“You know Frodo wasn’t the true hero, don’t you? It was Samwise. Frodo gave up in the end.”
“You know Harry Potter wasn’t the true hero, don’t you? He didn’t do anything to be the boy who lived. The other kids were better wizards than he was.”
“You know all that, don’t you?”
No. No, I don’t. Why? Because it’s hogwash, as the cool kids say<ref>You know, cool kids like Huckleberry Finn.<ref>. Codswallop, balderdash, poppycock. And mom said that thesaurus wouldn’t come in handy.
I have heard both of these arguments numerous times. Hell, there was even a time when I believed the Frodo/Sam argument. But it is all crap.
In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, a Ka-tet is a group of people brought together and bound by Ka, or fate. Every person in the Ka-tet has a role to play to fulfill the group’s destiny.
Harry’s Ka-tet is obviously Hermione and Ron. Would Harry have succeeded were it not for his Ka-tet? Would the Ka-tet have succeeded without those just on the outside of the group, people like Dumbledore, Neville, the Weasley family, even Snape? Maybe, maybe not. Victory would have had to have come through a different path. However, the question is irrelevant to the hero-yness<fn>New word! New word!</fn> of Harry. Each person had a role to play in the Ka-tet, and one’s role or skill set does not diminish the role of others.
Frodo’s Ka-tet consists of Sam and Sam only. Yes, the Fellowship is important and has a role to play. The fellowship is actually made up of different Ka-tets. Sam and Frodo being one. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli being another. Pippin and Merry another. Gandalf serves as an overseer of the several Ka-tets, and is a Ka-tet of one, because he is a bad ass.
Would Frodo have succeeded were it not for Sam? Again, maybe, maybe not. Both Sam and Frodo endure a tremendous amount of hardship, going through almost everything together, only to have Frodo succumb to the temptation of the One Ring right at the very end. Frodo falters while Sam, who has traveled the same road, stays true.
But they didn’t travel the same road. Not really. The effects of everything they go through are compounded on Frodo because of the One Ring. He endures more than anyone in that quest. He falters at the end, not because he is weak or any less of a hero, but because the will of the ring is that strong. Could anyone else have carried it for so long? Probably not.
Both Harry and Frodo get significant help from others. This doesn’t diminish the parts they played. Maybe Hermione was smarter, others more powerful. Maybe Sam was more resistant to the ring for the brief time he held it. It doesn’t matter, because both Harry and Frodo do something that no one else in their stories do, and thus the various Ka-tets come together because of them.
At the Council of Elrond, elves and dwarves and humans argue about what to do with the ring. They hem and they haw, but not a single one of them takes action. No one but Frodo is willing to take up the ring and bear it, suffering consequences that none of the rest will ever truly comprehend.
Because of Frodo’s decision, the various Ka-tets form around him.
In the end, he is so changed, so damaged by what he endured that he has to go into the West. Samwise gets his happy life with wife and family. Merry and Pippin are back home as well, as are the rest. They all get to return to normal thanks to Frodo’s sacrifice and original decision.
Now, Harry is The Boy Who Lived due to no fault or effort of his own. Some argue this somehow makes him less of a hero. This doesn’t diminish his role. While he is pulled into the story as a baby, he chooses time and time again to continue to get involved, to fight evil. Others chose to fight as well, sure. However, the Ka-tet of Harry, Hermione, and Ron doesn’t exist without Harry.
And, like Frodo, Harry makes a decision that none of the others make. He sacrifices himself for the good of the others. “But, wait,” you’re saying. “Others die in the fight.” True, others die. But they didn’t choose to. They chose to fight, knowing they might die, but hoping they might live. Harry deliberately sacrifices himself.
“What about Dumbledore? He sacrifices himself, too.” Yes, he does. However, I would argue he already knew he was dying. Now that doesn’t make his sacrifice meaningless, but it isn’t quite as high a price Harry’s, who could choose to live a long life.
But that is all very unimportant hair-splitting, because, as I said above, the role of one person doesn’t diminish the role of another. Besides, Harry still has one more all-important decision to make.
Harry and Dumbledore meet each other in the Kings Cross afterlife construction in Harry’s mind.
HARRY: I have to go back, haven’t I?
DUMBLEDORE: That’s up to you.
HARRY: I have a choice?
DUMBLEDORE: Oh, yes. We’re in Kings Cross, you see. I think, if you so desire, you’ll be able to board a train.
HARRY: And where would it take me?
Harry’s fight could be over. His pain, his hardship, could be finished. He could choose to board a train and move on.
He decides to come back, to continue to fight. This decision, and his choice to sacrifice himself, to serve others, is why he is the hero of his story.
Frodo’s decision to do the same is why he is the hero of his. He could have delivered the ring to Rivendell and been done with it. He could have let the fate of the world fall on someone else.
Harry didn’t have to get involved in any of it. He didn’t have to search for the Sorcerer’s Stone, for the Chamber of Secrets. He didn’t have to face Voldemort. He didn’t have to come back to finish the fight. He could have let the fate of the world fall on someone else.
Harry and Frodo make the decisions others can’t. They bring their Ka-tets together and give them purpose. They are the true heroes of their stories.