Most of the fan-fiction stories I’ve written so far have focused on Frodo Baggins either directly or indirectly, who is, after all, one of the most popular tragic fictional characters ever created. Certainly his relationship with his gardener and friend, Samwise Gamgee, has been inspiring the imaginations of countless individuals all around the world who have read The Lord of the Rings or viewed one or more of the movies or have heard the radio dramatizations or oral readings from the work since the books were released in the mid-nineteen fifties. This one looks at the period of time between Frodo’s awakening in Ithilien and his leaving to Tol Eressëa in terms of his spiritual journey.
The initial inspiration for this story was a series of quotations from Tolkien’s letters, in one of which the Master indicates that the reason Frodo appears so relaxed and calm and open as he speaks with Sam immediately after the Ring is destroyed is because he had expected to be required to sacrifice himself to see to the Ring’s destruction, and he truly believes this still--he believes he and Sam will die in moments anyway and so the sacrifice will be consummated.
Instead, the two of them are seen from afar and are granted the grace to live on past what ought to have been their sacrificial deaths--Gandalf and the Eagles arrive to rescue them, and Frodo awakes not in Paradise but in a bed beneath boughs in Ithilien.
The idea of the contrast between what he’d expected to experience and that awakening directly inspired this story. He must have felt some level of shock and even disappointment, as well as some dismay at finding his shoulder still aches. There must have been other residual pain as well, and probably digestive distress.
Tolkien’s description of what Frodo and Sam experienced after their awakening is remarkably sketchy and even rather unbelievable. After fourteen days of lying in healing sleep and another two weeks before that of near-starvation and dehydration, extremely difficult travel across the most hostile of lands, a climb of over a day up the winding and straight stairs, an attack by a giant spider and the subsequent poisoning, beatings, and the forced march to the Morranen, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are taken out to a feast second thing; and it’s as if they were never seriously impacted by what they went through. When just the effects of the Black Breath overcoming Merry and Éowyn takes days for them to recover, I cannot believe Frodo and Sam were immediately ready for a feast on their awakening.
And so I explore the types of continuing distress Frodo ought to have experienced as he recovered, considering the hurts he’d endured. Frodo Baggins had experienced a unique and particularly troubling set of wounds and sufferings: he carried Sauron’s Ring for seventeen years asleep and six months awake and tearing at him and those around him; he carried the sliver of the Morgul blade in his shoulder and chest for seventeen days and had to have the wound probed twice before it was removed, at which time he was a hairs-breadth from becoming a wraith himself; he carried a remarkably heavy burden of guilt at what his presence with the Ring cost the others in the Fellowship, particularly the death of Gandalf and the madness and eventual knowledge of the death of Boromir; he had to make a supremely arduous journey with insufficient food, water, and rest at a time when physically and spiritually he was already depleted and distracted by what had happened before and the effects of the Ring; he was poisoned by the greatest of the great spiders; he was taken, tormented, and tortured by orcs; he’d been beaten; he was having to try to remain hidden from the Eye while crossing Sauron’s own land; he was almost dead of weakness from several sources once they reached Orodruin; he was almost strangled by Gollum; he had been exposed to the ash and gases of an active volcano; and at the end he was first taken by the Ring and then had it taken from him by violence along with his finger; and then at the last fell dying while surrounded by flowing rivers of lava.
From this he is called back to life by the power of the King. All four Hobbits were almost dead and called back to life by Aragorn, in fact; but none of the rest came near the suffering Frodo had endured. It is only to be expected he would be the one most likely to suffer long-term problems due to what he’d been through.
So I postulate that at the feast Frodo and Sam were given invalid’s portions, and Frodo is shocked to find he resents this. Aragorn is a healer trained by Elrond of Imladris, the greatest healer in all of Middle Earth, after all. He would have known how starvation victims must be eased back into normal eating.
The foods and portions served Frodo and Sam at the feast and Frodo’s responses as I’ve written them are directly taken from the reports of released prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps, whose calorie intake during their incarceration was purposely kept below nutritional needs. Millions of camp inmates died of starvation and malnutrition due to a diet of potato-flavored water their masters called soup, a slice or less of bread, and perhaps some vegetable matter and hints of grease to serve for protein and fat. Many on their release would eat almost anything and became violently ill as a result of having too much after too little for prolonged periods of time, and the more enlightened of their saviors often had a difficult time trying to restrain them to a proper diet of small amounts of easily digestible foods at frequent intervals, then increasingly larger meals at longer intervals until they could finally eat normally--if their digestive systems hadn’t suffered irreparable damage.
