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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)
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.
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!
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