A Tale of Two Jouneys – Frodo Baggins and Huckleberry Finn

by Nov 4, 2003Critical Viewpoints

There is too obviously a great many differences between such authors as Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the fames authors of The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Lord of the Rings respectively. These novels are both tales of the great journeys undertaken by previously unsuspecting, adventurous souls, and they both are written with brilliant perspectives of the unwitting hero. One is a simple Missouri boy who has a good heart but is too callow to understand what his situation is, and it unfortunately happens to be during the antebellum 1800’s United States that his tale occurs. The other is a hobbit out of the “forgotten” history of Europe, years upon years before our own recorded history, and hobbits are something unknown to the world of the “Big Folk,” as we are often referred to.
This makes for two interesting points of view. Both are somewhat removed from the society or the world they live in and view it only with a slight bias, but it is only the natural bias that every person carries. Huck’s bias is his indisposition towards civilization, and for reasons explained he chooses not to be a part of it and is then somewhat lacking in his experience with it. Frodo’s bias is that he has never known anything outside his native Shire: he grew up there and lived there, with no real impediment in his acceptance of it, for some fifty something years. These are thrown aside, though, in the two character’s objective description of the cruel world outside what they thought they knew. Huck has never met “rapscallions” such as the two he met on his journey, but he can easily show how they act and what they do. Frodo has never been on an adventure like the one his uncle Bilbo was on, but he faithfully reports it and portrays his feelings about it.
The biggest difference in how these books come across is the way they are written. Huck Finn is the narrator of his tale, and everything said in the book is reported by him to the reader, as if it were one long letter. Frodo is not the narrator, though he the most important character and the books have some sort of hobbit point of view for great lengths of time. Although, comparisons can be made to bridge this gap; The Lord of the Rings, for the unTolkien-wise, is written as the account of all of the happenings. Supposedly written sometime after the tale takes place, it is known in Middle-earth (the setting of The Lord of the Rings) as the Red Book of Westmarch, and, were this real, it would be as a history book of the accounts, much like to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. It is important to remember that the whole account, though, was written by three people, not just Frodo, though his point of view is the most seen throughout the story.
First, starting with the preamble, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins takes the reins as the writer. Learned in some lore, and wise beyond his own knowing, Bilbo spins the tale the way Tolkien meant it to be told: as a children’s story. Although some of the scenes are graphic by today’s standards of censorship, in terms of the tale itself it makes no nevermind. Then there is the big one, The Lord of the Rings, the six, yes six book account, not three, of the War of the Ring, which tells of the downfall of the Dark Lord Sauron, beginning very hobbit-like: at the beginning they took part in. Bilbo is a wealthy bachelor with a small secret; though only to a selected few has he revealed this. One is Frodo, who is technically his somewhat distant cousin and is officially his heir. The other is a very important character in the story, Gandalf the Grey, a wizard who has a special affection for hobbits and their ways. Although, the true nature of Bilbo’s secret is not known to anyone: but it is later suspected and ratified by Gandalf.
Bilbo has a small golden ring, which he found during the adventure that took place in The Hobbit. While going through the mountains after he is separated from Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves he is traveling with, he blindly puts his hand on the ring in the dark and puts it in his pocket. After more adventures, he discovers the ring makes him invisible, which serves him well on many occasions. After a long tale, he comes back to his home, a hobbit-hole known as Bag End.
Some sixty years pass, and then The Lord of the Rings begins with the 111th birthday of old Bilbo, who is “well preserved” as the hobbits say. In fact, it looks as if he has not aged a day since he found the ring! Suspicious, eh? He says one thing, though, which is very important. He tells Gandalf that he feels stretched, sort of thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread.” After using the ring to pull a prank at his birthday party, which also happens to be Frodo’s thirty-third birthday and the day of his coming-of-age, he passes on all his wealth, Bag End, and even the ring, to Frodo.
