Explaining the Ending

by Sahmwise, with responses

This was posted on another board I frequent. While I can, more or less, answer the questions I know there are folks here with more knowledge of these things than myself who could do a much better job. So here's the inquiry:

Just finished watching the trilogy. I'm not usually a fantasy fan, but I did enjoy these movies. I'm not sure I got the ending though. Why does Frodo go on the boat with Bilbo? Is everyone on that boat, all characters that at one time possessed a ring? Are they all dying because of it? Or because they no longer have the ring? It seemed that Frodo never looked healthy after returning to the shire. I'm a sucker for happy endings and was hoping that everyone would live happily ever after in the shire.

We watched all extended versions. I really enjoyed them alot more than I thought so I'm going to read the books now. My son's read The Hobbit and the first 2 in the trilogy and he says there are several things that PJ changed. So the place they're going in the boat is another land where you have immortality? I thought they were being taken to a place where they would pass into the afterlife. Sort of like dying and going to heaven? If it's just another land, then they could come back and visit? Or once they go there, it's a done deal and you can't leave? And in these Undying Lands are they going on adventures again or is it just like a final resting place? You can see I like movies that have extremely obvious endings that are all spelled out. I think that injury Frodo received in the first part had something to do with how he looked at the end. I didn't think it was because he was unhappy in the shire, I thought the sword actually made him sick in a way? All the actors were absolutely amazing in these movies!

Response from Doctor Gamgee:

In order to really answer this question, Sahmwise, the reader would have to read the Silmarillion, as it is the tale of how the elves came to middle earth, and why they are sailing back (with Frodo). The short answer is that they are returning "into the west" as Galadriel says, which is where the 'blessed realm' is. Only elves were to go, but the elves made an exception for Frodo and Bilbo because they had bourn so much for the downfall of Sauron and posessing the Ring. As you remember, Frodo was never happy in the Shire once he returned.

But the movie never really resolves this point. It is too deep to show on the film version without adding an additional 6 hours to elplain the elves, the shire after the scouring (and they would have to put THAT in!).

I fear she won't truly get it until she reads the books.

Response from Overlithe:

I am not sure that to say Frodo was unhappy in the shire is completely accurate....He wanted to be, he had glimpses of happiness, he was just never whole again. The ring took part of him when it was destroyed which leads to the other part of the question. Frodo left, accepted the gift to go to the undying lands because it gave him some hope of healing. The blessed realm was a place where after a time Frodo could be healed of the torture left in his mind and body after the ring. He was not to be granted imortality, he would always be mortal just a chance for healing and contentment for a time. the undying lands are only called so because the deathless inhabit it, not because it would grant immortality.

I'm am sure that after the questioner reads ROTK it will be more clear, I didn't dig into the sil for some time and then only for accuracy sake. Even so I am no scholar when it comes to the work. Personally I think that one look back conveys all that needs to be said especially for those who have read and studied and pined over the fate of Frodo.

It is also my personal opinion that he left despite his desire to stay with his friends, even though in pain and anguish it must have been a difficult decision. But then the alternative was most likely a worse thought. It is so very Frodoish for him to protect his friend s and cousins from seeing him become less and less himself and more like someone they could never know or understand. I don't think he could bear the thought of keeping Sam worriting over him any longer. "You can't always be torn in two"...

I'm not sure that answers the question either, but I don't think you have to dig into the Sil to get it...The poster of the original question did get it..after all it does not really matter where Frodo went, only that he left behind many who loved and missed him...it is some measure of comfort to think of him as healed and whole and that is what that final look back implies...his healing had begun. Parting is still a sorrow no matter.

Response from Eärrámë

Yes, as Dr G wrote it is impossible to adequately explain. The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion must be read.

A few tips...

Frodo was ill every year on the anniversary of his wound at Weathertop. Between that and the burden that he bore he was permanently wounded. There is one episode where The Gaffer (I think) walks into Bag End and sees Frodo lying in a listless daze on his bed mumbling something along the lines of "all is dark...". I can't remember the full passage off the top of my head.

The Ring Bearers were granted passage but most of them were just going home; Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf. Frodo's passage was a gift from Arwen (she gave him her ticket so to speak) but it is never explained how Bilbo was granted passage other than he was a Ring Bearer.

