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Tolkien’s Tips For Writing Complex Heroes

Who’s the “hero” of The Lord of the Rings?

Is it Frodo? Aragorn? Gandalf? Even Sam?

You could make an argument for each of those characters, I think. And they all have a lot of traits in common.

Last year, a blog called Writing is Hard Work broke down Tolkien’s 5 tips for writing complex heroes.

Here they are: 

1.  Complex Heroes Must Suffer. Readers can relate with people who are going through difficult issues.

2.  Complex Heroes are Rewarded for Suffering. For example, Frodo’s passing into the Gray Havens is his reward.

3.  Complex Heroes Fail. The beauty of Frodo’s story is that, in the end, he failed at destroying the ring. It was only because of Gollum’s greed that the ring was ultimately destroyed.

4.  Complex Heroes Have Fatal Flaws. The above blog quotes several letters from Tolkien in which he said Frodo’s fatal flaw was his unwillingness to kill Gollum. Ultimately, as noted above, that flaw turned out to be what redeemed him, because without Gollum the ring would’ve never been destroyed.

5. Complex Heroes are Ordinary People. Just a regular old hobbit from an area of Middle Earth very few had even heard of. Nothing special about Frodo at all. Reminds me a little of the story of Moses from the Bible.

You can read a lot more about Tolkien’s tips for writing complex heroes over at Writing Is Hard Work.

Any thoughts?

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think I pretty much agree with that. My question would be: “What’s the difference between a hero and a protagonist?” Another point that could be expanded upon, is that a hero being flawed and an ordinary person, allows for greater reader sympathy and empathy. It’s harder to identify with the “gifted” like Superman, or the privileged.

    Like

    July 29, 2014
    • What about Bruce Wayne? Very privileged, but absolutely flawed.

      But, yes, I think in general it’s much more easy to sympathize with a flawed, ordinary hero.

      Like

      July 30, 2014
  2. sethstephens52 #

    This is great! Who better to listen to when it come to complex heroes? Tolkien is one of my favorite authors, thanks for sharing this!

    Like

    July 29, 2014
  3. One more reason why I love Tolkien. 🙂

    Like

    July 29, 2014
  4. Too many people can’t pull this off.

    Like

    July 29, 2014
  5. That could be me you are describing there.

    Like

    July 29, 2014
  6. Reblogged this on thewakening and commented:
    Have to reblog anything Tolkien

    Like

    July 30, 2014
  7. I typically identify Samwise as the hero, but it might also be Frodo. Those are the only two I give consideration to, myself. But I will say that you can read LOTR all kinds of different ways without being wrong.

    I love these tips. Was just over at Writing is Hard Work Looking at a different Tolkien post while ago. Just found them with Zemanta, in fact, and followed them.

    Like

    July 30, 2014
  8. There are writers who have ventured into the territory of complex characters. I can remember an example, although, from a different genre altogether, of Dostoevsky (in Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, etc) who portrayed flawed characters with deep philosophical as well as psychological dilemmas.
    Complex characters provide the plot with intensity and their mental dilemmas make the reader also think and not just read for entertainment.

    Like

    July 30, 2014
  9. Hi…just started reading this blog, it’s really interesting! I’ve just finished Lord of the Rings myself, probably over a longer period than you, but Ioved it! I was wondering would you be interested in guest posting on my new blog? “Life By Smiles”…I’ve only just got started so dont judge too quickly, but I’d love it if you could…

    Like

    July 31, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Gollum Dies | Part Time Monster
  2. Tolkien's Tips For Writing Complex Heroes | 101 Books - IBook Store
  3. Looking Back On The Lord Of The Rings | 101 Books

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