There was a time in Frodo Baggin’s life when he seemed to have
everything. He had many friends, a luxurious home, plenty of money, and
his health. And if you have health, you have everything, or so he has
always been taught.
Yet he is discontented. Very deep in his homeloving heart, he is longing for something, someone, to disturb the tranquil stream of his existence. There are days when he lies in bed, reluctant to get up and live out another ordinary day. Days when he is ashamed of himself for feeling this way, knowing how fortunate he is. But he cannot make himself happy by telling himself that others are unhappy, and would give anything to be like him. That seems wrong to him: happiness must come from within, and it seems not to be there down at the bottom of his contrary heart.
Once, when he was a child, he had even more than he has now. He had a Mother and a Father who loved him, who thought he was the Sun and Moon and Stars. And in one horrible stroke, they were gone. He remembered that child that he had been, crying himself to sleep at night, wishing he could go where they had gone, so that he wouldn’t be so lonely. When Grandfather had told him, he had asked, as children do: “Will they come alive again?” Grandfather had stood wringing his hands in an agony of misery, not knowing what to say or do. Frodo, child though he was, had had to comfort the old man. It was maybe the first time he had to do something hard that he didn’t know how to do, but there you are. Grandfather had wept, too, and Frodo marveled in the midst of his grief, at the old man’s rusty tears.
There was a time after that when he could have almost believed that he had done something wrong. It seemed no one spoke to him, no one asked him to play, the grownups hurried by him, averting their eyes. He tried to make his insides turn to ice, it would be better to be frozen than sad. He had been so wretchedly unhappy he went to the river one day and stood by the quiet moving water, wishing he could just fall in, and drown. Someone touched his arm, a kind voice said, “Hullo, Frodo lad.”
It was old cousin Bilbo. He didn’t know Bilbo very well, but his voice was kind, and Frodo felt some of the ice inside him begin to melt.
Bilbo looked at him with pity and kindness and said, “Come along, Frodo, and walk with me.” Bilbo talked as they walked, his voice rising and falling gently with their steps. “The river, eh? And you were thinking to yourself, why? And maybe you were thinking about what it might be like to fall down through that brown water and drown away, drown dead away. Am I right?”
Frodo nodded, and Bilbo patted his shoulder. Frodo said, “I hate it here. I hate being alive. No one wants me. I’m just in the way!”
Bilbo stopped walking and said, “Let’s sit on that log, Frodo, and let the sun warm us through. All this talk about drowning, and dying, why it makes me chilled and cold. Like that water would, if we tried sinking down in it. But do you know what, lad? We wouldn’t sink. Not us. We’re not the drowning sort. We’d swim, somehow, we’d fight the water, and we’d win.”
“Mother and Father didn’t,” Frodo said, and began to cry. “The water won, that time.”
“Yes,” Bilbo said. “The water won. Don’t ask me to explain it, for I can’t. Just as I can’t explain why I’m sure you’d beat the water. I just know it. I just know you and I weren’t born to drown in the Brandywine river in front of Gorbadoc’s house.” He sighed and went on, “You’re lonely there, aren’t you, Frodo? In the midst of all that gang?”
“No on even talks to me! They look right through me, as if I was invisible!” Frodo cried out.
Bilbo laughed. “Invisible, eh? Well, well. The trouble is, Frodo, that they don’t know what to say or do. They’re afraid if they say the wrong thing they will hurt you.”
Frodo cried in earnest, racking sobs that shook his boyish frame. “Hurt me! Oh, cousin Bilbo, it hurts me that they treat me as they do! Oh why, why, did Mother have to die? And Father? No one else cares about me, no one at all.”
“You’re wrong there, Frodo. I care about you, and I’ve come to take you home. Why, Frodo, you’re my nearest kin in all the world. What do you say? Do you think that you and I could rub along together, back at Bag End?”
With the honesty of youth Frodo said, “It couldn’t be worse than it is here.”
“I’ll take that as a Yes, then, shall I?” Bilbo said, with a wry smile. “Come along, lad. We’ll go find old Gorbadoc and let him know what’s afoot. Besides, it’s Tea time, and I am fair gut-foundered, so to speak.”
And they had rubbed along together, happily, for many years. The ache in Frodo’s heart never really went away, but time softened the sharp edges of his pain, and he grew up reasonably content in the mild sunshine of Bilbo’s affection. Bilbo let him do as he liked, for the most part, never interfering with him, giving him plenty of rope and to the surprise of some he managed never to hang himself. His fondness for Bilbo deepened as the years passed, and he came to love the old Hobbit almost as he would have loved his father. He was comfortable, and wanted nothing that money could buy, and that makes for a contented life, mostly. Bilbo’s tales enlivened winter evenings, sparking Frodo’s imagination, and strange visitors still came to Bag End now and again, Dwarves sometimes, an Elf once in a while. And Gandalf.
Frodo sometimes watches courting couples saunter by, hand in hand, in the long summer evenings. They are oblivious, not seeing him as he sits on the bench under the great Party tree. They are sweetly absorbed in each other, and when they stop to kiss, he looks away; he does not want to pry. Yet there has been no lass for him, and he thinks about that, wondering why. This pretty cousin, and that, have “made up” to him, tossing their curls and flirting with their big brown eyes. Frodo loves to dance, and will dance all night, as long as the band plays. But he goes home alone, kicking along the road, raising dust in the moonlight, humming to himself. Even Sam, who “does for him”, has a sweetheart, and plans for a happy future. Frodo thinks maybe his heart really was broken, when Mother and Father died, really broken past repair, unable to swell with love and joy any more, shriveled with hurt and grief.
Yet, this isn’t so. His heart still leaps at the sight of a rainbow, or the moonrise. The songs of the Elves still move him to sweet tears, and once he saw the great grey sea, rolling westward to the dark sky, and something sang in his blood then, something wakened for a few heartbeats. He can feel, all right, but what he mostly feels now is this horrid boredom, and impatience with his neighbours. An invasion of dragons would perk them up, he thinks. Dull old fogeys. Frodo is a just Hobbit, though. He knows the fault, if there is a fault, is in him, not his neighbours, not the dull old Shire.
Restless. Frodo is restless. Change was in the wind, Middle Earth was rolling into a different orbit around the yellow sun, roads were opening before his feet. He sits in his cozy parlour, watching the flames on the hearth, listening. Listening for what? He doesn’t know, but he’ll know when he hears it. Footsteps on the path, a knock on the door? A voice? Just now he gets up, goes to the window, peers out into the darkness. Not tonight, then. Maybe tomorrow. Then he laughs at himself a little, and settles back into his easy chair and falls asleep over his book.