When Frodo Baggins left the Shire, he did so with almost no warning. Sam assumed Frodo was retiring to Rivendell with Bilbo; it is likely that few others in the Shire had much knowledge that Frodo was indeed leaving the land of his birth, much less Middle Earth completely. He certainly tried to leave without advising Merry and Pippin and the bulk of his family, or so we must assume from the evidence given us by Tolkien.
It’s unlikely that Tolkien himself was thinking of the impact of Frodo’s departure on any individuals other than himself, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Yet heroes don’t live, develop, and make decisions in vacuums; and in a civilization as clannish as the Shire it’s inevitable that Frodo’s leaving had to have been felt far and wide, by great and small alike.
After Primula and Drogo’s deaths the family of the Master of Buckland fostered their son; and probably the primary care of the lad fell to Saradoc and Esmeralda, who undoubtedly came to look on Frodo as if he were their own child and big brother to their biological son. His departure would undoubtedly have left them doubly bereft, both for the grief it caused them and the knowledge of the greater pain it would afford Merry. For Paladin and Eglantine the situation must have been similar, if not as intense. As fosterling to Esmeralda he was probably expected to refer to Esmeralda’s brother and his wife as “Uncle” and “Aunt,” designations he probably also used for his foster parents; and as surrogate older brother to Pippin as well as Merry it is obvious that they also would feel for the grief his departure would cause in their son and perhaps their daughters as well. All these would need to reconcile with their grief and loss once Frodo abandoned the Shire and Middle Earth.
Among the few who would have had some knowledge of Frodo’s plans would be whoever helped him prepare his will, the revisions in the deed transferring title to Bag End to Sam and Rosie, and whatever other legal papers he had prepared to complete his business before he left the Shire completely. And so I have postulated Brendilac Brandybuck, Frodo’s “Brandybuck lawyer” and more distant cousin who is the same age as Frodo, grew up knowing him and running with the same teen gang, and who received encouragement from him to follow his heart when he learned his sweetheart was dying of cancer, making the most of the time the two could know together. I’ve also postulated Oridon and Ordo Goodbody, Frodo’s family financial advisors and surrogates. These would undoubtedly know Frodo was leaving, even if they didn’t know all the details. They would feel the loss of Frodo both professionally and probably personally as well, Brendi additionally due to the family relationship and personal associations from childhood, and the Goodbodies as their long-term client and perhaps due to familial ties as well, considering Great-great Aunt Lily married a Goodbody.
If a part of the Mayor’s duties would be to register and countersign legal documents and wills, it’s likely Will Whitfoot would have become aware that Frodo was preparing to either leave or die, looking at the nature of the documents submitted on Frodo’s behalf--things such as revised wills, transfers of title for property, articles of adoption as heir, and so on. That Frodo was made deputy Mayor almost immediately on his return from Gondor and other points south and east of the Shire indicates Will had likely been considering Frodo as a successor for some time and was taking advantage of the situation to jump-start the process of getting Frodo into the office by first making him deputy Mayor and hopefully then seeing him officially elected Mayor in his own right at Midsummer. But instead, at Midsummer Frodo resigned as deputy Mayor, and Will himself was reelected to his old office yet again for one final term, after which the Master of Bag End finally followed him as Mayor--save now that Master was Samwise Gamgee rather than Frodo Baggins.
The Mayor apparently had a relationship already with Frodo if he would think to convince the Baggins to assume the role of deputy Mayor as soon as he returned to the Shire. He must have been confused when instead of accepting election to the office Frodo insisted on returning Will himself back to the Mayor’s position for an additional term. That Will’s wife would be still another of Frodo’s myriad of relations throughout the Shire is another possibility; that the two of them would develop a relationship during the months Frodo served as deputy Mayor to the point that Mina would begin divining things about what Frodo had truly done outside the Shire and that he was in the end leaving is perhaps a romantic fancy, but a plausible one.
That Will and Mina’s family would find themselves responding to Frodo’s final departure is therefore likely. And so they, too, find themselves having to reconcile their expectations with his leaving. So it is the grandsons learn the difficult truth that Frodo, too, was actively helping in the reconstruction of the Shire in the months immediately following the downfall of Lotho and Sharkey; and that his wielding of the Mayor’s pen was as vital to the restoration of the Shire as the replanting and reconstruction guided by Sam or the cleansing of the Shire of the ruffians led by Merry and Pippin. Will had to already have developed an appreciation of what Frodo’s actions as deputy Mayor had accomplished in returning the proper administration of Shire business and legal proceedings; now he was in a position to hopefully guide his grandsons to a proper understanding of just how vital this had been.
