Frodo, Sam, and Why Your Struggle is the Stuff of Legend

Many stories share a basic structure. The main character is called to adventure, to seek some worthwhile outcome. Remember when Luke Skywalker is tinkering with R2 and stumbles upon Leia's DM to Obi-Wan?

Or when Lloyd brings Mary Swanson's Samsonite home from the airport?

Soon, they're off. Things start just fine for the character, but at some point, he or she has to struggle through bad fortune - culminating in the 'abyss' - before accomplishing the mission (see also: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.)

Kurt Vonnegut's story curve, via Austin Kleon

Late in Tolkien's Two Towers, the hobbits are beat. Gollum has led them to the edge of Mordor. They're tired and alone, yet they've got a long way to go and possibly an even harder road ahead. They're struggling with despair. They are, arguably, in the abyss.

In the abyss, it's very unpleasant and, to make matters worse, you don't even know if you'll succeed.

At that moment, however, in one of my favorite scenes in the novel (I can't remember if it's in the movie), they share an exchange about their situation that changes everything.

Your struggle is more similar to your heroes' struggles than you realize

"I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into" - Samwise Gamgee

In a flash of self-awareness, Sam and Frodo suddenly recognize that when they look back on long-finished, well-known stories, they assume those stories' characters had gone looking for the excitement and danger they got into.

THOSE towering figures back THEN must have wanted the upsetting stuff they struggled through, right??

This way of viewing past heroes is normal, even for entire societies. What does George Washington look like in our collective imagination? Like this. Straight glory, homey.

It dawns on Frodo and Sam that since, in the abyss, they don't feel like famous past warriors look in our re-presentations - i.e., like George Washington looks in that painting - they'd been subconsciously viewing their hardship as fundamentally different from that of their ancient more hopeless.

Sam now sees that in reality the legends of old were plopped into situations in which they didn’t belong, just as the hobbits have been, not knowing how their journeys would end. Sam and Frodo further note that some of their favorite characters had it much worse than they do right now.

Past folk who completed meaningful tasks were, in the moment, just as scared and unsure as Sam and Frodo are now.