Was Frodo Called To Be The Ring-Bearer?


Frodo, Sam, GollumI’ve been thinking about God’s calling, in part because of recent fun-poking at Christian writers who believe God has called them to write fiction. I am one such writer.

The question often arises, How do you know? Does God call audibly? Is it something forced upon you? Does it fall into your lap? Does God wire your DNA so that you create with words whereas others create with paint or clay?

As I’m finishing up Lord of the Rings, I’ve considered that the protagonist, Frodo, felt called to his task of bearing the One Ring, even as his faithful servant and friend Sam Gamgee felt called to go with him.

Frodo, of course, initially inherited the Ring. He actually tried to get rid of it, first offering it to Gandalf, then proposing that they throw it away or try to destroy it. Finally he agreed to take it to the wise elf in Rivendell who, he believed, would know what to do with it.

Once he reached his destination, however, he learned that someone would need to take the Ring to Mordor and throw it into the Crack of Doom to unmake it. And he volunteered to be that someone. He felt it was his job to do. He felt … called.

This week I read of a group of real-life people who took up a calling, too. Persia’s king Cyrus issued a proclamation that whoever wanted to go up to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of God, could go, with his blessing and aid. A group of exiled Jews responded and went.

But here’s the significant thing. Scripture says that “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1b – emphasis mine) to make that proclamation. Further, it says that the people went “even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5b – emphasis mine).

Might not this “stirring” be the best way of understanding a calling from God? According to Strong’s lexicon, the word for “stir” means “to rouse oneself, awake, awaken, incite.” In context, then, God awakened or incited Cyrus to act and He awakened or incited the people to go.

Why is it a stretch to imagine that He still stirs people today to do things He wants us to do?

Back to Frodo. When he made the decision to head off to Mordor bearing the One Ring, no one told him to do it. He knew within his heart that it was his job. It is this knowing within the heart that I think God puts into a believer from time to time. Not always, certainly. And not everyone.

The prophet Samuel anointed David as king over Israel, but not every king was so anointed. I’ve wondered as I’ve read 2 Chronicles how some of these kings were chosen. Often they were not the oldest son, so it wasn’t because of a traditional line of inheritance. With an exception or two, no mention is made of them being anointed by God. A couple were made king by the people, and Egypt once removed a king and put his brother in place. Babylon also removed a king and put his uncle on the throne.

Clearly those people who had the office thrust upon them could know their calling. But what of the others? Absalom wanted to be king and died trying to usurp the throne. He was not called to be king. Solomon clearly was.

All this to say, I don’t think we can know today who God has called to do what–apart from what He calls us to do. And even that will have its moments of doubt when we might try to give the job to someone else or extricate ourselves some other way or if we simply doubt whether or not we can get it done.

Gideon felt that way. He couldn’t understand why God was calling him to lead an army against Israel’s oppressors. He asked for confirmation, and asked for confirmation. Then God said, if you’re afraid, sneak down to the enemy camp and I’ll give you more confirmation. Gideon went–which meant he was afraid. But sure enough, God gave him yet more confirmation.

In the end, he led that army. His doubts about his calling didn’t stop him from doing what God wanted him to do.

For David, it was Saul’s opposition, not his doubts, that interfered with his calling. Because God called David, Saul tried to kill him. Despite his anointing, David obviously questioned his calling, or else he would not have left Israel to live with the Philistines.

We can look at Gideon, David, Solomon and know they were called because we have the end of their story. It’s another thing to recognize the stirring in our own hearts.

Frodo knew he was the Ring-Bearer, that the job was his to do, though he might perish in the attempt. He had no assurance of success simply because he had assurance of his assignment. That I think is the true picture of someone called of God. Writers included.

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Fantasy Friday – Of Hobbits and Heroes


I don’t know what it is about December, but the last few years, when the days shorten and Christmas lights dot most city blocks, I’ve had this strong desire to read Tolkien. What is it about the Shire, what do those self-absorbed, greedy little hobbits have, other than hairy feet?