There is no healing across the sea. The movies, and I'm thinking about the scene where Gandalf describes 'a far green country under a swift sunrise' to Pippin, make Valinor out to be some kind of heaven. That is wrong. Although, now that I think about it, the movies don't really make the connection between Gandalf's comments to Pippin and the destination of the ships. In the books the The 'Far Green Country under a swift sunrise" made two appearences. The second time being when Frodo was actually on the ship to Valinor and the first time was in a dream he had while a guest of Tom Bombadil. In that dream Frodo had a vision of Valinor.

Three semi-short paragraphs and they probably create more questions than they answer.

Response from Rogorn:

The best thing would be for the poster to read all of LOTR from the beginning, or if particularly intrigued by the ending, read the end of ROTK starting from chapter 6, 'Many partings' ("When the days of rejoicing were over at last the Companions thought of returning to their own homes. And Frodo went to the King as he was sitting with the Queen Arwen by the fountain, and..."). Just by reading that, much will be explained. Then, time permitting, go into the appendices and the Silmarillion.

Have handy with yourself this website
(scroll down for alphabetical encyclopedia)
and find there any new words, people or places that you come across when reading.

Also advisable would be purchasing one of the one-volume encyclopedias on Tolkien's world, like JAE Tyler's Complete Tolkien Companion. They are very very cheap for all the information they provide.

This is not taking an easy way out not to answer: reading Tolkien's writing is hugely enjoyable, and he can tell you in his own words much better than we can.

Valinor / The Undying Lands are not that easily comparable to heaven (whatever your existing idea of heaven is, to start with). The many issues surrounding the elves and their crucial differences from men are obviously left aside in the films (as they are too in the book - it's impossible to have an accurate idea of just what elves are like when seen only at the end of the Thrid Age through the eyes of hobbits). In the films, only Elrond's brief words that 'we're leaving these shores' give an approximation to what the fate of the elves is like, but that's placed way at the beginning of the film trilogy and by the time ROTK ends it's difficult to remember that. There's another scene in the extended FOTR where Sam and Frodo see a company of elves on their way away, but again it's really soon and only for the die-hards who watch the extended version.

To answer a few questions:

-The reason why Frodo and Bilbo leave is explained in those few last chapters of ROTK.

-All the characters that possessed the One Ring are not on the boat. Sauron, Isildur and Gollum are dead. Only the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo are on the boat.

-The Undying Lands do not give immortality to anyone. There it seems that time does not pass like on Middle-earth, but nothing is clarified more. Mortal characters are not supposed to be there in the first place (Bilbo and Frodo are one enormous exception), so it's not sure what happens.

-No, no-one comes back. Unless Tolkien wants them to, hehe.


Response from Varda:

Even if you have read the Silmarrillion and the notes and the appendices and the unfinished tales the meaning of the ending of the Lord of The Rings lies in The Lord of The Rings itself; and in us.

We would be greatly assisted in making an informed opinion by reading The Silmarillion, The notes, the appendices and the unfinished tales. But all these can do is provide clues, not answers.

Remember, this is an imaginary world. It is fiction. It does not adhere to set rules, because Tolkien himself kept changing those rules, and his idea of what Middle Earth was.

Moreover, Frodo is unique. His fate cannot be explained by looking into the Silmarillion, because there are no hobbits in the Silmarillion. And even among hobbits, he is unique. He is not an Elf but he is not fully human any more because he bore the Ring, which changed him utterly. Still he wakes up longing for it. Also, he was healed by the Elves, who gave him some of their great essence. Gandalf observes that even to a mortal eye he seems 'translucent', and that is long before he goes to the Grey Havens.

The answer to what happens to Frodo lies I believe in Frodo himself, in what he says and what he is. Bidding farewell to Sam at the end, he says he saved the Shire, but 'not for him'. He is unable to enjoy the peace he won, because of what he has become, and what his mind now is. He has to unwarp that. What he wants is not immortality. In fact, for Frodo to live forever in this frame of mind, this internal suffering, would be eternal torment, not immortality.

Frodo leaves for the Grey Havens in search of healing. He is looking for peace and an end to his long nightmare. The home of the Elves might be a place where he can find it. Or it might not. The Elves are not immortal, they live as long as the earth, which is not the same. Men appear to be mortal compared to the Elves but because as Tolkien says they possess an unknowable quality, then where they go when they die is unknown, so they might actually outlive the Elves through 'the gift of death' and have a moral superiority to them. This reduces the extent of what the Elves can actually give to Frodo.

So a mortal leaving for the lands of the Elves does not mean he will gain immortality, but more like he is going to a sort of 'soul spa' where his heart will be healed by existing in a place of great beauty and peace, and where the passage of time is much slower. Frodo tastes something of this when he is in Lothlorien, with its beauty and its absence of normal time.

