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Words of Explanation  by Larner

Written for the nonfiction challenge for the LOTR Community.  Beta by RiverOtter.

Why I’ve Accepted the Appearance of Movie-Frodo

            One of the frustrating aspects of picturing many of the characters from the Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien has given us so little to go upon in the way of description.  We have an excellent image of Gandalf’s appearance given us in The Hobbit, and a fair idea as to the appearance of Bilbo Baggins and his untoward guests at his unexpected party.  However, when it comes to picturing Frodo Baggins or his companions we are left with a far skimpier set of facts on which to base an idea of each one’s appearance.  As for Frodo himself—descriptions are few and far between.

            “This one is taller than some, and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin.”  “A stout little fellow with red cheeks.”  “…[A] perky chap with a bright eye.”  So he is described to Barliman Butterbur by Gandalf, as related by the former to Frodo, Pippin, and Sam in the chapter Strider in The Fellowship of the Ring.  A brown mat is chosen as a reasonable counterfeit for Mr. Underhill/Baggins’s hair, and used in the construction of the dummy Hobbits and found torn to pieces the next morning when it’s learned the invaders realized the trick used on them. 

            The few other glimpses of the physical aspects of Frodo tend to be more ethereal in nature.  Gandalf, looking at Frodo newly awakened in Elrond’s house, sees him becoming somewhat transparent, and particularly the left arm, foreseeing that Frodo has begun changes that may well lead him to become almost invisible to mortal eyes; on the stairs to Cirith Ungol both Sméagol and Sam see a particularly shining spirit at the core of Frodo Baggins, a spirit that draws their love and fealty.  As for Frodo looking on himself in Elrond’s house, he sees first that he’s lost sufficient weight that he almost mistakes himself for the much younger Hobbit he’d been as Bilbo’s ward when he followed Bilbo about the Shire, save for his eyes, which have seen a good deal since that time, and so much concentrated in the past few weeks since leaving Bag End!  And as Sam looks on Frodo there in the wilderness, he sees the fine lines of age and experience making of his Master an even more venerable, beautiful form, worthy of honor and worship.

          Tolkien, as told in The Return of the Shadow, had once thought to give Frodo a streak of white hair at his temple and a wart on his chin, two features he then scrapped.  Instead, he left us with a vague form to whom we’ve tried often to give more defined features in the years since.  Most portraits of Frodo drawn by various artists have been fairly vague, actually, which contrasts a good deal to the heroes of other stories.  The most familiar images we have of him are, I think, the depictions of him given by the artists who rendered him for Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, and the appearance given him in the person of Elijah Wood in the Peter Jackson films.

          Bakshi represents Frodo as the tallest of the four Hobbits who leave the Shire together, and as the one with the lightest hair.  The height is probably right, for Tolkien ever portrays height as one of the necessary attributes of particularly noble leaders:  Elendil is Elendil the Tall, being well over seven feet tall and perhaps even over eight feet according, I understand, to one of his letters; Aragorn’s long legs are remarked upon by Butterbur, and he stands clearly taller than those about him at his coronation—a particularly tall Man among many tall Men of Dúnadan extraction.  It would appear he, too, was close to or over seven feet in height.  So it is among the Elves and Dwarves as well in which height and leadership are paired:  there is something regal in Thorin’s height at the Unexpected Party that leads Bilbo to recognize his importance on the Dwarf’s arrival at Bag End.

          Among those who portrayed the Travellers in the Jackson films Elijah Wood was not the tallest; but he certainly was able to project the lightheartedness of the newly adult Frodo before the Party, followed by the dignity and natural authority of the Master of Bag End, and the one of the Hobbits to whom the others defer during the quest and when they are together afterward.  The wariness with which Frodo guards himself when confronted by a Boromir intent on taking the Ring is yet tempered by that innate dignity, that innate appreciation of his own authority that Frodo has as the one who has been Master of Bag End and who now is the Ring-bearer.

          And so, in describing Frodo Baggins I have ever combined the two film images—the height of the Bakshi Frodo with the innate dignity and quick awareness of the Wood Frodo.

          Frodo’s hair is somehow distinctive, as we know from the discussion of the mat used by Butterbur’s people.  We know from Tolkien himself only that his hair is brown, but that is true of most Hobbits.  In one of his letters Tolkien indicated that the hair of Pippin, as a quintessential descendant of the Fallohides, is the lightest of the four; therefore I tend to imagine that Frodo’s is the darkest, harkening back to his mother’s family.  She might have been a granddaughter to the Old Took, but she was also the descendant of those within the Shire with the strongest Stoor blood and attributes as well.  It is said that the Stoors had the darkest hair and were in many ways the most determined and strongest willed of all Hobbits; it is pleasing to think that Frodo inherited the dark hair I am willing to continue to see as part of his image as coming from his Brandybuck ancestors, as well as a good portion of the indomitable will we see within the Ring-bearer who earned the title of Bronwë athan Harthad, or Endurance beyond Hope

Yet he is also described as fairer than most.  Bakshi gave him the fairest hair of the four Hobbits of the Fellowship; but fair does not always indicate fair-colored hair.  It also means physically beautiful, having a particularly light complexion, and having a particularly discerning mind that seeks to give all their due in the end, one that will not cause any to need to defer to any other if it can be avoided.  Fairness is a spiritual as well as a physical attribute, after all; and we see that fairness in Frodo’s nature all through the story.  He will not say nay to those in the conspiracy who insist on joining him, although as the one true adult of any standing or seniority among the four of them he has a perfect right, not to mention responsibility, to tell Merry and Pippin that they most certainly are not going outside the Shire with him.  Instead, he accepts their claim on their love for him to allow them to go with him—at least as far as Parth Galen.  He looks on Gollum and sees the one Sméagol had been, and perhaps could be again, and seeks to give Gollum a fair chance to become what he was meant to be; he does the same with Saruman when they confront one another on the steps of Bag End itself.

          So, I picture Frodo ever as having a particularly fair complexion, but with a tendency for his cheeks to redden at almost any emotional stimulus, particularly with embarrassment or anger.  He also, like Faramir, comes to see to the heart of those he meets or faces, and ever seeks to give each the chance to become the best he can given the circumstances; we know that Sam had mistaken this tendency for softness, only realizing with experience just how well Frodo appreciates the worst that those he deals with are capable of as well as the best of their potential.  Frodo is an exemplar of estel for others even when he holds none for himself.

          Then there is the bright eye that Gandalf describes; what does that mean?  Here I see Wood’s appearance as satisfying that image, for there is no question that Elijah Wood has a particularly fine pair of eyes, capable of communicating so much without words.  The striking blue of those eyes captures our attention, and they are reminiscent of at least some of the Elves.  Stoor hair and Fallohide eyes—they work very well for me!

          There is a most peculiar vulnerability within Frodo, for although he is fair-minded, he is also particularly pragmatic as well.  He is not blinded by hope, and so is not crippled when his journey has stripped that emotion or capability from him.  Yet, even when his is truly hope-less, he still goes on, for he has given his word, and he will live up to the level of responsibility expected of him as an individual, the responsibility he ever knew from the moment he was recognized as the Baggins of Bag End, the Master of Bag End and the Hill.  He will seek to do what is needful, even if it might claim his life before that need is accomplished.  He doesn’t do so out of hope for the future, but simply because it needs at least to be attempted, for if it is not attempted there is no hope for anyone else.  This I see as the Harfoot influence Frodo has inherited along with his Baggins name, tempered by Stoor capability and Fallohide imagination and discernment and foresight.

          This ability to see to the true heart of not only others but of situations is what gives him his especial dignity in the end.

          So he is now pictured in my mind—the particularly slender, rather tall Hobbit youth with the responsible bent, but with the quick wit and discernment that enables him to set up diversions to allow himself and his chums to plunder the fields, orchards, and glasshouses of the Marish and that later seeks to offer a chance for redemption to Gollum and Sharkey in spite of recognizing that they are indeed villains at heart.  I see him as having become sufficiently sedentary during his middle years to allow him gain weight he then loses on the quest and cannot regain afterwards.  I see him as holding a particular dignity to himself, an aloofness many see as lack of empathy, never recognizing that it is truly indicative of the fact he is too empathetic for his own peace of spirit.

          He is ever tied to Elves as much as to Hobbits, and more closely to Men than to Dwarves as was true of his nominal uncle.  For Frodo and Aragorn are spiritual brothers, and I see the relationship in the physical resemblance as well as in the love shared between them.  Frodo is as dark-haired in my image of him as is Aragorn, and in the end is as spare as the tall, lanky Man, and as filled with spiritual authority.  Both appear fairly young for their kinds, considering their chronological ages at least, when they meet; but both are indeed shaped by their particularly responsible natures and experiences to become effective rulers and restorers for those given to their care.

          Elijah Wood’s depiction for the most part has become a physical image I will now most likely ever hold of Frodo Baggins (although I imagine him taller in comparison to other Hobbits) as I see it particularly capable of conveying the physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of Frodo I best identify with myself.  And I am grateful to him for giving Frodo a physical presence that until the coming of the films I’d not been able to adequately imagine.  I’d done images of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, and even of Bilbo; but I’d never even tried to do a portrait of Frodo as he’d always been a physically nebulous individual, one I’d always pictured as a more spiritual rather than a physical person.  Thank you, Elijah, for giving me a Frodo Baggins I can love as much as I’ve ever loved Aragorn son of Arathorn.


Written for Inzilbeth and Cairistiona's website, which is focused on Aragorn son of Arathorn.  Beta by RiverOtter. 

Brothers Found

            It is difficult to name the hero of The Lord of the Rings, as there are so many throughout the tale—just how does one pick the hero from the likes of Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Gandalf the Grey?  Then there are Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, Éomer son of Éomund, Théoden King, and, of course, Boromir and Faramir sons of Denethor to capture the attention of all, not to mention Gimli and Legolas, Elrond of Imladris, and both Galadriel of Lothlórien and Éowyn of Rohan—plus the subtle presence of Arwen Undómiel.

          What a rich mine of characters to examine, and such a number of heroes and heroines to pick from!

          There is no question, however, that the two characters about whom the tale tells most are Frodo Baggins of Bag End in the Shire and Aragorn son of Arathorn with all his various names and titles.  And how many parallels there are between the two of them!

          Aragorn lost his father while but a toddler, being two years old when Arathorn took an arrow to the eye and died probably instantly. [22]  At that point the child and his mother were spirited away to Rivendell where Aragorn began his fostering in Elrond's home at a much earlier point of time of life than was ordinarily experienced by the heirs of Isildur, coming to think of Lord Elrond as his father until he was judged a man grown at the age of twenty.  It was likely he saw few enough children near his own age during those years to appreciate what it meant to play as do other children, or what childhood would mean to other mortals.  His life was, in many ways, extremely protected and somewhat artificial.  It is likely that besides his mother only a very few trusted others from among the Dúnedain of Eriador would have been aware of his existence, for his continued safety lay in keeping the secret of his survival to maturity.

          Frodo Baggins lost not only his father, but his mother, too, and at a time in his life that left him both best prepared for adapting to whatever new life he might know and yet leaving him particularly vulnerable to many influences.  We know little of his earliest life, for we are not told where within the Shire he was born or lived before his parents' deaths, nor how well his immediate family got along with Bilbo Baggins, the Brandybucks of Brandy Hall, or the Tooks either of the Great Smials or those who farmed the lands near Whitwell.  A Hobbit child of eleven to twelve would be roughly the equivalent of a Mannish child of seven to eight in many ways; and such children tend to adapt fairly well to new circumstances when they are well treated, and yet are of an age to keep memories of their birth-parents and earlier life.  It is likely that his new guardians would consider him a good deal more fragile than he proved, but that they could well miss important clues indicating where his true emotional hurts had been taken.

          Drogo and Primula Baggins do not appear to have resided primarily at Brandy Hall, but do appear to have been frequent visitors, reportedly due to Primula's father spreading a fine table for residents and guests.  We know they went out on the river one evening, but the circumstances of why they did so have not been divulged to us.  All we know is that they both drowned that night, leaving their only living child Frodo in the physical custody of Primula's Brandybuck family.  And there the child remained for nearly ten years, until the year Bilbo took custody of his young first and second cousin, once removed each way, and adopted him as his heir, reportedly finding Frodo the one younger relative he had who displayed any spirit. [2]

          So, here is a parallel between these two characters:  both were torn from their original home by the loss of parents, and raised in situations to which they were not necessarily inclined by nature.  But where Aragorn, having come there at the age of two, came to see Rivendell as his primary home and the Elves now surrounding him as part of his ordinary experience, Frodo had to know that Brandy Hall was not his home, and had to adjust his thinking to accommodate the fact that the Brandybucks had gone from benevolent relatives with whom he'd been accustomed to visit temporarily to his primary caretakers.  Whatever happened during Frodo's childhood from the time of his parents' deaths, he appears to have felt displaced until he returned to the Shire proper to live in Bag End with his "Uncle" Bilbo, at which point he found himself sharing Aragorn's unusually Elven education.

          Aragorn, after all, as "Estel" was also living as the ward of a nominal "uncle," for Elrond Peredhel was, after all, brother to the founder of Aragorn's own line, Elros Tar-Minyatur. [21]  As Elrond's foster son, young Estel was undoubtedly given a thorough education in the histories of his mixed lineage, and was sufficiently familiar with the Lay of Leithien and particularly the portions dealing with the meeting of Lúthien and Beren that he appears to have sung it frequently—he was singing it when he first saw Arwen Undómiel, and sang it again for the Hobbits during their stay in the dell below Weathertop. [22, 8]  He was a lore-master from the start, well versed in the tales of the First and Second Ages, and fully educated in the history of evil as expressed by Melkor and Sauron and their various machinations.

          Bilbo Baggins, apparently following in the footsteps of his remarkable maternal grandfather, old Gerontius Took [1, 24], had developed an appreciation for the history of the greater world, an appreciation that was undoubtedly increased by his adventure to the Lonely Mountain and back.  It is most likely that on his return he wanted to learn more, and that he looked to both Gandalf and Elrond to satisfy his curiosity and thirst for more information. [1, 2]  That part of the reason he wished to take Frodo as his ward and protégé was so as to foster similar interests in the younger Hobbit is very likely.  So it is also likely that Frodo was also interested in all things Elvish when young, and had this appetite both encouraged and filled by his new guardian.  In this way it is likely that Bilbo had given Frodo as thorough an education in the history both of the Shire and of the world Outside as it was possible to give a Hobbit of the Shire, preparing him for his own journey in a unique manner.  It is likely that Frodo saw much of this information he learned as being purely academic until he found himself in the midst of his own adventure, at which time it became far more important to realize these were not just romantic tales he'd heard, but the histories that led up to his own situation, an appreciation shared in the end with Samwise Gamgee, who was to state this openly as he and Frodo approached Mordor.

          For it was Sam who recognized aloud that the light held within the Phial of Galadriel gifted to his Master was the same as that borne aloft by Eärendil the Mariner, and taken by Beren One-hand from the Iron Crown of Morgoth in Thangorodrim, thus making his and Frodo's quest but a continuation of the older stories.  That he should see this with a level of wonder while Frodo saw it in a more ironic and fatalistic light was, I must suppose, to be expected. [14]

          Frodo had also probably seen an Elf or two while in Bilbo's company, most likely messengers from Rivendell.  Bilbo himself appears to have come into personal contact with the Elves of the wandering companies as well, for Gildor Inglorion discusses him as if he is well familiar with the older Hobbit, but speaks of knowing Frodo only from having observed him in Bilbo's company on jaunts about the Shire.  Frodo had mastered the appropriate Elvish greetings, and appreciated that the song they heard from Gildor's folk as they approached was about Elbereth Gilthoniel, the Valië who gave the universe its stars. [4]  It is therefore likely that Frodo had studied some Elvish, and most likely Sindarin, as taught him by Bilbo, and that these studies from his youth became more important to him as his own journey brought him into physical contact with the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien, perhaps somewhat enhanced by the companionship of Legolas during the quest.

          Aragorn, on the other hand, had been raised probably to be multilingual.  He would undoubtedly have spoken Sindarin as his primary language, but nearly equally with Westron and Adúnaic, and he would probably have also learned to be fluent even in the high tongue of Quenya, as it would be expected and needful for the one who sought to combine the rule of the two Númenorian realms founded by Elendil and his sons.

          Here, then, would be another parallel between Frodo and Aragorn—sharing an unusually broad education for each one's kind, including the study of Elven languages.

