Anatomy of the Ring-bearer by Larner

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Written for the LOTR nonfiction challenge.  For Tracey Claybon for her birthday.

The Anatomy of the Ring-bearer

            Just what kind of person was Frodo Baggins before the time of the quest, and what led in the end to his decision to leave not only the Shire but Middle Earth as well?  Just what went into the making of the Ring-bearer, inspiring his choices and his fate?

            Frodo was born to relative privilege, being descended directly from three of the most prominent and richest families in the Shire.  His mother Primula was daughter to Gorbadoc Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, the Marish, and Brandy Hall as well as being the Brandybuck, the family head to the Brandybuck clan.  Primula’s mother was born Mirabella Took, one of Gerontius Took’s three “remarkable” daughters, Gerontius being the Thain of the Shire, Master of the Tooklands and the Great Smials, and the Took, the family head to the Took family.  Mirabella was also next younger sister to Belladonna Took Baggins, who’d married Bungo Baggins, the father to Bilbo Baggins and the Baggins, family head to the Baggins family.  Frodo’s father Drogo Baggins was a cousin of Bilbo’s, his father Fosco being Bilbo’s first cousin.  By the time Frodo was born Primula’s oldest brother Rorimac had succeeded his father Gorbadoc as Master of Buckland, the Marish, and Brandy Hall, and his cousin Paladin Took, a great grandson of Gerontius, was in line to inherit the roles of Thain and theTook from his cousin Ferumbras, who’d never married.

            We are told that the Brandybucks had inherited the strongest strain of the Stoor blood of all of the Hobbits in the Shire, that the Tooks had inherited the strongest Fallohide blood, and the indications are that the Bagginses were of the strongest Harfoot lineage.  Frodo, therefore, had a remarkable mixture of the three ancient clans from which Hobbits were descended, and appears to have inherited the best of each line.  The Stoors had lived along the valley of the Anduin and its tributaries, digging communal smials into river banks and ridges.  They appear to have been the best of the three clans at camouflaging their holes, and were apparently most wary of strangers, although they appear to have traded with Men and learned many skills from them, perhaps through spying upon them as much as through direct instruction.  But they also were comfortable around water, which was not true of the Harfoots or the Fallohides.  The Harfoots, who are described as being the most numerous clan, lived up in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, apparently usually in symbiotic relationships with the Dwarves.  They were the clan that lived closest to the earth, the greatest and most devoted farmers, but were willing to learn whatever skills the Dwarves were willing to teach them.  Apparently they were wary of change unless they saw clearly that proposed changes would definitely benefit them all.  The Fallohides, who lived in the wooded areas closest to the lands beloved by the Elves, were the tallest and fairest, often with light hair, and are described as producing the best hunters and the most artistic and intellectually gifted individuals, skilled in music, dance, and poetry as well as languages.

            Frodo is described as “taller than some and fairer than most,” “a stout little fellow with rosy cheeks and a bright eye.”  He had brown hair and a cleft to his chin.  And he appears to have had the type of mind that could quickly analyze situations and make and commit himself to the most effective plans of action in order to bring the best out of otherwise terrible situations.

            Sauron had created his Ring to rule all of those who bore the ruling rings for Men, Dwarves, and Elves, but had apparently never considered Hobbits to be worthy of consideration in establishing his own power over Middle Earth and so had inspired no tokens to gain power over this supposedly insignificant race.  Men, Dwarves, and Elves each had ambitions that Sauron could appreciate and use in hopefully establishing mastery over them and the realms each race established and ruled; the lack of recognizable ambitions in Hobbits made them seem beneath his notice, and their focus primarily on farming and enjoying the fruits of the earth undoubtedly added to his policy of taking no deliberate notice of them.

            Who better, then, than a Hobbit to serve as Ring-bearer, much less this Hobbit?  Sauron had no handles he could appreciate by which to take power over the race or most of its individual members, so his Ring would have relatively little effect on them.  Still, damage was done to the spirits of Bilbo and Frodo by constant exposure to the corrosive nature of the Ring for so long.  Bilbo, after all, had not only held It for over sixty years but had used Its power to hide himself at need, perhaps fairly regularly as he found himself increasingly besieged by the Sackville-Bagginses and their constant complaints and malicious attacks upon his character and possessions.  We know that he realized that things were not going properly within himself for his kind and nature.  “I feel stretched, rather like butter scraped over too much bread.”  A vivid description, this, of the manner in which the Ring was likely to have extended his life and vitality beyond that common to Hobbits.  Gandalf had become concerned about the nature of this magic ring Bilbo had found to the point he insisted that Bilbo should leave It behind when he chose at last to leave the Shire after the Party, and took the envelope that contained It from Bilbo’s hand when he would have shoved it into his pocket to take with him rather than to set it upon the mantelpiece as he’d intended.  It is noted that Bilbo felt as if a weight had been lifted from him once this was done, and he went cheerfully enough out to join the Dwarves who would accompany him upon the first stage of his renewed journeys.

