LotRFI Pt.59–Grey Havens

The lengthy series of departures earlier in the text were very trying for me. This parting of ways, though, was much more difficult. Not only was it the end of Frodo’s journey, but of Bilbo’s and Gandalf’s as well.

Image copyright Alan Lee

The blow of the previous departures was softened by my expectation that all books ended with characters back to where they began. On some level, then, I knew that the heroes could not all live the rest of their days in Gondor or the Shire together. I was not expecting these three major characters to leave now, so late in the text and with so little forewarning. Of course, reading it again, I saw just how many times the narration describes such a departure, but I was not looking for it the first time.

I was heart-broken when it became clear that all three of these characters were leaving. The only solace I had was the way in which Frodo hands down his story to Sam. The tradition is kept alive for another generation of hobbits, and the obligation that began with Bilbo continues.

Another one of the most memorable quotes from my first read comes from this scene. Gandalf tells the hobbits that he will not castigate them for crying:

‘I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil’ (RK, VI, IX, 1030).

This was a consolation to me, as a reader who was already crying before this line. As a young boy, this was not the kind of response I typically received to tears. Gandalf’s acceptance of grief made me that much more emotive for the remainder of the scene, and I remember tucking myself away for a good cry after finishing the text.

It is important to note, once again, that I was not a very observant reader in terms of foreshadowing, and I did not read the appendices. Because of these facts, I did not understand that Frodo and the others aboard the ship were headed to a land of healing. Instead, I read the entire passage as an extended metaphor for death. As Frodo gazes out into the mist and espies

‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’ (RK, Vi, IX, 1030).

I took this as a reference to heaven. These characters were dying and passing into the next life, leaving the others to pass on their story. I do not know if this deepened my sadness. It was the departure, the absence, which truly made me sad. In any case, I read the remainder of the text dutifully, but without much enthusiasm.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Final words of the text, where else?

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the Grey Havens?
​Did you know where Frodo was headed?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.57–Bilbo

Bilbo served as a vital link between H and LotR for me in my first reading. I loved Bilbo’s character in H and was curious to see what would happen to him in this new tale. I was surprised, then, when he quickly exited the stage and was replaced by Frodo. Nevertheless, Bilbo served a pivotal role. He was no longer the protagonist of the story; instead he was a patriarch, the figurehead at the beginning of a tradition. He preserved the Ring and passed it to Frodo. Now Frodo, and the reader by extension, must see the quest through to the end, if only for the sake of Bilbo. This was very clear to me in my first reading.

The idea of the quest of the Ring as an inheritance from Bilbo is emphasized in the Council of Elrond. Bilbo volunteers for the quest:

‘Very well, very well, Master Elrond…It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself’ (FR, II, ii, 269).

He is turned down and the quest falls, instead, to his heir, Frodo.

Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Bilbo functions to keep the reader motivated throughout LotR. I would argue that this is especially true of younger readers who were particularly invested in him in H. I know it was certainly true for me. I wanted to see what happened to this ring that Bilbo collected and that brought doom to the world. It was important to me that Bilbo was not implicated in anything so heinous.

Perhaps this post is a bit unexpected, especially here in the midst of the story’s conclusion. I have good reason for putting it here, though. Bilbo continues to serve as this important motivator for younger readers even through the end of the tale. When the hobbits revisit Rivendell, he is there to catch up on the adventure and to demonstrate how much the world has changed. Not only has the age of Men begun, but the age of children’s tales is fading, much like Bilbo himself.

Finally, this theme is enacted as Bilbo travels to the ships to sail west. Frodo finally comes to an even footing with his mentor after completing the quest which the one bequeaths the other. They part the world at the same moment, and this serves to bookend both LotR and H.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Shire, and then to the Grey Havens.

What Do You Think?

Did you see Bilbo as a structural element in your first reading?
Did you expect to see Bilbo as much in LotR? Did you expect to see him more?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!