          Both would also have been taught administration and record keeping.  Aragorn, after all, was being groomed to become Chieftain of his folk as well as hopefully King of a reunited Arnor and Gondor. [22]  Frodo, as the expected next Baggins Family Head, would also have been required to learn how to administer and keep track of family finances and assets as well as those of the Master of Bag End, and would have had to track the history and status of his now dwindling family of name.  There were few enough Bagginses left when Bilbo quitted the Shire; how many might remain at the time Frodo followed him seventeen years later is questionable, as it appears that Frodo and Lotho were the only sons to remain to carry on the family name within the Hobbiton region at the time.  Unless someone within the family broke off from the main Baggins line and set up a small enclave elsewhere within the Shire, it appears that Frodo marked the end of a most fascinating lineage. [23]

          Both were in the middle years of their expected lifespan at the time they met, and both appeared markedly younger than their true ages, Aragorn due to his nearly pure Dúnedain heritage, and Frodo due to the prolonging of apparent youth and vitality offered by the Ring he carried within his pocket.  Aragorn thus appeared not appreciably older than Boromir, Éomer, and Faramir; Frodo appeared a contemporary of his actually younger Hobbit companions; yet their true contemporaries among those taking part in the quest were each other.

          Both came under the tutelage and guidance of Gandalf the Grey, who did his best to ensure that Aragorn be prepared for his future role by learning the ways of his future allies and enemies, and who promised to keep two eyes on Frodo, as often as he could spare them.  And where most of the Hobbits of the Shire saw Gandalf as a dangerous instigator of adventures, [1, 2] Frodo felt comfortable enough with him to appreciate that the knowledge shared with him about the origins of the Ring and Gollum was trustworthy and to be respected and acted upon. [3]

          One of the most fascinating parallels between the two is the closeness each developed with others, and the protective nature of the friendships they evoked.  None within Rivendell appears to have questioned the surprisingly close bonds formed between their lord and his last fosterling from his brother's descendants, but appear to have developed a keen love for Aragorn/Estel as well on their own parts. [8]  Then, on his return to his own folk Aragorn appears to have quickly won the affection and fealty of his kinsmen, starting with Halbarad, who may well have been a first or second cousin, probably on Gilraen's side of the family. [15]  This gathering of fealty continued apparently throughout his life, and certainly led others to be drawn to him as was true of Éomer and Faramir from their first encounters with him.  [13, 17]

          It appears similar with Frodo—he had a handful of very close friends, mostly his younger cousins:  Meriadoc Brandybuck, who undoubtedly thought of Frodo as next best thing to his own older brother considering how he'd have lived his first few years in Frodo's company; Peregrin Took, who seems to have had such a relationship with Merry as Merry had known with Frodo and who saw Frodo as one he had the responsibility of protecting; Fredegar Bolger; and Folco Boffin—and, of course, Samwise Gamgee. [2]  Pippin describes Sam as being willing to sacrifice himself on Frodo's behalf, a description that certainly proved accurate! [5]  But perhaps the most remarkable indication of Frodo's particular charisma is evidenced by the fact that two more found themselves falling under his personal spell and naming themselves willing to spend themselves on his behalf—Faramir son of Denethor when he indicated that he would accept his life being forfeit for allowing Frodo to travel further through Ithilien, and Aragorn son of Arathorn:  "…and if, by life or death I can save you, I will." [7]

          That he who was born to rule Gondor and Arnor reunited should himself vow fealty to Frodo Baggins, and before he'd had a chance to see Frodo prove himself in any notable way, speaks volumes about the characters of both.  Like honors like.  And to leap so from worrying about Frodo's discretion to making the vow to protect Frodo at any cost speaks to Aragorn's own personal integrity and discernment.

          In return, Frodo responds by almost immediately accepting this scurvy looking wanderer who has accosted his party at the Prancing Pony, telling his Hobbit companions that he expects that the true servants of the Enemy would look fairer and feel fouler, a mixed compliment as Strider notes wryly. [7]

          Aragorn is among the first to accept a place in the company of the Nine Walkers as one of Frodo's companions, alongside Sam.  From the beginning he is the one Gandalf consults as to which alternative route to choose, as well as the natural one to take over leadership of the Fellowship once Gandalf has fallen with the Balrog.  He is the one negotiates with Haldir and his brothers regarding their entrance into Lothlórien, and who suggests the compromise by which all of their remaining party enter the Golden Wood blindfolded.  And on Cerin Amroth Frodo first experiences a vision that echoes a previous visit by Aragorn to the place, when he seems to see the Man garbed as an Elven Prince as he'd appeared to Arwen when she first accepted him as the one who stirred her heart and plighted her troth to him; and here he also finds that a portion of his own heart remains as well—two shadowy ghosts to haunt the hill upon which Amroth once dwelt, the memories of elvish Man and elvish Hobbit remaining there indefinitely even though their corporeal selves must go on and will never return. [11]

          The nobility of the Man is echoed ever in the Hobbit he has sworn to protect.  Aragorn absolves the dying Boromir of the sin of seeking to take the Ring from Frodo [12]; as he and Sam take refuge on the hill of ash at the foot of Oródruin once the Ring has been destroyed, Frodo bids Sam forgive Gollum, as without the creature's intervention the quest could not have been fulfilled. [16]  Aragorn and Frodo both inspire others to freely offer up their lives for the good of all, and do so by their own examples.  Both see all too clearly where their paths may well lead, and yet go on through the darkness, knowing that even if they fail they must at least make the attempt.

          And there is the mysterious Light of Being that is discernible in each of them.  Frodo realizes that Aragorn is the tall kingly Man he has envisioned before, seeming to see the Star of Elendil upon his brow [6], offering to return to him as Isildur's heir the Ring at the Council of Elrond, and clearly seeing the aura of Aragorn's nature as the Sacred King, the Healer King and the Renewer, about him at the Man's coronation. [17]  Gandalf, Elrond, and Sam all see the growing Light within Frodo Baggins, with Gandalf pondering on how, in time, Frodo will likely become as a clear vessel filled with light for eyes to see that can [10] as the changes to his nature apparently begun by the wounding by the Morgul knife but purified by the healing offered by Elrond continue over time.  Sam also discerns a clear light emanating from Frodo on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol that is already apparently familiar to him [14]; and so recognizes that Frodo now belongs to the world of the Elves that when he realizes that Frodo is planning to leave the Shire he accepts the apparent decision of Frodo to retire to Rivendell with no question, then finds the grief of realizing he would not see Frodo again for many years if at all a blessed thing as he accepts Frodo's invitation to ride with him to the Havens. [20]

          Both Frodo and Aragorn have been given much knowledge by their mentors, knowledge that through their arduous experiences is transmuted into ineffable wisdom and that in the end deserves great reward.  Aragorn's reward is given him in this world—marriage to the one woman he has ever known who stirred his heart, the last of the Queens of the Elves remaining within the Mortal Lands, honor and responsibility in measure with the faithfulness, trust, wisdom, and strength he has ever displayed, and a true happily-for-ever-after life.  But if Aragorn is the Healer King, Frodo Baggins is the Wounded King who accepted the wounds that do not heal, and by whose suffering the rest of the world is freed from pain. [26]  Not for him bliss within this reality:  to him is given the right to leave this world and find elsewhere the healing and fulfillment (or at least acceptance) of his state that cannot come to him here in the Mortal Lands.  His reward lies elsewhere.  He leaves yet a virginal character, ready to be purified and returned to his former blemish-free state, the acceptable sacrifice who was ready to die for the safety of all but who now must learn to live to that purpose instead.  And if Aragorn is the regnant for Middle Earth's new Golden Age, Tolkien himself described Frodo as Middle Earth's Once and Future King, leaving to the hidden realms so as to return at need sometime in the future should Middle Earth ever need him to return to its further salvation. [25]

          There is a somewhat skewed symmetry to the lives of these two:  Aragorn began as a single mortal child living amidst the immortal Elves of Imladris and being nurtured by them; Frodo Baggins ends his years as the sole mortal being dwelling on Tol Eressëa amidst the immortal Elves of the Undying Lands, where he hopefully knows their healing and acceptance—at least from whatever time Bilbo has died until the coming of Samwise.  During his years as Strider Aragorn knew derision and suspicion from the very folk the Dúnedain he led sought to protect in secret [7]; after his return the only people throughout Middle Earth who did not offer Frodo the respect and honor he'd earned were his own folk within the Shire. [20]  Each, faced with the needs of the world in which he lived, offered up all he was capable of being; each received honor and love in keeping with their sacrifices and labors; and each must have found within the other a true brother of the heart and spirit.  Aragorn could not have come to either his throne or marriage to his Queen without Frodo's efforts to fulfill the quest; Frodo could not have come to his reward without the Queen's gift to him of her own place on her father's ship. [19]

          Is it any surprise that I like to imagine that at one time it had been planned that these two should have been fraternal twin brothers, and with that plan marred by the epidemics of diseases intended to spark deaths and miscarriages set loose by Sauron, instead Frodo was allowed to be born among the one people within Middle Earth the dark Maia had always overlooked?  Ah, how we appreciate now the sense of irony that Eru appears to have ever displayed!


1.  The Hobbit:  "An Unexpected Party" 

2.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "A Long Expected Party"

3.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "Shadows of the Past"

4.  Fellowship of the Ring: "Three is Company"

 5.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "A Conspiracy Unmasked"

 6.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "Fog on the Barrowdowns"

7.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "Strider"

 8.  Fellowship of the Ring:  "A Knife in the Dark"

 9.  Fellowship of the Ring:   "Flight to the Ford"

 10. Fellowship of the Ring:  "Many Meetings"

 11. Fellowship of the Ring:  "Lothlorien"      

 12. The Two Towers:  "The Departure of Boromir"

 13. The Two Towers:  "The Riders of Rohan"

 14. The Two Towers:  "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

 15. Return of the King:  "The Passing of the Grey Company"

 16. Return of the King:  "Mount Doom"

 17. Return of the King:  "The Houses of Healing"

 18. Return of the King:  "The Steward and the King"

 19. Return of the King:  "Many Partings"

 20. Return of the King:  "The Grey Havens"

 21. Return of the King:  Appendix A: "The Kings of Numenor"

 22. Return of the King:  Appendix A: "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"

 23. Return of the King:  Appendix C:  The Family Trees:  "Baggins of Hobbiton"

 24. Return of the King:   Appendix C:  The Family Trees:  "Took of the Great Smials"

 25. The History of the War of the Rings:  The End of the Third Age:  "The Epilogue"

 26. For a better understanding of the roles of the Sacred King and the Wounded King, see the collected works of Joseph Campbell.

Written for the LOTR Community Nonfiction challenge for 2011.  For Shelley and ChickLovesLOTR for their birthdays, and for Tiggersk8.

Pick a Hero

            One of the most compelling aspects of The Lord of the Rings is that it is not a tale with but one or two major heroes and their sidekicks; nay, within Middle Earth everyone has it in him or her to become a great hero or a terrible villain.  As has been pointed out in trying to decide which to define as the major characters in the movies, The Lord of the Rings is instead an ensemble piece in which even the most insignificant of characters is vastly important.  It seems obvious that Frodo and Aragorn are the two main characters—but isn’t Gandalf as important as they?  And you can’t consider Sam a less important character than Frodo, for the two become a unit that must labor together to see the main goal of the story met; and Sam wouldn’t have been there if not for the mechanizations of Merry and Pippin; and you cannot ignore the importance of Legolas and Gimli to the quest of the Three Hunters; or ignore Boromir, his brother, or his father, each of whom has his own part to play or all will fall to nothing….  And so it goes.

            Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast are all of the order of Wizards or Istari, who we learn elsewhere were originally Maiar, servant angels sent to the Mortal Lands in the guise of mortal Men, intended to guide and inspire the people of Middle Earth in their ongoing battles against the forces of evil as personified at the time by Sauron, who also originated as one of the Maiar.  The three Wizards join with the greatest remaining Elven lords and ladies to form the White Council, in which these who are deemed to be the Wise meet to debate just how to best counter the evil they face within the world.  Saruman the White, accepted as the leader of the Istari, is also granted the post as head of the White Council, but not without misgivings on the part of Galadriel, the Lady of the Golden Wood.  As so often happens, he who is given the greatest responsibility and honor has the furthest to fall should he betray his trust; so it happens with Saruman.  Apparently seduced by Sauron via the medium of the palantir of Orthanc, Saruman descends into villainhood, turning the Vale of Isengard into a slave’s copy of Mordor, with hidden forges and machines and dungeons where an army of mannish orcs is being bred, armed, and trained to subdue Rohan in preparation for even greater treacheries as yet not named aloud.

            Saruman has left behind his position as the White, now seeing White as but a canvas to be painted upon, Light to be broken into a spectrum by means of a prism, a cloth waiting to be given definition by being dyed.  And with his seat as Chief of the Wise now vacant, it is the returned Gandalf, who has proved himself by taking on still another fallen brother in his battle with the Balrog, who is elevated as the White in his place.  So, one once thought a hero is now choosing to supplant the chief villain, and the manipulative, goading Gandalf of The Hobbit is fulfilled and revealed as Saruman as he ought to have been.

            Meanwhile Radagast fulfills his duties, but appears to have lost sight of his mandate to oppose Sauron in his dedication to the wild lands and creatures of Middle Earth; Gandalf is allowed to return home with full honor while Saruman’s shade is blown apart upon the winds of the world as had happened also with Sauron; and Radagast lingers on within Middle Earth, perhaps only now coming into his own as he most likely helps the lands and creatures heal from Sauron’s long tortuous reign.  His heroic status might not be certain, but he does prove himself to be no villain, at least, and he remains a sympathetic character.

            In Rohan we meet a number of heroes in the Viking-like Rohirrim—Háma the Doorward, who defies Gríma Wormtongue to leave Gandalf’s staff in the Wizard’s hands and who is cut down before the gates of Helm’s Deep; Théoden King in both the battle of Helm’s Deep and the charge against the Enemy’s folk on the fields of the Pelennor; brash young Éomer as he defies the King’s orders to intercept Saruman’s orcs on the eaves of Fangorn Forest and finds himself King amidst the chaos and grief of the battle before the gates of Minas Tirith; and his even brasher and yet lovely sister Éowyn who, denied the love she thought she sought, refuses to be left behind and so in disguise sneaks herself and Merry to the Battle of the Pelennor where the two of them manage to destroy the Witch-king of Angmar between them and so rid the world of a great evil. 

            Then there is the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, known also as Iarwain Ben-adar, with his beloved Goldberry Riverdaughter, dwelling in the dwindling wild of the Old Forest; and old Treebeard and his Ents and huorns who guard the integrity of Fangorn Forest on the southern borders of the Misty Mountains.

            And there are the Elves who even now fight the battle of the Long Defeat, as they know it.  If the long war against Sauron is indeed won, still they will lose their place in Middle Earth, yet they fight on determinedly nonetheless.  Elrond has the Ring within his house and the Ringbearer unconscious under his hands, yet he withstands the lure of the Ring, Frodo awakens to find It on a silver chain about his neck rather than still inside his pocket, and in the Council of Elrond Its status is made clear to all that participants might make informed choices as to what needs doing next, whether to offer themselves as companions to the Ringbearer or to return home with warning to prepare for the mother of all battles soon to turn up on their own doorsteps.  Galadriel is offered the Ring by Frodo and turns it down, accepting that by doing so she will at least remain herself even if she must then leave Middle Earth and return to Aman at the last.  Thranduil and his realm must prepare for the coming battle, knowing well that either this will be the end of all things or it will serve to restore the Great Greenwood one last time ere the Elves of Middle Earth must fade.  Not to mention the quiet heroism of Arwen, crafting the standard that she prepares for her beloved in secret and sending it by the hand of his doomed kinsman Halbarad.  Arwen personifies those who send their beloved lovers, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers out to fight, not knowing which they will embrace once more and which they will mourn forever after.

            The Dwarves also face their final battle against Sauron proudly, knowing one of their own is a member of the Fellowship and that this time they will fight side-by-side with both the Men of Dale and the Elves of Mirkwood—perhaps the one factor that this time helps guarantee the final victory over Sauron, that this time all are fighting, perhaps  separately, but still together in the long run.  Each race has its representation in the Fellowship of the Ring; and the most peace-loving of them all, the Hobbits of the Shire, this time lead the final assault on Mordor, one that is by-and-large won by perseverance and endurance rather than through strategies or warcraft.

            So, this is one epic that draws us into it by providing at least one hero, great or small, with whom each reader can identify, whether Aragorn wielding Andúril, Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Frodo collapsing on the slopes of Oródruin, Sam patiently replanting the Shire with a grain of soil from Galadriel’s garden to the roots of each tree, Éowyn and Merry standing against the Lord of the Nazgûl, Denethor searching the Anor stone for warning of the Enemy’s plans against Gondor, one of those who fought in the Battle of Bywater and who carried their bows to the doorstep of Bag End in the wake of the Travellers, or some unnamed member of the Grey Company soothing his horse and his own soul before following his beloved Lord Kinsman through the Paths of the Dead to the tryst at the Stone of Erech.  And I think that for all of us, the common one we love as well as our first hero is Faramir son of Denethor and brother to Boromir, with his quiet assurance to Sam and Frodo that he would not use a lie to entrap even one of Sauron’s own creatures.

