We Are Neither Heroes nor Villains: The Two Towers

I admit it.  I don’t really like The Lord of the Rings series, number 2 on the BBC book list.  I am dutifully reading them for this blog and for the sake of crossing them off of my list, but I can’t say that I’m enjoying it.  In fact, I dread it.

LOTR cover

I’ve been listening to them on my long drive to school.  I recently finished listening to the second book, The Two Towers (1954).  I don’t have much to say about it.  I listened, but my mind kept wandering.  I felt that the story was familiar because I have seen the movies (I didn’t really enjoy those either).  There are Orcs, Elves, Hobbits, and Gollum.

Let’s talk about Gollum.  The part that stood out to me the most, in the entire book, is the part where Frodo wonders: Does Gollum think he’s the hero or the villain?

Hmmm.  Most of us would say that Gollum is a villain, one who is somewhat stupid and greedy.  His villainy isn’t plotted or aimed toward a larger purpose.  Gollum is a slave to the ring, and he will do anything to get it, even if that makes him a villain.

Yet does Gollum consider himself to be a hero?  He leads the Hobbits on their journey for the last third of the book.  He leads them straight to Shelob, a man-eating spider.  Did he do this on purpose?  I’m not sure.  But in some instances, Gollum probably sees himself as a hero for helping the Hobbits.  He is very likely the hero in his own story, and that is to get back his precious.

I don’t wish to recount in this post my thoughts on heroes.  I have written about it in “Harry Potter, The Hero Cycle, and Cinderella.”  In my undergraduate college years, I had my mind blown by learning about the hero cycle.  I felt connected to it, and I see a connection to heroes in most aspects of our culture, religious and secular.  Heroes are an important part of any culture.  We all have figures, role models, and mythic stories that guide us or inspire us.  Heroes are important.

So is Gollum a hero?  I think not.  Yet I do think we can apply Frodo’s question to ourselves.  Do we think of ourselves as heroes or villains?

I would say most of us are the constant heroes (or martyrs) in our own stories.  If something strange happens to us, we see ourselves as the victims and, hopefully, as the eventual triumphant hero.  Our side of the incident is the right side.  I know I have a tendency to think of things this way.

In one particular instance, I’ve been able to step back a bit.  I had a particularly traumatic experience with a friend a few years ago that ended with us not speaking to one another.  We still haven’t spoken, but it really is better that way.  We don’t see each other anymore, we don’t run in the same circles, and the best thing to do was to grow apart.  When all of this happened, I felt victimized.  I felt like I had been wronged and that this person’s behavior was unacceptable toward me.  I felt justified in hating this person.  I felt that if people knew what had really happened, then they would know that I was the “good” one and this other person was the “bad” one.

Well, some years have passed, and although the way this person behaved toward me was childish and immature (there I go again!), I can see that in her story, she was the hero and I was the villain.  From her perspective, the roles were reversed.  And I can also see how her behavior may have been affected by other traumatic incidents in her life.  I can be a little more gentle with her.  I can see that she needs some mercy, even though I wanted it so badly at the time.  We are both heroes and villains, and we are both neither.

So which one are you?  A hero or a villain?  Is there such a thing?  Are we both?  I think so.  I think we are human, which means we are fallible, fickle, carnal, forgetful, silly, and capricious.  We make mistakes, we change, we grow (hopefully).  The point isn’t to be a villain or a hero.  The point is to be ourselves and to be the best version of ourselves that we can, warts and all.  The best version of myself includes trying really hard not to be anybody’s villain, but I’m sure I haven’t escaped that role and I may have many more to play.