The need to keep water or at least something to drink, the water eventually being displaced by the “athelas tea,” was also inspired by reports on Holocaust survivors. There were several who for the first few years at least after their release from the camps had to have fresh water available at any time, or who needed whole loaves of bread present at all meals, reassuring the survivor that s/he will never be in want of food and/or drink again.
The digestive problems I’ve ascribed to Frodo are common enough, and I myself experience several of them, as they include acid reflux disease, a sliding hiatal hernia, disturbed digestion, and so on. These could easily be the results of the spider bite, the starvation, swallowing the ash and gases he breathed into his mouth, or even just the emotional and physical distress Frodo experienced; and such conditions are aggravated by both physical and emotional stress. Combine all these stimuli and you have full reason to assume Frodo would have continuing digestive problems.
The idea that Frodo might have had a heart murmur as a child as a result of premature birth came originally from Lindelea’s stories, and particularly “A Small and Passing Thing”; this gives a plausible reason, if as I write them Esmeralda and Saradoc Brandybuck tend to overprotect those they see as being in distress, why Frodo would have found himself feeling frustrated, limited, and eventually increasingly depressed by living as their ward, agreeing to the change in guardianship and finding it marvelously freeing. The limitations his elders put on Frodo at Brandy Hall were not imposed out of malice but out of misdirected and miscommunicated love in which the adults don’t even tell Frodo why he was not allowed to play roughly or take part in strenuous activities.
However, children born with heart murmurs often grow out of them; although they may be slightly more likely to develop other cardiac problems in the future.
Much of this story and my story “The Choice of Healing” was inspired by having watched documentaries on the long-term effects of spider venom, which has been shown to negatively affect the heart and circulatory system, the musculo-skeletal system, the digestive system, and even in some cases causes progressive necrosis of the skin and flesh, starting at the point of the bite and working outward. As Shelob was described as the offspring of Ungoliant herself frozen into spider shape, I would be surprised if Frodo didn’t suffer from more than one of these conditions. I have been criticized for having “invalidized” Frodo in a former story--I’m surprised the poor Hobbit wasn’t in a wheelchair from Ithilien on, myself.
The pain Frodo feels in his chest and occasional difficulty breathing are indicative of heart attacks, angina, myocardial infarctions, and congestive heart failure.
He is also apparently suffering at times with migraine headaches.
Any and all of these conditions could have been due to the physical, mental, and emotional distress he experienced during the quest, and any and all were likely to continue to grow worse over time, particularly as his health was likely to be impaired on several fronts.
Changes in weather and particularly barometric pressure tend to cause feelings of physical anxiety in many people; that this would lead to nights when the discomfort brings back worse memories from the quest and bad dreams as a result, particularly on nights when there are thunderstorms, is not unusual. You will note that even Saradoc is restless in the chapter telling of Frodo’s first birthday party after the return to the Shire; but where he simply finds himself heading for the bathroom the four Travelers all experience nightmares.
That Frodo’s personal feelings of guilt for what had happened to the rest of the Fellowship would have been exaggerated by the insidious influence of the Ring is logical; that it would have influenced him to accept guilt for all who suffered in the period leading up to, during, and immediately after the War of the Ring is also logical. That he would begin blaming himself for what those who remained in the Shire endured during the Time of Troubles is therefore also logical.
The idea that when the bouts of memories hit him on the anniversaries of the days when Frodo was stabbed at Weathertop and poisoned by Shelob Frodo could suffer heart attacks due to the increased heartrate and terror he experiences has corroboration in real life--there are those who have literally been frightened to death.
I do stretch canon in a few ways, postulating that Frodo might well over time experience distress for the entire time between the anniversaries of the initial woundings and the final resolutions for those two woundings, although I’ve left it ambiguous as to whether this is due to the recurrence of the initial memories or merely the effects of his own imaginings. The first recurrence of the memories we are told occurred at the Ford of Bruinen, probably fairly early in the day on the anniversary of the stabbing at Weathertop. Frodo is pretty much over that by the time they actually reach Weathertop seventeen days later, when suddenly he again indicates at least emotional distress just at the sight of the place where he was stabbed. That the next year, once the initial memories overcome him he would live in somewhat of a terror as to what he might experience on the twenty-third, the anniversary of the removal of the splinter, seemed logical, particularly if he’d discontinued taking the athelas draught due to Budgie’s dismissal of the remedy and thus was having increased difficulty with his digestive tract.
