Just so you know up front, this post is going to talk about a Meyers-Briggs personality type, and also rely on the reader having some background knowledge of The Lord of the Rings.
Now that I’ve weeded out 90% of readers, let’s proceed.
The Meyers-Briggs Typology
The Meyers-Briggs (MBTI) is a personality typology that describes people’s preferences on how to process information and make decisions. People can be Extraverted or Introverted (E vs. I); Intuitive or Sensing (N vs. S); Thinking or Feeling (T vs. F), and Perceiving vs. Judging (P vs. J). I’ve discussed elsewhere the limitations of these binaries. Some people fall right in the middle between two of the preferences, for example, and the four MBTI preferences don’t tell everything about a person’s personality. That said, I still find the typology interesting and useful. In an earlier post, I discussed the ESTP, who is often the disruptive force in the story. Today, I’m going to discuss a much more passive type, the INFP, who is almost the ESTP’s opposite.
Frodo as an example of the INFP
When I say the INFP is “passive,” that’s not a slam. I’m an INFP myself.
The INFP is Introverted. This means that he or she has a rich inner life, and draws his/her energy from within. Interacting with the outer world drains him. (Extraverts get their energy from the outer world.) Many of the strongest characters in The Lord of the Rings are Introverted, from which we can guess that J.R.R. Tolkien probably was as well. That’s not surprising, given that he was a professor who created, just for fun, several languages and an elaborate world with its own history and mythology. Introverts are less than 50% of the population, but they are overrepresented in literature because so many authors are Introverts.
As an NF (Intuitive and Feeling), the INFP is very sensitive to the feelings of those around him. He or she cares a lot about all relationships being harmonious at all times. Conflict of any kind stresses the INFP out to a greater degree than other types. This can mean the that INFP will unhealthily say or do anything to avoid conflict. The up side is that the INFP wants to have a good relationship with, and believes that he can reach, anyone. Exhibit A is Frodo’s ability to understand and even win the loyalty of Gollum.
INFPs are not quick to thrust themselves forward, take leadership, or take the initiative. They don’t want to do a task until they feel they understand it and can do it well. Mistakes are an unacceptably high cost when you can’t tolerate any damage to any relationship (read: criticism).
As a not very quick, ambitious, or assertive type, the INFP can often appear to be contributing nothing to the group.
This is really apparent when we look at Frodo’s role in the Ring saga. He delays a long time leaving on his quest and needs a push from his friends. Once he does set out, he spends all three books getting into hot water and getting rescued by people who are more powerful, capable, or (in the case of Sam) harder working. Like the other hobbits (but even more so), for about the first half of the adventure Frodo appears to be almost a pure taker. In fact, some of the most famous scenes in LOTR involve someone literally carrying him: the humans carrying the hobbits down out of the snow drifts on Carhadras. Aragorn running out of Moria with Frodo in his arms after Frodo gets speared by an orc. Sam carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom.
What is this guy good for, anyway?
Of course, as we all know, Frodo is weak and passive not just because of his personality but because he is in fact carrying a heavy, but unseen, burden: the Ring. It’s a spiritual burden that occupies his mind, allows him to see what others can’t, and exposes him to terrors. It also, more and more as the story goes on, saps his strength. He may not appear to be contributing anything, but he is doing real work for the group, though that work is hard to quantify.
Tolkien makes it so that the work Frodo does, bearing his burden, is obvious to the reader and is also clear to, and appreciated by, the rest of the Fellowship. Most people don’t read The Lord of the Rings and come away saying, “I don’t see what the big deal was about Frodo. He didn’t do anything.”
Non-Frodo INFPs also bear a burden. They bear the burden of their worry about every single person and relationship they are aware of, and of their ability to take personally everything that happens in the world. Of course, the nature of this burden varies with the maturity of the INFP. When immature, our burden is self-absorbed in nature. We want everyone to like us, we want never to be criticized. But as we mature, this can move on to becoming genuine concern for the well-being of all the people whose existence we know of.
This is a heavy burden indeed. When news travels around the world in seconds, no problem or tragedy can fail to come to the attention of the INFP. An INFP who really takes every human tragedy to heart will be too overwhelmed. Only one Man (who, in my opinion, was the perfect example of all the Meyers-Briggs types) is capable of bearing the sins of the world. As an INFP of a certain age, I have had to master the skill of consciously setting things aside as not my problem to worry about so that I can function.
Still, even if we limit the INFP’s burden to the sins and sorrows of the people in his or her immediate circle, that’s a lot. If you know an INFP (and you are not one), they are probably thinking about all of this stuff a lot more than you are. They are expending a lot of mental energy on it. That may be why they need so much sleep. If they are a Christian INFP, they are no doubt also wrestling in prayer for you and for everyone in their circle.
Bearing a burden.