Why Frodo and Achilles are so infuriating to a modern audience, by Harry Richards
Frodo in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Achilles of Homer’s Iliad, share several characteristics in their flaws and their general story arcs. Both characters are extremely hard to empathise with, thanks to their complex motives and more-than-human qualities.
Frodo is often seen as “queer”, or weird, by other Shirefolk, as he is a lot closer to the outside world than other hobbits, and his thirst for adventure, at least early on in his life, separates Frodo from his quiet neighbours. Similarly, Achilles is misunderstood by the Greeks. His closeness with his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, sets him out as special and his understanding of Fate and deeper need for Kudos make him even moreso.
However, these qualities make both heroes too ‘perfect’ and unable to be empathised with. Throughout their respective stories, both characters are incredibly infuriating from a modern perspective. Achilles’ refusal to go into battle as a result of a petty argument with Agamemnon, although justified to Achilles due to his need for Kudos, makes no sense to a modern definition of ‘hero’, selfless and always working for others; by fighting he could save countless lives. Even his contemporary hero friend Ajax assumes it is “all because of a girl” (Book 9), suggesting that Achilles’ motives are even oblique and frustrating to a more average audience, due to his otherness. Frodo is also ‘selfish’; as Achilles puts his Kudos ahead of other people, so Frodo, at least in the film adaptations, massively underestimates and negates his companion Sam’s role, treating him as a booby and fall-guy throughout because he is not the chosen ring-bearer.
Moreover, the actions of Frodo lead to husband Sam’s dearest companions leaving them to complete the task alone. Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion, with whom he shares a tent, goes into battle alone due to his frustration with Achilles, in order to try and help him. Sam is often told to leave by Frodo, after being framed for eating the last of the supplies by Gollum: Frodo’s selfish beliefs choose the manipulator over the pure friend. These actions leave both stories’ protagonists in difficult situations, and lessens their characters: Frodo loses the duel with Shelob and needs rescuing, iand Achilles’ anger is so magnified by the death of Patroclus that he doesn’t observe the funeral rites for Patroclus’ killer, Hector, mutilating his body instead, to even the horror of the gods whom intervene. Thus without their companions, both Frodo and Achilles are fundamentally unlikeable or in-admirable to a modern audience. Achilles has nothing in his life but his mother and his precious Kudos. Frodo has friends, but is irritated by their immaturity, and makes his whole priority the ring, to their detriment. Achilles becomes a character so dominated by rage it becomes impossible to empathise with his utter blood-lust. Likewise, Frodo spends most of his journey alienating the audience by whining and generally just getting metaphorically and physically carried by Sam. What makes Frodo more infuriating is how the world treats him: he is seen as a hero, when all he really does is follow Sam around. He even possesses no fighting skill, whereas Sam takes Cirith Ungol alone, saving Frodo. Frodo is still seen as the saviour and Sam gets nothing – although the film versions seek to rectify this by allowing Sam to win the object of his affections, barmaid Rosie, on their return to the Shire, and raise a family, while Frodo lives alone. Patroclus, although not technically a better warrior than Achilles, is more humanised as he visits the wounded and the. goes to fight not for his own Kudos, but for Achilles’, and for the good of the Greeks as a whole: he fights out of pure I loyalty and the price is his death.
Frodo and Achilles are too unlike modern ‘humanised’ heroes to empathise with, so the audience needs Sam as Patroclus to generate Pathos for them as no one can really respect Frodo the story-stealer and Achilles he selfish from a modern, moral perspective.
By Harry Richards (A Level)
Edited by Laura Jenkinson