            We watch each one in this story making his or her choice to either do the best possible against Sauron, or to seek his own glory at the possible expense of his soul, and we find our heart stirred by all of the forms of heroism possible.  And, with those gathered on the Field of Cormallen, we find ourselves praising each and all with great praise.  A laita te!

Written for the LOTR Community Nonfiction challenge

On the Nature of Tol Eressëa

            The Quenta Silmarillion tells us that originally the island of Tol Eressëa was fixed midway between the two continents of the world, in the midst of the Sea between Endorë where the Children of Ilúvatar awoke and the land of Aman, where dwelt the Valar and their servants.  When the Valar decided that they could best protect the Eldar by drawing them to their presence in Aman, they sought to find a means to bring them there safely.  At that time the northernmost reaches of Endorë and Aman almost touched, separated only by a narrow sea of grinding ice, what in time came to be known as the Helcaraxë; but the Valar would not bring the Elves to them by that route, considering it to be far too dangerous.  Instead they chose to ferry those who answered their summons across the Sea, and the island of Eressëa was used as the vehicle for this voyage.  We are told that Ulmo uprooted it from the floor of the Sea and brought it to the Bay of Balar off the mouths of the River Sirion, and that the Vanyar and the Noldor crossed over onto it, and so were drawn to Aman. 

            The Teleri, however, did not make the first crossing, having remained within the Hither Lands where many were engaged in searching for their missing king, Elwë having come across the Maia Melyanna in terrestrial guise in a grove and the two of them having gone into a trance of mutual enchantment at the sight of one another.  It was some time before Elwë’s brother Olwë took over leadership of those of their people who desired to go further West and brought them to the shores of Beleriand near the mouths of Sirion, and there Ossë and Uinen, Ulmo’s greatest vassals, taught them much about the ways of the Sea and so kept watch over them.

            It was a very long time before it was decided to send Eressëa back for those of the Teleri who wished to come to Aman.  It was anchored by one corner once more in the Bay of Balar, and the Teleri appear to have crossed over onto it and back fairly freely before at last Ulmo drew it away from Endorë back again to Aman, leaving behind the corner piece which became the Island of Balar.  Not all of the Teleri chose to leave the Hither Shore, however.  Some chose to remain as the Falathrim on the western coast of Beleriand, where under the guidance of Círdan they built ships and sailed along the coastlines of the eastern continent.  Others remained constant in their allegiance to Elwë, and when at last he emerged with his semi-divine bride and founded his first kingdom they gathered about him once more.

            Ossë followed after those of the Teleri who chose to sail west upon the floating island, and once they came into the waters of the Bay of Eldemar Ulmo was begged to settle the island there rather than to run it into the mainland so that they might walk ashore as had happened with the Vanyar and the Noldor.  In this way the island once more became fixed, now considered a part of Aman although still separated from it by the waters of the bay.

            Again the Teleri remained for quite some time upon the island, dwelling apart from their kindred who lived in Tirion upon Túna and those of the Vanyar who had removed further to the lower slopes of Taniquetl.  At last Ulmo brought ships to them drawn by swans so that they might come to the coastal lands where they founded Alqualondë.

            We are not told whether some of those who’d come to these waters from Endorë might have remained upon the island, but it is likely that just as some of the original Teleri refused to give over their search for Elwë and others chose to remain behind on the shores of the Bay of Balar as the Falathrim, that a few would choose to remain upon the island where they had so long been in communion with Ulmo and Ossë.  This had, after all, long been their home, and it was familiar to them.

            The Silmarillion speaks of but one city built upon the island, that of Avallonë, which is variously described as looking across to Aman itself but the tower of which is said to be the first glimpse those on arriving ships might see of the island.  Certainly the Tower of Avallonë was recognized as the only glimpse of the Undying Lands granted to those who dwelt upon the island of Númenor, looking from the western shoreline of the Star Isle and the tower eventually built by one of its rulers.  As most of the descriptions given in the Silmarillion of this city indicate it is seen from the east, it is most likely that it indeed was built upon the eastern shores of the island and looked back toward Middle Earth or on a prominence either northeast or southeast with views both east and west.  (Unless, of course, the island was particularly long with a narrow isthmus of sorts toward the center where the city could be situated looking both ways.)

            Other cities are described in the volumes of HoME, although just how canonical they might be considered is perhaps questionable, as many of the details given, for instance, in the Books of Lost Tales were later discarded or radically changed in Tolkien’s later writings.  It is likely, however, that there was more than one city or major settlement upon the Lonely Island, particularly as there were many different kindreds of Elves who eventually came to dwell there.

            I somehow doubt many if any of the original Noldor and Vanyar who were party to the first ferrying of Elves to Aman would have chosen to linger there—these two parties appear to have been too eager to answer the summons of the Valar to linger on this bit of land once it reached its destination.  But considering how long the Teleri appear to have dwelt upon it both while it remained in the Bay of Balar and once it was fixed in the Bay of Eldemar, it is likely that some of the second ferrying would have chosen to remain there indefinitely.  There was nothing to stop them from periodically sailing to the continent proper for visits with friends and kinsmen and then returning home again to their familiar place, after all.  Those of the Noldor who accepted the pardon of the Valar after the War of Wrath were allowed to settle upon the Lonely Isle originally, with indications that perhaps they might be proscribed at least for a time from going further to return to Tirion or to seek other lands upon the continent itself.  It is likely that some of these might have been accompanied by other Elves who’d refused the first summons, perhaps some of the Avari or Falathrim who had joined the various settlements and kingdoms set up by the different Noldo lords who now sought out new homes in a land relatively unsullied by the actions of Melkor and his people.  Then there are those who sailed later in ships primarily wrought in Edhellond or by Círdan, and perhaps a few built by individuals such as Legolas is said to have done for small parties, many of whom would have settled on Eressëa at least at first, although Tolkien indicates many of these might have gone on to Aman proper in time.  Legolas was of mixed blood, we are told, while many of the Elves who fled Middle Earth after the awakening of the Balrog in Khazad-dûm appear to have been as much Sindarin as Noldo in breeding.  I’ve seen nothing, for instance, to indicate either Amroth or Nimrodel was Noldo, and Tolkien has described Celeborn, husband to Galadriel Artanis, variously as having come from Aman and as being a Sinda or one of those who first counted Elwë as his lord—one can apparently take one’s pick as to which kindred one wishes him to be allied with.  As for those who were reembodied after deaths in either the slaughter of Alqualondë or in the various wars in Middle Earth, it is likely that many of these would find more familiar faces and customs in those who made their homes on Eressëa than in Aman proper, or so it seems to me, as well as physical distance from the sites most strongly associated with the traumas of their deaths.

            With so many different parties, it is most likely there were a fair number of settlements at least, and probably more than one major city, with trading centers upon the western shores of the island where ships sailed regularly to and from Aman.  Those who dwelt in Avallonë appear to have included a fairly large contingent of those who returned to the Undying Lands after the War of Wrath, for it is said that the commerce with the people of Númenor originated there, and that the master stone of the Palantirí was housed in the Tower of Avallonë.

            What was the island like?  Originally it was neither of Middle Earth nor Aman, having been taken, we are told, from the midst of the Sundering Sea and brought to the Mortal Lands solely for the purpose of serving as a ferry for those who answered the summons of the Valar.  That being true, it undoubtedly had its own unique climate, flora, and fauna to begin with.  Certainly the two trips between the Bay of Balar and Aman would have caused major alterations to all of these each time it was brought to a new location.

            The second time it was anchored off Beleriand it appears to have remained in place for quite some time, and the Teleri appear to have crossed to and from it numerous times before at last Ulmo pulled up stakes and drew it to its final site in the Bay of Eldemar.  During this time it most likely adapted to the climate of Beleriand, and was probably seeded with plants by windborne seeds, birds, and those Teleri who began making their home there in preparation for their eventual removal to the Undying Lands.  They also probably brought with them familiar animals, and particularly domesticated creatures such as pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, horses, poultry of various sorts, dogs, cats, and so on.  Birds, insects, and wild animals probably also crossed to the island from the mainland, perhaps by bridges or by flying or swimming to the shores of the island, most likely fleeing predators or wild fires, or in search of a better environment with more food sources and fewer enemies.  How much of the original plants and animals from the island might have been transplanted to the mainland is still another question, much less how many of them might have survived the journeys the island had already made, considering changes in climate and competition from imported species. 

            Still, it is likely that by the time the island arrived in its final place it had been developing a new ecosystem that was further modified by the influences of the climate of the bay in which it was settled and what new plants and animals managed to make it there from Aman by accident or design.  It appears that some plants such as athelas, perhaps mellyrn, and definitely the White Trees of Gondor came to Middle Earth either from Eressëa directly or by way of Númenor, gifts to Elros Tar-Minyatur’s people from friends who’d come to Avallonë after the War of Wrath.  (Although it is most likely the mallorn and some other plants associated primarily with Elves would have been carried to Middle Earth by those who fled Aman by way of the stolen swan ships or who survived the crossing of the Helcaraxë.)

            In this way, Eressëa easily fit its new purpose in serving as a staging area for those newly come to Aman from the Mortal Lands, marrying as it undoubtedly did in the end the flora and fauna of Endorë with that of the Undying Lands and what remained of its own original species.  It would be familiar in many ways to those newly come from the shores and woodlands of the Hitherlands, while the differences would help them make the transition to eventual settlement, should it become desired, on the mainland. 

            Then there is the question of the atmosphere of the place.  We are told that the air of Aman proper, being so pure and so recently breathed by the Valar, was so rarified that it would not long support those with mortal blood.  Tolkien tells us that those mortals who saw the shores of Aman rarely survived long, as their bodies were quickly burnt out, possibly aging rapidly.  It was in light of this that I wrote my own rather AU tale of Pharazôn’s forces setting foot on the shores of Aman and rapidly succumbing to the air of the place and dying of the sudden onset of old age on the beaches, the bodies returned to their own rapidly decaying ships by the locals and towed out to sea for disposal by Ulmo’s Maiar.  Was it possibly at least in part the fact that their physical bodies were strongly affected by the air of the place that Eärendil and Elwing could not return to their sons and people who’d survived the sack of Sirion?  I suspect that both the effects of the air and the use of the power of the Silmaril in finding their way to Aman each played its part in bringing about the special doom shared by this pair by burning away their mortality to the extent they could no longer survive should they have returned to the Mortal Lands.

            How true would this be of the island?  Would it, too, swiftly slay its mortal visitors, or could they perhaps enjoy a slightly longer time of residence considering it was not wholly of Aman but had its own unique ecosystem and was somewhat removed from the purer air of Aman proper by the influence of the Sea surrounding it?

            One can choose either way, I think.  So it is that I personally chose to have Frodo stubbornly clinging to life in spite of the delicate state of his physical body until he was certain whether Sam would come to join him, but that once that wish was fulfilled both soon chose to let go their lives with thanks in order to reach for the Gift to mortals and seek to be reunited with those they’d loved and perhaps to find the Presence of the Creator.

            How this must have fascinated the other residents of the island.  Those who’d never known mortals must have watched the deaths of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Gimli with a degree of awe, while those who’d fought alongside Men and Dwarves in the wars against Morgoth and Sauron must have been gladdened to see mortals this time dying in peace and honor rather than by violence, debilitating illness, starvation, exposure, or betrayal.

            I do doubt, however, that any of the Hobbits or Gimli would have been taken to the continent itself, as to do so would undoubtedly have so greatly limited their time as to make it hard to know the healing and fulfillment each deserved.

            A fascinating place, the lonely island of Tol Eressëa, perhaps the only place where so badly damaged a creature as Frodo Baggins might have found sufficient physical and spiritual healing as to be able once again to rejoice fully in life in spite of his separation from his own land and people and all that he’d formerly loved.

Written for the LOTR Community 2013 Non-fiction challenge.  For Michelle and Tony for their birthdays in spite of them not being particularly respectful of Tolkien's world; and to Gail and Lindelea in thanks for their continued support through it all!

The Not-So-Simple Samwise Gamgee

            He’s self-effacing:  “If I can say so as probably shouldn’t.”

            His language is rustic, using as rather than that, and often using ain’t, confusing nominative and objective cases at times.

            He’s a laborer amongst gentlehobbits, a servant amongst those intended to be Masters.  He loves what his more sophisticated neighbors and acquaintances dismiss as fable, hanging on to hear every tale he can come upon that tells of Elves, and cheerfully admitting that he believes them implicitly.  And he is thrilled to be associated with Mr. Frodo Baggins, the chosen heir to the eccentric Bilbo Baggins, now the Baggins as well as Master of Bag End and the Hill, perhaps the richest individual living in the Hobbiton area, almost in the very center of the Shire.

            And he is dismissed by many, even those who love his story, as simple.  Even his name implies simplicity:  Samwise, which is translated Half-wiseSemi-wise, Half-wit, and expected to be a simpleton.  Certainly he is depicted in the Bakshi animations as decidedly less than the others—smaller, apparently older and subservient, more a caricature than a proper character in his own right.

            But just how simple is he?

            Sam was only in his early tweens when Frodo came of age and into his inheritance, yet the Gaffer retired and left his definitely underage son in charge of Bag End’s gardens and Mr. Frodo’s welfare.  Such an act does not indicate that his father considered his son to be a true fool or simpleton.  One does not give simpletons and fools such responsibility, and particularly not when they are entering that most irresponsible period of life as most Hobbits appear to have considered those years between twenty and coming-of-age at thirty-three.  It would appear that even Hamfast Gamgee with his aphorisms and epigrams also at least subconsciously questioned how well his son’s name reflected his true nature.

            My first consideration of the true nature of Samwise Gamgee’s character came during a discussion of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films on  In the film-verse dialogue in The Two Towers Frodo stands wide-eyed, looking off into the terrifying future he now foresees, and he states that he doubts that he will ever return home.  In the book the scene is less obviously angsty, as Sam speaks of going back and Frodo, perhaps with a feeling of gallows humor, shakes his head and suggests that, once the Ring goes into the fire and he and Sam are there at hand, isn’t it likely that the two of them probably won’t be able to survive the chaos that will undoubtedly accompany the destruction of the Ring?  In the film dialogue Sam confronts his Master with, “But that’s just morbid thinking!” and goes on to insist that they will go there and back again.

            One of those involved in analyzing the scene felt that Sam’s line here is far too sophisticated for him, for she felt that he ought not to have such a word as morbid in his vocabulary.

            I found myself countering with, “But he was Bilbo’s pupil.  Bilbo taught him to read and write, ‘meaning nothing but good from it,’ as the Gaffer insists in book-verse.”  Obviously literacy wasn’t universal in the Shire, and certainly not in the laboring class, at the turn of the century as the Shire celebrated fourteen hundred years since its founding and Bilbo Baggins planned how he would use his little gold souvenir from his adventure to disappear from the Shire and shock his relatives.  Sam was obviously fascinated by Bilbo’s tales of Elves and dragons, to the point he wanted to know more about them.  His father obviously didn’t approve, admonishing him that his gardens and their produce were what ought to be of primary importance to the likes of them.

            But Sam wanted to know more, and Bilbo responded by teaching him to read and write so that he could read the books Bilbo had on the subject for himself.  And the Gaffer couldn’t very well tell his employer no when Bilbo took it into his head to teach the youngest of the Gaffer’s sons to read and write.  So Sam managed to get a leg up on his father starting when he was but a child by taking lessons from old Mr. Bilbo.  Obviously he already was putting the lie to his name.

            So, when did Sam first begin studying under Bilbo Baggins?  I suspect the teaching started about the time Bag End got a new resident.  Sam was about twelve when Frodo came to Bag End to live as Bilbo’s ward and heir, perhaps the equivalent of a child of eight or nine compared to children of Men.  How long he might have studied under Bilbo to that point we don’t know, but it’s likely that a good deal of his interest in learning more was sparked by his new association with Frodo.  Frodo was apparently still studying under his nominal uncle’s tutelage at the time, and so it’s likely that Sam began insinuating himself into Frodo’s lessons and was taught to read and write at least in part so as to give him the feeling that he, too, was studying the same as his newly acquired hero and future Master.  So, he was undoubtedly hearing the lessons Frodo was getting and the discussions the younger Baggins was having with the elder about the history of Middle Earth and the nature of the races and wonders to be found outside the borders of the Shire.  Inspired and intrigued both by Bilbo’s own stories and what he heard of Frodo’s lessons, he wanted to learn more, and so his education went far beyond what the Gaffer might have anticipated.