For Dianthus there is a different need--the need to be assured that Frodo indeed was choosing life and fulfillment in his leaving of the Shire, as well as to appreciate what it is that Frodo had chosen.
However, just as Merry and Pippin undoubtedly led Bounders and a properly constituted band of shiriffs and temporary militia drawn from volunteers and the archers of the Tooklands and perhaps of Buckland itself in the scouring of the Shire; and as Sam directed volunteers in the replanting, reforestation, and reconstruction of homes, inns, mills, and other destroyed structures as well as the removal of the vestiges of the Men’s occupation; Frodo must have had physical support in restoring the commercial and legal integrity of the Shire’s business. As Michel Delving was most probably closely adjacent to the Tooklands, that Frodo would turn to the legal and commercial minds of his Took connections to achieve these goals was probable.
The Shire is depicted as primarily agrarian in focus and nature; barefoot by physical design as well as focused on the production, harvesting, and consumption of food by nature, the Hobbits of all primate forms in Arda have a unique relationship with the land of the Shire and its fecundity. That the rape of the Shire by Lotho, Sharkey, and their cohorts had been intellectual, legalistic, moral, and commercial in nature as well as physical would be harder to understand by the average Hobbit than the fact that Lotho had somehow gathered control of too much of the Shire’s lands while Sharkey was intent on destroying the Shire’s fertility and beauty as rapidly as possibility and the Men were actively assaulting the peace, comfort, and security of the Shire’s inhabitants.
Tolkien himself indicated that the Shirelings had begun seeing Merry, Pippin, and Sam as heroes for what they’d done in restoring the Shire; but that Frodo’s far more vital role in protecting the Shire and all of Middle Earth from the dangers inherent in the Ring (and in helping restore equilibrium in the Shire afterwards) went largely ignored and unappreciated. In the eyes of the Shire the Mayor’s most vital role is officiating at banquets and perhaps in performing marriages and the like. In a land in which literacy isn’t particularly prized, how are they to fully understand the need for accurate records and legal integrity in the crafting of the complicated documents the Shire perversely insists upon?
Yet still many of the everyday Hobbits must have also found themselves mourning the leaving of Frodo Baggins, as well as those who assisted Frodo in returning the Mayor’s office to a semblance of order, who helped administer reparations and investigate the excesses of Lotho, Sharkey, and their folk, who helped examine documents to identify those who’d fallen to the Dragon Sickness and temptation to take undue advantage of others.
Isumbard Took stands as the example of those who assisted Frodo in his portion of the Scouring of the Shire--the former rival of Frodo Baggins who now accepts the truth that Frodo’s intellectual savvy as well as his moral guidance was as necessary as Merry and Pippin’s swords and martial leadership and Sam’s practical and botanical knowledge and expertise in effecting the healing of the Shire.
The average folk who would find themselves mourning the loss of Frodo Baggins are again symbolized by Sam’s sisters Marigold and Daisy and Daisy’s husband Moro, by Mags and Timmins from the Ivy Bush, by Bobbin and Pippa from the inn in Michel Delving. The dawning realization that Frodo’s personal relationship with the King is drawing the Shire out of its self-imposed isolation is shown in the persons of Nilo Bridgemaster, Beligard Took, and Garthfast the Bounder (who is likely a relation to Sam’s own family in Tighfield).
Then there is the relationship between Frodo and those outside the Shire, depicted here in the relationship with Aragorn specifically. I used to resent it when I was younger that Aragorn wasn’t among those who arrived to bid Frodo farewell; as a writer of fan fiction I therefore have the ability to set this right in my own eyes, although so as to not offend against canon Aragorn fails to make it in time to bid farewell before Frodo, Bilbo, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf sail. The realization that Frodo couldn’t have borne an additional farewell of such intensity is perhaps a sop to myself to justify the apparently fruitless journey the Man has made. Yet he is able to meet with the rest of his friends and companions from the Shire, and to amaze a Bounder.
