Frodo in Sickness and Health

by Varda

Having succumbed to my second bout of serious food poisoning this year (all my own fault, my cooking could wipe out an entire army; my kitchen should be classed as a lethal weapon) I had ample time while I lay sick as a puppy to consider literature's greatest serial invalid; Frodo.

Tolkien puts great emphasis on how healthy hobbits are. Even though they live in holes in the ground, they seem bursting with rude health. Everyone is jolly and wolfs down second breakfasts, when just now I couldn't face even one. Frodo himself is described as a merry 'apple-cheeked' fellow, so he is as hale and hearty as the next hobbit. His name has the same root as the Norse Freya, goddess of plenty.

When we first meet Frodo he has had his boundless cheer a bit diminished by the departure of his beloved uncle Bilbo, and it is further muted by possession of the Ring. When Gandalf returns to tell Frodo about the true nature of this Ring, Frodo is drinking alone, always a bad sign.

'Ho, ho, ho, to the bottle I go, to heal my heart and cure my woe...'

But it is a fit and healthy hobbit that starts out on what he knows is a dangerous journey, although as yet he does not know how long it will last.

Frodo has his first brush with death,and says goodbye to his rude hobbit health, on Weathertop. It seems strange that he is so badly wounded with Aragorn just there to protect him, but like many grievous illnesses, there is a streak of cruel chance about Frodo's wounding by the Witchking. Had Aragorn acted quicker, had Frodo not tried to fight the enemy himself, all might have been different.

As it was, Frodo is stabbed by an evil, bewitched knife. The wound heals quickly, but the weapon is poisoned,and a tiny shard of the poisoned tip remains in the wound, working its way to his heart.

This is far more lethal than the past-its-sell-by-date tub of coleslaw that poisoned me. At once the journey becomes a desperate flight, racing against not only the black riders but against death itself. Tolkien very cleverly uses Frodo's wounding to put him right up against the evil he is fighting. When he challenges the Nine on the banks of Elrond's river, we realise that for all the great armies, victory, in the end, is won by people who as Winston Churchil said, don't feel very well.

If Frodo's wounding and flight to the Ford gives the book passages of great drama and danger, his long convalescence in Rivendell gives the book its most beautiful and profound images; Sam at Frodo's bedside night after night, the quiet assembling of all the free peoples while Frodo recovers. The Council, itself a miracle in view of the differences of the peoples present. And Frodo himself, wandering the gardens and walkways of Rivendell, apparently better but as Gandalf perceives, he will never really recover from that wound.

Frodo himself looks in the mirror after he can get up and says to Sam that he has lost weight. But he has lost more than weight, and the Wizard perceives about him a luminescence, a light, that people will notice. Some of the Elven healing that Elrond gives Frodo makes him from thenceforth different. He will carry that wound all his life, but he will also carry the wonder and magic of the Elven lore that cured him.

This first, and worst, of Frodo's illnesses binds Sam to him even more tightly. From now on Sam is protective of Frodo, even jealously so, as with Gollum. Sam realises his master 'needs lookin after', and he will do that, whatever happens.

When Frodo sets off from Rivendell on the Quest with the Fellowship he is healed. to the outer eye. He keeps up with hardy dwarf and agile Elf on long days trekking. But he is more fragile and thoughtful than before. When Gandalf falls in Moria, the Fellowship is somewhat consoled to find Frodo has been guarded from injury by the orc spear by a mailshirt of mithril.
'I have never heard tell of one so fair!' exclaims Gimli when he sees it. It is a moment of wonder and relief that lightens the company's dark mood after they have lost their guide.

But from now on, especially with his guide and father figure Gandalf gone, Frodo, like many people who have suffered serious illness, is doing a lot of his own thinking. By the time the company reach Lorien, he enters a mental battle with the foremost mind in Middle Earth, Galadriel, and wins. Even she is surprised.
'I came to test your heart..' she says '..and you have tested me'.

This is not the Frodo that left the Shire. Being wounded, and a long illness no less than losing his friend Gandalf has made Frodo a formidable opponent, a thinker who does not bother with the frills of power or beauty, but goes straight to the issue; do you want the Ring from me or not, and if not, will you help me on my quest. It is the concentration of a person who does not have much time,and only limited physical powers. Someone, in fact, who has been made aware of his own mortality.

Frodo's meeting with Galadriel sows in him the seed of an idea to go it alone. But it is such a dreadful thought that he hesitates, until Boromir's attack on him at Parth Galen makes Frodo realise what he saw when he talked to Galadriel; one by one the Ring would destroy the Fellowship, unless he goes on alone.