            Not only was he learning from what he heard of Frodo’s own lessons as well as what he was now able to read for himself, but it’s likely that when he and Frodo were on their own Sam was questioning Frodo about what he’d heard discussed.  So it was likely that young Samwise Gamgee actually had two teachers, both old Mr. Bilbo and young Master Frodo.  And it must have amazed Hamfast Gamgee to realize that his son was becoming an educated Hobbit in spite of his relatively low estate.

            It appears that Gaffer Gamgee had rather set expectations for the behavior of people in his particular class, and that he most likely disapproved of those who behaved in a manner beyond their station.  So it is likely that, to appease and reassure his father, Sam did not change his mode of speech to reflect his greater knowledge and surprisingly advanced education for one of his social standing.  But Sam didn’t just work in Bag End’s gardens.  Again, it appears to have been Bilbo’s habit to allow Sam the freedom of Bag End, and particularly once Frodo was living there.  We are told that he would come in and draw the curtains in the mornings to encourage Frodo to also start the day, and it’s unlikely that he would have waited to start doing this until he was in charge of the gardens.  To enter one’s Master’s bedroom to awaken him would have been seen as a great impertinence for one employed solely as a groundskeeper and gardener, so Sam must have come to be included in the household most likely from a young age to feel free to continue doing such a thing when he became Frodo’s sole servant, and was probably accustomed to doing this first at the request of Bilbo himself.  After all, what a nearly grown individual may openly resent from a parent or guardian may well be tolerated in a younger person who is known to worship the individual being so served. So, Sam was most likely coming to be seen as both an inside and an outside servant from a young age by himself, his father, and most who knew the denizens of Bag End.  An inside servant is generally allowed more latitude in familiarity with his masters than is a mere gardener, and so it was easier for the Gaffer to overlook the growing friendship between his youngest son and the Young Master.

            But Frodo doesn’t appear to have kept the line drawn between friendship and servitude anywhere as clearly as was likely with the Gaffer.  Sam was definitely on equal footing at Frodo’s last birthday party at Bag End with Fatty, Folco, Merry, and Pippin, after all, and was so free with the appointments of the smial that he felt no compunction against making extra trips to the storeroom where the ale barrel was kept for an extra “goodbye” or two, again a freedom not generally accorded to mere servants.  It’s pretty clear that the Bagginses were of a far more egalitarian bent than was Hamfast Gamgee!

            Therefore it is very likely that Sam spent far more time at Frodo’s side as a friend once he was accepted as the gardener for Bag End than he had during most of his later teen years when he was working under his father.  He was certainly familiar enough to Frodo’s closest friends among his cousins for them to enlist him to spy upon Frodo for them, and he appears to have been considered an equal partner with Merry, Pippin, and Fredegar Bolger in the Conspiracy.  Certainly when Frodo, Sam, and Pippin arrive at Crickhollow he is treated equally with Pippin and Frodo—three tubs have been set up in the bathing room, one for each of those who walked across country; and when Pippin is told off to mop up the floor because he’s sloshed water all over the place while making the water to rise up like the fountain he’s been singing about there is no attempt by Sam to take on the job as “rightfully” his duty as the one member of the servant class present.  Nor do Merry, Pippin, or Freddy seek to point out that cleaning up ought to be Sam’s job.  It is very plain that if Sam “does” for Frodo Baggins it is because it is his free choice to do so, not primarily because he is Frodo’s servant.

            It perhaps ought to have felt odd to Frodo’s so much younger cousins and Sam to have transitioned from clearly being nearly half a generation behind Frodo to being seen as his contemporaries once they, too, approached or passed coming of age.  Sam and Freddy were twelve years younger than Frodo, Merry was fourteen years younger, and Pippin twenty-two, after all!  But instead they speak with him as an equal as they explain that they are going with him no matter what.  This speaks as much to the implied egalitarian tendencies Frodo entertained as well as perhaps to the effects of the Ring, as none of the party offers Frodo particular deference due to his age, and he tolerates it.

            So they leave as apparent near-equals, Merry leading the four who are leaving the Shire at this point.  Merry was the one apparently who first recognized the possible danger inherent in the Ring and who engineered the Conspiracy, after all, and appears to have brokered to his father the idea of selling Frodo the Crickhollow house.  He is the one who provides the five ponies with which they leave the Shire, and also provides the means of escape by leading them to the gate through the hedge, producing the key and then restoring it to its proper place.  He also initially leads them into the depths of the Old Forest as far as he knows of it.  Not until the forest itself funnels the four of them and their five ponies toward the Withywindle and into Old Man Willow’s clutches does any other provide leadership, and that one is—Samwise Gamgee!  It is he who recognizes that Old Man Willow is singing of sleep and who saves Frodo.  It is he who first thinks of a means to secure the freeing of Merry, even if it does backfire.  But without his realization that the tree has attacked the party, there is no question that it’s likely only he would have been left for Tom Bombadil to find alive when he came down the path with his leaf-tray filled with water lilies a few minutes later.

            Sam’s imagination is apparently the last to be filled with the awareness of the terrible dangers possibly ahead for the party, as he is the only one who does not experience dreams sparked by potentially dangerous noises while they sleep in Bombadil’s house.  But he is the first to imagine evil of the Man Strider who seeks converse with Frodo in the Prancing Pony, and who seeks to turn Strider’s own warnings against the Ranger.  “With your leave, Mr. Frodo, I’d say no!  This Strider here, he warns and he says take care; and I say yes to that, and let’s begin with him!”  He continues to distrust Strider to one degree or another until they meet Glorfindel along the road; but it is not until they are in Rivendell in Elrond’s house that he finally gives over his suspicions for good.  It is what Sam learns about Aragorn during the period Frodo lies insensate that puts the last of his fears of the Man to rest for good and all.

            But even Strider has come to appreciate Sam’s competence as he questions whether Sam could recognize athelas, kingsfoil, as it grows, and in movie-verse he even enlists Sam’s help to search for it as Frodo’s condition deteriorates after the attack at Weathertop.

            If Sam Gamgee is learned beyond the expectations for one of his station and is seen by others as an equal in the Conspiracy and as one of Frodo’s closest friends and companions, and if he has shown himself to be remarkably competent, he is also loyal to a fault!  He stands by the others, and particularly Frodo, through thick and thin.  And he demonstrates that he is capable of developing loyalty even to the humble pony that the company is gifted with by Butterbur in Bree, the to-that-point abused Bill.  He takes on the primary care of the animal as they journey between Bree and Rivendell, and insists that Bill doesn’t wish to be separated from them and so must needs become the tenth member of the Fellowship.  Now, it was Merry who’d provided the five ponies with which they’d come to Bree; even though Butterbur paid the Brandybuck for their loss during the time the innkeeper’s people were responsible for them, still one would expect that Merry would most likely lay claim to this new steed once it came into their company.  But instead all appear to have accepted that as Sam took upon himself primary responsibility for Bill the Pony, Bill had somehow come to be Sam’s.  It is Sam who most grieves when they must separate from the pony as they look to enter Moria, and Sam is the one who is overjoyed beyond measure when Bill is restored to the Travellers once they return to the Prancing Pony.  He is so overjoyed that at that point he apparently leaves what was undoubtedly a fine pony he’d ridden all the way from Gondor there in Bree to ride Bill home instead!  And it is Bill he rides when he accompanies Frodo as Frodo indicates he is leaving the Shire for good.

            Through all they experience Sam remains his Master’s primary guardian.   He dozes during Frodo’s conversation with Gildor Inglorion, but listens to the talk nevertheless, and uses the advice Gildor has given to convince Frodo to accept the additional companionship of Merry and Pippin as they leave the Shire.  When he is checking his pack prior to the Council in Rivendell, thinking that they will soon be able to leave for home, he still recognizes that if that is not to be he will take the long road at Frodo’s side or won’t go home at all.  Elrond has apparently either foreseen or simply recognizes Sam’s role in maintaining Frodo’s wellbeing, for he does not have the gardener ejected from the Council but accepts him immediately as perhaps the first member of the Fellowship that will accompany Frodo to Mordor.  It is Sam who recognizes apparently early on that Boromir is far too focused on the Ring Frodo carries, who warns the others that Frodo will do his best to slip away without notice once he makes up his mind to head directly southeast to Mordor, who recognizes that Frodo has done just that and figures out how Frodo must intend to get across to the eastern bank of the river, and who arrives just in time to join his Master whether Frodo wishes his further company or not.  He is the one who realizes that Frodo needs physical as well as moral support to complete his task, who accompanies him all along the way, who does the most to guard the two of them from Gollum’s malice, and who serves as rear guard to protect Frodo’s back from Gollum’s attacks twice, once as they seek to escape Shelob’s lair, and later on the sides of the Fiery Mountain itself. 

            He is the one who carries the hope for both of them as the Ring incessantly draws Frodo’s attention to Itself.  He conceives of a hot meal there in Ithilien and convinces Gollum to fetch him the conies from which to prepare it.  He faces down Faramir during the interrogation the young Captain conducts, trying to gauge why Frodo and his servant are traveling through Gondor’s territory.  I’ve loved the image Tolkien draws of Sam standing before the amazed and perhaps amused Ithilien Rangers, his hands on his hips as he berates Faramir as a fool and perhaps even an unwitting ally to Sauron for interrupting Frodo’s as yet unnamed errand, and I equally love the movie-verse exchange between Faramir and Sam in which the former asks if Sam is Frodo’s bodyguard, to which a glaring Sam responds tersely, “No—his gardener!”

            As the two of them pursue their journey toward Mount Doom, increasingly it is Sam who takes the initiative as Frodo weakens by the moment, not only due to the weariness of the journey and the horror of the landscape of Mordor and the lack of sufficient food and drink, but also as the Ring continues to increasingly monopolize Frodo’s attention and seeks to subvert his will.  Sam captures Frodo’s hands as the Ring seeks to force Frodo to don It, and does his best to kindle those memories that hopefully will additionally strengthen him against the Ring’s fell will.  Once he realizes that Frodo is still alive even after having been poisoned by the spider and has fallen into the hands of quarreling factions of Orcs, it is Sam who sets out to find his Master and rescues him.  It is Sam who sees Frodo freed and the Ring restored to him, and it is Sam who finds the clothing they wear as they flee the Tower of Cirith Ungol and during the first stages of their journey through Mordor itself.  It is Sam who gives Frodo his Elven cloak to wear and sacrifices a portion of his precious hithlain rope to serve as a belt when Frodo can no longer stand wearing the orc garb.  Once Sam recognizes that they indeed will most likely not live to return to the Shire, he sacrifices his beloved pans and everything else that might weigh them down as they make the last leg to bring the Ring to the fire.  It is Sam who carries Frodo up the mountain on his back when Frodo can no longer move of his own volition.  And it is Sam who brings Frodo out of the Sammath Naur after the destruction of the Ring to the one place where they can be seen and rescued, although they have no idea that rescue is on the way.

            Sam has matured from the apparently simple Hobbit who mistook Caradhras for Mount Doom.  He is now truly the Prince of the West he is acclaimed as on the Field of Cormallen.  He has accomplished what not even Frodo believed possible—he has indeed seen to it that his Master made it to there and then back again.  And he has seen it accomplished with a surprising degree of grace. 

            When Frodo first feels the impulse to put on the Ring as the first Black Rider approaches the site where he, Sam, and Pippin are hiding during their walking trip across the Shire to Buckland, he has no idea that the Ring Itself is adding Its own will to that of the wraith to inspire him to unwittingly reveal himself.  Later in the Old Forest It tries to convince him to slip out of Bombadil’s house while wearing It, perhaps intending to send him either into the hands of the barrow-wights or onto the Road into the path of one of the questing Black Riders.  It tries in Bree to convince him to put It on to escape from an embarrassing situation as he fumbles to find something to say or do that will draw attention away from Pippin’s potentially revealing description of Bilbo using It years ago at the Party in his now infamous disappearance.  Frustrated, It finally slips Itself onto Frodo’s finger as he dances upon the table, causing him to disappear in precisely the manner Frodo had been trying to avoid reminding his listeners of.

            But it isn’t until they face the wraiths in the dell below Weathertop that they all appreciate that the Ring Itself truly is exercising Its will in prompting him to put It on.

            It is likely that the Ring sought to suborn Strider during the journey between Bree and Rivendell, and perhaps even during the stay there before the Council.  That It would be testing all of Frodo’s companions within the Fellowship once their greater journey was begun is perhaps a given.  But the specific testing It offered Sam once he was in possession of It is most instructive of both Its nature and his.  First It offered him the same temptation It probably made to almost everyone:  he was wearing Sting at the time, which had been crafted in ancient Gondolin.  He could now raise that small sword and become the Hero of the Age!  His call would summon the greatest army ever assembled, and together they would march on the Black Tower and cast it down and displace Sauron forever.  Sam, who was never raised for martial pursuits, apparently dismissed that vision pretty swiftly.  But then, having learned more of his nature, It changed tactics.  Wielding Its power, Sam could transform the whole of Mordor from the sterile, harsh, unwelcoming desert to which Sauron had reduced it into a garden the size of a realm!  Now, this was a far different and more welcome dream, one that would truly appeal to the nature of a gardener who had ever labored in other people’s gardens.  But in the end he realized there would be no true accomplishment to such a scenario, not one that would truly please him.  He wished instead a garden of his own, one that he labored over using his own hands, not magic or the labor of slaves.  With that dismissal of Its temptations, the Ring appears to have gone quiescent, for It apparently could not deal effectively with those who had no ambition, the one quality that all of the Rings had been created to serve and by which It could capture the wearers of the other Rings to Its Master’s service.

            Already the Ring had been forced to deal with that most stubborn of Bagginses—how much more amazing to It must have been this guileless gardener who wanted only the fruits of his own labor and no more!

            So we see Sam showing his own quality, the equal to that he’d seen proven in Boromir’s brother—the very highest!

            As they labored along their lonely path, Sam and Frodo spoke of tales, and it was Sam who pointed out how the two of them were now in an extension of the old stories:  that of Lúthien and Beren and the Silmaril had led into that of Eärendil and his part in drawing the Valar to participate in the War of Wrath; and now Frodo bore the light of the ancient jewel that had been associated with all of those, caught in the crystal phial given him by the Lady Galadriel.  Earlier he’d revealed that he’d memorized the Lay of the Fall of Gil-galad, and then recited his own poem of the Stone Troll.  It is plain that Sam had indeed become educated by Bilbo Baggins, and again apparently far beyond what his old dad had anticipated or could appreciate.  Perhaps he never truly embraced becoming a warrior or Wizard, but there is no question that he proved himself to be an extraordinary individual from any race!

            Tolkien indicated in his correspondence that the Hobbits represented the little people who do most of the fighting of wars in the real world.  Frodo, Merry, and Pippin were certainly the equivalents of himself and his friends from the schools he’d attended and from his university days who enlisted imagining glory for themselves as they fought the Hun, while Sam was much the same as the sons of farmers, carpenters, shopkeepers, and the like that they had grown up alongside in the villages surrounding the greater cities of Britain.  These became the grunts, the foot soldiers, the Tommys.  These went into the army with little realistic appreciation for what they would really endure once they reached the front.  They were the ones most likely to see their fellows blown into pieces by artillery or caught on the barbed wire strung by the enemy to protect their own bunkers, or floating in rain-filled bomb craters.  Their innocence was stolen from them as they experienced the horrors of war and saw their fellows fall too often due to the ineptitude of their commanders.  Many came home more wounded in spirit than in body, and perhaps never escaped nightmares engendered by the often needless and unintended destruction of land and people they’d witnessed and perhaps even inflicted upon others.

            And these four Hobbits came home to take up leadership roles in seeing the Shire scoured of the ruffians who’d come to occupy it in their absence and then restored to meet the needs of its inhabitants who undoubtedly still couldn’t fathom how they’d first come to find themselves cowering from the brutality of Lotho’s tyranny enforced by these mercenaries, and then how in a matter of a few days the Travellers turned the situation around and drove the scoundrels out!  And now Sam was right there in the limelight!  The Hobbits of the Shire might have heard how Merry and Pippin led the Shire’s Hobbitry in arms to flush out those ruffians who hid here and there wherever they might find some cover, but it was Sam they saw and aided seeing to the dismantling of the Shirriff houses and the rebuilding of destroyed homes and businesses (and inns, of course!) throughout their lands.  It was Sam to whom they volunteered their help in seeing their neighbors rehoused, trees and gardens replanted, and all set aright once more.  As for what Frodo accomplished as deputy Mayor, it’s likely that the average Hobbit, who tended to see the Mayor only at public functions, had no idea as to what Frodo was doing to help return the Shire to normal.  So, as far as most of the Shire was concerned, Sam was the one they saw actually doing the work of restoration and so he was the one to whom they primarily ascribed responsibility for their recovered wellbeing.  With this in mind it is easy to appreciate why the Hobbits of the Shire chose Sam Gamgee to succeed Will Whitfoot as Mayor when Will finally chose to retire.