All of these individuals had the need to reconcile themselves with the knowledge of Frodo’s decision to leave Middle Earth, and to reconcile in some cases with one another. Pippin is able at last to communicate how much he’s loved his parents all along, and how their examples and early parenting helped to mold his decision to follow Frodo out of the Shire; his parents are now listening, and realizing their own roles in helping him prepare for his becoming a hero out there as well as to the folk of the Shire. They are all reestablishing the loving bonds between themselves, and thus a major rift is healed by Frodo’s last sacrifice within Middle Earth.
Merry is at last goaded to begin opening up and to communicate what was done outside the Shire. He’s beginning to expose the scars he bears, physically and emotionally, for his family to see, finally allowing them to begin understanding what the four Travelers did and why, and what its implications are for both the Shire and the outer world as well. He is finally beginning to reconcile with what he’s done, which is necessary to his own healing and readiness to assume his place eventually as Master of Buckland and the Marish.
All are beginning to realize the Shire can’t remain isolated indefinitely; and in spite of the temporary (and later permanent) edict protecting the Shire’s borders from further incursions by Men, yet those borders are at last opening to allow open commerce between the Shire and the world of Men and mutual awareness and respect. And again it is Frodo’s sacrifices that have brought this situation to be, allowing reconciliation between Men and Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves.
Frodo’s choice first to bear the Ring out of the Shire and then to Orodruin has been the pebble in the pond allowing so many reconciliations and transformations to come to pass. The long-legged vagabond of unsavory aspect has been transformed into the long desired King Returned; the ages old mutual suspicions and sometimes enmity between Men, Elves, and Dwarves has been transformed into amity, cooperation, and lasting friendships; the wilderness to which Arnor has devolved is opening up to proper development and habitation once more; the North and South Kingdoms are no longer sundered; treaties are being hammered out with former enemies in Rhun and Harad and will follow one day with other former enemies North, South, and East of Dúnedain administered lands. The Elves have become reconciled to the fact that their day in Middle Earth is past, and it is now as safe as it will ever be to entrust the mortal lands to the stewardship of Men and to take ship to their proper place in Aman. And all because a Hobbit was horrified to realize he carried danger to his own land in his pocket!
I’ve had been criticized by some for my depiction of Frodo as deteriorating physically before choosing to leave Middle Earth. There have been a few who have been offended by what they’ve characterized as the “invalidizing” of Frodo Baggins.
Yet there is nothing in canon to specifically deny such could have been occurring, and good mythological precedent in accepting such as being true for Frodo.
Early on in his letters to his son Christopher, according to what Christopher wrote in The End of the Third Age, Tolkien indicated that Frodo in choosing to leave with the Elves was thus becoming the Arthur of Middle Earth, the once and future mortal king or lord who went to the secret, sacred Elven Lands with the greatest Elven Ladies and Lords until perhaps he would be needed anew to save the Free Peoples again. It was later in his letters that he departed from the mythic retiring lord to embrace rather the religious angle for Frodo’s choice--now Frodo, transformed beyond bearing by his experience as the Ringbearer and the multiple wounds he endured in the execution of his commission to carry the Ring to Orodruin, was going to the threshold of the lands of the Valar but no further, and now the time he, Bilbo, and Sam (and hopefully Gimli as well) spent on Tol Eressëa would become a Purgatory experience for them, blessedly helping them to prepare for their eventual deaths and hoped for return to the Presence.
It makes an interesting task trying to work between the two disparate views Tolkien himself expressed regarding Frodo’s choice.
The archetype of the Wounded King whose own unhealing wounds assist the rest of the realm to remain morally and spiritually whole was well known to Tolkien, of course; and it is Frodo Baggins who assumes this role not only for the Shire but for all of Middle Earth.
Frodo is a saint, and yet is not a Christ figure. He is too definitely a creature of Middle Earth and kin to our own nature with his conflicting humility and vanity, his compassion for and impatience with the failings of others, his secretive nature and his profligate generosity. He’s one who wounds when he would protect, who cannot decently bid farewell to his friends and family, who makes choices that will affect millions without consulting others, who allows even Sam to believe he’s merely retiring to Rivendell when the reality is he’s going where mortals ordinarily aren’t allowed. He refuses to explain--or is it he finds he can’t? The Frodo who wrote the experiences of the four Travelers and their companions into the Red Book is yet unable warn others what to expect as he prepares to leave them forever.
So Frodo manages to muddle along and things come as right as they can in spite of him in the end. Merry and Pippin are able to keep him from giving them the slip, but Aragorn isn’t so lucky.
