‘A very nice well-spoken gentlehobbit is Mr. Bilbo, as I’ve always said’…
‘But what about this Frodo that lives with him?’ asked Old Noakes of Bywater. ‘Baggins is his name, but he’s more than half a Brandybuck, they say.’
Oh, Frodo. Jolly old Frodo! He is the protagonist of our favorite story but also, perhaps, the least understood. A rather melancholy character, Frodo is a kindly hobbit whose golden years were robbed by duty and grief. But the critics don’t let Frodo’s troubles end when the story is over. Frodo is sometimes seen as a whiner or an uninteresting character. His portrayal by Elijah Wood in Peter Jackson’s films is often criticized and even his own creator (in Letter 131) gave Sam the bump, calling Mr. Gamgee the ‘chief hero’ of the story.
Is there any more to the last Baggins of Bag End than a dreary wanderer? And do his cards match the real face of the Ring-bearer? Let’s see if we can answer Old Noakes of Bywater. What about this Frodo?
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
In the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, the great buildup to Bilbo’s Long-expected Party, we learn an awful lot about young Mr. Frodo Baggins. Gaffer Gamgee, the best qualified of those present to discuss the Bagginses, has this to say for Frodo after a few shots at the Brandybucks and their queer ways:
Mr. Frodo is as nice a young hobbit as you could wish to meet. Very much like Mr. Bilbo, and in more than looks. After all his father was a Baggins. A decent respectable hobbit was Mr. Drogo Baggins; there was never much to tell of him, till he was drownded.
Hobbit tongues can wag after a few, especially when the subjects in question are liked half as well as they deserve. So ensues a discussion about the nature of the death of Frodo’s parents, Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck, and the complicated branches that protrude from the Baggins family tree, especially between Bilbo and Frodo. Briefly, Frodo was Bilbo’s first and second cousin once removed (as the saying goes, if you follow me). It’s no wonder that he just called him ‘uncle’.
There are, evidently, several differing accounts of the poor demise of Frodo’s parents’ drowning: was it an accident? Did the boat sink? Was someone pushed? It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is, as we learn right from the go, is that Frodo was an orphan, taken in by his ‘uncle’, both generous and in need of an heir, and that the Sackville-Bagginses were foiled again.
Actually meeting Frodo in person, at the Party and in the events after where he tidies up Bilbo’s affairs, does not net us very much information about him. We do, however, get the impression that he is quiet and thoughtful, and a little cheeky like Bilbo. More talk and public opinion on Frodo, again, comes from the pub: Ted Sandyman admits, to a rather irritated Sam, that Mr. Frodo is ‘cracking’ like his uncle. Shortly thereafter Gandalf returns to the Shire (17 years after the Party) and the whole adventure begins.
So Frodo’s entire life, both internal to the story and external to us, is public. We watch him from his youth and coming of age, all the way to his departure Westwards. It is perhaps for this reason that he is often thought of as a boring character: there is little-to-no mystery about him and what we do know is rather plain. All his deep feeling and darkest thoughts are there for us to see, such as his struggle to actually leave the Shire once Gandalf explains the dire nature of his Ring. There are a few points, however, that I wish to draw upon to illustrate why I think Frodo is such an important and interesting character.
The first is his encounter with Gildor and the elves in Woody End. Frodo instantly recognizes the name of Elbereth, to whom the elves pray. Next he greets them not just in Elvish but in Quenya, a language that not even all Elves speak, let alone any Hobbits (besides Bilbo). Gildor and his companions laugh in delight: “‘Be careful, friends!’ cried Gildor laughing. ‘Speak no secrets! Here is a scholar in the Ancient Tongue. Bilbo was a good master. Hail, Elf-friend!'” As the elves lead them to a clearing and treat them to as fine a late-night meal as a hobbit could expect, Sam and Pippin drift off into contented sleep while ‘Frodo remained long awake, talking with Gildor’. He chats with them in their language and learns as much as he can manage to get out of Gildor. He is a ‘jewel among hobbits’.
In speaking with Glóin in “Many Meetings”, the senior dwarf goes on about the happenings in Wilderland and, while some might have checked out or cut into the discourse, Glóin ‘was delighted to have found so polite a listener; for Frodo showed no sign of weariness and made no attempt to change the subject’.