Frodo's attempt to leave Sam behind at Parth Galen is the second of his four near or real partings from his faithful companion. The first was when he almost died from the Witchking's knife. This time the attempt is deliberate, but still Sam foils it, and they go on together.

Frodo's next brush with deadly illness is his poisoning by Shelob. Once again. Tolkien draws out the danger and drama of the incident, showing the hobbits lost in Shelob's lair, then seeming to escape, only for Shelob to run after Frodo and pierce him with her sting, and a poison far worse than any found in pre-packaged coleslaw.

But Sam is there, and Frodo's wounding turns into the best fight (IMHO) in literature; first, Sam tackles the treacherous Gollum, who tries to strangle him but Sam beats him off with Faramirs staff, a nice touch. Then Sam throws himself on Shelob, an incredible feat, calling to mind Bewoulf and Grendel and every monster ever tackled by a hero in history.

But beating Shelob means nothing to Sam when he finds Frodo apparently dead. His face is green (I can relate to that) with the poison spreading through his veins. Sam is distraught; he considers suicide, but puts the thought aside. He, Samwise, must take the Ring and go on in place of his beloved master, so the quest might not fail. Grieving, Sam takes the Ring and goes on. Once again, Frodo's illness reveals insights into other characters, and moves events on.

Because of course, Frodo is not dead, just poisoned. When he wakes up, as the orcs say, he will wish he is dead, (I can relate to that as well) but for now,he is just a compote for Her Ladyship to enjoy later.

As it happens, this apparent disaster allows both Sam and Frodo to bypass the sentinels of Cirth Ungol. The orcs themselves bring Frodo through the gates, and Sam, wearing the Ring, manages to slip in after them and eventually rescue his master. Frodo's illness is part of the plan.

When Frodo wakes up he is deeply disorientated by the poison that has invaded his system. But for all that, he seems to recover quickly. It is only when he attacks Sam that we see the poison has dangerously undermined his already enfeebled system, and from now on Sam has to shoulder most of the physical burden of their journey. 'Hobbits are tough..' said Gandalf '..and hard to kill'. But Frodo seems to be taking an especial battering. This incident is the third time Sam is almost parted from his master.

Frodo's last hurt is received on the very ledge of the Cracks of Doom, when Gollum bites his finger off, taking the Ring with it to fiery oblivion.

Once again, this is a cruel and painful injury, but just before Gollum attacked and bit the finger off, Frodo had declared that the Ring was his,and none other. In a way, the finger was a sacrifice to bring Frodo back to his real self, after a last succumbing to great powers of darkness. When Sam reaches his master, he finds him maimed, but it is his old, beloved master, not the overwhelmed creature who tried at the last moment to seize the Ring. Once again, damage to Frodo's health has in some strange way brought about a greater good, and moved the story to a conclusion. It also gives him an identity; 'Nine-fingered Frodo'

Of course, when all the celebrations are over, Frodo's illnesses and woundings remain. When the cheering crowds are but a memory, he carries the legacy of blade, sting and tooth, and much more hardship as well. In short, Frodo is maimed, and it takes a while for him and others to realise it, but he is maimed beyond what any healing can help.

This leads to the final parting with Sam. Frodo's illnesses brought them closer during the Quest, but at the end they tear them apart. Frodo has to seek healing beyond the Sea, and Sam, who despite all he has suffered and attempted, is whole and healthy, must remain to live his life and enjoy his family, lead his community and restore the land marred by war. At the end, the healthy and the hurt must go off on their own quests, and Frodo's is to seek healing beyond the sea. And like many pilgrimages in human history, the healing of body and of spirit are seen as the same. Frodo's nightmares show us that it is not just his body that is damaged, but his mind too, by the evil he has encountered.

An evil even greater than e coli, especially the week before Xmas  :-(

Thanks for listening. And cook that turkey well.


Response by Celedor:

This is just my opinion, but I've always felt that Sam gets most of the love from the Ringers, and Frodo's suffering and sacrifices are overlooked. "Oh, yea Frodo's great," they'll say in passing, but Sam then gets the glory. (I know, I know... they're all our children in a way, and we don't really want to choose between them. But Frodo gets shafted. In my opinion)

Response by MithrandirCQ:

Frodo for a short while enjoys the rewards of his labors. But the three wounds forever mark him:
He makes the ultimate sacrifice so that others may enjoy their lives in happiness and peace. His peace lies elsewhere. Sam represents the archetype Hero.

