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Old 01-11-2008, 03:51 PM   #1
Mithalwen
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"People do not decide to become extraordinary....

They decide to accomplish extraordinary things."

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – ... You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.”


I found these quotations today as I had thought change my signature to commemorate the life of the mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary (to whom both are attributed). It has often been mentioned that the characters in Tolkien's works are predominantly of exalted birth and born to some high destiny. Other discussion have centred around the role of fate.

But these words made me think of hobbits and Sam in particular. Hobbits are not a particularly noble race but Sam alone (of any character of any significance) is not high status in his own culture. He will end up so in an admirable piece of social mobility but his achievement is not through the machinations of destiny or holding to the concept of nobless oblige, but becasue his determination to look after his master is sufficient motivation. I am not sure it makes him less of a hero - at least not in my eyes. Any thoughts or am I rambling again?
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Old 01-11-2008, 05:26 PM   #2
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In many cases yes, they did go from rags to riches.
But... for example others like Arvedui or Aragorn were destined for such great deeds.
As Malbeth said, Arvedui would either become King of Gondor and of the Reunited Kingdom or all would have wait for another chance to come.
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Old 01-11-2008, 06:15 PM   #3
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I am not sure it makes him less of a hero - at least not in my eyes.
Nor it would seem in the eyes of Tolkien.

From the ever-quoted letter 131 to Milton Waldman.
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I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty.
In the case of Aragorn and others of similar stature, they did have a motivation to "decide to accomplish extraordinary things." This could be seen as being "Born to a high destiny", or simply wanting to "Live up to the stories of their forefathers". But in the case of Frodo he was thrust into the role of a "Hero" by accident while Sam ignored all other things in his life for the simple task of 'helping his Beloved Master' (I use the term Master in the same way that it is done in the book, that of employer and Master of the House.) In so doing, he became a greater hero.
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Old 01-13-2008, 11:32 AM   #4
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Aragorn was motivated by the possibility of becoming King, a sense of duty, the prize of winning his fair maiden, any number of things. Sam was motivated because he loved his friend, and that's as much motivation as anyone needs.

I like this idea, Mithalwen, maybe you could compare Sam to Sherpa Tensing? And it's odd (to me, at any rate...) how the achievement of conquering Everest came in the same decade as Lord of the Rings...

I'm sure if you decide to "become extraordinary" then everyone would laugh at you for being terribly presumptuous and maybe a little bit pretentious and would secretly be crossing their fingers that you fall flat on your face. Or is this just an English thing?
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Old 02-13-2008, 06:07 PM   #5
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I think Tolkien talked about the "enoblement of ignoble" one times. He said every one of us would be able to do great deeds. You just must be willing to make the right choices when confronted with it.

@Lalwendë: Well i am from Germany... and i think i am special (even extraordinary)... just as everybody else is. I think most people accomplished a thing or two in their lives which they can be proud of.

I think it is a good thing to decide to become extraordinary. You mustn't be a hero, just extraordinary your own way.

You english love understatement, don't you? I think you do not like big words.
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Old 02-15-2008, 01:45 PM   #6
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I am sorry that I have neglected this thread - I am afraid work and domestic duties have been taking priority.

Smeagollives, I think you slightly misunderstand what Lal is saying. This is not to deny that each individual is unique and precious - Tolkien I am sure would not intend that. Through Sam's eyes as he considers the dead Southron soldier in Ithilien we see the recognition that the enemy consist of individuals who, to quote Tim Collins, "did not plan to die this day".

What I am sure Tolkien, and Sir Edmund, would have deplored is the cult of vacuous fame - people seeking fame for its own sake in a shameless fashion. Look at the people who fill "celebrity" magazines - apart from the sports people who are genuinely talented in their field it is virtually a freak show.

Sam does not set out to be famous though he is not ignorant of fame. He is an admirable character - but and ordinary hobbit. He is achievement is the result of his determination to stick with his master. It is not blind devotion - he knows the score and carries on anyway. He is " an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated". Even Frodo, who is unusual according to the norms of his kind, does not set out to be extraordinary though it is an extraordinary thing he does.