In the book Frodo is reported saying what he does of how his wounds won’t heal in the evening; I’ve moved it to the morning, then indicate that the Red Book as we read it was indeed the book as written by Frodo and that he was minimizing his personal distress as he wrote the story. That he would convince himself that he was more or less successfully hiding just how much distress and pain he felt is in keeping with his condition. However, I doubt that the Hobbit who recognized that when Frodo screwed himself up to going directly to Mordor he’d do it alone would miss all signs of that distress, or of subsequent episodes as well.
In LOTR we aren’t given the indication Frodo was physically failing, with the implication his choice to go to the Undying Lands once the Red Book was completed is all due to spiritual distress. However, his health was very likely to have been impaired by his experiences as I’ve described, and so I’ve chosen to write my stories in this way, indicating his decision to go to Tol Eressëa was probably at least as much to avoid having Sam see him die as to reach for the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing offered him.
I have dealt with several who were dying protracted deaths, and the one step forward, two steps back and one sideways type of situation I’ve shown with Frodo is consistent with what they showed as they fought their conditions, some days making remarkable progress in recovery only to have it all wiped away as they experience one more heart attack or one more infection or one more mini-stroke.
The trip between Gondor and Rohan took Gandalf and Pippin riding Shadowfax three days, and about five for the Riders of Rohan coming to assist in the defense of Minas Tirith. Yet the return trip with the Hobbits and wain carrying Théoden’s body takes weeks. Could that have been as much due to the need to ease things for Frodo as anything else? And could this be also part of the reason why the way north took so long that Saruman and Wormtongue, on foot and in depleted physical condition, were still able to arrive in the Shire slightly over a month before our heroes do?
The spider bite is basically ignored in the book once Frodo wakes up; yet wouldn’t the bite of the offspring of an evil Maia in spider form have long-term effects? Certainly the periodic reoccurrence of infections as if around an inner irritant is consistent with real life--I’ve had them myself when hairs have turned to grow inward, and have seen them occur in animals as Ferdi describes.
Tolkien gives us little indication of the duties of the Mayor of the Shire save that he officiates at banquets. However, in an apparently legalistic society in which multiple signatures in red ink are required to witness legal documents, that the Mayor would be required to serve as the one overseeing the repository for documents and thus would oversee the activities of the lawyers for the Shire seemed a logical function. That the Mayor would also serve as a conduit for information that needs to be shared between family and village heads as well as overseeing the Quick Post, the Shiriffs, and the Bounders also seem appropriate functions. That Frodo would bring to the position of deputy Mayor a certain thoroughness and that he’d examine how the Shire had managed to come so under the control of Lotho also seemed both logical and in keeping with his nature.
Frodo was orphaned at a fairly young age from what appears to have been a happy family; from my experience working with emotionally deprived children, such individuals typically seek to build families for themselves as soon as they can. That he wouldn’t follow through on this I must ascribe to the effects of the Ring. And so I chose to follow the convention of an early love for Pearl Took which came to nothing, followed by the avoidance of a relationship with any others while he recovered, and then that avoidance continuing as he faced the promptings of the Ring to allow his basest self free rein, a prompting he fought and which left him feeling guilty at finding he was capable of such thoughts to begin with. That he faced such temptations and fought them repeatedly and successfully should have been reason enough to realize he was not as bad as he imagined himself; however, our emotional selves don’t tend to be very rational in nature, or so I’ve found.
We know that Frodo was closely related to the Tooks and Brandybucks, both of which had been prolific while the Baggins family diminished. Frodo is almost the last of the Bagginses--is the youngest male of the name listed in the Baggins family tree. There might be other Bagginses beyond the family tree, of course; and I do of course postulate the hidden twin cousins, Fosco and Forsythia, Frodo’s closest kin, the son and younger daughter of his uncle Dudo by his second wife Emerald as well as a very few others who are so far unknown in my stories. I’ve found myself wondering if the reason why there are so few male Baggins children being born alive has to do with the presence of the Ring in the hands (or, more specifically, in the pocket) of Bilbo Baggins.
It’s likely that Frodo knew many of his older cousins from the Brandybuck and Took sides of the family; yet his closest relationships are with those who are younger--with Merry, who is fourteen years younger; Pippin, who was born the year Frodo went to live with Bilbo; and Fredegar Bolger who was born the year Frodo’s parents died (as was Samwise Gamgee). This indicates to me that Frodo was most likely discouraged from doing things with those his own age, and supports my picturing of him as being overprotected by Esme and Saradoc. That Frodo would yet have a relationship with such as Brendilac Brandybuck and Isumbard Took, even if nowhere as close as that he shares with those who are so much younger, is yet probable.
