by Elenna, with responses by sarahstitcher and Rogorn
I have been thinking about
Frodo all day today... feeling kind of down about the Grey Havens and
trying to work out my feelings to figure out why he had to leave. I
think I could let him go more easily if he had died in Mordor because
at least there would be some sense of finality about it. ... So I sit
here in the Frodo Shrine and wax melancholy. Crying or Very sad I know,
like (((Lothithil))) says, I can just turn back the pages in the book
and start all over again, but life just doesn't work that way and dear
Frodo could not just start all over again ... his life could not just
be put back together with glue ...
Once more I find myself wracking my brain trying to figure out why
Frodo had to leave. I am not necessarily happy with what I came up with
and the Professor is no longer around to ask in person. When he was
still alive I would not have had the courage to write to him to ask. In
Letter No. 181, the Professor makes reference of the fact that Gollum’s
act at the Sammath Naur “that last betrayal was at a precise juncture
when the final evil deed was the most beneficial thing any one [could]
have done for Frodo! By a situation created by his ‘forgiveness’, he
was saved himself and relieved of his burden.” So why wasn’t Frodo
healed? He was, after all, tended by the King.
…Well, it appears he was healing at first, though Gandalf told him
there were some wounds that would never fully heal. Arwen saw this when
she gave Frodo the white gem and made her offer. I really think part of
what happened is the change Frodo saw in the Shire upon his return. He
had some pain prior to this, yes, but ask any war veteran who has been
wounded and they will mention residual pain in one form or another.
Emotionally Frodo seems fine until the Hobbits return to the Shire. The
more changes he sees, the quieter he grows. All that he loved had been
marred. It belonged to a pre-war world. The Shire he had left behind
and longed to be a part of once more did not really exist for him any
more. It had been changed by war; not only the land but its inhabitants
as well. The Shire could be replanted, remade, and restored but it
would never be exactly the same as it had been.
The younger Hobbits could move on. They had youth and ambition. Why
couldn’t Frodo? His age had been preserved by the Ring, but with the
destruction of the Ring his age would catch up to where it should be.
Still, Frodo was only a middle-aged Hobbit. He could still have lived a
long, full and rewarding life. His wounds would serve as constant
reminders of what Frodo had endured, suffered and lost. Arwen’s gem
would provide some comfort.
Before leaving the Shire, Frodo tells Gandalf that he knows he must
leave the Shire to protect it from the danger that Gandalf had spoken
of knowing that there was the great possibility that he would never
again see the Shire. As dull and witless as he had seen the inhabitants
of the Shire from time to time, these were the people that Frodo knew
and loved; these were the people that he would sorely miss and long to
When preparing to leave the Shire for good, Frodo tells Sam: “I have
been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been
saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in
danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may
keep them … and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep
alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember
the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.”
IMHO, I think what has happened is that all four of the Hobbits have
changed and grown on their journey. That Merry and Pippin have grown in
stature is obvious. Merry, Pippin and Sam all mature and are ready to
undertake new responsibilities in their lives. Merry and Pippin enjoy
strutting around in their uniforms and being admired for the role they
play in the scouring of the Shire. They are grooming to be leaders as
Master of Buckland and Thain of the Shire; these offices coincide with
the status that they hold in Rohan and Gondor respectively for the
service they gave in the War of the Ring. Sam is less flamboyant in his
dress. He too looks to the future by replanting and rebuilding what he
is able to as well as marrying Rosie and beginning a family of his own.
Frodo’s growth is more internalized a growth of the spirit. He sees
things for what they truly are and what is most important.
Frodo is passed by in the recognition scheme of things. Though he makes
the initial decisions in the scouring of the Shire, he refuses to take
up arms himself. The inhabitants of the Shire are fired up and ready
for new growth, but Frodo wants the past. He desires the Shire that he
left, the Shire that can no longer exist in its former state because of
the tainting of the war. Frodo gradually fades into the background. The
incredibly sad fact of the matter is that the people of the Shire the
people that he risked everything to save were ready for change because
of what they had experienced at the hands of Lotho and Sharky and so
they forgot about Frodo Baggins. He could not abandon the past a past
that they were ready to forget. Frodo tells Sam to ‘keep alive the
memory of the age that is gone.” Frodo is allowed to slip quietly away
in his pain and suffering for what he had endured … forgotten.
I have not forgotten you Frodo Baggins. You will ever have a place in
my heart … rest and be healed …
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West,
until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the
air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then
it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the
grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and
he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a
Response from sarahstitcher:
What you said about Frodo wanting to preserve the past, clicks with
what some of the characters say about him in the book, that he has "an
elvish air"... By the end of the third age, as JRRT says, the elves
were most interested in preserving the past, preventing change. The
power of their rings was not to dominate anyone, but to protect their
own realms from change. Tolkien calls them "embalmers". When they can
no longer hold back the changes, they go into the west. So in a way,
that's what Frodo does also.
Response from Rogorn:
In that same letter that Elenna mentions it says ‘Yes: I think that
'victors' never can enjoy 'victory' – not in the terms that they
envisaged; and in so far as they fought for something to be enjoyed by
themselves (whether acquisition or mere preservation) the less
satisfactory will 'victory' seem.’
