The Problem with Frodo

Does someone want to explain the end of The Return of the King to me?

Generally I enjoy the books and the movies (any part that has Eowyn in it is my favorite. Yeah, I’m biased like that.). Generally I enjoy the storyline, the characters, and yeah, parts of Return of the King make me cry. Like Gandalf’s “Far Green Country” speech. Tearjerker for sure.

BUT (you knew the but was coming, right?)

I don’t understand why Frodo goes to the Grey Havens at the end.

Really, the entire last part regarding Frodo annoys me, because he gets home, he’s saved Middle-Earth, and yet, he can’t get over it. Now, not that I’m saying he hasn’t gone through terrible, horrible, life-altering, deep things. But so has Sam. And Merry. And Pippin. And just about everyone else in the film. It’s not like Frodo is in a sort of special circumstances here. Yes, he was the Ring Bearer, and yes, that leaves indelible marks. But–I think Frodo’s sort of coping out at the end.

I think this for a few reasons: one is also literary, and one is practical.

From a literary perspective, you can draw the parallel to Harry Potter, because both Frodo and Harry have to battle evil on a visceral, “in your face” circumstance, for an extended period of time (Harry for even longer than Frodo; the Fellowship Quest lasts a bit over a year, whereas Harry’s consumes seven years of his life, if you just count him actively fighting against Voldemort). Both of them are chosen for something, but in a way they had no choice about it. No one else could take the Ring, no one else could truly defeat Voldemort. There were no other options. Both were possessed at some point by the evil they hunted.

Aso on a practical level, I think it’s a cop-out. Frodo essentially can’t handle his life after the ring, so he gets to go away with Gandalf and the Elves and his uncle. But in “real life”, people who suffer trauma don’t get to just to go off to the “far green country”, until they die. They have to learn to live with what has happened to them, and then somehow move on, and handle what has happened to them. Everyone has scars that won’t heal, as Frodo muses near the end of the film. I’m sure you do. I do. And of course we have emotional scars. People don’t get out of it. But…Frodo does. Why?

Also, knowing how Catholic Tolkien was, it makes me wonder what the theological reasoning was (he definitely wrote heavy theology into his books–it’s quite obvious). The Grey Havens aren’t Heaven, exactly, I don’t think. They’re not Purgatory. Where is Frodo really going? It doesn’t feel like a Christian idea of Heaven where he’s being rewarded for his good deeds, his faith, during his life. Instead, he makes it sound that he’s going because he can’t handle regular life anymore, as he says in his speech to Sam: “We set out to save the Shire. And it has been saved. But not for me.”

Is Frodo like a martyr to the ring? But if so, why did he come back at all? A martyr would have died on Mount Doom, after the ring was destroyed.

So, I suppose I question Tolkien’s ending on two levels: 1) why did Frodo come back at all after the destruction of the ring, and 2) why does he leave? That’s not a realistic thing to me. No one else gets to do this, except the elves (and the Grey Havens are theirs to begin with), Gandalf and Bilbo.

(Afterlife for the Hobbits is never really discussed in the film. It is for humans–both the people of Rohan and the people of Gondor have death rituals, ideas about the afterlife. Also for Dwarves–we see Gimli’s cousin’s tombstone in Fellowship.  Elves have unusually long lives, but they do die, or fade away, eventually. Whatever elves do.)

Now, of course in the book, we have the Scouring of the Shire, which isn’t in the movies (it’s hinted in Fellowship, when Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror). Maybe that is the final thing for Frodo. But again, it begs the question: Are the other hobbits not affected by this? I can’t imagine that they are just A-OK with their home being destroyed.

So, in short, I very much dislike how Tolkien leaves his hero, in a sort of unheroic way.

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3 thoughts on “The Problem with Frodo

  1. I can explain! I’ve thought alot about this too. I’ve also done a lot of research on PTSD in soldiers coming home from WWII/Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan. (unfortunately, I do not currently have any links…)
    But there was this one soldier who described the experience very well. Basically, a bunch of soldiers will go through THE EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE (Watching their friends blow up, having to kill people, traumatic stuff), and 2 of the guys will come home, kiss their babies, heal, live again, but a minority will come back altered. They won’t necessarily have seen worse, or even be the ‘sensitive’ type, there isn’t really a way to predict it. But this one guy who it happened to him, he said he felt nothing when he held his children again. He couldn’t cry. ever. He said his friends who saw the same could cry, etc. but that he was in kind of a state of permanent deadness. His solution was to recognize that this was a side effect of a neccessary thing (making the world a better place for his kids) and so he just goes through the motions of life with the numbness/pain, so that others can still having feelings/hapiness. (almost exactly what Frodo says “The shire was saved sam, but not for me. Some people have to lose things so that they’ll be saved” or soemthing like that)There is tons and tons of research on this, if you want to look up PTSD and veterans. There’s no way of predicting who it will hit. And there are 5 major symptoms (flashbacks, deadness in emotions, etc I don’t remember them all) but when I wrote my paper on it, I found Frodo exhibited 4 out of the 5, and his speech to Sam was ALMOST EXACTLY like the soldier’s blog I read who was dealing with PTSD.
    I think because Tolkien fought in WWI (with the gas, trenches, slaughter, and lost all but 2 of his closest friends) he knew people who had PTSD (even though it wasn’t given a label till WWII I think). And PTSD does leave some people fine (like Sam who was able to have 13 children and be a mayor, or like Tolkien who was able to get married and have kids) and some people aren’t ok, and come back permanently damaged, Like Frodo, or this soldier I can’t remember his name (sorry)
    So why Tolkien throws in the bit about Frodo going to the Grey Havens, when he says Frodo will be healed of these things that Middle Earth can’t heal him, was kind of a statement of hope, of faith. Thinking of those permanently damaged PTSD friends he had, who would be healed/set free in heaven.
    That’s my 2 cents. My papers on the subject are on my computer in a moving truck right now, so sorry I couldn’t give you more stats, quotes, and references….

    • OK, I understand this. It was in my thinking when I wrote this. I think the problem is that Frodo gets that “out”–the Grey Havens. It’s like, wait a minute. He just gets to leave? That’s what sticks in my craw. I can understand there were problems but it’s like, wait, what? I mean, people don’t get to leave, you know? I know it’s fantasy, but I think the theology of Tolkien that winds its way through this is a bit betrayed here.
      But I do understand and v. much appreciate your point re: PTSD. Definitely comes into play.

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