“Where Shall I Find Rest?” Frodo Longs For Home. His True Home.

The hobbits are eager for home and set out for the Shire with Gandalf. It is the sixth of October when they reach the Ford of Bruinen, a place redolent with memory for Frodo as he almost fell into the grasp of the Nazgûl there. The date too is filled with ominous significance. It was on this date a year before that the Nazgûl attacked the camp below Weathertop and Frodo received a wound that almost made him a wraith like them but under their power.

The combination of the two is almost too much for Frodo and he says to Gandalf: “I am wounded with knife, sting and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”

Right from the very beginning of the quest it has been clear that Frodo and his companions have taken on a task that is too big for them. For the briefest of moments Frodo is excited by the thought of the adventure that lies ahead but soon that excitement is replaced by the unhappy realisation that he must leave the Shire, leave his friends, leave home. And soon it is clear that there are powers in the world that are far greater than he is. Old Man Willow in the Old Forest; the Wight in the Barrow Downs; and most deadly of all, the Nazgûl haunting their every step along the way. Aragorn doubts the hobbits’ capacity for the task. Butterbur fears they behave like gentlemen engaged in nothing more dangerous than a walking holiday.

But that is exactly the point. That is the mysterious wisdom of The Lord of the Rings. This is a task that can only be achieved by those for whom it is too great. Those who might have the capacity to undertake the task, who might be strong enough to carry the Ring to Mordor in order to destroy it are those who are in the greatest danger. Gandalf and Galadriel are both offered the Ring and both reject it despite being profoundly tempted to take it. They have come to realise that it is stronger than they are and that in taking it they would begin the road to becoming the Dark Lord or Lady. Boromir does not understand this believing that his noble spirit is sufficient defence against the Ring and he is almost overthrown entirely.

The task and the Ring itself is most certainly too great for Frodo and he knows that it is. Even he begins to ponder what it might mean to seek to possess and to use the Ring as he shows in his questioning of Galadriel at her mirror. Eventually it will overcome him and only through the strange mercy of Gollum’s attack will he and all Middle-earth be saved.

Frodo is saved but he is broken too. The knife that the Witch King of Angmar drove into his shoulder at Weathertop, the sting of Shelob in her lair, Gollum’s tooth biting the Ring from his finger at the Cracks of Doom and worst of all, the slow, inexorable overpowering that the Ring achieves over him, all these have done their terrible work.

“Where shall I find rest?”

Frodo knows that the return to the Shire will be no true home-coming for him. It may be the same but he will not be. This is a powerful insight and one that Tolkien must have gained on his return from the trenches of the First World War as did so many of his generation. It was not just the journey from the familiarity of home to the horror of the battlefield that lead to a profound sense of displacement but the journey back again to what should have been familiar but was no longer. Frodo puts it this way. “It shall not be the same; for I shall not be the same”.

Frodo knows that if there is to be a place of rest for him then it will be somewhere else than the Shire but he does not know where such a place can be. We might know that this sense of displacement, of homelessness, of exile is that which will lead us in search of our true home but when we are gripped by this it is nothing less than terrible.


10 thoughts on ““Where Shall I Find Rest?” Frodo Longs For Home. His True Home.

  1. There are great forces contending in the world. Gandalf’s job, in physics terms, is to balance everything so that the net force on Frodo is zero, which means he can move freely. When there’s a ten-ton force pushing you left and another pushing you right, you can walk forward or back as you choose, but it’s going to leave a mark.

  2. That comma after ‘tooth’ is so much more than serial. It really sets ‘and a long burden’ apart, and gives it the weight it deserves. Rightly so, since the physical wounds do not compare to the spiritual. Frodo has that within which passeth show.

  3. Agree with Tom’s comma comments 🙂 There is also the heaviest burden, the ‘unreasoning self-reproach’ Frodo carried needlessly for thinking himself a failure. I hope he found out and accepted and embraced the truth in the West.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • I am sure that an honest appreciation of what he did will be key to his healing in the West. He gave his best. He gave his all until he could give no more. I know that you have spoken before of his entering the school of Nienna. And he won’t be alone. All those who will sail with him into the West need healing. I think that only Gandalf is entirely at peace.

  4. I am reminded of (though do not suggest in any way that Tolkien was drawing on any such comparisson) the stories we’ve all heard of those unfortunate souls with debilitating disease, degenerative illness, etc., who long for the release that death brings.

    And the comparison is not parallel in any event. Frodo’s passage into The West is not death … it is not an equivalent to modern assisted suicide. Still, I cannot help but feel like a comparisson can be made to Frodo’s longing for a rest he cannot achieve in mortal lands, and the relief some humans feel they can only find through being released from this mortal coil.

    It is even more striking, perhaps, when we consider that, until the corrosive influence of Sauron corrupted its interpretation, death was to be viewed as a gift from Eru, and not something to be feared but embraced (granted, to be embraced naturally and not prematurely).

    • Thank you so much for such an insightful comment, Jeremiah. I think that you hit upon one of the key issues that Tolkien wrestled with in his work. I agree entirely with you that Sauron corrupted the human consciousness of life and death. The story of the fall of Númenor especially brings this out. I once tried to reflect on this in a piece that I entitled “The Dark Lord is Afraid of the Dark”. Sauron both sought to draw others into a worship of the Dark with himself as its High Priest and yet feared it too. He used the dark as a defence against his enemies and yet it was under the cover of that same dark that the Ring was brought to the fire. And, of course, Sauron’s end is darkness for ever.
      But death was not just a problem for humankind but for the Elves too. They were at first distressed by the brief lives of the men that they befriended and the stories of Beren and Lúthien and also Aragorn and Arwen centre on this issue. I am struck by the way that certain Elf Maidens were prepared to give up so much for their men but Tolkien wrote no story of an Elf Lord giving up immortality for a human woman. Was this deliberate on his part? Was he saying something about we men?
      In the final analysis though I think he gives his definitive thought in the words of Aragorn to Arwen as Aragorn prepares for his own death. “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

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