Once he is awake, Tolkien tells us that Frodo often feels conflicting emotions: gladness he survived, guilt he survived; feelings of inadequacy because he at the end couldn’t destroy the Ring himself and overweening pride that only he could have made it that far; pride in his own intelligence, cleverness, and abilities, and confusion, self-disparagement, and a level of self-loathing; pity and a level of patronization toward others not as capable as himself, and strong levels of compassion and empathy at the same time. He has both pride and humility, but each toward the extreme, not in the levels which are proper and desirable.
These extremes in contradictory feelings and expectations would cause a great deal of cognitive dissonance in such as Frodo Baggins, I would think. Certainly Tolkien himself indicated a good part of the reason Frodo needed to leave Middle Earth to go to Elvenhome was to deal with his unrealistic self-image and the unbalanced expectations for himself before he was finally ready to go beyond the bounds of Arda. He specifically described the time on Tol Eressëa as a Purgatory experience for Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, in fact.
Tolkien deliberately wrote Frodo Baggins as a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder or syndrome (PTSD), a condition he knew as shell-shock and that he saw in many coming back from the battlefields in Germany and France during World War I. It is a condition which he himself probably was touched with at least lightly, for certainly there was something that drove him to begin writing obsessively even as he sat in the trenches as an officer, beginning to create the world of Arda on the backs of sheets of orders.
PTSD has been very thoroughly researched in recent years, and the name of the disorder was changed from shell shock to reflect the reality of the condition as common to anyone who has been through a critical situation in which lives and personality are threatened. Its symptoms are increasingly well known and recognized as studies of Holocaust survivors and veterans of wars and survivors of natural disasters and assaults are reported in the popular press and other media.
It is likely that all four of the Hobbits who were part of the Fellowship of the Ring suffered from some level of the condition, although clearly Frodo suffered most deeply and indelibly. And so I have described in my stories the nightmares all tend to suffer, the desire to protect others from the depths of horror they’ve faced, the tendency to hide physical and emotional scars, the feelings of isolation and difficulty in communicating with others. The reactions of Esmeralda and Saradoc Brandybuck indicate one type of reaction typically seen in the wake of such trauma--the tendency to try to protect the victim to the point of smothering; those of the Thain and his wife the other--a denial of what happened, a willingness to rewrite history to minimize the dangerous situation and even turn it into something else completely.
Many Holocaust and rape survivors have described mixed reception to their attempts to try to tell what happened to them. Many feel, overpoweringly at times, periods when they try to convince even themselves all is over and would be best forgotten--except these memories they try to suppress come back in dreams, or as flashbacks when they come across situations which in some way mimic or otherwise bring to mind the traumatic experience. Former soldiers have had flashback memories when they hear cars backfiring or firecrackers or even a capgun being fired, at the smell of gunpowder from fireworks; when they’ve seen someone rising up or stepping out from behind bushes, shrubs or buildings evoking the memory of having to be on alert for attackers from all sides; from the feelings of movement similar to having been pulled away from or brought to the battlefield in helicopters which make some unable to bear carnival rides. Even locations and dates associated with the traumatic experience can spark flashbacks and resurgences of the memories and feelings, as can coming into contact with some individuals associated with the experience.
When they do feel compelled to express what they’ve undergone they often find themselves facing others who just don’t want to know. Those expected to hear the story may feel guilty they couldn’t protect the other; they may feel helpless rage that frightens them so they try to hide from it by refusing to consider the situation which evokes the feelings. They may feel survival guilt themselves that they didn’t have to endure what their loved one endured. They may just be uncomfortable at what was experienced and not wish to even think about it and so refuse to hear about it. Paladin and Eglantine Took both represent such individuals, who refuse to believe in what terrifies them and leaves them feeling powerless. In the case of Eglantine, she even tries to rewrite the story her son and his companions try to tell her to make it appear in her mind that Pippin was never truly in danger. That they haven’t accepted Pippin, the baby of their children, is growing up anyway simply adds to the problem.
The PTSD survivor himself may be impelled to share his story in fits and starts, freely speaking to some and refusing to tell others anything. Oftentimes it is easier to tell those who have little emotional tie to the PTSD survivor, while those who are very close cannot be told anything at all. You see this in Frodo and Merry both in this story.