The lack of speech after bidding Sam to ride with him to the Havens indicates Frodo is withdrawing from life in Middle Earth, preparing for the transition to his new life. There is no indication Frodo speaks with Merry and Pippin or again with Sam after that. It could as well indicate physical deterioration as spiritual transition at this point, and is common in those who are physically dying.
As much as possible Frodo has hidden his physical and spiritual deterioration from others, as well as the final choice to accept the grace to go to Elvenhome. Yet there must have been some hints there for others to see; Sam obviously accepted Frodo needed to leave the Shire, after all. That Frodo would have understated the seriousness of his condition mentally and physically in the Red Book and forced himself to believe (or at the least act as if) others didn’t recognize he was still in serious physical condition is a distinct possibility. It is certainly consistent with the post-traumatic stress disorder Tolkien wrote into Frodo’s character.
And so I’ve taken the road of writing Frodo as physically as well as spiritually at the end of his rope at the time he accepts the right to go to Tol Eressëa; and in essence he “dies” a third time aboard the ship, as he “died” of the Morgul wound and later on the slopes of Orodruin (Tolkien himself in his letters recognized this second “death”). Each time he’s awakened to take up his new role, first as Ringbearer, then as survivor, and now as a mortal pilgrim on the threshold of the immortal lands.
Yet, in actuality we are constantly in states of flux, with our realities being stripped from us and transformed sometimes from day to day or even from moment to moment. Frodo’s threefold death and resurrection is therefore not inconsistent with actual mortal existence and experience.
The recognition of Frodo and Sam as Lords of all the Free Peoples I feel is a reasonable extrapolation of the praise they receive on the Field of Cormallen and the use of and purposes for circlets of honor to crown them that day. Also, if Merry and Pippin have received field commissions as it were as Knights of Rohan and Gondor, a similar honor ought to have been accorded those who risked not only their lives but their very souls in seeking the physical destruction of the Ring. That they would feel uncomfortable with this form of reward for their services to all of Middle Earth and would do their best to have it hidden from their own folk, with Frodo not mentioning this further detail in the Red Book, is simply again an extrapolation of what we know of the humble nature of the personalities of both Frodo and Sam.
The choice to depict Frodo as a spiritual brother to Aragorn and his and Sam’s depiction in some of my stories as having originally been intended to be Aragorn’s true brothers is also supported by mythology and even in part by Tolkien himself. As I stated above Tolkien at one point equated Frodo’s leaving with Arthur being taken out of Britain to await the next need of his people. Tolkien himself saw Frodo as being in some way Royal (which also supports the ennoblement of Frodo in particular).
Yet this doesn’t subtract from the message that it is the choices of each and every individual on which hinge the final destiny of the world. Perhaps Frodo isn’t seen as a great warrior but a somewhat reclusive scholar. Perhaps Sam isn’t a great prince when he makes his choice but a gardener and day laborer. Perhaps Merry and Pippin rise from being the somewhat profligate spoiled sons of privilege to become warriors capable of standing up to orcs, trolls, and Nazgul, not to mention dissolute Men and failed Uruk-hai and Wizards.
Yet it isn’t just the actions of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum that combine to save Middle Earth and destroy Sauron’s lordship, but the actions and choices of every single individual who chooses to fight as he or she can. Gandalf, forewarned by his own experience in Moria as well as Aragorn’s similar experience and Dúnedain foresight, yet chooses to enter the failed Dwarf kingdom, chooses to stand against the Balrog, chooses to let himself fall into the chasm of Khazad-dum. Aragorn chooses to renounce the Ring, then to allow Frodo to go on alone so as to seek to rescue Merry and Pippin, then chooses to assist Théoden of Rohan, to look into the Palantir, to travel the Paths of the Dead, to display the tokens of Elendil at the Battle of the Pelennor; to accept the Winged Crown and the Sceptre of Annúminas. Éowyn chooses to go in disguise with the Riders of Rohan, bringing with her the Hobbit who’d been commanded by her uncle to remain in the Mark, and so the two of them are there to combine to bring down the Witch King of Angmar. Faramir chooses to accept the orders from his father and then to bring back as many as he can from the final fall of Osgiliath and the Rammas Echor, then to return when summoned back to life by the King. All who march to the Black Gate in the feint intended to allow Frodo enough time to reach the Sammath Naur have to have known this is a futile gesture and that they are likely sacrificing themselves on the basis of only a faint hope that Frodo is even yet alive.