            After Frodo returned the responsibilities of the Mayor to Will Whitfoot during the Free Fair of 1420, the Baggins returned to private life in Hobbiton, where he now shared Bag End with Sam and Rosie, and began systematically fading from view.  Sam came there not as Frodo’s servant, but as his equal. 

            Never has Frodo apparently ever considered Sam to be merely a servant—even when Sam was a child and Frodo in his later adolescence it’s likely he’d seen Sam as a friend.  And a friend Sam has become indeed, as Frodo describes him when he tries to explain in book-verse why he’s certain they won’t be returning to the Shire once the Ring is gone—if they manage to survive to reach the Sammath Naur, that is.  “Friend of friends!” Frodo calls him at this point in the narrative.  There is no question at all that here Frodo honors Sam as at least his equal, if not his better.  And when they dwell in Minas Tirith the citizens of the White City think of Sam not as Frodo’s servant but as his esquire, which most clearly reflects what I see as their true relationship.  For it is obvious that Bilbo and Frodo have always seen Sam was destined for greater things, and that Frodo in the end is preparing Sam to succeed him as Master of Bag End and the Hill, and as the caretaker for the Shire they both so love but that Frodo can no longer hope to serve.

            It is possible, even likely, that Frodo considered himself secondary to Sam now.  Sam achieved his part of the quest, after all; but Frodo still believed on at least an emotional level that he himself had failed his.  All could see and admire the martial splendor of Meriadoc Brandybuck, the personal esquire to the King of Rohan, and Peregrin Took, who’d been knighted by the King Returned.  So many had seen Samwise Gamgee directing the restoration of homes, inns, groves, and fields.  But Frodo hadn’t done his work out in public view, and wasn’t traveling about the Shire in fancy dress wearing his mithril corselet and with Sting hanging at his side.  He did his best always to hide his pain from others.  At least he was doing his best to hide the depth of that pain even from Sam and Rosie, with whom he shared Bag End, even as he’d earlier done his best to hide it from Tom Cotton while he still abode with the Cottons on their farm.

            Sam, however, is still far more aware of Frodo’s intent than the Baggins wishes to think.  This time he does not argue when Frodo presents him with the deed to Bag End and gives him paperwork he will need to follow through upon now that he takes Frodo’s place as Master of Bag End and the Hill.  In spite of Frodo’s continuing work at seeking to conceal his deteriorating condition, Sam still recognizes—and apparently accepts!—that Frodo must now leave the Shire.  Now, Frodo is still a comparatively young individual for his race.  He’s approaching his fifty-third birthday, about the equivalent of a Man in his mid to late thirties.  That Sam would accept that Frodo must now leave the Shire in order to best meet his own needs, he had to recognize that Frodo was indeed fading, and without perhaps more “Elvish medicine” he’d most likely deteriorate and possibly even die in a foreseeable future.  That Sam, who’d so demonstrated his love of Frodo Baggins so thoroughly, would even imagine ceding his Master’s care to Elrond and so allow Frodo to retire to Rivendell alongside old Mr. Bilbo is the greatest indicator I can imagine of his recognition that he sees this abandonment of the Shire as both necessary and desirable for Frodo’s own wellbeing at this point. 

            But this time Frodo has been able at last to conceal the true destination of this final journey together in Middle Earth—he’s not heading east, but rather west—all the way West to the Undying Lands.  Frodo can no longer continue, the victim of his memories and continued self-doubt, to remain even with those he loves best and who most strongly love him in return.  The Ring had scoured him out past normal recovery; if he is to be refilled, he must accept the Queen’s second gift to himself.  And so Sam accompanies him to the Havens, resists the final temptation to follow him now, and instead returns home to the arms of his wife and daughter, to know the full life Frodo had foretold to him.

            It’s unlikely that a person would be considered for the post of Mayor unless he was first a land-holder.  Frodo Baggins had raised Sam to that status in the eyes of his fellow Hobbits of the Shire when he made Sam his heir and ceded Bag End to him and Rosie.  And at the next election, Sam succeeds Will Whitfoot as Mayor of the Shire, remaining in that office for forty-nine years, seven terms!  Frodo had held those responsibilities for the first eight months after they returned from the quest; now Sam again has followed his Master in still another path of responsibility.

            So Sam’s remarkable nature and innate wisdom and good Hobbit-sense achieve recognition now on all sides.  He is the Master of Bag End and the Hill, the greatest gardener in the Shire to the point that his family name is changed from Gamgee to Gardner, he’s the honored Mayor of the Shire, and the hero of countless Hobbits all through the lands once ceded to Blanco and Marcho by Argeleb the Second.  He is recognized as a Prince of the West by the citizens of Arnor, Gondor, and Rohan, and by the Elves and Dwarves who are influenced by Legolas, Celeborn, the sons of Elrond, and Gimli Gloín’s son.  The King so honors him that Aragorn names him Panthael, or Fully-wise, rather than Perhael, the Sindarin translation of Samwise, as he pens the letter sent in one of the proposed epilogues to LOTR Tolkien had written; and according to the Appendices he gives to Sam one of the two Elendilmir stones now in his possession when he and the Queen come north fifteen years after Elanor’s birth.  Plus, Sam along with Pippin and Merry are named among the King’s advisors.  And in the end Sam leaves the Shire after his beloved wife’s death, certain that the Elves will grant him passage on the next ship intended to leave the Mortal Lands for Tol Eressëa, where he has faith he will rejoin at last the Master—and friend—who has been gone from him for over sixty years.

            No, considering all of this, I simply cannot accept that Samwise Gamgee was ever truly simple.

Written for the LOTR nonfiction challenge.  For Tracey Claybon for her birthday.

The Anatomy of the Ring-bearer

            Just what kind of person was Frodo Baggins before the time of the quest, and what led in the end to his decision to leave not only the Shire but Middle Earth as well?  Just what went into the making of the Ring-bearer, inspiring his choices and his fate?

            Frodo was born to relative privilege, being descended directly from three of the most prominent and richest families in the Shire.  His mother Primula was daughter to Gorbadoc Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, the Marish, and Brandy Hall as well as being the Brandybuck, the family head to the Brandybuck clan.  Primula’s mother was born Mirabella Took, one of Gerontius Took’s three “remarkable” daughters, Gerontius being the Thain of the Shire, Master of the Tooklands and the Great Smials, and the Took, the family head to the Took family.  Mirabella was also next younger sister to Belladonna Took Baggins, who’d married Bungo Baggins, the father to Bilbo Baggins and the Baggins, family head to the Baggins family.  Frodo’s father Drogo Baggins was a cousin of Bilbo’s, his father Fosco being Bilbo’s first cousin.  By the time Frodo was born Primula’s oldest brother Rorimac had succeeded his father Gorbadoc as Master of Buckland, the Marish, and Brandy Hall, and his cousin Paladin Took, a great grandson of Gerontius, was in line to inherit the roles of Thain and the Took from his cousin Ferumbras, who’d never married.

            We are told that the Brandybucks had inherited the strongest strain of the Stoor blood of all of the Hobbits in the Shire, that the Tooks had inherited the strongest Fallohide blood, and the indications are that the Bagginses were of the strongest Harfoot lineage.  Frodo, therefore, had a remarkable mixture of the three ancient clans from which Hobbits were descended, and appears to have inherited the best of each line.  The Stoors had lived along the valley of the Anduin and its tributaries, digging communal smials into river banks and ridges.  They appear to have been the best of the three clans at camouflaging their holes, and were apparently most wary of strangers, although they appear to have traded with Men and learned many skills from them, perhaps through spying upon them as much as through direct instruction.  But they also were comfortable around water, which was not true of the Harfoots or the Fallohides.  The Harfoots, who are described as being the most numerous clan, lived up in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, apparently usually in symbiotic relationships with the Dwarves.  They were the clan that lived closest to the earth, the greatest and most devoted farmers, but were willing to learn whatever skills the Dwarves were willing to teach them.  Apparently they were wary of change unless they saw clearly that proposed changes would definitely benefit them all.  The Fallohides, who lived in the wooded areas closest to the lands beloved by the Elves, were the tallest and fairest, often with light hair, and are described as producing the best hunters and the most artistic and intellectually gifted individuals, skilled in music, dance, and poetry as well as languages.

            Frodo is described as “taller than some and fairer than most,” “a stout little fellow with rosy cheeks and a bright eye.”  He had brown hair and a cleft to his chin.  And he appears to have had the type of mind that could quickly analyze situations and make and commit himself to the most effective plans of action in order to bring the best out of otherwise terrible situations.

            Sauron had created his Ring to rule all of those who bore the ruling rings for Men, Dwarves, and Elves, but had apparently never considered Hobbits to be worthy of consideration in establishing his own power over Middle Earth and so had inspired no tokens to gain power over this supposedly insignificant race.  Men, Dwarves, and Elves each had ambitions that Sauron could appreciate and use in hopefully establishing mastery over them and the realms each race established and ruled; the lack of recognizable ambitions in Hobbits made them seem beneath his notice, and their focus primarily on farming and enjoying the fruits of the earth undoubtedly added to his policy of taking no deliberate notice of them.

            Who better, then, than a Hobbit to serve as Ring-bearer, much less this Hobbit?  Sauron had no handles he could appreciate by which to take power over the race or most of its individual members, so his Ring would have relatively little effect on them.  Still, damage was done to the spirits of Bilbo and Frodo by constant exposure to the corrosive nature of the Ring for so long.  Bilbo, after all, had not only held It for over sixty years but had used Its power to hide himself at need, perhaps fairly regularly as he found himself increasingly besieged by the Sackville-Bagginses and their constant complaints and malicious attacks upon his character and possessions.  We know that he realized that things were not going properly within himself for his kind and nature.  “I feel stretched, rather like butter scraped over too much bread.”  A vivid description, this, of the manner in which the Ring was likely to have extended his life and vitality beyond that common to Hobbits.  Gandalf had become concerned about the nature of this magic ring Bilbo had found to the point he insisted that Bilbo should leave It behind when he chose at last to leave the Shire after the Party, and took the envelope that contained It from Bilbo’s hand when he would have shoved it into his pocket to take with him rather than to set it upon the mantelpiece as he’d intended.  It is noted that Bilbo felt as if a weight had been lifted from him once this was done, and he went cheerfully enough out to join the Dwarves who would accompany him upon the first stage of his renewed journeys.

            Frodo does not appear to have used the Ring at all during his stewardship of It while he remained within the Shire.  But there were some crucial differences between him and his nominal uncle at the time the Ring came to each of them.  Bilbo had been an adult for seventeen years when he found the Ring in Gollum’s cave, so he already had developed habits of character and behavior that were tried and true and had allowed him to remain happily a bachelor within the confines of Bag End and the Shire and that he most likely retained after his return home from Erebor and the Battle of Five Armies.  He might have given over the stodginess and predictability that had been considered expected of him as a Baggins, but he knew his relations and neighbors well enough to convince even Lobelia and Otho to return residency in Bag End to him when his return interrupted the sale of his belongings.  He had a good knowledge of his own character, and apparently (at least) usually resisted the probable urgings of the Ring to return evil for the slights offered him.  Thus, realizing it was a lost cause to seek to transform him swiftly, the Ring drowsed while in his keeping, managing in the end only to embed Itself into his mind so well that he could not easily let It go until he faced the intervention of the Wizard, and even then the amputation of the Ring from his life was experienced with relief rather than prolonged resentment.

            It was likely that the Ring was aware of Frodo at least from the time of his birth, although how much thought It took of him during his earliest years is questionable.  We know that from the time Bilbo returned with It in his pocket male children within the Baggins family did not appear to have survived easily.  Only two of the male Bagginses residing in the region of the Hill listed in the Family Trees survived birth once the Ring came into the Shire:  Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Frodo, son of Bilbo’s cousin Drogo.  Did the Ring somehow suppress the conception of male Bagginses, or did It cause such children not to survive long enough to be included within the family genealogy, perhaps many of them becoming victims of miscarriages, sudden infant death syndrome, and the like?  We know that Gollum cursed the Bagginses while Bilbo and the Ring were still nearby enough to hear him; did It act upon that curse?  I rather suspect that It did, and that Its presence in Bilbo’s possession was a great part of the reason for the decline of this once prominent family.

            We do not know where Drogo and Primula lived during Frodo’s childhood.  They were listed as Bagginses of Hobbiton, but whether they lived within Hobbiton all during the time of their marriage up until their tragic deaths when Frodo was eleven is questionable.  We know that they are described as being frequent visitors to Brandy Hall, Drogo being fond of his brother-in-law’s hospitality and board.  Certainly they had been visiting there at the time of the fateful boating accident that robbed them of their lives.  It is certainly possible that they spent at least part of the time after Frodo’s birth elsewhere rather than in the Hobbiton area, most likely seeking to shelter themselves and their son from the influence of Lobelia and her family.

            We know that Lotho, who again was listed in the family tree as one of the Bagginses of Hobbiton, turned out a rotter.  Considering the ambition and acquisitive natures of his parents, it is likely he would have been open, even at a distance, to the influence of the Ring as he grew up, in the end turning out even more base than Otho and Lobelia had proved.  I wonder just how differently Frodo might have developed had he indeed grown up under the Ring’s direct influence, a good part of the reason that in my stories his family abandoned Hobbiton when he was just entering faunthood and removed first to Buckland and then returned only as far west as Whitfurrow. 

            But for Frodo, who spent his later childhood and his early adolescence in Brandy Hall and Buckland, farther from the direct awareness of the Ring, how might the Ring have influenced him?  With Lotho far closer to hand and considered by most Bilbo’s direct heir, I would hazard that the Ring would most likely focus Its malicious intent upon Lobelia and Otho’s son rather than upon the Hobbit child so much further from Its direct presence and influence.  After all, Frodo had less claim upon Bilbo as a possible heir, and his basic nature was inimical to Its purposes.  Perhaps It took advantage of adolescent Hobbit proclivities to scrump to encourage Frodo toward the extremes of this activity, and so might have led to him being declared the Rascal of Buckland, as Farmer Maggot indicates in Book One.  But just how much energy the Ring might have exercised in seeking to fully corrupt someone with as much tendency toward compassion and good will as Frodo appears to have contained is questionable.  After all, It had found fertile ground in which to work with Sméagol, swiftly bringing him to the point of being expelled from his Grandmother’s hole, but had failed to do much damage to Bilbo’s character in the whole of the sixty-one years It languished in his possession.

            Only after Frodo came to live in Bag End itself as Bilbo’s ward would the Ring be likely to be intensely aware of him, but It does not appear to have been able to easily penetrate the protections offered by his generally benign nature any more than It had been able to fully corrupt Bilbo’s.  So, how might It have affected Frodo?

            We know that Frodo knew a degree of foreknowledge, or at least experienced prescient dreams in Crickhollow and in Bombadil’s house.  It is likely that the Ring’s presence within the boundaries of his new home would have affected his dreams to some extent, perhaps extending his awareness of potential evil around him.  But, instead of him becoming paralyzed with fear or turning toward evil himself, Frodo was led to become even more open and friendly and yet wary of evil influences.  He certainly grasped the implications of Gandalf’s explanation of the Ring’s potential once the Ring was exposed via the flames of the parlor fire.  He knew that the Ring posed a real threat to all he loved and cared for, and surprised the Wizard by his immediate question, “What must I do?” 

            Frodo himself appears to have possessed a good degree of charisma, enough that his closest friends were watching for him to decide to leave the Shire in search of his beloved “Uncle” Bilbo and possible adventures and were intent that when that day came he should not leave alone.  Even Fredegar “Fatty” Bolger was in on the conspiracy, although how much Folco Boffin was aware of what was in the wind is impossible to ascertain from the Master’s writing.  So it was that three of Frodo’s dearest friends accompanied him out of the Shire, intent on keeping Frodo safe as well as they might, although it is important to note that it was Frodo who enlisted the help of Tom Bombadil in saving Sam, Merry, and Pippin from first Old Man Willow and then the confines of the barrow, and it was Frodo who severed the wrist of the wight who’d been intent on killing his friends and so saved them from a terrible sacrifice in an attempt to earn the wight some unnamed evil gain.  Those who’d intended to guard Frodo found that instead he was protecting them!  Is it not likely, then, that Frodo during his guardianship of the Ring had somehow subconsciously learned how to ward the Ring about so that It could not directly affect others, or at least not those for whom he felt the strongest love, those he most deeply wished to protect?  How the Ring must have come to resent Frodo’s basic good nature!

