'...for I shall not be the same'



LotR as a "Fundamentally Catholic and Religious Work"    

'...for I shall not be the same'
transition from the fifth mansions to the passive night of the spirit

As mentioned in the previous essay, in letter #246, Tolkien says that when Arwen gave Frodo her white jewel, he didn't understand the gift or her statement about him taking her place on the ship sailing West. But this begins to change on the journey back to the Shire. The first indication comes in a couple of exchanges with Gandalf. First, when Gandalf notes that “Not all wounds can be healed,” Frodo replies, “I fear it may be so with mine.” And then there's the telling statement that, “I may come to the Shire, but it will not be the same, because I shall not be the same.” Frodo knows he has changed, although he may not know exactly how he's changed.  

The visit to Rivendell gives another respite. When you know the end of the story, Frodo's “Of course I'll come back… The roads will be safe…” is poignant. He wants - and at this point seems to expect - a return to an ordinary life, including visits to Bilbo at Rivendell. But his statement to Sam that Rivendell contains "everything but the Sea" tells us an ordinary life is not in his future; the Sea that troubled his dreams before he became Ring-bearer is calling him again to something deeper than his understanding.  

I've been in a discussion trying to decipher the meaning of Frodo's statement that returning to the Shire “feels like falling asleep again.” I contributed some ideas, none of them really satisfying, but now that I see it in the context of Teresa's mansions it makes sense. He's leaving the vibrancy of the fifth mansions, which was a joy unlike any he'd experienced before the Quest. His spiritual life isn't regressing by any means, but he's beginning to feel it less.

Upon his return to the Shire, Frodo still “roars with laughter” along with the other hobbits, and has my favorite line of hobbit banter in the entire book, responding to the Shirrif's "But don't forget I've arrested you" with “I won't. Never. But I may forgive you.” Although he hands over military leadership to Merry, he's front-and-center when it comes to dealing with Saruman at Bag End.

It took me many years and many readings to see beneath the surface of the confrontation between Frodo and Saruman. I'd always considered Saruman's statement about Frodo having "grown much" to be important, and had linked it to Frodo's mercy - which Saruman doesn't want - and/or perhaps to a wizardly ability Saruman had for perceiving what's happened to Frodo internally. But now I believe Saruman had an even more direct experience of Frodo's growth.

So much happens so fast immediately after this, that it took me a long time to consciously realize what Frodo's doing. He's not just confronting Saruman, he's commanding him - and Saruman obeys.  The other hobbits have taken care of Saruman's underlings, which they could do through intelligent military operations and rousing the populace. But when it comes to dealing with a wizard it's left to the halfling who has "grown much" in a way the others haven't. Saruman seems surprised by Frodo's power to confront him; otherwise he might have put up more of a fight. But it still stands that Frodo tells Saruman to leave, and Saruman obeys.

A few years ago, I read a discussion of how Tom Bombadil's actions during and after his rescue of the hobbits from the barrow-wight are patterned as an exorcism. Without that discussion, I don't know if I would have picked up on it in this scene, but that's what Frodo's doing - he's exorcising Saruman from Bag End and from the Shire. He not only commands Saruman to "Go at once," but also to "never return," both necessary elements of an exorcism. (Saruman's identity as the closest thing to a "fallen angel" in Middle-earth makes this especially interesting.)

It had always puzzled me that Saruman left so easily. He gave up quickly on even trying to bluff the hobbits. It had puzzled me enough that it sometimes seemed like a possible hole in the story. But now I think I've found an explanation: Saruman had just faced a stronger power, and either was wise enough not to resist it or didn't have the ability to do so. His debt to Frodo's mercy goes beyond Frodo telling the other hobbits not to harm him. Saruman's parting shots at Frodo, both physical and verbal, seem to come out of his frustration at not being able to do anything deeper against him. In his quest for power, Saruman threw away the grace that Frodo has gained by not seeking power.

As Gandalf becomes "Saruman as he should have been," Frodo is a hobbit who is "broken down and made into something quite different."  I think that a lot of readers stop at "broken down," and fail to recognize the "something quite different" Frodo has become even before he sails. I don't know that Frodo himself realized the extent of his transformation. Saruman recognizes legitimate authority (which, in Tolkien's cosmos, can ultimately come only from Eru), stronger than his own broken power, and yields to it. The spiritual strength we originally saw in the barrow has reached a new level. Which would mean - in the view of both Tolkien and John of the Cross - not that Frodo had gained more personal power, but that he had become a more open conduit of the power of God. Another way of imaging it would be to say that the transparency first noticed by Gandalf in Rivendell has increased: the glass has become more clear, allowing the Light to show itself more brightly.


Frodo is the one who faces Saruman, brings Lobelia out of the lockholes, and acts as mayor until Will Whitfoot can take up the job again. It's after life in the Shire returns to normal that he begins to retreat from it. And, we're told in letter #246, he didn't make his decision to sail until his illness in March of 1421. The passive night of the spirit comes upon him slowly. We're left to witness it primarily from the outside, as we did the active night of the spirit as Frodo and Sam crossed Mordor. Although the reader was present when Arwen gave Frodo the white gem, Sam wasn't, so he doesn't know the significance; in his account in the Red Book*, Sam simply describes how Frodo often “fingered” the gem. The reader is left to put the two together, a common Tolkien writing technique.


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*We have a very strong piece of evidence that it was, indeed, Sam writing this part of the story and not Frodo. Sam's the only one who would have said "…and Mr. Frodo wore always a white jewel on a chain that he often would finger…" (emphasis added).