Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Heroes and Sacrifice

Inspired by Amber's commentary on literary heroes, I'd like to present my favorite heroic trait: sacrifice.  This is what brings me back to Lord of the Rings time after time (granted, I mean the movies, not the book, but it's the same in either case).  The best moments for me are when sacrifices are made.  Frodo sacrifices the safety of the shire to prevent the One Ring from falling into evil hands.  He sacrifices the chance to go home by volunteering to continue on and take the ring to Mordor.  Sam sacrifices likewise in order to stand by his friend through the very worst of it all.  Bilbo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Faramir, and Galadriel sacrifice the chance to possess the ring of power, thus showing their "true quality."  All these characters recognize "the greater good," are willing to forgo comfort, safety, and power in the name of it.  These heroes are thinking of others ahead of themselves.

I just reread The Hobbit and observed that Tolkein used very similar themes in his precursor to Lord of the Rings.  Bilbo sacrifices his share of the dwarf's treasure in an attempt to avert a war over it.  He also sacrifices his safety numerous times in order to rescue his hapless companions from trolls, giant spiders, and mirthless elves.

I think the sacrifices made by the hobbits are particularly appealing because they are small, simple people, seemingly of little significance in the great big world.  They seem to embody the idea that anyone can do something great and noble, even if you think you are of little consequence.

The lack of this trait is the very thing that turned me off to the heroin of The Golden Compass.  Lyra is so self-absorbed that she seems willing to do anything to trample her way into what she wants.  I saw no willingness to sacrifice for the sake of anyone else.  In my opinion, this is why that story did not resonate in my soul and make me root for Lyra to succeed, even though the level of action, drama and excitement was fairly equal to that in Lord of the Rings.  Instead, I was left feeling rather empty and dark.

Truth resonates far more than fascinating characters or plots.  If the lesson is a lie, it will never have the same power.


  1. Good thoughts, Rachel. My daughter, Amber, uses the theme of sacrifice a lot in her writing. I really like stories of friendship and loyalty, which Lord of the Rings also features in abundance.

  2. I completely agree! Great post. Have you read Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories? It expands on his use of sacrifice and many other elements, and it's fascinating.

  3. You know, I described my experience reading the golden compass series as reading a page-turner, but feeling terribly let down at the end of each book -- feeling as if I had wasted my time. I think you may have explained why I felt that way.

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  5. So true. We love people and characters who look past themselves. All my favorite characters do this. I'd never stopped to think about that being a common trait.

    I also loved this: "Truth resonates far more than fascinating characters or plots. If the lesson is a lie, it will never have the same power."

    Thanks for the great post. :)

  6. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Rachel. I just realized my favorite over-all book, 'The Cay' is all about unselfishness and sacrifice. It's also a Newbery Award Winner. I just looked over the list of Newbery books, and saw other favorites like 'The Giver', 'A Single Shard', 'The Bronze Bow', and 'A Wrinkle in Time'. Same theme. Hm.

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