This might be construed as similar to the question “Who was the naturalist on the HMS Beagle” to which everyone says “Charles Darwin”. Of course he wasn’t the naturalist, someone else was; he was sailing as companion to the captain.
I started to think about this question because I was reading the blogs written in response to this blog:
One blogger discussed the meaning of the word “helper” in the phrase from Genesis “I will make a helper suitable for him” which turns out to be the woman. The blogger said that the helper is not the subordinate sidekick the word suggests but rather someone who rides to the rescue. Others have argued that it is the same term that is used for the Holy Spirit and therefore does not imply any sense of inferiority.
I can’t explain why but the image that came to me was Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings. A very flat reading of the story would suggest that Frodo is the hero, the ring bearer, the main character, and Sam is the rather lumbering, loyal, servant and sidekick who follows on, doing as he’s told, cooking meals when necessary. A bit like a wife, maybe?
However, my view has always been that Sam’s role is the pivotal one; in fact I would argue that he is the ring bearer. Towards the end of the film Frodo is struggling to climb Mount Doom and Sam urges him to let him finish the mission and take the ring. Frodo refuses, believing that he alone can bear the burden. Sam’s response is to tell Frodo that he will carry him then, which Sam proceeds to do. Finally the mission is successful and Sam carries Frodo away from the mountain.
My reading of this is that Frodo believes that only he is strong enough and capable of carrying the ring. He also believes that he alone has been called to carry it. He accepts Sam’s support but doesn’t really view him as part of the mission, in fact at one point he tries to leave Sam behind. The story shows however, that not only is Frodo not the only one called to the task, he is not capable of carrying it out alone. He is too flawed, too weak and too self-absorbed to succeed. In the end it is Sam’s determination to carry out his calling to destroy the ring that enables it to happen; a calling that Frodo doesn’t recognise.
I would take this metaphor further and note that although it was Sam and Frodo who finally threw the ring into the fire, they wouldn’t have got that far without the rest of the Fellowship. Each played a key role in the success of the mission, even though they were all flawed, weak and failing. Each brought something unique to the mission, be it the warrior Boromir – lovely Sean, the king, Aragorn – lovely Viggo, axeman Gimli, the cheeky boys Merry and Pippin or whoever*.
What a perfect image for the church; many different gifts, many flawed imperfect people, all called by God and valued by him. You could say I’ve made a perfect complementarian case, but actually I suggest that Frodo failed because he did the thing that the complementarians do; he dismissed the call on other people’s lives because he was too focussed on himself and his own call, rather than thinking about the best way to do the mission they were all called to. So to answer my starting question: The ring bearers were Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, Gandalf and Boromir.
*long blonde hair – lovely Orlando!
**It’s interesting to reflect that the women in LOTR tend to be in decorative and supporting roles. I suggest this says more about Tolkien’s male dominated Oxford milieu than anything else.