Gandalf comes and goes for many years, but after one visit, he fails to appear for some twenty years. Frodo is now about as old as Bilbo was during The Hobbit, and looks not a minute older than he was the day of his inheritance of the ring. Gandalf suddenly comes back and demands to see the ring. He tosses it into the fire, to the distress of Frodo, who wants no harm to come to it. This test reveals writing in a mode forgotten long ago, and in a language as course as sun-scorched sand, the Black Speech of Mordor. This reveals it to be the One Ring, which Sauron forged in the Mountain of Fire deep in Mordor, and would give him back the power to rule to world.
All of this leads up to the fateful moment after many trials and adventures, told through many points of view, mostly hobbits, when Frodo must master his love and hate of the Ring and destroy it (think of the Ring as the most powerful, most addictive thing imaginable, something one would look upon and want, if only to have it, and after possessing it, would you would never want to give it away, even though you hate and love it equally). This tale is one of sorrow, and must be viewed as the greatest test of will by any living thing, and even then, after so much, Frodo fails. And this is even more amazing, because hobbits have an unusual resistance to things such as the Ring, due mostly to their uncorrupted “purity” as a people.
Now, to change gears, on to Huck Finn, who I will try not to ramble on as much about. Huck is not the most developed person, though he is a thoroughly developed character. He is someone who looks on society and wrinkles his nose because he would much rather be off having adventures. His motto, if he had one, would be “Society is something for those who want it.” In the early part of the book he is living with a woman by the name of the Widow Douglas, who has adopted him and wants to “sivilize” him, as Huck puts it. This is not what Huck wants, but he accepts it grudgingly. Huck goes to school, wears nice clothes that make him itch, and he reads scripture with the Widow and her sister, Miss Watson, who both try to teach him manners and make him an upscale member of the society Huck loathes so much. He takes this in moderation and with a grain of salt, but he never misses an opportunity for doing something fun and mischievous with his older and “wiser” friend Tom Sawyer. Tom has read all the books and knows how things are done, and Huck sits idly by and gets his real education when it comes to the way life works.
One day, though, Huck’s father comes back. This man is a drunk, greedy, half of a man who would not know decency if it jumped up and bit him. He is only after the money Tom and Huck found on one of their adventures, amounting to some six thousand dollars in gold a piece. Huck has wisely place this money in the care of a man by the name of Judge Thatcher, who has invested the money, which is earning interest. Huck’s father kidnaps our narrator and brings him out to a cabin in the woods, but not after Huck tries to give the money to Judge Thatcher, by which his father wouldn’t be able to get it.
Huck’s father, who is concerned with his own notion that Huck is trying to be better than him by getting an education and wearing good clothes, succeeds brilliantly in de-civilizing Huck, who never wanted to retain any of it anyway, deeming it nonsense, and unfit for him. Or rather, he thought that he was unfit for it. Huck has no delusions that he is ruined and, if he keeps his ways up, he will go to Hell. He does not repent at this prospect, but he tries prayer as a median to use to his purposes. When it fails him, he virtually abandons religion, even if he goes to Hell for it as a consequence.
After making up his mind that he doesn’t want to be with his father, the Widow, or anybody, Huck hatches a plan to escape from the cabin. His father locks Huck in when he goes to get supplies, so Huck figures that he can saw his way out. The rest is history. Huck saws his way out, kills a hog, spreads its blood on the ground (while in the process bloodying up an axe), fills a sack with rocks and drags them down to the river (the mighty Mississippi) while trailing blood. This makes the illusion that someone broke in, killed Huck with the axe, and dragged his body into the river.
Using a canoe he found drifting down the river, Huck escapes, taking a good many supplies with him, and he heads to Jackson Island. There he discovers Jim, a runaway slave who belonged to Miss Watson, who ran away for fear of being sold down river and further being accused of Huck’s murder. They take up together and have a good time together traveling down the Mississippi to the Ohio, where Jim hopes to find freedom. He plans to buy his wife using money he will earn, and then buy his children using money the two of them make, or if he can’t buy them, he wants to get an abolitionist to steal them for him. All this time, Huck feels he is doing wrong, because he views slaves as property, and not only is he basically helping Jim to escape, he is then going to witness him stealing the property of a man he doesn’t know and who has never done any wrong to him. Despite these misgivings, Huck continues on with Jim, having a good time all the while.
