Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Following your destiny or choosing your path III

At the risk of boring everyone senseless, I've come back to this topic again and I've been thinking again today about Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins. George Clark, in his essay 'J R R Tolkien and the True Hero', mentions that Gandalf tells Frodo that he was "meant to have" the Ring and suggests that this is a comforting thought (Lord of the Rings, p. 84). Frodo retorts that it is not, and says that he isn't "made for perilous quests" (LotR, p. 91). Clark says that Frodo's question, 'Why me?', "implies [Frodo's] acceptance of the quest" (1), which is then confirmed at the Council of Elrond, when Frodo says he will take the Ring to Mordor despite the fact that he does not know the way; Frodo feels wonder at his own words, feeling "as if some other will was using his small voice" (LotR, p. 354).

In a stark contrast to this, Harry Potter set outs to thwart Lord Voldemort, to prevent him from getting the Philosopher's Stone, several years before he even learns of the existence of a Prophecy that implicates Harry in Voldemort's downfall (Philosopher's Stone, pp. 196-97). Harry chooses voluntarily over and over again to fight Voldemort, to resist his attempts to gain power over both the Wizarding and the Muggle worlds. He consciously chooses to oppose Voldemort five times before Dumbledore tells him the details of the Prophecy that was made about Harry and Voldemort. In The Philosopher's Stone he stops Professor Quirrell from getting the Philosopher's Stone for Voldemort; in The Chamber of Secrets, he stops Riddle/Voldemort from continuing to use Ginny Weasley as his agent for attacking the students; in The Prisoner of Azkaban, he stops Sirius and Lupin from becoming murderers for the sake of revenging the death of their friend (and Harry's father), James - if they had murdered Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail, they would have been no better than Voldemort himself; in The Goblet of Fire, although Harry is unable to prevent Cedric's murder or Voldemort's re-embodiment, he ensures that the one wizard of whom Voldemort has always been a little afraid, is alerted to Voldemort's return, thus ensuring that Cedric's death was not wholly in vain. He also incidentally sets Mad-Eye Moody free from nearly a year of imprisonment; and in The Order of the Phoenix, he prevents Voldemort from hearing Trelawney's prophecy in full, and exposes Voldemort's return to the previously disbelieving Minister of Magic.

It is this which makes Harry different from Frodo as a hero figure. Frodo is chosen for his quest by an outside agency (Eru, Middle-earth's Creator figure), whereas Harry has already volunteered for his quest long before he learns that he has been chosen to defeat Voldemort, and ironically, that he has been chosen by Voldemort himself. Dumbledore points out to Harry that he would have wanted to kill Voldemort, even if he had never heard the Prophecy, something which Harry ought to have realised for himself, since he had been resisting Voldemort for so long before he did hear the Prophecy. Harry realises that his choice to heed the Prophecy now he knows of it, is like choosing to walk into a battle to the death with one's head held high, which is a different thing from being dragged into a battle to the death against one's will (The Half-Blood Prince, pp. 478-79). Harry may well be the Chosen One, as he's referred to quite often by the Daily Prophet, but he has also chosen his own path.

(1) George Clark, 'J R R Tolkien and the True Hero' in J R R Tolkien and his Literary Resonances, eds. George Clark and Daniel Timmons (Greenwood Press, 2000), p. 45


Martin LaBar said...

(This is on your July 26, 2005, post)

Your series presents an interesting analysis, and I believe you main point is on the mark, but it is also true that Frodo does have some choice, as do the other members of the Fellowship. In fact, near the end, he says that he chooses NOT to fulfil the destiny for which he was chosen, and Gollum does it for him. He says, "But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!" (Return of the King, chapter three of book VI)

Thanks for posting!

Michele said...

I'm afraid I don't agree with you about Frodo having a choice - the Ring had too much of a grip on him from the time he left the Shire for him ever to willingly give it up - especially as he kept putting it on... I believe that every time he put the Ring on it took away a bit more of his free will, and that was why he failed of his mission to destroy the Ring. He could no more choose to destroy the Ring than Gollum could choose to let Frodo claim it.