There are a few characters in Tolkien who do set out to be extra ordinary in the "Look at me" kind of way Lal was suggesting. They don't generally make good ends.
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Old 02-15-2008, 03:26 PM   #7
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Just poking my head in Mith to point out you might be interested in reading this thread (Small hand do them because they must...)

What I particularly like is this bit from Tolkien's Letter to Milton Waldman:
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A moral of the whole is the obvious one that without the high and noble, the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.
You need Aragorn, Boromir, Glorfindel and those "noble" warriors to do the grunt work and inspirational leadership. Yet you think those guys are going to get their nice clothes dirty and take a ring into Mordor and go through extreme mental/physical pain? Most likely not...so that means it's up to the 'smaller' ones of the world.

I think this correlation also exists with the Villain and his servants. The villains that strive to be Dark Lords (Sauron, Saruman) are the guys who have control over their servants (Orcs, Grima). Without the servants the Dark Lords wouldn't be able to get much done. Yet, without the Dark Lord the servants are lost and go insane.

Like the Orcs:
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The Captains bowed their heads; and when they looked up again, behold! their enemies were flying and the power of Mordor was scattering like dust in the wind. As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die,...~The Field of Cormallen
There is a great visual comparison made between the Orcs reacting to Sauron's destruction as ants to the loss of their queen.

And Grima:
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at that something snapped; suddenly Wormtounge rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman's back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran of down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three Hobbit bows twanged and Wormtounge fell dead.~Scouring of the Shire
Excellent thread, Mith.
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Old 02-20-2008, 03:29 PM   #8
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Smeagollives, I think you slightly misunderstand what Lal is saying. This is not to deny that each individual is unique and precious - Tolkien I am sure would not intend that. Through Sam's eyes as he considers the dead Southron soldier in Ithilien we see the recognition that the enemy consist of individuals who, to quote Tim Collins, "did not plan to die this day".
I see. I am sorry. English is not my native language.
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Old 02-20-2008, 06:09 PM   #9
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I'm sure if you decide to "become extraordinary" then everyone would laugh at you for being terribly presumptuous and maybe a little bit pretentious and would secretly be crossing their fingers that you fall flat on your face. Or is this just an English thing?
I suppose it may be an English thing. In the US, it's pretty much accepted (and expected) that everyone wants to "become extraordinary". If one doesn't, one is seen as kind of pathetic and boring...
(I, of course, already am extraordinary. )

But, trying to remain somewhat on-topic, I'll add that Sam's humility, and the fact that his upward-mobility is not planned, make him a deeply un-American character. Which is, in my book, a good thing. (Actually, one of the main things that always strikes me as wonderfully different about Europe is that people there don't seem to be quite as consumed with insatiable ambition as Americans are.)
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Old 02-20-2008, 06:27 PM   #10
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I'll just add -- I wouldn't even say characters like Aragorn really "decide to do extraordinary things", at least not directly. All the "good guys" insofar as they are good, actually seem to lack ambition entirely and simply seek to fulfill their responsibilities. I never had the impression that Aragorn, for instance, cared much for being king for its own sake, he did what he had to do out of, presumably, a combination of love for Arwen and duty to defend the people of Middle-Earth.
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Old 05-23-2011, 04:11 PM   #11
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I'll just add -- I wouldn't even say characters like Aragorn really "decide to do extraordinary things", at least not directly. All the "good guys" insofar as they are good, actually seem to lack ambition entirely and simply seek to fulfill their responsibilities. I never had the impression that Aragorn, for instance, cared much for being king for its own sake, he did what he had to do out of, presumably, a combination of love for Arwen and duty to defend the people of Middle-Earth.
I second that! I highly doubt that Aragorn ever thought "Hm. I think I should do something to make people think I'm extraordinary. Why not travel to Orodruin while protecting the Ring?"

I think it's more realistic that he felt this kind of duty fall on his head like it did on Bilbo's when he left without a handkerchief, and on Frodo's when he found out what his ring really was and what responsibility he had. And the higher the duty, the more "extraordinary" a person is considered to be.

