Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Hobbits Make Good Heroes

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Know who's smarter than I am? 

Tolkien. 

You were thinking I'd say YOU, right? While that very well may be the case, I've been thinking a lot about the genius of J.R.R Tolkien lately. Specifically, I've been thinking about his Hobbits.

Hobbits make fabulous heroes. You ever think about that? As writers, we hear much about the story arc of our characters. Our characters have to grow throughout the course of a book. They have to change somehow. Your lead, your hero, should have undergone some kind of transformation by the time the reader turns to the final page. Really, it's what makes a story a story. And yet, the tendency for many writers--especially young ones--is to start with a bright, shiny hero and try to tell a story about his heroics.


The problem, as I'm sure many of you have found, is that showing growth in a character who has it all together is a difficult thing to do. Giving your lead some deficiencies actually helps you. And in that vein, I think Tolkien is a mad genius. And the most amazing thing he did--no, it's not that whole elf language thing--is that he gave us stories about weak, cowardly, unwilling creatures who had no choice but to rise to the occasion.

Hobbits make awesome heroes because:

1. They are not at all interested in being heroes. With the exception of maybe Bilbo who has developed a taste for adventure, the other Hobbits we meet in the Lord of the Rings trilogy would rather stay close to home. They like The Shire. They like food and comfort and all the things we really like. There is no adventure to be had until Frodo realizes his beloved home will be destroyed if he doesn't destroy the One Ring. It's his drive to protect The Shire that propels him forward. Not any tendency toward heroics.

2. Conventional wisdom says they are less likely to be heroic than their companions. The Hobbits in the Fellowship of the Ring are flanked by a Wizard, a Ranger, a Warrior, a battleaxe-wielding Dwarf and an immortal Elf. All of whom would make fabulous heroes. The furry-footed Hobbit is an unlikely savior then and that makes his journey compelling. His growth is measurable and vast and important to the reader. 

3. They cannot succeed unless they change. If Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin had remained who they were at the outset of the story, Middle Earth would have had a very different fate. Throughout their individual journeys, each Hobbit had to battle all sorts of personal inadequacies and in every victory--big or small--their transformations pushed them closer and closer to the kind of heroes they needed to be to complete their tasks. If they hadn't changed, they would have failed and Tolkien knew that when he penned them. He wrote their inadequacies with great intention and then he placed obstacles before them that forced them to grow.

See, I told you. Tolkien was smarter than I am. He was also brave because it takes a certain measure of courage to start with a character who is prone to failure. I want to be brave like that.

What do you guys think? Have I missed anything? How else do Hobbits make great heroes? And what other unlikely heroes linger in the books you read?

25 comments:

  1. Helpful list! I *think* I've got this list covered with my MC--she's a little fearful, her partner-in-adventure is a powerful magician, and in the end she has to put aside her own safety to end the conflict. Thanks again for this list, Mrs. Dittemore! I'm saving it for future reference. :)

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  2. I just love Tolkien's stuff!! His genius amazes me and makes me want to write greater. I love how his stuff, though unreal is realistic.

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    1. Yes! He does a good job of leading us into belief.

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  3. I was just re-watching/re-reading The Lord of the Rings, so I've been thinking of this too! I agree, Tolkien's character development is genius. Even his more heroic characters have their flaws and things they have to overcome. Aragorn, for instance, is supposed to be king. But he is reluctant. Boromir likes the spotlight and heroics. He seems destined to die in some glorious battle for Gondor, but in the end he chooses to die to save a couple of hobbits with no one but a few people to see or even know about his heroic death. Faramir struggles with his self-worth thanks to his father's treatment. Eowyn struggles with despair because of all the deaths she has seen. I could keep going. Almost every character in the Lord of the Rings struggles with something, even the likely heroes.

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    1. Absolutely. We could do a whole post on WHY ARAGORN MAKES A GOOD HERO or Gimli or Legolas. Tolkein's done a fabulous job of giving each of his characters a believable arc. Smart, see?