            Frodo does not appear to have used the Ring at all during his stewardship of It while he remained within the Shire.  But there were some crucial differences between him and his nominal uncle at the time the Ring came to each of them.  Bilbo had been an adult for seventeen years when he found the Ring in Gollum’s cave, so he already had developed habits of character and behavior that were tried and true and had allowed him to remain happily a bachelor within the confines of Bag End and the Shire and that he most likely retained after his return home from Erebor and the Battle of Five Armies.  He might have given over the stodginess and predictability that had been considered expected of him as a Baggins, but he knew his relations and neighbors well enough to convince even Lobelia and Otho to return residency in Bag End to him when his return interrupted the sale of his belongings.  He had a good knowledge of his own character, and apparently (at least) usually resisted the probable urgings of the Ring to return evil for the slights offered him.  Thus, realizing it was a lost cause to seek to transform him swiftly, the Ring drowsed while in his keeping, managing in the end only to embed Itself into his mind so well that he could not easily let It go until he faced the intervention of the Wizard, and even then the amputation of the Ring from his life was experienced with relief rather than prolonged resentment.

            It was likely that the Ring was aware of Frodo at least from the time of his birth, although how much thought It took of him during his earliest years is questionable.  We know that from the time Bilbo returned with It in his pocket male children within the Baggins family did not appear to have survived easily.  Only two of the male Bagginses residing in the region of the Hill listed in the Family Trees survived birth once the Ring came into the Shire:  Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Frodo, son of Bilbo’s cousin Drogo.  Did the Ring somehow suppress the conception of male Bagginses, or did It cause such children not to survive long enough to be included within the family genealogy, perhaps many of them becoming victims of miscarriages, sudden infant death syndrome, and the like?  We know that Gollum cursed the Bagginses while Bilbo and the Ring were still nearby enough to hear him; did It act upon that curse?  I rather suspect that It did, and that Its presence in Bilbo’s possession was a great part of the reason for the decline of this once prominent family.

            We do not know where Drogo and Primula lived during Frodo’s childhood.  They were listed as Bagginses of Hobbiton, but whether they lived within Hobbiton all during the time of their marriage up until their tragic deaths when Frodo was eleven is questionable.  We know that they are described as being frequent visitors to Brandy Hall, Drogo being fond of his brother-in-law’s hospitality and board.  Certainly they had been visiting there at the time of the fateful boating accident that robbed them of their lives.  It is certainly possible that they spent at least part of the time after Frodo’s birth elsewhere rather than in the Hobbiton area, most likely seeking to shelter themselves and their son from the influence of Lobelia and her family.

            We know that Lotho, who again was listed in the family tree as one of the Bagginses of Hobbiton, turned out a rotter.  Considering the ambition and acquisitive natures of his parents, it is likely he would have been open, even at a distance, to the influence of the Ring as he grew up, in the end turning out even more base than Otho and Lobelia had proved.  I wonder just how differently Frodo might have developed had he indeed grown up under the Ring’s direct influence, a good part of the reason that in my stories his family abandoned Hobbiton when he was just entering faunthood and removed first to Buckland and then returned only as far west as Whitfurrow. 

            But for Frodo, who spent his later childhood and his early adolescence in Brandy Hall and Buckland, farther from the direct awareness of the Ring, how might the Ring have influenced him?  With Lotho far closer to hand and considered by most Bilbo’s direct heir, I would hazard that the Ring would most likely focus Its malicious intent upon Lobelia and Otho’s son rather than upon the Hobbit child so much further from Its direct presence and influence.  After all, Frodo had less claim upon Bilbo as a possible heir, and his basic nature was inimical to Its purposes.  Perhaps It took advantage of adolescent Hobbit proclivities to scrump to encourage Frodo toward the extremes of this activity, and so might have led to him being declared the Rascal of Buckland, as Farmer Maggot indicates in Book One.  But just how much energy the Ring might have exercised in seeking to fully corrupt someone with as much tendency toward compassion and good will as Frodo appears to have contained is questionable.  After all, It had found fertile ground in which to work with Sméagol, swiftly bringing him to the point of being expelled from his Grandmother’s hole, but had failed to do much damage to Bilbo’s character in the whole of the sixty-one years It languished in his possession.