Yet they choose, and it is the sum of all these choices that leads to the downfall of Sauron and the might of Mordor.
If Frodo and Sam had indeed been Aragorn’s brothers, in the end the result would most likely have been the same--without all others combining their choices and efforts to fight Sauron each as he or she could, Middle Earth would have in the end fallen.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, at the end of his dream Lewis sees the great lords and ladies of Heaven playing at the game of Life upon the board of time and the world, in this life taking various roles in which they might be great or small, mighty or weak, influential or insignificant. Yet the roles taken here fail to diminish the fact the players are Royal/Blessed in ultimate reality.
Whether it was the original spiritual nature of Frodo Baggins that made him Royal or his choices in pursuing the quest of the Ring that bring him to that point is in the end a meaningless debate; he is, in the end, Royal and deserving of the blessing and grace offered him; and both he and Middle Earth need for him to accept that grace.
As for why I write things as I do regarding Drogo and Primula and Frodo’s early life: the family tree for the Baggins clan makes it plain that these are the Bagginses of Hobbiton and environs, and for this reason I have chosen to show Drogo and Primula living in the older family smial that predated the excavation of Bag End at the time of Frodo’s birth. That Lobelia sought to insult Frodo by calling him a Brandybuck, however, indicates that for much of Frodo’s life he was more identified with the Brandybucks and Buckland than with Hobbiton; and so I have chosen to see Frodo’s parents choosing to move Frodo first to Buckland and then to a more central site in the Eastfarthing where they’d have easier access to any of their family members, whether Brandybuck, Took, Baggins, Proudfoot, Bolger, Goodbody, Boffin, or what have you; but I also have postulated a marked reluctance to return to the region of the Hill itself within the sphere of influence for the Sackville-Bagginses.
One person in a review to a previous story took great exception to my referring to Sam’s family as the “Gardners,” assuring me that only Frodo-lad accepted that last name. In rereading the appendices regarding this matter I have to take exception to that assertion. If you question this, reread the appendices yourself beyond the family trees--you’ll find that the new last name was in time applied to all of Sam’s family, although Sam and Rosie were themselves probably still referred to as the Gamgees by those who had known them at the time of their marriage--here extrapolating from Hobbits being tradition-minded as well as my own experience with human nature. There are always going to be some, like Sam himself, who are not easily going to change the name by which they know others.
At the end I skip forward to the time the three remaining Travelers have taken on themselves the leadership roles each in the end holds for the Shire. Pippin is Thain; Merry is Master; Sam is Mayor. Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin is now the King’s sculptor, and moved by some impulse he’s done a sculpture of Frodo as Storyteller as a memorial of Frodo to be placed somewhere within the Shire itself. It’s decided that the one place almost all Hobbits will see the sculpture would be in the grounds of the Free Fair; but the debate as to where and under what circumstances the sculpture will be placed and exhibited goes on until they actually see it.
Here is Frodo in one of his most common roles, telling stories to a child. Yet he isn’t pre-quest Frodo, but instead Frodo of the Nine Fingers.
Most either don’t recognize the identity of the subject or refuse to admit it. Frodo, after all, has left the Shire, has abandoned it. Well, if he’s too good to remain with us, we don’t have to acknowledge him, do we?
Yet some are in on the secret; the three Travelers see the sculpture placed prominently on the edge of the dancing floor where Frodo also once shone before the Shire, and near where he used to tell stories to the children each year. Then, as he did with Frodo’s window and the circle atop the Hill where Frodo used to sit, read, draw, write, and watch the Shire and sleep out at times under the stars, Sam surrounds the statue with Elven lilies and athelas plants, a declaration of the actual identity of the subject for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand.
Dianthus Sandheaver clearly recognizes Frodo and seeks to fill her sight with his visage again. Her little sister, born after Frodo left the Shire, sees it instead as a father telling stories to his daughter; and Dianthus doesn’t bother to correct her--or at least not yet. Only on the assumption that the statue was broken does Dianthus correct little Primula.
And so it sits there, never properly unveiled, allowed to become a part of the landscape of the fairgrounds, never officially recognized as a memorial to Frodo Baggins; yet becoming a part of the unspoken reality of all the Shire, the symbol of how life is to be lived--all rejoicing to have the traditions passed on to new generations behind the ale tent, the Storyteller seated ever on ale barrels, the children and their parents listening avidly.