This relationship continues through many hardships and adventures: one of these happens when Huck is caught in the middle of a two-family feud, in which he nearly gets killed, and another involves the two of them taking up with frauds who call themselves the Duke and the King. The one claims to be an expelled Duke living in the US, and the other has the audacity to say he is the long lost King of France! Huck sees through this, but Jim does not, and Huck decides to leave Jim to his own interpretations. After taking a few towns for all they have, the two men go too far and end up trying to fool a town out of some $6000. They finally get what they deserve: they get tarred and feathered, although Huck has some pity for them. Before this, though, the King sells Jim to pay off a debt, saying that Jim was his slave.
Huck takes it upon himself to steal Jim back. An elaborate plan is hatched when he comes to where Jim is being kept; which happens to be the farm of Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle, although Huck doesn’t know it. Well, these two are expecting Tom to arrive by steamboat, and when Huck arrives, they figure it’s him. Huck goes off, saying he’s going to get his baggage that he left at the docks, and he comes across Tom Sawyer, who of course thinks Huck was murdered. Huck explains the situation and they hatch a plan. Huck will continue saying he’s Tom, and Tom will say he’s Sid, another member of the family from where Tom and Huck are from. This plan is no elaborate that it makes you laugh at how many extra pains they take to make this escape “proper” and “done right.” And after sending Tom’s aunt and uncle letters saying a band of robbers is going to steal Jim, they spring the escape and nearly get caught.
Men are waiting with guns for these “robbers” and they don’t hesitate to shoot when Tom and Huck crawl through the hole they have dug in the floor. While running through the woods to where a canoe is waiting to take them to an island in the river, Tom gets shot in the leg. When they get to the island, Jim and Huck discover this. Jim stays with Tom while Huck goes to fetch the doctor at gunpoint. After taking the doctor to the island, Huck goes back to the post office and gets caught by Tom’s uncle, who doesn’t know what happened. Huck lies and said he and “Sid” ran after the men who were chasing the “robbers,” and must have gotten lost. Waiting too long for comfort for “Sid” to return, finally some men come with Tom on a mattress with the doctor and Jim. Jim is in chains, identified as a runaway slave by these men. The doctor vouches for Jim, who is treated ok after enduring pretty bad treatment until Tom recovers. When he does, some things are resolved and others are discovered, and then the tale ends.
A work of innocence and told with the unknowing quality and objective criticism that younger people have the world surrounding them, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is primarily a satirical writing concerned in many ways with Southern life, especially slavery. This ability to show, through unreal humor and sarcasm, the faults that Twain has found with the lifestyle shown so prominently in his writing, it what gives “Huck Finn” (the book) its quality and charm.
The journey itself is one of discovery and observation. While Huck speaks of things with a nonchalance that brilliantly displays that he knows what he is talking about before it happened, he really doesn’t. He is giving his glimpse into the life he is surrounded by and the society he is drowning in very much like it is all new, and to him, it is. Often things feel as if they are reported, and when one reaches the end, you see that Huck has signed the end of the book as if it was one long letter.
This similarity between the two stories is striking. The whole of The Lord of the Rings was written by those who took part, though it was told in third person. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is told similarly so (in first person), which makes the comparison easier to grasp. The two journeys encountered in the stories must be contrasted for their respective purposes: Frodo’s journey is to save the world from utter ruin and total destruction; Huck’s is to discover his inner self and to explore the place he thinks he knows so much about. Frodo does find things out about himself that he did not know. He is not the greatest person, and he alone along with Samwise Gamgee, his servant, know the true nature of how he came to the brink and turned away from the path.