It struck me as I was answering a comment Mark left to the Macho Men and Kindness post, that heroism is not necessarily the Great Thing, such as Superman turning back the world to prevent widespread calamity. More often it seems that a hero becomes a true hero when he intervenes on the everyday level.

Readers fell in love with Bilbo Baggins long before he entered the dragon’s lair. And readers loved him as much for his hesitancy to go on a journey and his love for second breakfast, for a good pipe, for a comfortable spot in front of his own hearth as for his quick wit and commitment to his fellow travelers.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Heroes who are ordinary, at least on the outside, might be the most engaging. Would Superman be someone we would love if he didn’t present to the rest of the world as Clark Kent?

Let me turn a corner and extrapolate from some thoughts posted by blogger Khanya in Hobbits, Heroes, and Jesus – TGIF . First she brought up somehing G.K. Chesterton said:

fairy stories are not about extraordinary people, they are about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

This coincides with the concept she refers to earlier, that “most myths have a big story and a little story.”

The big story is Frodo saving Middle Earth by destroying (with Gollum’s help) The Ring. The little story within the big story is Sam choosing to go with Frodo instead of staying with the others in the fellowship. Or the little story is Frodo offering grace to Gollum—saving grace, as it turns out. The little story is Merry and Pippin escaping captivity and stirring up the Ents.

But the little stories and the big are so much more heroic because Hobbits performed the deeds. Hobbits, who might define ordinary. These were not folk who love adventure, but they took it on because they were needed.

And isn’t that one thing, at least, that makes readers connect with a story or love a character? An ordinary person doing an everyday heroic act on the way to saving the world. Sounds like a book I’d like to read. 😉

Published in: on December 12, 2008 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Writing – What’s after the First Five Pages, Part 2


So what keeps the reader reading beyond those early pages?

I mentioned engaging characters—ones that are interesting, well-drawn—but the truth is, good characters aren’t enough by themselves. These well-drawn characters must also do something interesting and believable.

In my adventures through Christian fiction (what I’ve mostly read since becoming a full time writer hoping to publish with a Christian publishing house), I’ve found stories with truly wonderful characters. They are fun—even funny—and realistic, with age spots and crows feet as well as knight-in-shining-armor charisma and undeniable moral fiber.

And yet, at times, something has been missing, something so integral that I can easily close the book and not finish reading because I just don’t care.

Yikes! 😮 What would cause such a thing?

In a nutshell, objectives. Actually, the lack thereof. In order for me to root for a character, which means I’ve arrived at the caring level, I have to see the character striving to accomplish something. The story can’t stall on bad things happening to a good character, over and over again. Instead, the character must take on a central problem and work to win out.

Somehow, a character striving, especially against great odds, resonates. It is in the effort to overcome that a character’s mettle shines.

That being said, I believe there is still more. In order for a reader to truly care, there needs to be the legitimate possibility of failure. Frodo was such a hero, such a tragic hero, in part because his ability to pull off a victory was in doubt until the last sentence of the climax. For much of the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak. Then his spirit gave out.

Along the way, he’d experienced a good number of successes, so how did Tolkien make readers feel as if Frodo might not make it in the end? I think the main way was by not protecting his characters from hurt. The four hobbits were captured, Frodo was wounded, Gandolf was killed, Peregrin (or was it Merry) looked into the crystal and fell gravely ill. King Theoden came under Worm Tongue’s spell, Boromir succumbed to his desire for the ring and died. At every turn, the end seemed in doubt and victories weren’t had without paying a price.

In summary, readers need to know what the character is trying to achieve so they can root for him. And winning can’t come easily or quickly. There needs to be the credible possibility that winning won’t be the kind of winning the reader was hoping for. With an engaging character trying to achieve the near impossible in the face of the real potential for failure, readers are bound to be scrambling for the book during every free moment.

Published in: on September 16, 2008 at 4:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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