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.