Bilbo may have had the Ring for sixty years, but it was during a time when Sauron was weaker and Bilbo was nowhere near where it was forged. Frodo had it for nearly thirty years and during his journey he is coming closer and closer to the Mountain of Fire, and Sauron is getting stronger. Also, unlike with Bilbo’s journey, Sauron is ever pursuing the Ring during Frodo’s, and he sends his most terrible servants, the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, to find the Ring. Slaves to the will of Sauron, the Ringwraiths are the epitome of the corrupting ability of the Rings of Power. Formerly Men, the Ringwraiths were given Nine Rings to rule the race of Men, and because of their greed for power, they have withered into a form unreal in the mortal plane of existence, but fully powerful on the “other side”, an ethereal plane which one sees if they were to use the Ring. Frodo’s will is tested greater than any form of interrogation or physical breaking imaginable, and by the time he comes to the Mountain to destroy it, all he sees in his waking mind is the Ring, “a great wheel of fire,” as he describes it.
Huck’s journey, though no less eye-popping, is much less dangerous in the fact that his journey has no great purpose of earth-shattering importance. His journey starts out trying to escape from the society he cannot stand, then it becomes a quest to help free Jim, the slave of Miss Watson’s he found was running away. This latter part takes up most of the book, and even when he takes up with the Duke and the King, Jim is his only friend, and together they wait on the Duke and the King such as if their ranks were truth. Finally, when they are rid of the Duke and he King, freeing Jim is the primary goal. They are going to try to find a way into free land, the North, so Jim can get his family back and so Huck can escape society.
The ends of the respective stories are different in that Huck finds purity, and Frodo finds corruption. Huck cleanses himself of his thoughts of slavery, damning himself, in his mind, to burn in Hell if he’s wrong. With this in mind, he and Tom set out to free Jim from where he is being held, but to so it with style and panache. Instead of prying the boards on the window open and having Jim crawl out, which was Huck’s idea, Tome insists of making it drag out as long as possible and making it something that will be worth remembering and writing down in a tale. They scrawl sad messages on a rock, dig a tunnel under the cabin, saw off the leg of the bed and eat the sawdust, and so forth until the plan is so elaborate it is difficult to keep track of all of the things they do. They even bring in rats, snakes, and insects to be Jim’s “pets” during his captivity. All the while, whenever Huck suggests something that would make their endeavor easier, Tom gives him pitying looks that evoke such a sense of sadness that Huck instantly listens to whatever difficult and ridiculous idea Tom has in his head.
Frodo, at the end, is finally overcome at the very brink of the Mountain’s Cracks of Doom, where the Ring was forged and the one place it could be destroyed, by the very nature of the Ring, and he claims it as his own. Now Sauron is made aware of him, and he sends the Ringwraiths, flying on fell beasts of Mordor, to recapture the Ring. Finally, a wretched creature known and Gollum, slave to the Ring and from whom Bilbo “stole” it, fights with Frodo, even though Frodo is invisible, and bites off Frodo’s finger with the Ring. In his dance of mirth at recapturing his “Precious,” as he calls the Ring, Gollum slips into the Cracks and the Quest to destroy the Ring is completed. Frodo and Sam crawl out of the cave in which the Cracks are accessible, and Frodo tells Sam, who is unquenchably loyal to his master, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
Both stories illustrate purity, and how only trials, tribulations, and personal discovery can assist in achieving, or recapturing, the natural integrity of person. Difficult and unlikely as this may seem, the comparison of theses two stories is actually quite easy as long as one understands the character involved before and after the journey’s end. Huck is somewhat unchanged, at least in his hatred of society, if that is not actually even further intensified by the journey. Huck is changed in his view of slavery and the time in which he is placed, because he learns to dislike both more than he did because of his journey with Jim and all they experienced. Frodo undertook the Quest in the hope of saving his native Shire, but upon coming home, he realizes that the journey changed and injured him so much, “with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden,” that he can never enjoy the Shire again, but he knows that, thankfully, those who can enjoy it will enjoy it.
The comparison of these tales to the fullest would be too long and tiresome to put into words, because the very nature and history of the settings and the people involved would have to be juxtaposed without remorse for any small detail. Thankfully, this is only a small overview of the comparison of the journeys involved, and that is now completed. Huck and Frodo are great literary characters: Mark Twain and J.R.R. Tolkien are great literary writers, and their stories, both characters and writers, will be forever cherished by the world “to the end of [its] days.”


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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Critical Viewpoints 5 A Tale of Two Jouneys – Frodo Baggins and Huckleberry Finn

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