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  4. Tolkien rocks. He inspired me in so many ways. My MC can do anything he wants-he's trained and experienced as an assassin, but it's his heart and will that changes throughout the story. He's fearful of fire and magic, when he is a Flameweaver. He is also surrounded by a powerful wizard/mage/old Flameweaver, however, he is old and almost useless. It is this pressure and the stakes (his master going back in time to get the key immortality and then kill his parents again--before he was born) that pushes him into action :).

    Thanks Mrs. Dittemore! Great list.

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    1. I'm glad you've given him internal strife, Jonathan! That's something we can all identify with. And I love the idea of a Flameweaver! Lots of mental pictures with that one.

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  5. Hobbits are very close to my heart, as you might guess by my screen name. I love the sacrifice of the hobbits... all they long for at the beginning is a cozy home, good food, and quiet, but they know (particularly Frodo) that those things are threatened for all of them if someone doesn't step up. I love those moments when Frodo makes the decision to carry on... and that it's not a one time decision, but something that he has to keep committing to throughout the story. His resolve is continually tested.

    Makes me think... what can test my MC's resolve?

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    1. Love your insight, Mrs. Gamgee! And I love that you're asking the hard questions.

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  6. This is awesome! I've always thought this, and hey, LotR for the win :)

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  7. LOTR is an excellent example. It seems that whenever a character has leadership or responsibility forced upon him. he does better than any one who is power hungry and becomes a good hero.

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  8. Great post, Mrs. Dittemore, very helpful! Hobbits truly do make for great heroes. :)
    I also noticed that while the Hobbits are in most every way inadequate for the role of hero, they are not the typical heroic but angsty leads. They are not burdened with vice (again with Bilbo being the possible exception ;) ), a tragic backstory or heavy internal baggage. Not that vices or emotional baggage are a bad thing to have in a character, but the anti-hero has become a bit of a staple, and I find it interesting to look a hero type that is flawed in a different way.

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    1. Very delightful point! The anti-hero has sort of taken over, hasn't he? The Hobbits are very different in that regard.

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  9. Thanks for this post! Hobbits have so much to teach us about how to live a good life. Their example of selfless love for and loyalty to each other is so desperately needed in today's selfish world. It gives them - and us, if we are brave enough to emulate them - the strength to make the tremendous sacrifices they do in order to save their home and world. Bilbo and Frodo's compassion for Smeagol shows us how to love our enemies. Sam's pity is even more critical.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)

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  10. Agreed!
    I also love that Gollum shows the reader what Frodo is up against and what he could become - but Frodo's compassion for Smeagol is one of his best traits.

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  11. They're smaller than everyone else. I love hobbits.

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  12. DON'T SPEAK TO ME OF TOLKIEN OR HOBBITS!! I just watched Battle of the Five Armies recently and I am STILL NOT OKAY!!!! D'X *crawls away to weep*

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  13. There are things I like about Tolkien and things I really don't. But Hobbits top the list of likes because they are truly brilliant little creatures. :) I love your points on them. The transformation phase in stories is so wonderful in LoTR and Hobbit because they truly have no big goals. That is what makes the endings so satisfying for their characters.

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  14. Wow, this made me realize something which is probably really obvious, but it kind of just occurred to me. I always wanted adventures, and was a little jealous of hobbits because they get grand adventures they'd never wanted in the first place, and here I was waiting and waiting for one to happen to me. The thing is, there are so many things in my life I'm a bit scared to face, (a.k.a. growing up and being responsible) and it's exactly the same thing the hobbits felt. They were in their comfort zones, and they didn't want to leave. Well, my life is my adventure, and the only way to go on it, is to start living it. Sorry for that long rant, this was just a great post, and it made me think, and I love it when people make me think. (-:

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  15. haha I love this, it was so interesting to read! The only thing that hobbits seem to have the taste for is food! Hobbits make the best unexpected heroes :)

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  16. Love this whole blog! Found it yesterday and it already helped me find several holes in my WIP! By the way, I asked to join the facebook group,could you please approve that? Thanks and keep up the good work!!!

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Katelyn!

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