It’s little details like these in which we learn the most about Frodo. He refuses to sleep, or is somehow immune to the peaceful contentment that falls upon the other hobbits in the presence of the elves. He speaks Elvish well enough and is eager to learn more; his curiosity (or maybe just good manners) are again evidenced early on in the presence of Glóin. The wisdom of the halflings (“hobbit-sense”) is powerful but it is very practical, more like folk-wisdom than anything else; Frodo shows erudition and wisdom in lore immediately.
Then, of course, there is his ultimate moment during “The Council of Elrond”:
An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice. `I will take the Ring,’ he said, `though I do not know the way.’
Throughout the rest of the book there are more moments like these: he seems to intuit the magic of Galadriel and the Golden Wood; he deals mercifully with Gollum in lordly fashion; Sam refers to the ‘light’ that seems to emanate from him; the master of Bag End bandies words with care and wisdom when they encounter Faramir; he bears the Ring through unending struggle and mental/emotional assault (even if he fails in the end). He is refined after that, most apparent in the respect and deference he is shown during “The Scouring of the Shire”, when he calls for nonviolence: ‘I wish for no killing; not even of the ruffians, unless it must be done, to prevent them from hurting hobbits’. This calm grace extends even further after Saruman makes an attempt on his life. The rest of the hobbits gathered want him dead, but Frodo says, ‘He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it’.
His wisdom and care are his defining characteristics, even his namesake. Internally, Tolkien served as ‘translator’ of the Red Book, giving us an account in English of the great tale written in Westron (the Common Tongue). As such, all of the names are translations as well and Frodo’s, in Westron, is Maura Labingi. According to Tolkien Gateway, “the name Maura has the element maur- (wise, experienced), which Tolkien equivalated to the Germanic element frod- of the same meaning. Frodo’s name in Sindarin was Iorhael (‘old-wise’)”. Much more prolific and thoughtful than Bingo, the name originally used by Tolkien in the first drafts of Rings (dismissed because of its ridiculousness).
And when all is said and done Frodo bears the spiritual scarring of his journey until the end of his days until he, sadly and sagely, leaves the world, prophesying to Sam:
Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone. so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.
Sam is Frodo’s heir, but not just to Bag End and the Red Book and the material things. Sam is heir to the Shire (and the world) that Frodo sacrificed himself to save at the Council. Though he failed, though it took both Sam and Gollum to complete the task, Frodo is a vessel for the great happenings of the Third Age. He is a ‘High Hobbit’ (no snickering) if there could be such a thing, and gave everything for the love his friends and land. This may make him a prototypical hero type, but I think in light of the larger mythos he is a unique character, bearing the qualities of both Elves and Hobbits and Men, rolling them into one person to be used to end the greatest darkness of his time by forces, perhaps, beyond his control. It’s his willingness and thoughtfulness (and tragedy) that make him a worthy character; his sadness and gentleness after great suffering that make him admirable.
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
Frodo is pictured many times in this game, both explicitly and implicitly (I’m sure cards like Ending and Failing are meant to represent him, though it’s not specified), but I will opt to briefly examine his first iteration, his Spirit hero card. John Stanko, who has done a few important cards for this game, does a wonderful job with Frodo. I’m not sure when this is meant to be: it could be a young Frodo pouring over some notes with his morning tea, but the fairness and fragility also suggests that it could be his time in Bag-end after the War. Frodo is 50 when he begins his journey (just like Bilbo) but (also like Bilbo) he is often depicted as quite young. Even before the influence of the ageless Elijah Wood, Frodo is often seen as closer to 30 than 50. Besides the age of the actor who made the character famous, I think that people want to see a younger hero and imagine Frodo as such. Hobbits also age more slowly than Men and are often compared to children by the other races of Middle-earth, so a 50 year old hobbit could/should appear to be much younger. 50 is the new 33! For a full art analysis of Stanko’s Frodo, head over to Secondhand Took!
Apart from his Spirit hero card, we get a few different images of Frodo and all of them show the same brown haired, fair skinned hobbit. Skin tone is obvious as he was wealthy and spent no time out of doors (contrasted against the ‘nut brown hand’ of Sam in Return of the King), but one artist who takes a different approach to Frodo is Romana Kendelic. I love her style and the way she portrays Frodo in Free to Choose is excellent. He still bears the same typical Hobbit features we expect: brown hair, light skin, pointy ears. But his features are exaggerated and a little contorted in such a way as to evoke a slight other-worldliness, not unlike Magali‘s elves. This is especially appropriate for Frodo, as ‘elvish’ a hobbit as there ever was.