            The Ring, from the moment Frodo left Bag End, sought to draw evil to It, and sought to overwhelm Frodo’s will so as to reveal Itself to Its Master’s slaves and so speed Its return to Its proper place.  It did Its best to force Frodo to put It on while on the disastrous shortcut toward the Marish when they were hiding from the Black Rider who passed by upon the road.  It probably played Its own part in leading them first into Old Man Willow’s clutches and later into those of the Barrow-wight.  It sought to lead Frodo to leave the safety of Bombadil’s house alone with It upon his finger.  It took advantage of Frodo’s fall in the Prancing Pony to slip Itself upon his finger, alerting Saruman’s agents within the inn as to Its presence so as to arrange the attack on the Hobbits’ room later in the evening.  It certainly convinced Frodo to put It on upon Weathertop, making their target clear to the Ring-wraiths and leading directly to the Morgul wound he suffered.  And at the Ford of Brúinen It forced Frodo to halt, almost leading him to ride back across into the hands of the Nazgûl.

            The Wargs found them in Hollin; Caradhras sought to bury them in snow as they braved the pass; the Watcher in the Water directly attacked Frodo; Gollum followed the Fellowship through Moria; the cave Troll sought to skewer Frodo with a spear; goblins and orcs pursued them into and past the Chamber of Mazarbûl; Gandalf stood to guard all of them and particularly Frodo from the Balrog upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, and both orcs and Gollum followed them past the eaves of Lórien.  Once they left Galadriel’s realm Gollum easily found them once again, and they were paralleled by the Enemy’s servants along the eastern shores of the River as they made their way southward in the Elven boats.  On the sides of Amon Hen the Ring finally overcame Boromir’s honor, and It sought to capture the Eye of Its Master as Sauron looked out of his citadel within Mordor while Frodo sat upon the Seat of Seeing.  It finally twisted Gollum’s vows as they climbed the Stair toward Cirith Ungol, and at the End It took Frodo in the Sammath Naur.  We know that It had become increasingly an obsession, a weight, a deadly burden upon Frodo once he left the Fellowship behind, and grew even worse once It was within Its Master’s lands.  It robbed Frodo of his memories of the happiness and contentment he’d once known, encircling him with Images of It as the Wheel of Fire that would perhaps burn away all that had ever been good in his life, branding him as Its slave.

            To be free of Its final influence he had to have It taken from him by violence.  The loss of a finger was a pale shadow to what It had robbed him of during that terrible journey through Mordor itself.

            In his letters Tolkien indicated that ill health played no part in Frodo’s decision to leave Middle Earth and sail with Bilbo, Elrond, and Galadriel for Tol Eressëa.  But is this truly likely?  Consider the injuries that had been done him.  He was given a wound upon Amon Sûl that it was recognized could never truly heal as long as he remained within Middle Earth.  The cold of the Pass of Caradhras never left his memory.  The terror of the tentacles of the Watcher in the Water also remained with him forever.  The injury inflicted by the cave troll might not have killed him, but it definitely left him bruised and battered, perhaps cracking, definitely bruising a rib or two in spite of the mithril corselet he wore.  He’d visibly aged as they climbed the Stair toward Cirith Ungol, and he’d been poisoned by the daughter of Ungoliant herself.  He and Sam had traversed a land whose very air was reported to be a poisonous fume, whose soil was formed from rotting lava and was undoubtedly full of cutting shards of volcanic bombs and obsidian.  They breathed in untold amounts of glassy dust and volcanic gases, and had to drink water from polluted cisterns while they slowly starved toward death.  Frodo was so close to dying upon the sides of Orodruin that he had to be carried up the mountain upon Sam’s back.  He’d stood over the chasm through which in moments the volcano’s contained magma was to spew, breathing in its fumes directly.  He fought with Gollum for the possession of the Ring, and in a decidedly weakened state suffered the agony of having his finger bitten off his hand.  As he and Sam lay upon the slag heap to which Sam had brought them after the Ring fell into the Fire in Gollum’s possession, he knew he would die within moments and was at peace with that thought, falling into a coma without realizing that even then rescue was speeding toward him and Sam on the winds of the air.

            He had to be kept in healing sleep for two weeks’ time before he awoke to the realization that he’d survived in spite of everything, and as he returned to the Shire and Bag End it was brought home to him that he’d not truly conquered the Ring as he’d intended, but that instead at the last It had taken him, leading him to betray all he’d ever loved and honored.  He certainly does not appear to have challenged Saruman’s declaration that he would not know peace, good health, happiness, or long life.  Instead, he appears to have taken that as most likely an accurate prophecy of what he could expect.

            As so many have pointed out, Frodo showed clear signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with anniversary illnesses, a gradual withdrawal from society and self-imposed isolation, and a growing tendency to seek to hide his personal distress.  It is likely that he was suffering from physical as well as deep-seated psychological and spiritual pain and discomfort.  Nobody who had suffered as much and for as long a period of trauma and pain and distress as was known by Frodo Baggins could have come home in perfect health, much less maintained it.  So I hold that Frodo undoubtedly anticipated the probability that he would die, and perhaps soon, should he remain in the Shire, and possibly of suicide if the results of his physical deterioration didn’t get to him first.

            I truly believe that Frodo needed both physical and spiritual healing, and pray that he found them both once he took ship and left Middle Earth behind him.  And I suspect that the reason Sam was given the hope of following him was as much for Frodo’s own sake as he reached the end of his life as it was for Sam’s reward for his service in seeing the Ring, in Frodo’s protection, brought to the Fire at the last.

            Christopher Tolkien indicated that his father saw Frodo to be like Arthur, allowed to enter the lands of Faerie in the company of the greatest lords of the immortal beings who’d once filled Middle Earth and who were now retreating to their own place.  Arthur, the Once and Future King, promised to come again in Britain’s deepest need.  And perhaps when he comes again he will be accompanied by another smaller King, dressed in mithril mail, come at his side to dispense mercy where Arthur offers vengeance and protection?

            A wonderful thought to consider, don’t you think?

Written cooperatively with Tallis as a result of suggestions she gave me.  Written for the LOTR nonfiction challenge.  In honor of our two greatest of Hobbit heroes, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and in thanks to Lindelea for the advice and encouragement she gave as we discussed this project together.

Travellers in Four Elements

           Tallis, one of my favorite correspondents, frequently plies me with suggestions for stories, and most recently she asked if I would do one with a theme in which each of the Travellers embodies one of the traditional four elements, one of the four seasons, or perhaps one of the traditional virtues.    Her suggestions were:

+ 4 elements - fire (Pippin), water (Merry), earth (Sam) and air (Frodo),

+ 4 seasons - winter (Frodo), summer (Merry), autumn (Sam) and spring (Pippin),

+ 4 virtues - spes - hope (Pippin), sapientia - reason (Merry), fidelitas - fidelity (Sam), and caritas - love (Frodo)

          She added:  

Although the sets of virtues are so many in so many cultures and religions (like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, New Age, neopagan, etc.) that you can pick any 4 of them I think and try to mix them with Hobbit characteristics, psychology, culture and values.

           She wrote:

Once I had an idea to write an essay about their characterization as elements of nature.  Pippin would be fire, Sam was the earth, Merry water and Frodo was air.  Fire is most energetic and frivolous and too hasty. And in the movie Pippin is characterized by his meetings with fire - the fireworks, the palantir with Sauron’s red eye, the beacons of hope, and the steward’s pyre.

So water often had a hard time to stop him and make him see some reason.   Merry always had to explain something to Pippin, or work at calming his energy.  Water is an element of cold reason and practical mind and making things easier and slower - to stop and think.   Also, Merry was from a family who lived near quite a big river.  They were fishermen and they fought floods.

Sam was the earth because he was a gardener and he loved everything that grows.  He saved the Shire, which was a garden before the war, renewing that garden after the war, after Saruman's occupation.

And there is air – the pure, elvish element, representing highminded, abstract reasoning - not practical reasoning, but the more ethereal element.  In the movies Frodo is connected to the air mostly - he sits on the open air with a book, a thoughtful, adventurous dreamer; he dances under the stars; he is saved by the eagles - these birds are so powerful symbols of air as an element; and he is given the chance to enter the most ethereal place – Valinor.

+ Fire - young, carefree and impulsive Pippin,

+ Water - calming, reasonable and cunning Merry, (because water can make its way through any opposition, any firm obstacle - as Merry did get past Frodo's reserve, Théoden’s orders and Éomer’s skepticism (in the movie), the Ents’ indecision, and the power and brutality of the orcs and ruffians.

+ Earth - steadfast, stubborn, and caring Sam,

+ Air - wise, purified and ethereal Frodo.

           I had to agree with her as to all these suggestions, and for the same reasoning.

           Her reasons for assigning each season to the named Hobbit were most intriguing:

I think that Pippin should be spring as the youngest and most energetic.  Merry and Sam could be either summer or autumn, because Merry and Sam were the persons who reconstructed and renewed the Shire. They make the Shire green and plentiful again by their efforts.

+ Winter - Frodo, most elegantly cool, courteous, and thoughtful of them all,

+ Spring - Pippin, most energetic, open, and frivolous,

+ Summer – Merry, most cunning, dependable, and strategic, (because for me summer is about planning and expecting what harvests are going to be in autumn, and it is about living near water, and is also the most steady, moderate, and gentle of the seasons - well, where I live anyway  - without spring floods and autumnal harsh winds and winters or freezing snowstorms.  It is a steady, warm, peaceful time.)

+ Autumn – Sam, the most earthy, stubborn and faithful.



I can see Sam as the autumn because at this season we can harvest and Sam is a person with such a connection or archetypal function - to harvests, to plenty, to welfare, to joys of earth's fruits. He was a gardener; his was the gift of fertile dust of Lórien and the seed of the mallorn tree, and he was a Mayor for many years by which position he could have promoted the development of his country.  Also, he had so many children.



Merry should be summer - because he was younger than Frodo and Sam, (as summer is before autumn and winter.  He also became a valiant rider who helped destroy a wraith who hated the joys of life as well as sunlight (fire) and water.  Sunlight and water are most crucial elements of the summer season.   Merry's change/development is I think from the reasonable and cautious (he did plan all this conspiracy to help Frodo!) young master of Buckland to a warrior-protector of all the Shire, becoming one of the leaders of the Shire’s people coming to save the entire country with any forces he could muster.  Merry is a reasonable planner, a strategist for the future.  It is in the summer we make plans for harvests in autumn.  And summer is - I think in the Shire's culture - the best season for social events and merrymaking.



Frodo is of course winter because of his experience with death, toil and torture, with loneliness and sadness. But also he is the eldest of them and wisest.  Also, he has more connections to other old people than the other three hobbits.  He is more connected with Bilbo, Gandalf, Saruman, and even ancient Elven lords than any of the three younger ones.  The winter is the best season for book-learning and the winter is - I guess - the most "experienced" of the four seasons - after all events of other seasons like travels, works, parties, meetings.  It is a season of reflection about the past.  At the end of the story Frodo thinks mostly about the past and writes it down.  He is not thinking about his bright and merry future as Master of Bag End. He knows he is bringing his own story to a close, because he has given all he was and all he has to others and to their future. There is no future for him so he is winter - a season of memories and resentfulness, and sadness, and the acceptance of passing things.



Pippin should be spring as he is the youngest and liveliest within this group. He is most impatient and impulsive, and far too hasty for the Ents.  Also, I think that he is more open than others. Frodo is more elegantly cold and courteous to others - even noble people.  Sam is all reserve for strangers - be it Rangers, elves or Gondorians - due to guarding his master's safety.   Merry is also cautious and expects the worst from alien territories far from his Shire. Remember how Pippin presents himself so openly to Treebeard and to Beregond? That’s Pippin:  he is not particularly careful – he displays just trust and openness.

           Here I have to differ.  Tolkien took great pains to give both Bilbo and Frodo the autumnal equinox for their shared birthday, September 22.  I believe he did this with good reason.  By the fall equinox much of the harvest is complete, and one has a good idea as to how well the community will survive the coming winter.  Also, Fall represents the dying back of fields and orchards as well as the dying of the old year.  Indeed, in some calendars, such as the Jewish calendar, the old year ends and the new one begins in September.  So, I tend to see the calendar and the seasons differently from Tallis.

Winter:  Pippin, whom I see as having been born a few days before the winter solstice.  Winter may be the period for dormancy and nature’s time of rest, but it is for many cultures, including most of European origin, the time when the new year begins.  It is a time of anticipation, of a new period of time that is not yet written, upon which is impressed only the outline of our expectations and hopes.  Pippin is only beginning his life as an adult, and has few preconceptions as to what it might be like outside the Shire.  He is ready to accept whatever he finds as the quest begins, the one who sings as he runs naked upon the grass while the Hobbits await the return of Tom Bombadil with their lost ponies and the clothing they’d carried in their gear.  Frodo has memories of the barrow-wight to suppress; Merry is perhaps still considering the memory of the treachery of Angmar bequeathed him by those who’d been entombed within the barrow.  Sam is probably still too befuddled by a shredded memory of horror from their capture and wonderment as to how they won free to focus on the here and now.  But then there is Pippin, the evil memories already fleeing, able to focus on the beauty of the day now that they are free of the barrow and the fog they knew last, on whom horror cannot yet take hold.  He is the hope and endurance seen in evergreens, the courage of new life stirring personified by the first snowdrops pushing through the melting snow.

Spring:  Sam.  Just as Tolkien gave Bilbo and Frodo their birthday in the fall, Sam has been granted one in the springtime, on April 6th, which is also the Elves’ New Year.  He is also the gardener of the group, taking over full responsibility for the gardens of Bag End and service to his Master years before he came of age, just as his father’s Master left the smial to his beloved nephew.  It is Sam who clears the ground of snow, mulch, and weeds to allow the sprouts of new flowers to emerge.  Similarly, he does his best to allow Frodo, his own chosen Master, to always appear at his best, doing all he can to smooth Frodo’s days.  And, once Frodo realizes he must leave the Shire to save it, Sam goes with him, putting his own life, hope, dreams, and romance on hold so as to support Frodo in what Frodo sees as his duty.

           If Sam is the Hobbit most in touch with the earth and the rhythms of its seasons, he is also the one who most obviously grows and changes throughout the quest, more and more emerging from his own dormant state to see with his own eyes what must be done to both survive and to best meet the needs of both Frodo and Middle Earth.  Sam, who’s suppressed his education under Bilbo and Frodo so as to remain the rather rustic individual expected of his birth, parentage, and social status, now finds himself realizing that those stories of Elves he so loved as a child are not just stories but history, and that he and his Master are involved in the extensions of that very history of which he’d read and heard throughout his life.  He goes from humble gardener to Prince of the West, from a servant and manual laborer to an Esquire, from a resident in a rental home under the Hill to Master of Bag End and the Hill, and seven times Mayor of the Shire.  The one who’d never thought to do more than serve his Master and friend became a friend and counselor to the King himself.  And he married the woman he loved, between them giving twelve beautiful children to the Shire and the world of Arda.

Summer:  Merry.  As I imagine that Pippin was born shortly before the winter solstice, so I think of Merry having been born shortly before midsummer.  Merry is a young adult with an old soul.  He is capable of being practical, demonstrating a penchant for planning and logistics.  He’s the one who apparently founds the Conspiracy, and who actually makes concrete plans as to how the four can leave the Shire undetected but well provisioned.  He has ponies ready and even a diversion in place in the person of Fredegar Bolger.  He helps keep Pippin’s impulsive nature in check, and tends to see the big picture.  He demonstrates steadiness and strength of character, and a level of determination that is admirable.  His ability to plan for the entire group provides and even protects them all, even as does a tree in full summer foliage.

           There is nothing fickle to be found in the person of Meriadoc Brandybuck.  He embodies warmth and forethought and a marked devotion to his cousin Frodo as well as to the rest of the Fellowship.  When he finds himself gradually abandoned by his friends and companions he cannot bear being left behind, useless, and readily accepts the offer to accompany the mysterious Dernhelm to the battle.  And he demonstrates great native nobility in rising to the young Rider’s defense when he realizes it is Théoden’s niece with whom he’s ridden from Dunharrow and who stands stricken and vulnerable before the Witch-king of Angmar. 

           Who better to stand for summer than Merry?

