Frodo's Leaving

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 see.

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 swift sunrise.”

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.