Finally, one cannot discuss Frodo without mentioning the Hobbit mania that swept over the United States briefly in the 1960s. In the early 60s it was not altogether easy to get one’s hands on a copy of The Lord of the Rings. A bootleg edition had been published by Ace Books thanks to a loophole in the copyright law and it took some time for the hoopla (denounced by Tolkien himself and carried on by his fanatical readers Stateside) to settle down until an official edition was released by Ballantine Books. After that, the classic was a hit among tree loving, Saruman hating hippies and the phrase ‘Frodo Lives’ became their battle cry. Tolkien seemed to have a love-hate thing with his American fanbase, calling some of the more fanatical a ‘deplorable cultus‘, while maintaining his admiration for the landscape and indeed a connection with the American people. Nevertheless, Frodo does live, in fact, and, setting aside its vague meaning, it should maintained as a rallying call for all Tolkien lovers.
DISCUSS THE CARDS
Talking about Frodo mechanically puts us perilously near the dead horse: he was the second post-core hero and so many decks have been made, his usefulness perhaps fully explained. With such a strong utility, he still gets a lot of play today, especially in a Sphere with low threat and few defenders. Many decks have been made around this ability — keep your threat low, maybe give him Sentinel to help out your partner, and defend away. Thematic decks have also been made to attempt to emulate Frodo’s epic journey across Middle-earth. In the interest of keeping things somewhat fresh, however, I want to see if we can make a deck that will beef Frodo up to super-defender status, without having to use his ability and raise our threat.
There are a few avenues available to this end. Against the Shadow is one option, as Frodo belongs to the Spirit sphere and from there it is easier to boost willpower than defense. Recursion is also readily available in the Spirit sphere, between Dwarven Tomb and Map of Earnil and Will of the West. This seems less practical though, even for an impractical deck like this one (and even for me!). That leaves us with Leadership and Tactics to help boost defense. For that reason, and because I love Hobbit decks, we’ll go with Sam and Merry to accompany Mr. Frodo on his defensive exploits.
Arwen Undómiel x2
Bilbo Baggins x2
Dúnedain Hunter x3
Bofur x2 (OHAUH)
Silvan Refugee x3
Northern Tracker x3
Gandalf x3 (Core)
Steward of Gondor x2
Gondorian Shield x2
Ring Mail x3
Hobbit Cloak x3
Hobbit Pipe x3
Behind Strong Walls x3
Smoke Rings x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Sneak Attack x3
Light the Beacons x3
This deck should be viable solo, but will absolutely shine in tandem with a strictly combat deck, or even a mono Lore deck. It can quest well enough using cheap Spirit allies like Silvan Refugee and big allies like Faramir and Galadriel. It can kill when it needs to using Merry and Dunedain Hunter and Northern Tracker (take advantage of the resources Frodo will have with Steward). Card draw is there with Mathom and Gandalf can fill in any gaps.
But of course the main focus of the deck is making young Frodo a super defender. Bofur and Galadriel should be used to drill down and find Steward of Gondor. Once Frodo gains the Gondor trait, he can take full advantage of the Shield for a +2 bonus. Using Elrond’s Counsel and Hobbit Pipe to keep your threat low(ish) you will get another +2 from Hobbit Cloak. Ring Mail gives a cheap +1 defense (and an extra hitpoint). +5 is nothing to sneeze at, but once Gondor is online you can use Behind Strong Walls to defend again and gain another +1, and Arwen grants the finisher: +1 defense and Sentinel for Ultimate Defending Power. The Shield and Mail are the only restricted attachments so there should be a nice pool of defense no matter what you manage to draw.
Finally, assuming Steward gets Frodo all the loot he can handle, Light the Beacons has been included for final absurdity. Get everything online and you have a sagely, frail Hobbit sitting at 10 defense and will not exhaust to defend. Look out, Beregond!
There are quite a few options for sideboard cards: Bill and Boots from Erebor can give you a little hit point boost, which is actually nice to mitigate threat gain should damage seep through. You could also sub in Aragorn or Halbarad for engagement shenanigans, or Pippin for card draw and access to Fast Hitch. Take out Bilbo and the Pipe cards and you’d have room for more readying from Leadership (Cram) or the barrow-blades to bring Merry online. Replace the pipe effects with Galadhrim’s Greeting for perhaps more efficient threat lowering. Tighten Our Belts would also be a good choice to smooth over the steep resource curve of a tri-sphere deck. Finally, Gather Information is an option for fishing into the deck and getting things moving.
Unusual deck design aside, I hope this article has shed a little light on our Frodo, the most famousest of hobbits, even if his respect has to be fought for!