Autumn:  Frodo Baggins.  As well as being the oldest of the four Travellers, Frodo is also definitely the most intelligent and intuitive, able to perceive aspects to situations that totally evade the others.  Whether it is due to what Bilbo might have shared with him of the Last Alliance during his years as the older Hobbit’s ward or to the details just related by Gandalf as the Wizard quoted from Isildur’s record that describes the One Ring, once Frodo fully realizes and accepts that Aragorn is the Heir to Isildur the Hobbit immediately ties the “ownership” of the Ring to the Dúnadan, clearly realizing that as Isildur had claimed the Ring as wergild for the deaths of his father and brother and had bound his house to Its protection, that put the Ring under Aragorn’s authority in this day and time.  But Aragorn refuses to accept the role set for him by his ancestor, so the Ring remains Frodo’s problem, something he must deal with himself.

           Frodo again and again proves himself the One who grows wise through experience his parents named him.  He realizes during the Council of Elrond that the Master of Imladris is right, that the hands of the weak and small may well better serve to see to the Ring’s destruction than those of great Wizards, lordly Men, or even the most powerful of Elves or stubborn of Dwarves.

           He is among brothers at this council as he’s not known since he shared Bag End with Bilbo, with others who see beyond appearances and recognize consequences not yet discernible to most people. And I strongly suspect that it is as that unknown Other speaks through him, “I will take It,” that it is at this moment he begins to realize that it will require the death of the one holding the Ring there in the Sammath Naur to see It destroyed at last.

           Frodo is the oldest and wisest of the Four Travellers, and the one who recognizes more and more strongly by the day he will lose all ere the end. 

           And so he does.  All of the Hobbits repeatedly lose their gear, but Frodo loses still more.  He begins to lose his innocence as he finds himself taking up the long knife laid by him by the barrow-wight and uses it to protect the others as they lie unconscious, wrapped in who knows how dreadful of dreams, that sword laid across the three necks.  He must have realized his integrity was in danger when he slipped the Ring upon his hand in Bombadil’s house, vaguely imagining quietly creeping away and abandoning the others; how much stronger the same fear must have shaken him when he found himself tempted to again put It on and leave them behind to die at the wight’s hand!  It must have seemed a relief to realize in the Prancing Pony that the Ring Itself was doing Its best to force him to don It and so reveal himself to the Ring-wraiths, that he wasn’t just choosing to do so.  But it also must have been hard to accept that his will wasn’t enough to stop It from co-opting his hands.

           His light-heartedness is already endangered when he awakes within the Last Homely House, and by the time he gets through Moria he has every reason to know that the dark forces are focused on capturing and eventually destroying him as they have just destroyed Gandalf.  In his talk with Galadriel over her Mirror, he realizes that he is not alone in facing the evil of Mordor, for she and Elrond are each fighting Sauron’s influence also, as is true of the other Elven realms, the remaining Dwarf realms and holdings, and the few kingdoms of Men that are not already under the Enemy’s sway.  However, so far only Gondor and Rohan are in any proper alliance as they seek to protect their lands from Mordor’s forces.  Thranduil, the Dwarves of Erebor, and the people of Dale have an alliance as well that loosely includes the people of the Long Lake, but the resources available to these lands are still not sufficiently great that they can move together to mount a concerted defense—except for possibly Dale and Erebor their lands are still too far apart to work efficiently together, so each people finds itself having to rely on its own folk to protect its own lands and citizens as well as they can.

           So, although each land inhabited by the Free Peoples is now determined to oppose Sauron as best it might, the fact is that each is doing so mostly independently, as Frodo also will have to do in the end.  “To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone.”  Save for the Men of Dale and the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, who can work together solely because they inhabit the same region, the Dwarves inside the mountain and the Men the land at the mountain’s feet, and the alliance between Gondor and Rohan, it’s basically every land for itself.  Only the Breelands and the Shire remain basically in blissful ignorance of the dangers they face, and that mostly because they have been out of the way of the worst strifes since the Witch-king fled Angmar to the north to return to the borders of Mordor with his fellow Ring-wraiths.

           So far Frodo has lost his home, his belief in his own autonomy, his basic happiness, and he’s fast shedding what remains of his innocence and native surety that he is and will be safe and provided for.  Once he leaves the Fellowship, save for Sam, behind at Amon Hen he finds he is now being systematically robbed of everything else by the Ring as It further awakens and grows in power as It approaches Its birthplace.  Now Its assault on him weakens him the more as It weighs on him both spiritually and physically.  He is poisoned by Shelob, is captured and tortured by Orcs, is robbed of his clothing and the mithril armor that has protected him since he left Rivendell, and now their food is running out and they no longer have easy access to fresh water.

           Like a tree in autumn, Frodo is losing his foliage, and is being reduced to a naked trunk.  He’s even being robbed of his memories, and in the end the Ring attacks not only his will but his basic integrity.  Now there is no question he is certain his life also will be demanded of him, and he’s not certain he’ll even make it to the Mountain before that happens.

           But when the end comes it is not Frodo who dies with the Ring in hand as he’d anticipated, perhaps even planned—it is Gollum who goes into the fire and knows dissolution along with the Ring, not Frodo.  Frodo was saved by grace, but not to go home and live a long, happy life within the Shire once more.  He doesn’t get a common happily-ever-after as Aragorn does; he remains haunted by the memories of the worst times for at least the two years he stays in the Shire, and signs are that those memories get worse over time rather than better.

           It would appear that Frodo’s tree, having lost its leaves untimely, is in danger of dying completely.

           There is a phenomenon that has been noted in the lives of Holocaust survivors that has an apparent echo in the experience of Frodo Baggins:  some individuals found that compared to how they experienced life while in the camps, after their deliverance from captivity in the KZ system their lives appeared drab compared to what they felt while they faced constant danger, and they appeared to have no ability to feel excitement or even real pleasure any longer.  It has been theorized that the problem may have a physical source based on adrenaline receptor points in the brain having been damaged or possibly even lost or destroyed by the stress they were under while on constant vigilance while they were under Nazi control.  While imprisoned they had to be alert at all times so as to keep an eye on all the sources of danger as well as for any momentary advantage or source of food or comfort that might suddenly become available; once the need for such vigilance was gone, it’s as if they became incapable of reacting to more normal pleasures and satisfactions, as if their capacity for joy, pleasure, and excitement had been burned out by the overloads of adrenaline they experienced while imprisoned.

           In light of this, consider this interchange amongst the Hobbits after taking leave of Gandalf at the edge of the Old Forest while on their way home:

           “Well, here we are, just the four of us that started out together,” said Merry.  “We have left all the rest behind, one after another.  It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.”

           “Not to me,” said Frodo.  “To me it feels more like falling asleep again.”

           It would appear, that after so long a time of intense fear and the need to guard himself not only from attacks by physical enemies but also the assaults by the Ring Itself, Frodo, too, finds normal life diminished and no longer fully satisfying.

           He is already showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, knowing increased pain in his shoulder and demonstrating an unusual level of distraction as they cross out of Rivendell at the Ford of the Brúinen a year after Frodo faced all nine of the Nazgûl there; he is also evidently in distress as they pass Weathertop two weeks later on the anniversary of the day on which he was stabbed.  The fact that it took two weeks to make the journey from the one to the other is another sign that no matter how merry Frodo might have appeared compared to the discomfort he felt at the Ford, for some reason they were traveling far more slowly than they perhaps ought to have done, considering that this time all were mounted and traveling the direct route on a well established road rather than going at a walking pace while hiding from any enemy that might show itself and taking sometimes uncomfortable detours as they did after Frodo was stabbed with the Morgul blade.

           Once they reach the Shire and are involved in the Scouring of the Shire, Frodo demonstrates one fruit of his experience:  he is now full of a marked degree of empathy and compassion to the point he forbids the others to slay or injure any ruffian who willingly lays down his weapons and surrenders himself to the Hobbits; and even though Saruman/Sharkey seeks to murder him with a stab to the back as the traitor leaves Bag End and the Hill, Frodo again forestalls any attempt at avenging this betrayal on the part of the fallen Wizard.

           “…But I will not have him slain.  It is useless to meet revenge with revenge:  it will heal nothing.” … “No, Sam!” said Frodo.  “Do not kill him even now.  For he has not hurt me.  And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood.  He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against.  He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.”

           Frodo’s part in the scouring away of the damage left behind by the occupation of the Big Men and Sharkey is not documented, but I am certain that he actually played an active part in restoring law and order as Deputy Mayor while Will Whitfoot recovered from the damage suffered during his long captivity in the Lockholes.  But, once Frodo is finished with what he has done to restore the Mayor’s office and in discharging the duties of the Mayor that had built up while Will was imprisoned, he gives the office back to Will once more and seems determined to fade out of public life.  He is described as ill and definitely suffering from bad memories on the anniversary of the day the Ring was destroyed, and indicates he’s again in pain in October on the second anniversary of the attack below Rivendell, and is described as ill once more the following March, although he takes great pains to conceal the fact from Sam.

           He’s become increasingly secretive, and although he does not seek to hide from Sam that he’s preparing to leave the Shire for good in the fall he fails to let Sam know where it is he’s heading, allowing him to believe his Master is heading east to be with Bilbo in Rivendell.  Nor does he apparently let anyone else know he’s leaving and does not intend this time to return ever again.

           There is one more indication that Frodo should represent the autumnal season:  he allows himself at last to be harvested from the Shire, going with the Elves to the Undying Lands to live what remains of his life amongst those who dwell upon Tol Eressëa.  He has been transformed from the happy Hobbit he was to what he has become and to what he will become once the blessed transformation that Sauron had distorted in order to turn those mortals who received his gifts of Rings of Power into his slaves is finally complete.  Frodo Baggins allows himself to be transplanted that the tree of his life not die completely, and it is to be hoped that he regains his strength and beauty again before he is ready for the final harvest and is gathered at last into the Creator’s storehouse.

           Tallis goes on to add this idea:

But there is also another idea. It’s not precisely my own idea as I just borrowed this and wanted to present it to you as an inspiration for your great tales.  I once saw four wallpapers with the four hobbits from the PJ movies, in which each was presented as different virtue.

+ Pippin was "Spes" - hope, like in "Is there any hope, Gandalf? For Frodo and Sam?" And as he is in PJ movies mostly connected with the element of fire I think that fire can be connected with fervently hoping.

+ Merry was "Sapientia" - reason, wisdom, cunningness. Anyway, the young master from Buckland is to be a leader among his people and responsible for an important portion of the Shire someday, and should be someone reliable for his people's sake.

+ Sam was "Fidelitas" - faithfulness, because he was the most loyal and faithful of them all to Frodo "to whatever end".  He has never lost his hope and especially not his faith in anything Frodo would have to do for the sake of his mission.

+ Frodo was "Caritas" - which exact meaning is mercy and sacrificial love.

I think it is quite moving how "Faith" would never lose his hope, or his trust in "Love".

           What a fitting tribute to these four beloved characters from Professor Tolkien’s great epic!

Written for the LOTR Community Non-fiction challenge.  For Tallis and Tracey Claybon with special thanks.

On Leadership within Middle-earth and the Benefits of the Fellowship of the Ring

            In doing genetic studies of human beings they have discovered that qualities that promote effective leadership are largely inheritable, which makes the practice seen throughout the world of handing down positions of leadership and rule through families, from parent to child, more understandable—even laudatory in many cases.  It is for this reason that royal families have always tended to intermarry, so as to strengthen the claim on enhanced leadership qualities and sensitivity in the heirs to various kingdoms.  It is not always true, however, that the child will fully take after its parent, particularly if the child is separated early on from the parent by death, wars, imprisonment, necessary long-term travel by the parent, and so on.  In child development, ordinarily both nature and nurture tend to exert influence on an individual’s final character, while too much interbreeding within the same lineage increases the probability of genetic defects becoming commonplace.  Note the prevalence of hemophilia among the descendants of Queen Victoria, for example; or the bouts of debilitating madness King Henry VI of England apparently inherited from his maternal grandfather, who was French. 

            In Tolkien’s world, the standard form of government among the Free Peoples is that of benevolent royalty among Elves, Dwarves, and Men.  The original kings of Elves were those who awoke first and who made the first steps toward approaching the Valar and leading their peoples to the Undying Lands, culminating with Celebrimbor and Ereinion Gil-galad in the Second Age of the Sun, and Artanis Galadriel and her husband Celeborn, whose rule in Lothlórien lasted into the Third Age.  As for those Elves that did not complete the journey to Aman—or did not bother even to start said travel—we know less about those who led or ruled among them, save for those who accepted Oropher and later his son Thranduil as their kings, the Sylvan Elves of the Great Forest of Green Leaves who accepted those of Sindar lineage as their rulers.

            Among Men, those who first led their fellows to assist the Elves in their conflict against Morgoth again became the first true kings, beginning with Bëor, his son Barahir and grandson Beren; and it was from those who were allied with the Elves through marriage, through Beren and Lúthien, Tuor and Idril, that the last great Kings of Elves and Men of the First and Second Ages of the Sun descended, through the royal houses of Elrond Peredhel of Imladris for the first and Elros Tar-Minyatur as first King of the Men of the West for the second.  This lineage culminated with the marriage of Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Lord Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, the mortal descendant of Elros, to Arwen Undómiel, the daughter of Elros’s brother Elrond and granddaughter to Galadriel and Celeborn when the mortal and immortal descendants of Eärendil the Mariner and Elwing reunited the two royal lines along with the lineage of the High King of the Noldor in Aman, bringing the end of the Eldar times as Elrond and Galadriel at last abandoned Middle Earth to enter the Undying Lands.

            Royalty among the Dwarves descended from the first seven Fathers of the Dwarves, and primarily through the lineage of Dúrin the Deathless, the first Dwarf to awaken within Middle Earth amongst the greatest Dwarves.  The Petty Dwarves also knew their own kings, but the names of these for the most part have gone unrecorded save for those who befriended and aided Finrod Felagund and those who attacked Menegroth while it was under the rule of Dior and Nimloth, Elwing’s parents, which effectively demonstrates the greatness and the terrible depths to which the lesser Dwarves could rise and fall.

            Only amongst Hobbits does the pattern appear to differ slightly, with the head of the family usually being the oldest and hopefully wisest member or married couple, whose experience should increase his, her, or their capabilities in dealing with family problems, and whose longer association with the heads of other families will hopefully help iron out difficulties or promote cooperation between one clan and another.  Again within the families this pattern of family leadership tended to descend in patriarchal or possibly matrilineal fashion for the most part, although once there were no direct heirs the family apparently would usually choose the next oldest and wisest member of the family of name and spouse who were willing take the roles of new family heads.  Longo Baggins married into the family headship of the Sackvilles when he married Camellia Sackville, joining the families through hyphenating the two family names and becoming actual family head for the Sackvilles alongside his wife when his father-in-law died or abdicated in their favor.

            This left Hobbits as confederations of families who were willing to cooperate with one another via the arbitration of their family heads, with the family heads leading in making decisions as to what to trade with which other families and exercising the major family discipline and authority within the clan.  According to what Tolkien tells us both in his letters and in “Concerning Hobbits,” usually husband and wife served together, apparently with the husband most often shouldering the greater responsibility for family leadership while he was alive, and in most cases a surviving widow abdicating family leadership to her oldest son or to the oldest daughter and spouse if there were no sons at the time of her husband’s death.  That Lalia Took, according to the Letters, refused to abdicate her role as the Took to her son Ferumbras on the death of her husband was considered rather remarkable but still acceptable, even though she was no Took by birth.  However, she was unable to take on the role of Thain, which had been granted by Aranarth’s power as heir to the last King of Arnor to Bucca of the Marish and had descended through the males of the Oldbucks eventually to the Tooks through intermarriage between the two clans, but which remained primarily a function of the male descendants of Bucca.  It was unlikely that one who was a Clayhanger by birth would have ever been countenanced as Thain, no matter how commanding her personality.  And, having been granted by their Mannish King, the title and responsibilities of the Thain took on the more Mannish pattern of being exercised in almost all cases by the male alone, not husband and wife teams as was common with the headship of a family.    (Note:  Sméagol’s grandmother had also been recognized as the matriarch of the family in her time, there on the edges of the Gladden Fields in the valley of the Anduin.)