And IMO, the only way to become a "fantastic hero" is to start off as the most "ordinary chap" and do something un-ordinary.
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Old 05-23-2011, 05:36 PM   #12
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No but Aragorn was born to a high fate - such a high one that it was concealed from him until he reached adulthood - though whether to give him a "normal" childhood (if that is even a relevant concept if you are a mortal child being raised among elflords - or to try to prevent him becoming a bumptious little brat is unknowm. Aragorn is not an ordinary man and is acutely aware of his destiny - he carries the brioken sword around with him.. impractical but highly symbolic. Sam is a gardner and his motivation simpler.
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Old 05-23-2011, 08:15 PM   #13
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Also true. But still, had it been up to him, I think Aragorn would rather have been ordinary than go through all that gruesome war business. But he didn't have a choice. As you said, he was pre-destined.
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Old 05-23-2011, 11:13 PM   #14
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This thread made me think. According to me, Tolkien's characters did just what they thought they should do. Whether this 'should do' is born out of a sense of rightness or something else entirely, I know not. But one thing is for sure, no one set out on the quest thinking of fame or glory.

As Rikae pointed out, Aragorn did what he had to do. There was no way out of him, other than exiling himself, which would have been a poor choice.

Legolas was an elf, the prince of a realm. He didn't need to deliberately put himself in harm's way. However, we can only speculate as to his intentions. It might have born out of the sense of guilt, as he let Gollum escape, or friendship might have prompted him. We don't know, we can only guess.

Now for Samwise Gamgee. He is one interesting character. He cared for Frodo a lot and this simple feeling of caring and friendship crafted him a place in the legends. However, it is my thought, that Sam's mind and heart greatly resembled that of a kid. He danced at the thought of going on an adventure, cried out at the thought of seeing elves and when the going got tough, he simply held on to his beliefs with both hands. This simplicity of his made it possible for him to be the force behind Frodo's journey.

A wiser or a more 'noble' person would probably have failed to attain what the quest demanded. Destroying the ring needed simplicity, needed humbleness and discretion. And all of these all are hard-pressed to find in nobility.

At the end of the day, it does not matter what you are destined to do, but rather what you did do. And here exactly lay the strengths of the hobbits, all of them. They did what they had to and emerged as heroes.

Heroes are those who do great things. They may be noble or simple. However, a person can be called a hero if he does great things and not otherwise. Motivation notwithstanding.
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Old 05-24-2011, 04:24 PM   #15
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You say that Aragorn was predestined and that he didn't have a choice. I think that everybody - always - has a choice. Maybe not much of a choice to someone as noble (and even less so) as Aragorn, but it's still there. What stopped all of ME from becoming orc-like beings? Their choice not to be such.

I don't realy like the word "predestined", because it sounds like "your fate is predetermined and everything that you may or may not do is already taken into account and it won't change anything". Which contradicts my above statement.

In other words, Aragorn was "meant" to rule the Reunited Kingdom... just as much as Arvedui was. The latter's prophecy mentioned the "other choice", and Aragorn's didn't - there were just a bunch of things from everywhere: Malbeth's words about the Pths of the Dead, Galadriel's advise, Ioreth's poem... But Aragorn didn't need to go through the Paths because of the words of someone long dead. He went because of a number of reasons - saving ME, saving his country and city, wanting to help ad put his full contribution into the War, etc.

He didn't need to go there, but he went. And that is one example of the many deeds that IMO make him a hero, and extraordinary.


So, my point -

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – ... You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.”

In order to become that hero, you first need to actually do the things.
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Old 05-24-2011, 08:09 PM   #16
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You say that Aragorn was predestined and that he didn't have a choice. I think that everybody - always - has a choice. Maybe not much of a choice to someone as noble (and even less so) as Aragorn, but it's still there. What stopped all of ME from becoming orc-like beings? Their choice not to be such.

I don't realy like the word "predestined", because it sounds like "your fate is predetermined and everything that you may or may not do is already taken into account and it won't change anything". Which contradicts my above statement.

In other words, Aragorn was "meant" to rule the Reunited Kingdom... just as much as Arvedui was. The latter's prophecy mentioned the "other choice", and Aragorn's didn't - there were just a bunch of things from everywhere: Malbeth's words about the Pths of the Dead, Galadriel's advise, Ioreth's poem... But Aragorn didn't need to go through the Paths because of the words of someone long dead. He went because of a number of reasons - saving ME, saving his country and city, wanting to help ad put his full contribution into the War, etc.

