The Wanderings of Frodo

by Varda

When Sam stepped over his threshold and said to his relieved and overjoyed family; ‘I’m back’ I know, now, exactly how he felt. Journeys are great, but the never-ending journeys of Frodo and Bilbo can become nightmares, and the small joys of home and hearth shine much brighter when you have been on the road a long time. When Frodo set off on a journey he knew in his heart he would not return from, or at least not as the same hobbit, he needed the greatest courage.

I think anyone moving house needs the greatest courage. When the bottom falls out of the box that just happens to hold the china, and that is an unreplaceable present from a long dead friend, what can you say? It is a test of the soul. And yes, Tolkien addresses it all in his great book. Frodo goes through all the torment and wistful nostalgia of moving house. Labelling little things that once were fond possessions so they will go to the right people, oh boy do I relate to that. It is a bit like those funeral rites of that tribe who give away all they have before they die.

It is no consolation to me that a Sackville-Baggins is enjoying something I loved just because there was no room for it on the moving van.

In the end, life is divided into the Sams and the Frodos. Sam endures the greatest trials, but always in his heart he believes, with an unshakable faith, that he will see the Shire again. His belief buoys them both up on the burning slopes of Mount Doom. I wonder would Sam have gone on if he had thought there was no Shire to go back to.

But Frodo is never going back, and he knows it. Even though, through Sam’s pure will, he is literally carried out of Mordor by his servant, to be rescued by eagles, it is a brief respite from a dreadful doom; to return to a Shire he cannot enjoy, but must watch through suffering eyes till he can bear no more. Frodo is the eternal wanderer. He would rather be a stranger in paradise than a wraith haunting the place he was once happy.

Now I have at last found a place to live, and I am back in my Bag End, I understand so much of what both Sam and Frodo felt. I can only wonder at how Tolkien distils the utter truth of this experience, leaving the place you love to look afar for rest and a home.

My new home is the kind of place I only ever drove through. Behind the house the rolling drumlin hills of Mid Down stretch away to the blue Mournes. Tentatively, a nervous city gal hoping no farm dogs go for me like ghosts of Farmer Maggot’s Grip and Fang, I walked up into the hills. Against the late summer sky, washed calico blue, the fields of ripe oats were dark gold, and glossy bay horses serenely kept watch over tottering foals.

They were making silage, taking up the narrow country lane with swaying trucks of fragrant hay but making way for me with a wave and a smile. It was so like that opening scene from The Fellowship of the Ring that my heart ached. How did Tolkien capture in the Shire all that timeless beauty and quiet comedy of a farming community? A girl rode past me on the road (me flattened against the hedge in case the horse got out of hand) An Eowyn on a chestnut thoroughbred with a hard hat and a cheerful call of ‘Isn’t it a glorious day?’

My house is Number Nine, and I wanted it from the moment I set eyes on the magnificent built-in mahogany bookcase in the living room, with a big fireplace and black slate hearth opposite. The first thing I did was set out all my Tolkien books; the texts, the notes, the picture and film books, the criticism, the autographed works by John Howe and Alan Lee. Two whole long shelves of them. At last I had them all in one place, where I could see them, feel them, run my hand along them, take down one at random and flop onto the sofa and just read it by a big log fire. And in the bay window, statues of Gandalf and Legolas on guard. At the end of my garden are trees, Ash and fir and yew and pine, with all the wild birds of the Irish countryside. And if I stand on tiptoe, I can see mountains…..

When Merry and Pippin returned to the Shire they seemed less burdened by their experience than Frodo or even Sam, who, it is said, also had to leave for the Elven refuges after his Rosie died.

But the younger hobbits too felt in their later years some call of that time, some inability to cast off the memory of bearing white horse or white tree on their livery, and together they journeyed to die in Gondor,their tombs side by side in death as they had been side by side ever in life

It is like The Lord of The Rings; once read, even long ago in that first wild waking imagination of teenage years, it is engrained in you, and during your life, in work or family concerns, it lies hidden, waiting for that time of solitude or change or trial, to seize again on your thoughts in that action perfectly described by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh;
‘The difference that sets an old phrase burning…..’

Middle Earth, the place that came of imagination, seems more real than our own everyday lives. In my last year of wandering and living out of a suitcase, it was more of a constant to me than things I had held closer. I watched with dismay as some things I regarded with great pride melted away, and was aware that what The Lord of The Rings celebrates beyond life and death is friendship, that is what really matters, not bricks and mortars, jobs or influence or money. In that wandering year I found wonderful friendship, and often here, to keep me alive till I could find my Bag End, my Rivendell, my Ithilien.

A few miles away from my new house flows the river Bann. It looks like something out of the Shire; broad and deep and winding between leafy banks and beds of reeds. Men have lived, farmed and fought here for so long that their flint axe heads, dug up by archaelogists, are called 'Bann flakes'.

But I was born on the banks of the Liffey, James Joyce’s Anna Livia, and I miss Dublin and her great neoclassical buildings and cobbled alleys full of music and the patter of summer rain. So as Frodo, and Sam and Aragorn learned, in every gain there is loss. Frodo lost his beloved home in the Shire, but gained the friendship and blessing of the Elves, and their final greatest gift of freedom from his pain. The sun rises over fields for me, but in Dublin
‘The sun comes up
Like barley-sugar on the water…’

Dublin, the Black Pool, the Norsemen’s safe harbour. My Osgiliath, lost but not forgotten.

I just know, when they see it, that my relatives will absolutely hate this room, the one I have appropriated for my study. It is crammed with books, posters, pictures, statues, medals, engravings, diplomas, swords, bows, arrows, camel saddles and rugs, cds, toys and did I mention books? It is running hard to look like Bilbo’s study.

On the wall by the pc (which is now online, yay!) is a picture signed by Ted Naismith, a treasured gift. It says ‘To V, fellow traveller, Ted Naismith’

The Lord of The Rings profides us with a company of Nine fellow travellers. Life is a journey with friends. If we are tremendously lucky, with one important Friend, a Rosie for Sam or an Eowyn for Faramir. But even for Frodo who had to go on alone, there would be a home at last, and marvellous consolation.

Thanks for all the help and encouragement and friendship during my wanderings. And for wonderful hospitality and love…

Varda