In the case of Frodo, he doesn’t want to appear to be putting himself forward and wants to “protect” most of the Shire from knowing what he’s done and the potential for evil “out there,” and so he limits both what he and what others are allowed to tell about his part in the “adventures.” His controlling nature and example make it even harder for Merry to tell what he’s been through, for if he can’t tell Frodo’s story openly, and Frodo’s is the more important, then why would he think of putting his own story out there for others to even consider?
That all four probably experienced some degree of PTSD is evidenced by Merry and Pippin going to live for a time in the Crickhollow house after their return from Gondor. They are more open with the positive aspects of their experiences outside the Shire: they wear their armor and swords openly, ride out with a level of fanfare on their finely caparisoned ponies, throw extravagant parties, sing songs they learned far away. But there is no indication they easily or freely share all that happened “out there” with others, and particularly with their families; and Merry and Pippin isolate themselves at Crickhollow, a considerable step for the heirs to their fathers’ posts to take in a communal tribal culture such as the Shire is depicted as where the ties of family are so important. This indicates a requirement for privacy neither probably needed before, most likely to somehow find themselves again before returning home to take up their positions fully as their fathers’ heirs and eventual successors.
PTSD is therefore a part of how I have come to envision Frodo and the others, with the one hardest hit being Frodo himself. His behavior appears quixotic and even somewhat unpredictable, his moods often mercurial. Mention the wrong subject and he becomes depressed and withdrawn, and may even appear to run away. Mention of Aragorn can soothe him, while mention of Nazgul causes distress.
Due to the responsibility for the evils of the world the Ring has convinced him is his, Frodo seeks as he can to see to the rebuilding and healing of the Shire. And, knowing how he has himself received a great deal of grace and forgiveness already, his desire to see to it that others are given the chance to redeem themselves becomes increasingly important to him.
This story fits into the gaps between the action in my other stories, and so encounters spoken of in this story are often expanded upon elsewhere, while detailed experiences here are often mentioned in passing in other stories.
For the most part I do try to stick to canon: Aragorn doesn’t make it in time to see Frodo before he takes the ship to Elvenhome, Frodo doesn’t marry Narcissa Boffin. The PTSD, the fear of farewells, the growing physical degeneration, the nightmares, the gradual withdrawal during the ride to the Havens, various visits are all adding plausible details and deduction to the drama of the story.
Throughout Frodo finds himself advised by an inner Voice which corrects him, chastises him, comforts him, and agrees with him at various times. I’ve tried to indicate the few times when the memory of the chiding of the Ring intrudes to differentiate it from the more benign Voice, and I hope it is fairly obvious when this occurs, which I admit isn’t often. As to the source of that Voice--that’s for the reader to decide.
The expression of the Light of Frodo is again inspired by Gandalf’s observation of Frodo as becoming as a vessel of glass filled with light as with water for eyes to see that can given in “Many Meetings” in FOTR.
That the verbal patterns of various families and factions within the Shire may reflect common rustic and regional language usages to various extents depending on economic status and the perceived importance of the family from which an individual might come is common to real life. But in the deliberate use of as instead of that I’ve tried to come up with a common linguistic thread in the more middle class and rustic families.
Here and there I do have direct quotes from LOTR, such as when Brendi reads the description of Aragorn at his coronation and Sam reads what is said between himself and Frodo on the journey to the Havens.
Several have caught canon errors and offered corrections; I’ve caught even more. If on rereading chapters (if you ever do) you may find some details changed (I found a major blooper in discussing Lobelia’s pedigree, for example, and ended up substituting Lotho’s) it is likely due to such editing. Bear with me. And if you notice an error, please feel free to call me on it, although if it was a deliberate exaggeration or distortion from the story as originally written I’m not likely to correct it. However, I appreciate all who have helped with such editing.
As I’ve stated in responses to reviews, this story combines the influence of two separate nuzguls that had been pecking at me for months before I actually began to post the story. The Biblical references ought to be obvious to most familiar with Judeo-Christian traditions, and the ending line in the very first chapter is a “Middle Earth” twist to a line from one of the Psalms.
Although I am not Roman Catholic, my own religious tradition is very closely related to it, and so I’ve tried to make the religious images and references in keeping with those which Tolkien himself used, honored, and perceived.
Thank you for reading “The Acceptable Sacrifice,” and I hope it caused entertainment and thought along the way.