            Only after Frodo came to live in Bag End itself as Bilbo’s ward would the Ring be likely to be intensely aware of him, but It does not appear to have been able to easily penetrate the protections offered by his generally benign nature any more than It had been able to fully corrupt Bilbo’s.  So, how might It have affected Frodo?

            We know that Frodo knew a degree of foreknowledge, or at least experienced prescient dreams in Crickhollow and in Bombadil’s house.  It is likely that the Ring’s presence within the boundaries of his new home would have affected his dreams to some extent, perhaps extending his awareness of potential evil around him.  But, instead of him becoming paralyzed with fear or turning toward evil himself, Frodo was led to become even more open and friendly and yet wary of evil influences.  He certainly grasped the implications of Gandalf’s explanation of the Ring’s potential once the Ring was exposed via the flames of the parlor fire.  He knew that the Ring posed a real threat to all he loved and cared for, and surprised the Wizard by his immediate question, “What must I do?” 

            Frodo himself appears to have possessed a good degree of charisma, enough that his closest friends were watching for him to decide to leave the Shire in search of his beloved “Uncle” Bilbo and possible adventures and were intent that when that day came he should not leave alone.  Even Fredegar “Fatty” Bolger was in on the conspiracy, although how much Folco Boffin was aware of what was in the wind is impossible to ascertain from the Master’s writing.  So it was that three of Frodo’s dearest friends accompanied him out of the Shire, intent on keeping Frodo safe as well as they might, although it is important to note that it was Frodo who enlisted the help of Tom Bombadil in saving Sam, Merry, and Pippin from first Old Man Willow and then the confines of the barrow, and it was Frodo who severed the wrist of the wight who’d been intent on killing his friends and so saved them from a terrible sacrifice in an attempt to earn the wight some unnamed evil gain.  Those who’d intended to guard Frodo found that instead he was protecting them!  Is it not likely, then, that Frodo during his guardianship of the Ring had somehow subconsciously learned how to ward the Ring about so that It could not directly affect others, or at least not those for whom he felt the strongest love, those he most deeply wished to protect?  How the Ring must have come to resent Frodo’s basic good nature!

            The Ring, from the moment Frodo left Bag End, sought to draw evil to It, and sought to overwhelm Frodo’s will so as to reveal Itself to Its Master’s slaves and so speed Its return to Its proper place.  It did Its best to force Frodo to put It on while on the disastrous shortcut toward the Marish when they were hiding from the Black Rider who passed by upon the road.  It probably played Its own part in leading them first into Old Man Willow’s clutches and later into those of the Barrow-wight.  It sought to lead Frodo to leave the safety of Bombadil’s house alone with It upon his finger.  It took advantage of Frodo’s fall in the Prancing Pony to slip Itself upon his finger, alerting Saruman’s agents within the inn as to Its presence so as to arrange the attack on the Hobbits’ room later in the evening.  It certainly convinced Frodo to put It on upon Weathertop, making their target clear to the Ring-wraiths and leading directly to the Morgul wound he suffered.  And at the Ford of Brúinen It forced Frodo to halt, almost leading him to ride back across into the hands of the Nazgûl.

            The Wargs found them in Hollin; Caradhras sought to bury them in snow as they braved the pass; the Watcher in the Water directly attacked Frodo; Gollum followed the Fellowship through Moria; the cave Troll sought to skewer Frodo with a spear; goblins and orcs pursued them into and past the Chamber of Mazarbûl; Gandalf stood to guard all of them and particularly Frodo from the Balrog upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, and both orcs and Gollum followed them past the eaves of Lórien.  Once they left Galadriel’s realm Gollum easily found them once again, and they were paralleled by the Enemy’s servants along the eastern shores of the River as they made their way southward in the Elven boats.  On the sides of Amon Hen the Ring finally overcame Boromir’s honor, and It sought to capture the Eye of Its Master as Sauron looked out of his citadel within Mordor while Frodo sat upon the Seat of Seeing.  It finally twisted Gollum’s vows as they climbed the Stair toward Cirith Ungol, and at the End It took Frodo in the Sammath Naur.  We know that It had become increasingly an obsession, a weight, a deadly burden upon Frodo once he left the Fellowship behind, and grew even worse once It was within Its Master’s lands.  It robbed Frodo of his memories of the happiness and contentment he’d once known, encircling him with Images of It as the Wheel of Fire that would perhaps burn away all that had ever been good in his life, branding him as Its slave.