All the other Fellows and their main helpers, like Faramir,
Éomer and Éowyn, have a very different fate from Frodo:
they go on to greater things, if these are considered from the point of
view of external success: they all end up as leaders of their peoples.
Frodo doesn’t. So in real life wars, many of the important movers and
shakers go on to become important in the peace. But some don’t, and
here it’s Frodo’s case, and it’s good that we see at least one of the
characters carrying this kind of scar, because that’s what happens in
fact. Even having won a war, the joy can’t ever be the same than if
nothing had happened.
It’s quite harsh to talk about Frodo’s failure, after all he did and
how bravely he behaved all the way, but what happened did happen. Frodo
can’t forget that he almost caused the quest to fail. His willingness
to tell the story as it had happened showed his true quality: the very
highest – enough to deserve an indirect route to victory through
Gollum, but not enough to find forgetfulness. He was too exposed to
evil through direct contact with the Nazgul, Shelob, and Sauron
himself, not to mention lesser sources like Boromir and even Galadriel.
Even Gandalf says it: 'Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be
wholly cured', not in Middle-earth.
Frodo is actually the one who is harshest with himself. All the others
were happy with the result, but, as Tolkien says: ‘But what Frodo
himself felt about the events is quite another matter.
He appears at first to have had no sense of guilt: he was restored to
sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in
sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But he did not, and one can
observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the
signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of
healing him (it is not made explicit how she could arrange this. She
could not of course just transfer her ticket on the boat like that! She
used her own renunciation of the right to go West as an argument.).
Slowly he fades 'out of the picture', saying and doing less and less. I
think it is clear on reflection to an attentive reader that when his
dark times came upon him and he was conscious of being 'wounded by
knife sting and tooth and a long burden' it was not only nightmare
memories of past horrors that afflicted him, but also unreasoning
self-reproach: he saw himself and all that he done as a broken failure.
'Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same, for I shall
not be the same.' That was actually a temptation out of the Dark, a
last flicker of pride: desire to have returned as a 'hero', not content
with being a mere instrument of good. And it was mixed with another
temptation, blacker and yet (in a sense) more merited, for however that
may be explained, he had not in fact cast away the Ring by a voluntary
act: he was tempted to regret its destruction, and still to desire it.
'It is gone for ever, and now all is dark and empty', he said as he
wakened from his sickness in 1420.’
That’s how serious it is: Frodo finds himself desiring the Ring back in
his moments of sleep, when the unconscious thoughts emerge. Something
has to be done about it, and it’s his friends Arwen, Aragorn and
Gandalf who find the cure – a medicine that tastes bitter, but that
hopefully will work.
Tolkien explains his fate as: ‘Both a purgatory and a reward, for a
while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer
understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent
still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth
unspoiled by evil.’ There has to be hope for him surrounded by the
source of all that’s good and pure.
Frodo is the most extraordinary character of LOTR in many ways, and to
me one of the principal ones is his own private ending. All the
characters in LOTR have their own path to follow after the War of the
Ring, each different, away from Fellowships, on their own, although
they may end up converging, like Merry and Pippin, Gimli and Legolas.
Think, however, what would have happened without Frodo’s bittersweet
ending: we would have the quintessential happily ever after all around.
To me it’s Frodo’s own ending that gives the whole story a touch of
greatness that would be lesser had all finished happily.
But there’s another line in that letter that confirms what my first
impression was: ‘There is, of course, a mythological structure behind
this story. It was actually written first.’
Which means: LOTR was born of a pre-existing myth, and it ends up
returning there. Had Tolkien not invented the Grey Havens and Valinor,
Frodo’s fate might have been different. But once you have such a
prodigious construct as a backdrop to the story (if a remote one), it
makes prefect sense that Frodo goes back to where all started.
It’s very easy to forget the mythical backdrop to LOTR, as during the
whole book it only appears in that ‘unexplained vistas’ mode that
Tolkien mentioned, but it’s there. During LOTR we follow essentially a
year in the lives of the protagonists (with some pre- and some post-
added), and so engrossing it becomes that maybe it comes as a surprise
when we are reminded at the end that we’re not only in a novel, but in
an ‘epic’ novel. The feel has to heighten at this point.
Anyway, I wonder why many people see Frodo’s leaving for Valinor as
sad, but not Gimli’s for example, or all the Elves’. Maybe because the
whole of the Elves have that as their predestined path. But Gimli?
Everyone seems to think that it’s the perfect closure for him to retire
into the West with his buddy Legolas. Is it because he’s not seen
suffering? Because he achieved external success with his Dwarven colony?
Maybe what provokes the sadness in the reader is that Frodo is left
scarred, and is not allowed his happily ever after, not so much that he
leaves for Valinor.
One last thought, though. None of our five hobbits died and was buried
in the Shire. So much work to save the Shire, and all of them found
their destiny away from it, and by choice in each case. Is that sad,
uplifting or nothing at all? This is where each reader is left alone
with their own musings.
Thanks for your post, Elenna.