Response by Frodosmiss:

First of all, dearest Varda- You MUST find someone else....anyone do your cooking for you!!! This being sick w/ food poisoning just won't do at all! I am sorry you are sick and I do hope that it is out of your system soon.

What a thoughtful piece, V. (I'm w/ Mathom- you get sick and STILL have energy to produce something like this!) I really do think that it is the hurts Frodo suffers and sacrifices he makes throughout the story that have drawn me to him. I guess it is my need to find a way to make everthing champion those who may be weakened by life's bites and stings. Would explain my career choice...

Nice summation, MithrandirCQ. Frodo truly had a right to find his peace~

Reply by Varda:

Thanks for your replies, folks! I would have got back sooner but I just had to go back to bed. Not better yet, sigh. Retrieving the wheelie bin from the road took more energy than climbing Mount Doom.

I am what is called in Ireland a fidget; I am always restless, off for a walk or a swim or a gander at the shops. Mostly I write when something happens to pen me inside, like bad weather, bank holidays, the pool shut, or a killer tummy bug. Because the brain keeps going even when the body collapses and being sick I thought of Frodo and how he must have felt poisoned - twice

Thanks for your reply, Celedor, and you are right, Sam has rather overtaken Frodo as the hero of choice. I have seen arguments that Sam is actually the real hero of LOTR. But that was certainly not what Tolkien intended, and results from superficial reading of both hobbits.

Basically, Sam is more accessible than Frodo. What you see is literally what you get with Sam, his thoughts and feelings are writ on his face for all to see. Frodo certainly starts out as an open and trusting hobbit, but he also has a more secret life, wandering the Shire alone, reading and dreaming. Possession of the Ring too makes him somewhat secretive, and when he learns of its true nature, he becomes very cautious and highly secretive; as Gandalf says;
'Keep it secret, keep it safe....'

Frodo grows and develops and becomes a formidable hero, but much of it is hidden from us, and even from Sam. When Galadriel tests Frodo she finds there is steel under the homespun, just like the mithril under his shirt.
'More to this hobbit than meets the eye' as Gandalf said.

The next person to find there is more to Frodo than meets the eye is Faramir, who questions Frodo in front of his men but can't find a chink in his armour. Later he says to Frodo 'You spoke well in a hard place' but he knows that the hobbit is keeping a lot from him. In the end, it is Sam who blurts out the truth; Faramir would never have been able to winkle the truth out of Frodo.

The Quest forces Frodo to be secretive, but at the end, he also hides his illness from Sam, using the powers of concealment he learned on the quest to protect, for as long as he can, the person he loves.

So Frodo is a more complex and artful character than Sam, and in this day and age people are attracted by the simple and artless. But Frodo is the hero; he has thought it all out, and knows the dangers better than Sam. But in one way it is true that Sam is the hero, because Frodo would not have achieved the quest without Sam.

I once read a theory about War and Peace that said Prince Andrei was the man of thought and Count Pierre the man of feeling. To some extent you could say that about Frodo and Sam. Frodo uses all his intelligence in the quest, and Sam follows his feelings.

Thanks, Mith, and I think Gandalf said something like that too in the book. (are you Gandalf, for real, seriously?)

Thanks Frodosmiss. Dawn came this morning with a light fall of snow, rare in Ireland, and I wanted to bound down the stairs, wolf breakfast and rush out for a walk. After taking ages to feed the budgies and failing to down even half a slice of toast, I realised I am not better yet :(

But many thanks for your kind thoughts ;-)


Response by tahawus:

Food poisoning! Ugh, only happened to me once but I ended up in the ER.

Very thoughtful observations about Frodo and Sam. You're mind works very well when you are sick. ;-)

I remember being absolutely devastated at the ending of ROTK when Frodo leaves Middle Earth. At the time I did not understand it at all, but now the beauty and sadness of it are perfection. By the end. Frodo truly has grown beyond this world.

Reply by Varda:

Thanks, Tahawus! :Yes I too was devastated when I read the Grey Havens chapter. I kind of knew, though, from the pace of the last chapters, how it all did not end on a happy note, that something sad was coming. And next to death, parting is the saddest thing of all. I too think it is the perfect ending, leaving us all guessing  o.0

I don't know why I think better when I am sick -  but thanks for the commiserations.

Response by Orangeblossom Took:

Beautiful musing. Even before the movies, with their weaker (but of course adoreable) Frodo, came out, I heard people say Sam was the "real" hero of the piece but Frodo is the one who makes the great sacrifice.

I spent a lot of time in the hospital as a child, so I know what you mean about thinking better (or deeper) when one is sick and has time on one's hands.