            Tolkien tells us that originally there were three clans from whom all later Hobbits descended:  the Stoors, who lived originally along the Anduin and its tributaries, who built and used boats made of reeds, and who apparently traded with and learned from Men who also lived within the same region; the Harfoots, who lived in communities high in the eastern foothills of the Misty Mountains usually in symbiotic relationships with caverns housing Dwarves, the Hobbits providing most of the food for both peoples and the Dwarves providing raw materials and finished goods and training of Hobbit artisans; and the Fallohides, who dwelt closest to the Elves who remained in and near the valley of the Anduin, who were the tallest, fairest, most adventurous and most literate and artistic of all of the Hobbit clans.  The Master indicates that the Fallohides were often distrusted by the Stoors and Harfoots due to their untraditional ideas and adventurous nature—except in times of trouble or insecurity.  At that time they would look to visiting Fallohides or those of their own who had greater amounts of Fallohide blood in their veins for leadership, as the Fallohides had the greatest capacity to think outside the box and to both imagine and consider a variety of ideas as to what had occurred to bring about the current situation and what to do about it.  It was most likely those with strong Fallohide breeding that scouted out routes to the west of the Misty Mountains when whatever catastrophes occurred that led Hobbits to flee out of the eastern lands into Eriador.  They also probably led the parties of refugees over the passes or downriver around the end of the mountain range, and it is likely that Blanco and Marcho were strongly Fallohide and that they were most likely the progenitors of the Tooks and, to a lesser extent, the Oldbucks and Brandybucks.

            As the families concentrated finally into the Breelands and then into the Shire the three clans intermarried extensively, but still those who settled in the Marish and later in Buckland east of the Baranduin held the strongest Stoor strains, those who settled in the Green Hills area and in Long Cleeve in the Northfarthing held the strongest Fallohide blood, and most others were strongly Harfoot, although I doubt that any Hobbit of the Shire was fully of any one original clan.  But the Stoorish folk of Buckland and the Marish were heavily infused with Tookish Fallohide blood (and vice versa), and there was a good deal of Stoor forethought to be found in the Tooks of the Green Hills region as well as Fallohide intelligence and intuition amongst the Oldbucks and Brandybucks.

            Through Bucca’s descendants first in the Marish and later in the Tooklands the office of the Thain continued, although as interaction with the King’s descendants went dormant due to Aranarth’s people withdrawing east and north there was little but the traditions of  the Mannish King’s patronage and granted authority to give the Thain any particular standing within the Shire.  Still, Aranarth had ordered Bucca as first Thain to stand in readiness for the return of the King, to enforce the King’s laws within the Shire, and to provide armed protection both for the Hobbits of the Shire and as possible levies to Aranarth’s descendants should they be required once the King should return.  So the Thain was responsible for seeing to the training and arming of archers for the Shire’s Hobbitry at Arms in case of threats from Outside, and most likely was looked to as the one to best facilitate meetings of family heads throughout the Shire so as to promote trade and mutual cooperation and support.  Once the transfer of the position was made from the Oldbucks of the Marish and the Eastfarthing to Isumbras the First of the Tooks, at the same time that the Oldbucks crossed the Brandywine into Buckland and changed their name to Brandybuck, the Took was now also the Thain, except, as noted above, when Lalia reserved the position of the Took to herself between the death of her husband Fortumbras the Third and her own death, at which time that office also passed to their son Ferumbras.

            The power of any particular family head would depend in great part on the prominence and size of the family headed.  At the time of the quest for Mount Doom the largest families within the Shire were the Tooks and the Brandybucks, the former primarily in the Green Hills area between the Road and the Westfarthing’s borders with the Southfarthing, and the latter filling the region of Buckland between the Brandywine and the Old Forest.  The Bagginses had been very prominent in the region of Hobbiton and the Hill, but the Baggins family tree tells us that between the time Bilbo left with Gandalf and the Dwarves and when Frodo left with Merry, Pippin, and Sam that there had been progressively fewer and fewer male children born to carry on the family name, leaving only Frodo and Lotho as male descendants of marriageable age of the name descended from Balbo Baggins still remaining in the region of the Hill.  Also, it is possible that the Sackvilles might also have been decreasing in number, leading Camellia’s father to leave his office to Longo Baggins and his daughter at his own death as he may have felt that what male Sackvilles as there might remain were not suitable for the position.

            The Brandybucks represented the largest concentration of Stoor blood; the Tooks the same for the Fallohides.  It appears that the Bagginses during Bungo Baggins’s day were most likely thought to be the finest examples of the Harfoots, particularly as it is remarked within The Hobbit that one knew without asking what a Baggins thought about almost anything; they were eminently respectable primarily because they were so predictable—although the fact the family was known to be well off also could have purchased a good deal of “respectability” for them as well.

            But Bungo Baggins did do one thing that was perhaps unpredictable—he married one of the Old Took’s three remarkable daughters, Belladonna Took.  From one perspective perhaps this is understandable—she apparently brought a sizable dowry into the marriage, and Bag End was reportedly constructed using a fair share of this dowry.  And, as noted above, wealth does translate within society into the appearance of respectability, at least.  Of course, as the daughter of the Thain and Took at the time, she came from a prominent, wealthy, and powerful family, which again added to her personal respectability.  However, the fact that she and her sisters were judged remarkable indicates a tendency to be unusual and most likely somewhat unpredictable, which might be tolerated in her on the strength of her relationship to the Thain and as a byproduct of her personal wealth and the fact she’d married so markedly respectable an individual as Bungo, but which would still most likely lead other Hobbits to treat her with some concern for any unexpected behavior or opinions she might be induced to demonstrate.

            Still, by the time Bilbo had succeeded to the position of the Baggins and the Master of Bag End and the Hill, he had molded himself into a reproduction of his father to such an extent that people tended to forget the potential Tookish side to his breeding—until, of course, the day that thirteen Dwarves came to tea at Bag End without any invitation from Bilbo, and the Hobbit found his Took side so awakened that he ended up leaving on an adventure he’d taken great pains a few days previously to decry as totally unacceptable things that tended to make one late to meals.  Then, during the duration of said adventure his ability to see to the heart of problems and potential problems, the gift he received from his mother’s lineage, came to the fore to the point that he came to be respected by all for the leadership he demonstrated.  Fallohide intuition and ability to analyze and problem solve as well as a high degree of personal integrity earned him honor on all sides, even though he was able to return to the Shire and return to the life he’d temporarily abandoned—at least until he found a worthy heir to take up not only the responsibilities expected of the Baggins and the Master of Bag End and the Hill, but also to recognize when responsibility required turning away from what was expected to embrace what must be done.

            If Bilbo demonstrated the types of leadership expected of a family head, apparently a landlord to at least those who lived along Bagshot Row, and most likely one who invested in many enterprises throughout the Shire, then demonstrated other forms of leadership on the quest for the Lonely Mountain, leadership abilities to be expected from one of both his Harfoot and his Fallohide bloodlines, Frodo proved even greater in the end.  Bilbo’s genetic background bred true from both the Harfoot and Took sides.  But Frodo was a unique hybrid of all three of the ancient lineages of the Hobbits, Harfoot, Took, and Stoor; and when he left the Shire he was accompanied by two more of similar although not precisely the same breeding in Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck, the heirs to the Thain of the Shire and the Master of Brandy Hall and Buckland.

            And—and he was accompanied by Samwise Gamgee.

            Sam is rather a cipher when we try to puzzle out his lineage.  He loves growing things, and from the age of twenty-two, eleven years before he came of age in the usage of Hobbits, he was already his own master in his chosen profession as gardener of Bag End.  One would think with his particular gift of gardening that he might primarily be of Harfoot descent.  Yet he is as ready for an adventure as anyone of Took breeding, even if he’s nowhere as appreciative of what life might be like beyond the Brandywine and the Old Forest as are his companions.  If the Brandybucks are renowned for their planning skills, the Tooks for their willingness to step out of the familiar with little or no warning, and the Bagginses for being predictable and reliable, then what is there that is remarkable about Sam?  Beside his love for gardening and flowers in particular, Sam is perhaps one of the best examples of loyalty one can find in modern literature.  He has given his loyalty to Frodo Baggins, and where Mr. Frodo goes, Sam will go, too, even if it takes him far from his home, family, and even the woman he loves.  He also is direct, and cuts through the confusions in policy others perceive to pick out the goal, toward which he will labor no matter what.  His down-to-earth nature becomes the support upon which Frodo must lean increasingly during their quest.  And he is capable of seeing hope beyond his current situation.  After escaping from Torech Ungol, Sam rations out the food, planning as he can for the journey back, once the Ring is destroyed.  Only when it becomes obvious that Frodo is physically as well as psychologically fading and is not likely to survive the destruction of the Ring does Sam accept that the two of them will most likely die on or within Mount Doom; but when he finds he is able to carry Frodo out of the Sammath Naur, once Frodo returns to consciousness Sam insists they crawl to what greater safety he can see at the moment, for his hope has rekindled, even though there appears no escape from the hill of ash on which they take refuge.  But that act of defiance of what seemed inevitable allows the two of them to be seen and carried away to safety by the Eagles and Gandalf.

            On their return from their quest, all four Hobbits take up positions of leadership within the Shire:  Merry and Pippin, now referred to as “the Captains,” lead the revolt against Lotho and Saruman’s Big Men and then mount the guard against their return in the future; Sam leads the people of the Shire in the dismantling of the infrastructure set up by the Big Men through which they dominated the Shire, tearing down the Shirriff Houses and the atrocious brick structures in which those displaced by having their homes destroyed and dug out were forced to live, and using the bricks and other materials to rebuild and refit lost homes to be more comfortable and snug, as well as replanting fields, farms, gardens, and trees destroyed wantonly on Sharkey’s orders; and Frodo spends eight months as Deputy Mayor while Will Whitfoot recovers from his ordeal in the Lockholes.  All that Merry, Pippin, and Sam do is done out in the open for anyone who wishes to see or help to join them.  Frodo’s efforts to restore the Shire to its accustomed efficiency, on the other hand, are carried out indoors, apparently mostly from the Mayor’s Office in the Council Hole in Michel Delving, with probably relatively few Hobbits being aware of what precisely he was doing to restore the integrity of Shire law and customs.

            We’ve discussed the roles of the Thain and the Master of Buckland; the office of the Mayor we’ve ignored so far.  It is the one elected office of which we are aware in the administrative life of the Shire.  The Mayor serves a term of seven years, being elected once each seven years during Lithe-days celebration at the Free Fair held in Michel Delving.  All that we are told of the Mayor’s duties are that he officiates at banquets and that he oversees the activities of the Shirriffs, of which by custom there are three for each of the four shires for a total of twelve.  Once he became Master of Bag End, Lotho, who had by some means acquired most of the working mills and inns throughout the Shire as well as a goodly amount of other properties, declared himself Chief Shirriff and took over the oversight of the existing Shirriffs, adding to their numbers to give himself what amounted to a standing army of Hobbits alongside that of the Big Men loaned by Sharkey under his direction by which he enforced his dictates on daily life of all Hobbits within the Shire.

            We are not told the precise duties of the Shirriffs before Lotho’s preemption of the service to his own ends.  We know that Robin Smallburrow, a friend to Samwise Gamgee, had been one of the traditional twelve before Lotho’s interference, and that he liked the office as it gave him good reason to travel throughout the Shire and to visit its many inns to sample their food and drink.  Only once Lotho put himself in control, no one was allowed to quit the service any longer.  They must now dwell with their fellows in the Shirriff Houses and fall out to intimidate anyone who appeared likely to raise a stink about Lotho’s increasingly invasive rule of the Shire.

            So, what were their duties prior to Lotho’s declaration of himself as the Chief?  Probably they were constables charged with helping see to it that boundary markers remained where they’d been set, saw those too intoxicated for their own good safely home after a night of heavy drinking, broke up fights, and helped round up stray animals and remind younger Hobbits not to take too much during scrumping parties.  We know that once he was Deputy Mayor, Frodo reduced the Shirriffs to their proper number and duties, which meant that most likely a goodly number of Hobbits were forced to surrender the feathers in their caps that served as badges of office and to return home, shorn of responsibilities and power they ought not to have held to begin with.

            Frodo’s appetite was most likely at least somewhat impaired by the effects of the ordeal he’d been through, and it was likely he’d find the duty of officiating at banquets to be less satisfactory than had others serving as Mayor. 

            As for other duties he might have known during the eight months he served as Will’s Deputy, here we must look on what we know of Hobbit love for official looking contracts and legal documents, each signed in red ink by seven witnesses.  The presence of such documents indicates that there were a fair number of lawyers within the Shire trained as to how to properly construct such documents and to see them signed and carried out.  There must have been a repository of some sort in which an archive of these documents was kept, and it seems reasonable that this archive would have been under the Mayor’s supervision as well.  So, we can expect that the Mayor of the Shire supervised this hypothetical web of lawyers as well as the Shirriffs, thus seeing to the integrity of Shire law as well as the general peace of the country.  So, it is likely that one of the things Frodo did as Deputy Mayor would have been to set in motion an investigation of just how Lotho managed to make himself a dictator once Frodo, Merry, and Pippin were known to be missing.

            After all, Merry and Pippin were the legal heirs to the Master of Buckland and the Marish and to the Took and Thain of the Shire.  Once they departed alongside Frodo and Sam, this would cause a good deal of anxiety as to what to do should the Master and/or the Thain die or become incapacitated during their absence.  This anxiety and confusion must have aided Lotho in making his own declaration of himself as the Chief Shirriff.  Then his people lay in wait for Will Whitfoot once the Mayor realized his own rights and responsibilities were being usurped, arresting him and imprisoning him in the public storage holes there in Michel Delving, turning this facility into the Lockholes.

            Here again it would be Frodo who would begin the investigation as to how this public property had been misappropriated and transformed into a dungeon totally at odds with Hobbit customs and sensibilities, and it would be likely that at least a few of Lotho’s closest accomplices would end up arrested and would need to be isolated for both their own safety as well as to keep them from fleeing proper justice.  So he was likely to have seen to the building of a proper jail for the worst offenders from Lotho’s administration, and to set up procedures to govern the behavior both of prisoners and guards.

             But once the Shire was approaching normal functioning once more, Frodo bowed out of public service, retreating to Bag End and no longer taking part in public functions or Shire social life.  Will Whitfoot was Mayor in his own right once more, and apparently that was what Frodo wanted—for as much as possible to be as it had been before they left on their quest.  Was his shoulder aching?  Did memories of the worst times of the journey he and Sam had known disturb his rest?  Was he merely hopeful that now that the Shire was effectively restored that it would continue to run as it always had, without his direct input on a daily basis?  Did he feel guilty that because he had waited so long to leave that the very evil he’d hoped to spare his homeland had found it anyway?  Or had his experiences so imposed a rift between himself and those he’d always known and loved that he simply knew he failed to fit in anymore?

            Most likely, of course, is that a bit of each of these was involved, along with the knowledge that he now had a decision to make—to stay or to leave Middle Earth altogether, accepting Arwen’s gift to him to take her place on the ship that bore her father West.  Once he made that decision, he would have to finish the book he’d promised to write as swiftly as possible and set in motion the procedures that would ensure that Sam and Rosie would inherit Bag End once he was gone.

            Frodo’s foresight had shown him that Sam would father many children by Rosie and that he would be Mayor for as many terms as he wished to know—as long as Sam did not choose to go on this last journey of Frodo’s at Frodo’s side.  So, he chose to hide his final destination until there was no question that Frodo would not be in any position to return to the Shire, and that Sam would not be able to plan a journey to visit when time and duties permitted.  Nor did he advise Merry and Pippin of his choice, whether to ensure they wouldn’t seek to accompany him again or to spare himself another potentially painful parting we cannot say for certain.  This, his last policy decision within the Shire, proved to be particularly selfish in its yet unselfish attempt to assure the Shire did not lose its future leaders, but is, I believe, understandable and certainly forgivable.

            So it is we see the Shire immediately benefitted greatly by the knowledge and skills gained by the Travellers during the quest.  And the same is true of the other peoples of Middle Earth.  Aragorn became the Lord Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, the High King of the Western lands, whose rule reunited Arnor and Gondor once more and whose overlordship was recognized by Éomer as Théoden’s successor as King of Rohan.  Boromir’s beloved younger brother Faramir became both Aragorn’s Steward within Gondor, but also Prince of Ithilien, further uniting Gondor and Rohan by wedding Éomer’s determined sister Éowyn.  Legolas founded a new Elvish realm within Ithilien, bordering both Gondor and what had been known as Mordor.  Gimli founded a new Dwarvish realm known as Aglorand in the depths of the glittering caverns of Helm’s Deep on the northern slopes of the White Mountains.  And as Master and Thain, the Brandybuck and the Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took were perfect to work alongside Samwise Gamgee as Mayor to the Shire to assure that their land best benefitted under the new rule provided from Outside the Shire long after Frodo left to find his own healing and his place alongside Gandalf as one of the Wise now residing on Tol Eressëa. 

            As well as confounding the further ambitions of a Maia long gone wrong, the Fellowship of the Ring helped fully in the healing of all of Middle Earth from the wounds left by Sauron, Saruman, and many Men, Elves, Dwarves, and even a few Hobbits who had also fallen under the Shadow left by Morgoth so long ago.


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