Frodo in Sickness and Health
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
knife-wound of Weathertop - imprudence;
He makes the ultimate sacrifice so that others may enjoy their lives in
happiness and peace. His peace lies elsewhere. Sam represents the
the sting of Shelob - arrogance;
the finger torn away with the Ring - conceit
Response by Frodosmiss:
First of all, dearest Varda- You MUST find
someone else....anyone else....to 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 better...to 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
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
'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
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
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
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