The very last passage, where Frodo passes a grey rain-curtain and sees a green land under a swift sunrise, tells us what he finds. A place of beauty and peace, where he may find healing, and a 'swift sunrise', suggesting that time has lost its normal pace, because there are no swift sunrises. The sun rises at the same speed every day. Only in an Elvish realm where time has a different meaning can the sunrise appear fast.

But Tolkien stops there. Whether Frodo ever finds healing on those white sands, we are left to figure out for ourselves. No great work of literature dots the 'i's and crosses the 't's; it pays our intelligence the supreme compliment of leaving that to us. Makes us wake up our imaginations to devise our own ending. The answer is in ourselves. Only then can it mean anything to us.

I believe it would be very sad to think that there is a 'right answer' exclusive of all others. That would diminish the universal power of this masterpiece, The Lord Of The Rings. It would make it a sort of Da Vinci Code; find the pieces of the puzzle scattered through other works of literature.

I think The Lord of The Rings itself holds the answer. Did Frodo really find peace, or did he waste away and die on that white beach, a stranger in paradise beyond the power of the baffled Elves to help him? Or is it all just a conundrum cast before us because at the end, Tolkien knew Frodo must die, but he loved his character too much to kill him before our eyes, and he certainly knew we too could not bear to see Frodo die.....


Response to Varda by Overlithe:

A well thought response as usual Varda..I like it because its my own thoughts but arranged in a much more intelligent format...Love the "soul spa". And i agree whole heartedly that the end is what each interprets it as.

I need Frodo to find that healing or it would simply be too painful for "me" and for those left behind. And so I have built up my own "mythology" as to Frodo's reasoning for leaving, and the depth of his soul sickness.

thanks for clarifying my own thoughts...

Reply from Sahmwise:

Thanks for all the replies everyone! I did quite a bit of searching myself last night and cobbled together an answer for her. Hopefully it was accurate. Here's what I told her:

The ending of The Lord of the Rings can be very confusing. To truly understand what has happened you would have to read The Silmarillion (a somewhat difficult book to get through). The Elves were destined from the start to leave, so that Men could gain dominion in Middle-earth. They are the lands of the Valar. Picture the Undying Lands as a sort of paradise, inhabited by immortal beings and the land itself, the plants and animals, are all tied together, which is why the Elves desire to come there. In mortal Middle-earth, they seem to fade and wither, as time passes faster than in the Undying Lands. (Immortal might be a bit too strong of word for the Elves, as they can die, but they are bound within the world until it ends as part of their nature).

Gandalf’s place on this ship lies in another story. Gandalf was an Istar, and thus a Maia, who had been sent from the West by the Valar to aid Middle-earth in the wars against Sauron. It is only natural for him to return to Valinor in the West, as he does upon the ship of the Ringbearers.

This leaves the Three Hobbits who had taken the ship into the West from the Grey Havens. The Lord of the Rings ends with Bilbo and Frodo on the Ship at the Grey Havens, but with not much of a hint as to what lies in wait for them. (Sam’s passage over the Sea occurs when his wife dies in the Fourth Age.) The basic idea is that in the Blessed Realm, they can be healed of the poisoning they endured when bearing the One Ring. It is Arwen who first suggest Frodo’s departure from Middle-earth: “but in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed” . She has realized that there is no permanent healing for Frodo in Middle-earth. Gandalf echoes this later: “Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured”. Frodo himself sees this as well. He responds to Gandalf saying, “I fear it may be so with mine. There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same, for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?” These words are uttered exactly two years after Frodo was wounded by the Morgul-blade at Weathertop. But it is more than just this wound that is poisoning his body, but also the loss of the One Ring. “It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty.” He did, in the end, not give up the Ring willingly, and because of this, even after its destruction, he is haunted bitterly, and he is moved by a sense of guilt of his failure to give up the Ring. Beyond the Grey Havens, Frodo can find healing, as can Bilbo and Sam, though they have not the burdens and ills of Frodo. According to Tolkien: "Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him – if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually to ‘pass away’: no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time. So he went to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and 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.” Ultimately, the Undying Lands offer Frodo to die with a mind undisturbed of the burden of his quest, and the illness in his mind and heart created in the last moments in the Sammath Naur within Mt. Doom. A chance to tie up these loose ends before leaving the world, to recognize that he had not failed, and to heal himself of any innocence lost when he at last fell to the power of the Ring, inevitable as it was.