It is said repeatedly throughout Tolkien’s works in Middle Earth that hobbits are a hard and courageous lot in spite of their plump and peaceful ways. There is a core of hardness at the center of each hobbit, which with significant hardship will bloom into a courage and strength to be reckoned with.
But what is courage? Is it only a personality trait; a description of the nature of one’s actions? That seems a bit too simplistic, and I think “Fog on the Barrow-Downs” has something very powerful to say about the full meaning of having courage. Courage is not a simple word, a noun, an adjective about a person. It is not just a concept, a passive tag to identify what we do. In some ways it is a being unto itself, and ultimately boils down to one word: obligation.
When trapped by the Barrow-Wight, Frodo feels the intense draw of the Ring; it wants to escape and return to its master. It cannot be trapped and incorporated into the Wight’s horde. And so it puts tremendous pressure on Frodo to place the ring on his finger and escape. Now it can be argued that this is nothing to do with the ring and everything to do with Frodo’s fear. But I think his attempts to rationalize this potential action and his compulsive groping for the ring are evidence that the ring is very much active in Frodo’s thoughts and judgment.
One thing and one thing only pulls Frodo out of this temptation: courage. Courage is not about lack of fear or surmounting it. It is about obligation; knowing what is right and though the consequences and obstacles may be difficult and fearful, doing it anyways. And so, though disoriented and weak from his contact with the wight, Frodo strikes back, cuts off the wight’s hand and sings for Tom Bombadil.