You make a fair point, Galadriel. It is true that everyone has a choice. A choice to choose between good and evil. Or a choice to sit back and do nothing. Aragorn was meant to rule the kingdom; yes. But the choice was his own. That is what makes him a hero.

If someone treads a particular path simply because he/she has no choice, I wouldn't call that person a hero. For me, Sam, Merry and Pippin (among the hobbits) are more of a hero that Frodo. As Frodo's choice was very limited, he sort of had to do it.

However, even though believe that Aragorn was a great person, I admire Legolas and Gimli more. They did what they did despite the fact that they didn't have to. They had complete freedom of choice, unlike Aragorn. If nothing, Aragorn would have had to make that journey if he had to wed Arwen.

Boromir did what he had to, to save his white city. What choice he had was no choice at all, since he loved his city so much. And Gandalf; he is a great person but not a hero (according to me). 'Choices' can include a great many things. However, not all of them can be applicable.

In the end our choices make us what and who we are, though our love of certain things/persons and our sense of rightness defines it.

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What stopped all of ME from becoming orc-like beings? Their choice not to be such.

I am sorry but I don't really agree with this particular point, Galadriel. Becoming orcs or any other embodiment of evil was no choice at all. The people of ME (most of them) had their pride and their determination, if nothing else. If we have to drag the matter of choice to a level where good and evil clashes, then Sauron or even Melkor would not have had to work so hard to establish their dominion.

Everybody has choices, this is very very true. But the extent of those choices are certainly limited. Not for all, but for most.
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Old 05-24-2011, 08:40 PM   #17
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I second your thoughts about Sam, Pippin, Gimli, etc - all the characters who followed the "main heroes" out of free will.

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As Frodo's choice was very limited, he sort of had to do it.
True, but it was also very extreme - more so than a choice of "follow him till Buckland or till Bree" would be, at least.

I see what you mean, though - Frodo already had some responsibility for the Ring and the fate of ME, and his friends had none, but they deliberately took it onto themselves. There was more of a difference, even though the choice made a lesser difference (at least at the moment when it was made. Later on Elron finds out just how right Gandalf was to allow the hobbits to go.)

I don't know if that made any sense. The more I talk the more I confuse myself.

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If someone treads a particular path simply because he/she has no choice, I wouldn't call that person a hero.
Depends. As you said, some choices are simply not applicable, so they aren't considered to be choices from the character's point of view.

For example, I think that every Elf that crossed the Helcaraxe is a hero for that deed - but they didn't have much of a choice.

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I am sorry but I don't really agree with this particular point, Galadriel. Becoming orcs or any other embodiment of evil was no choice at all. The people of ME (most of them) had their pride and their determination, if nothing else. If we have to drag the matter of choice to a level where good and evil clashes, then Sauron or even Melkor would not have had to work so hard to establish their dominion.

Everybody has choices, this is very very true. But the extent of those choices are certainly limited. Not for all, but for most.
Point taken.
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Old 08-29-2011, 02:46 AM   #18
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I am sorry but I don't really agree with this particular point, Galadriel. Becoming orcs or any other embodiment of evil was no choice at all. The people of ME (most of them) had their pride and their determination, if nothing else. If we have to drag the matter of choice to a level where good and evil clashes, then Sauron or even Melkor would not have had to work so hard to establish their dominion.

Everybody has choices, this is very very true. But the extent of those choices are certainly limited. Not for all, but for most.
Then again, becoming Orcs is a very extreme case. It would be equivalent to the Jews' 'choice' during the Holocaust.

The extent of those choices are limited, but, on a general scale, you can go pretty far with them. And I would change 'most' to 'many'. There are, of course, plenty of situations in which a person has a choice about as helpful as between the Devil and the deep blue sea, but they cannot speak for all (or even most) situations. This is, of course, a personal opinion, and I might have been inclined to say the opposite had I been brought up as a girl with members of the Taliban for a family.
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