Ah, March 25, that most glorious of days! Here is an excerpt from my book, Chosen: The Journeys of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire.
In Frodo’s devotion to the mission entrusted to him, he gives a wonderful example of total abandonment to Providence. Dwight Longenecker notes, “Tolkien presents us with a Christian hero and type of a Christian saint because Frodo, in his faithful obedience and humility, lives out the way of sacrificial love” (“Frodo”).
After a great struggle, Frodo resists his great desire to remain with Bilbo in Rivendell. To his own astonishment, he gives aloud to the Council his answer to the call he heard in the silence of his heart and soul. Edmund Fuller notes, “. . . both Gandalf and Frodo, each in his way, appear not as Christ equivalents, but as partial anticipations of the Christ. With Frodo, quite simply and movingly, it lies in his vain wish that the cup might be taken from him, and since it may not, he goes his long, dolorous way as Ring-bearer – a type of the Cross-bearer to come” (35). The hobbit wills to carry within his heart, mind, and soul the crushing weight of Sauron’s terrible darkness and hatred because the Secret Fire asks him to do so. Though Gerald May does not speak of Frodo, his words still apply: “. . . the power of grace flows most fully when human will chooses to act in harmony with divine will” (139).
As Frodo and Sam travel lost in the Emyn Muil, the Ring-bearer’s beautiful child-like faith trusts a way will open. All he needs to do is to continue in obedience. His faith is perhaps even stronger than those in later ages who come to know God and still have trouble in this area. He does not know though whether a force allied with him or set against him will reveal the proper route. Gerald May refers of the dark night of the soul, but his words apply as well to the Ring-bearer: “But if we know we don’t know what’s happening, we are much more likely to let God lead us. Then, John says, we do not stumble. We are kept safe” (224; emphasis in original). Now is the time Frodo “comes into his own as a worthy adversary for Sauron” (Wagner, “War” I:339).
After Sam accidentally reveals his master has the Ring, Faramir beholds Frodo in a new light. He holds great respect for him to withstand the temptation to use the Ring. He does not want to know anything more about the Ring, lest the temptation to use it himself overwhelm his prudent judgment and cause him to forsake his promise to refuse it. He is well aware with even this brief exposure he could fall into folly and deems Frodo to have the greater strength of the two of them to resist the wiles of the Ring.
After months of increasingly horrific suffering and heroic resistance, Frodo comes to Mount Doom. Here at the Ring’s birthplace, its Bearer can battle it no more. He said yes to Ilúvatar many thousands of times with each painful breath and step. But he can longer prevent what is about to happen. Barry Gordon notes, “Towards the end of the quest, Frodo is left with only the capacity to will. . . . Then, when the moment comes for the actual destruction of the Ring, the theme of self-negation in sacrifice reaches its highest point: the ability to will is taken from him” (“Kingship”).
Tom Shippey remarks, “It is . . . interesting that Frodo does not say, ‘I choose not to do’, but ‘I do not choose to do’. Maybe (and Tolkien was a professor of language) the choice of words is absolutely accurate. Frodo does not choose; the choice is made for him” (Author 140). Verlyn Flieger notes, “His use of choose and will makes it clear that he believes he is acting freely. But the negative, the repeated not is telling evidence that his will has been perverted and his choice pre-empted” (Splintered 153-154; emphasis in original).
Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named’ (as one critic has said) (Tolkien, Letters 253).
Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. . . .
We are finite creatures with absolute limitations upon the powers of our soul-body structure in either action or endurance. Moral failure can only be asserted, I think, when a man’s effort or endurance falls short of his limits, and the blame decreases as that limit is closer approached.
. . .
Frodo undertook his quest out of love – to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could; and also in complete humility . . . . I do not myself see that the breaking of his mind and will under demonic pressure after torment was any more a moral failure than the breaking of his body would have been . . . . (Tolkien, Letters, 326-327; emphasis in original)
Indeed, far from the failure Frodo believes of himself after the Ring’s destruction, Patrick Grant notes, “As the tale ends, Frodo has achieved a heroic sanctity verging on the otherwordly” (174).
Through an analogy from St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, Trudy G. Shaw gives a loving tribute to Frodo’s faith in the unseen, unknown One who chose him:
Think of yourself as a small child, Thérèse said, who wants to climb a staircase because you know your Father is at the top and you want to go to him. You . . . lift your little foot, but your legs are too short to reach the next step. . . . Meanwhile, your Father sees you. . . . His heart fills with love and pity for you, and he . . . picks you up and carries you in his arms to the top. ‘But,’ she added, ‘we have to keep lifting our little foot.’
. . .
. . . Frodo kept lifting his foot, too, both figuratively and literally. The fact that he kept doing so didn’t make it possible for him to save Middle-earth, or himself. But it came from his desire to save Middle-earth. . . . And although the child doesn’t climb the stairs and Frodo doesn’t save Middle-earth, the stairs are climbed and Middle-earth is saved. (“Thérèse”; emphasis in original)
After Frodo heals in the Undying Lands, one hopes he becomes what Gandalf foresaw. Would he shine so brightly if not burnished by the crucible of the Quest? What a wonder Sam must have beheld!
Gordon, Barry. “Kingship, Priesthood and Prophecy in The Lord of the Rings.” Cultural Collections, UON Library, 13 May 2009, uoncc.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/kingship-priesthood-and-prophecy-in-the-lord-of-the-rings/. Accessed August 13, 2018.
Grant, Patrick. “Tolkien: Archetype and Word.” Understanding The Lord of the Rings. Edited by Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 163-182.
Flieger, Verlyn. Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World. Rev. ed., Kent State UP, 2002.
Fuller, Edmund. “The Lord of the Hobbits: J. R. R. Tolkien.” Tolkien and the Critics. Edited by Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, 17-39.
Longenecker, Dwight. “Frodo and Thérèse: The Little Way Through Middle-earth.” National Catholic Register, 5 Oct. 2013, www.ncregister.com/site/article/frodo-and-therese-the-little-way-through-middle-earth. Accessed 17 Sept. 2018.
May, Gerald. Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. HarperCollins, 1991.
Shaw, Trudy G. “Thérèse and Frodo.” Frodo Lives…Within Us Now, www.frodolivesin.us/Catholicwork/id90.htm. Accessed 16 Sept. 2018.
Shippey, Tom. J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Wagner, Constance G. J. “The War Within: Frodo as Sacrificial Hero.” The Ring Goes Ever On Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference: 50 Years of The Lord of the Rings. Edited by Sarah Wells, The Tolkien Society, 2008, I:338-342.
This originally appeared in The Ivy Bush November 2018 newsletter.
Art: At the Cracks of Doom by Ted Nasmith.