            To be free of Its final influence he had to have It taken from him by violence.  The loss of a finger was a pale shadow to what It had robbed him of during that terrible journey through Mordor itself.

            In his letters Tolkien indicated that ill health played no part in Frodo’s decision to leave Middle Earth and sail with Bilbo, Elrond, and Galadriel for Tol Eressëa.  But is this truly likely?  Consider the injuries that had been done him.  He was given a wound upon Amon Sûl that it was recognized could never truly heal as long as he remained within Middle Earth.  The cold of the Pass of Caradhras never left his memory.  The terror of the tentacles of the Watcher in the Water also remained with him forever.  The injury inflicted by the cave troll might not have killed him, but it definitely left him bruised and battered, perhaps cracking, definitely bruising a rib or two in spite of the mithril corselet he wore.  He’d visibly aged as they climbed the Stair toward Cirith Ungol, and he’d been poisoned by the daughter of Ungoliant herself.  He and Sam had traversed a land whose very air was reported to be a poisonous fume, whose soil was formed from rotting lava and was undoubtedly full of cutting shards of volcanic bombs and obsidian.  They breathed in untold amounts of glassy dust and volcanic gases, and had to drink water from polluted cisterns while they slowly starved toward death.  Frodo was so close to dying upon the sides of Orodruin that he had to be carried up the mountain upon Sam’s back.  He’d stood over the chasm through which in moments the volcano’s contained magma was to spew, breathing in its fumes directly.  He fought with Gollum for the possession of the Ring, and in a decidedly weakened state suffered the agony of having his finger bitten off his hand.  As he and Sam lay upon the slag heap to which Sam had brought them after the Ring fell into the Fire in Gollum’s possession, he knew he would die within moments and was at peace with that thought, falling into a coma without realizing that even then rescue was speeding toward him and Sam on the winds of the air.

            He had to be kept in healing sleep for two weeks’ time before he awoke to the realization that he’d survived in spite of everything, and as he returned to the Shire and Bag End it was brought home to him that he’d not truly conquered the Ring as he’d intended, but that instead at the last It had taken him, leading him to betray all he’d ever loved and honored.  He certainly does not appear to have challenged Saruman’s declaration that he would not know peace, good health, happiness, or long life.  Instead, he appears to have taken that as most likely an accurate prophecy of what he could expect.

            As so many have pointed out, Frodo showed clear signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with anniversary illnesses, a gradual withdrawal from society and self-imposed isolation, and a growing tendency to seek to hide his personal distress.  It is likely that he was suffering from physical as well as deep-seated psychological and spiritual pain and discomfort.  Nobody who had suffered as much and for as long a period of trauma and pain and distress as was known by Frodo Baggins could have come home in perfect health, much less maintained it.  So I hold that Frodo undoubtedly anticipated the probability that he would die, and perhaps soon, should he remain in the Shire, and possibly of suicide if the results of his physical deterioration didn’t get to him first.

            I truly believe that Frodo needed both physical and spiritual healing, and pray that he found them both once he took ship and left Middle Earth behind him.  And I suspect that the reason Sam was given the hope of following him was as much for Frodo’s own sake as he reached the end of his life as it was for Sam’s reward for his service in seeing the Ring, in Frodo’s protection, brought to the Fire at the last.

            Christopher Tolkien indicated that his father saw Frodo to be like Arthur, allowed to enter the lands of Faerie in the company of the greatest lords of the immortal beings who’d once filled Middle Earth and who were now retreating to their own place.  Arthur, the Once and Future King, promised to come again in Britain’s deepest need.  And perhaps when he comes again he will be accompanied by another smaller King, dressed in mithril mail, come at his side to dispense mercy where Arthur offers vengeance and protection?

            A wonderful thought to consider, don’t you think?




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