Master of Bag End and who now is the Ring-bearer.

And so, in describing Frodo Baggins I have ever combined the two film images—the height of the Bakshi Frodo with the innate dignity and quick awareness of the Wood Frodo.

Frodo’s hair is somehow distinctive, as we know from the discussion of the mat used by Butterbur’s people. We know from Tolkien himself only that his hair is brown, but that is true of most Hobbits. In one of his letters Tolkien indicated that the hair of Pippin, as a quintessential descendant of the Fallohides, is the lightest of the four; therefore I tend to imagine that Frodo’s is the darkest, harkening back to his mother’s family. She might have been a granddaughter to the Old Took, but she was also the descendant of those within the Shire with the strongest Stoor blood and attributes as well. It is said that the Stoors had the darkest hair and were in many ways the most determined and strongest willed of all Hobbits; it is pleasing to think that Frodo inherited the dark hair I am willing to continue to see as part of his image as coming from his Brandybuck ancestors, as well as a good portion of the indomitable will we see within the Ring-bearer who earned the title of Bronwë athan Harthad, or Endurance beyond Hope.

Yet he is also described as fairer than most. Bakshi gave him the fairest hair of the four Hobbits of the Fellowship; but fair does not always indicate fair-colored hair. It also means physically beautiful, having a particularly light complexion, and having a particularly discerning mind that seeks to give all their due in the end, one that will not cause any to need to defer to any other if it can be avoided. Fairness is a spiritual as well as a physical attribute, after all; and we see that fairness in Frodo’s nature all through the story. He will not say nay to those in the conspiracy who insist on joining him, although as the one true adult of any standing or seniority among the four of them he has a perfect right, not to mention responsibility, to tell Merry and Pippin that they most certainly are not going outside the Shire with him. Instead, he accepts their claim on their love for him to allow them to go with him—at least as far as Parth Galen. He looks on Gollum and sees the one Sméagol had been, and perhaps could be again, and seeks to give Gollum a fair chance to become what he was meant to be; he does the same with Saruman when they confront one another on the steps of Bag End itself.

So, I picture Frodo ever as having a particularly fair complexion, but with a tendency for his cheeks to redden at almost any emotional stimulus, particularly with embarrassment or anger. He also, like Faramir, comes to see to the heart of those he meets or faces, and ever seeks to give each the chance to become the best he can be given the circumstances; we know that Sam had mistaken this tendency for softness, only realizing with experience just how well Frodo appreciates the worst that those he deals with are capable of as well as the best of their potential. Frodo is an exemplar of estel for others even when he holds none for himself.

Then there is the bright eye that Gandalf describes; what does that mean? Here I see Wood’s appearance as satisfying that image, for there is no question that Elijah Wood has a particularly fine pair of eyes, capable of communicating so much without words. The striking blue of those eyes captures our attention, and they are reminiscent of at least some of the Elves. Stoor hair and Fallohide eyes—they work very well for me!

There is a most peculiar vulnerability within Frodo, for although he is fair-minded, he is also particularly pragmatic as well. He is not blinded by hope, and so is not crippled when his journey has stripped that emotion or capability from him. Yet, even when his is truly hope-less, he still goes on, for he has given his word, and he will live up to the level of responsibility expected of him as an individual, the responsibility he ever knew from the moment he was recognized as the Baggins of Bag End, the Master of Bag End and the Hill. He will seek to do what is needful, even if it might claim his life before that need is accomplished. He doesn’t do so out of hope for the future, but simply because it needs at least to be attempted, for if it is not attempted there is no hope for anyone else. This I see as the Harfoot influence Frodo has inherited along with his Baggins name, tempered by Stoor capability and Fallohide imagination and discernment and foresight.

This ability to see to the true heart of not only others but of situations is what gives him his especial dignity in the end.

So he is now pictured in my mind—the particularly slender, rather tall Hobbit youth with the responsible bent, but with the quick wit and discernment that enables him to set up diversions to allow himself and his chums to plunder the fields, orchards, and glasshouses of the Marish and that later seeks to offer a chance for redemption to Gollum and Sharkey in spite of recognizing that they are indeed villains at heart. I see him as having become sufficiently sedentary during his middle years to allow him gain weight he then loses on the quest and cannot regain afterwards. I see him as holding a particular dignity to himself, an aloofness many see as lack of empathy, never recognizing that it is truly indicative of the fact he is too empathetic for his own peace of spirit.

He is ever tied to Elves as much as to Hobbits, and more closely to Men than to Dwarves as was true of his nominal uncle. For Frodo and Aragorn are spiritual brothers, and I see the relationship in the physical resemblance as well as in the love shared between them. Frodo is as dark-haired in my image of him as is Aragorn, and in the end is as spare as the tall, lanky Man, and as filled with spiritual authority. Both appear fairly young for their kinds, considering their chronological ages at least, when they meet; but both are indeed shaped by their particularly responsible natures and experiences to become effective rulers and restorers for those given to their care.

Elijah Wood’s depiction for the most part has become a physical image I will now most likely ever hold of Frodo Baggins (although I imagine him taller in comparison to other Hobbits) as I see it particularly capable of conveying the physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of Frodo I best identify with myself. And I am grateful to him for giving Frodo a physical presence that until the coming of the films I’d not been able to adequately imagine. I’d done images of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, and even of Bilbo; but I’d never even tried to do a portrait of Frodo as he’d always been a physically nebulous individual, one I’d always pictured as a more spiritual rather than a physical person. Thank you, Elijah, for giving me a Frodo Baggins I can love as much as I’ve ever loved Aragorn son of Arathorn.

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