Today's Date in the Shire
24 Foreyule
T.A. 3018: The Company of the Ring stays in Rivendell preparing for the journey ahead.
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The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit:
A Comparative Study of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Pathos - The Death-Struggle


As we now go into the second phase of Frye's scheme, the final battle, we find a slight difference in the two novels. In The Hobbit there is one final death-struggle where the forces of good and evil clash together, "the completion of which rounds off the story" (Frye 187). It is a classic ending with one great showdown where the end of the story is determined. In The Lord of the Rings we see a much more complex climax. We have the final battle with the forces of good and evil on each of the two sides, but it is not the outcome of this battle that determines the final victory. The real death-struggle is taking place in the land of Mordor with Sam and Frodo's effort to throw the Ring into the Fire, and consequently, the ultimate defeat of Sauron.

All the petty grievances concerning the treasure in The Hobbit are forgotten with the imminent attack of the goblins. They unite their forces against the true common enemy in the Battle of Five Armies 5, with the realisation that they are all on the same side - the good side. The battle is expressive of Tolkien's own war experiences. He participated as a signalling officer in the British offensives in France in 1916, during the Great War - "the war to end all wars". As to all young soldiers, this was a terrible experience for Tolkien. Not only did he lose many of his closest friends, but was himself injured after the Battle of Somme, diagnosed with shellshock, or "trench fever". He was sent home to England, where he later recovered (Carpenter 89-94), but the terrible images of war never left him and is reflected in many ways in his works. The Battle of Five Armies is characterised by fluctuating offensive waves, a charge from the one side, and when that dies down, another charge from the other side. This is a true picture of the meaningless trench warfare of the Great War. There is no individual heroic efforts as seen in the War of the Ring.

Another passage, the journey through the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings, pictures an additional side of his war experiences: "They walked slowly, stooping, keeping close in line" and "it grew more and more difficult to find the firmer places where feet could tread without sinking into gurgling mud" (LR 652). In his biography, Carpenter tells us about some of the conditions during the war:

The long march at night-time from the billets down to the trenches, the stumble of a mile or more through the communication alleys that led to the front line itself, and the hours of confusion and exasperation until the hand-over from the previous company had been completed. (91)

Again, we find ourselves very close to the concept of allegory, but we have to ask ourselves if it is an intentional projection of his own war experiences he makes here. Does he really intend to draw parallels to the Great War, or is this just Tolkien's way of relating to wars, as it is the only war experience he has had. He has first-hand knowledge of war, and what it means to those involved. What we see in these excerpts above is only the tactics of the Great War, but the sufferings and consequences are timeless and not only significant to World War One. As he has been in one war, he is able to describe another realistically. Even if Tolkien would not admit that this is allegory, I think this is a moment where he is unable to keep it out of his mythology, and his only defence would probably be that it was not intentional.

Bilbo's part in this war is not of great importance, but he finds himself in the middle of it, and it is "the most dreadful of all Bilbo's experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most" (H 259). There are great losses of dwarves, men, and elves, not to speak of the other side. His friends Fili and Kili are dead, and he is brought to the death bed of Thorin. Just as Tolkien himself had to part with many friends during the war, so does Bilbo.

But all is well that ends well, and Bilbo and Thorin are reconciled: "Farewell, good thief....I wish to part in friendship with you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate", to which Bilbo responds: "Farewell, King under the Mountain...This is a better [sic.: read bitter] adventure, if it must end so" (H 264). Bilbo is at last acknowledged as a valuable member of their company, and he is finally accepted and shown the respect he had not received before. In the end, the treasure is equally divided among the victors, and the quest has finally come to an end.

Frodo and Sam has come to the last stage of their journey. They must enter a second struggle against sterility, the Plains of Gorgoroth. Frodo is getting weaker by the minute, and this part of the journey is really Sam's. He must in any way try to help and encourage his master, and when this fails, he feels frustrated and helpless: "So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started...to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him" (LR 969). Eventually they reach Mount Doom, and ascends it, but in the Chambers of Fire, the Sammath Naur, things go wrong. Frodo does something quite unexpected: "I have come....But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine" (LR 981). He decides to keep the Ring, and puts it on his finger, and finally gives in to the ultimate temptation, and to folly.

Why does Frodo then choose to keep the Ring? Keenan asks the same question, and tries to answer it: "Exactly what the ring promises Frodo...we do not learn. But we may be assured that this includes the power to rule and to dominate in achieving the desire". In Freudian terms, this aggressive act corresponds to his denial of "the existence of death" (68-69). By putting it on his finger he is able to delay his own death: to become immortal. Furthermore, the Ring's destruction will also mean the death of the beauty that the three good elvenrings, never touched by Sauron, have created, and their beauty will vanish and their powers be broken (LR 384). It is a difficult dilemma. If the Ring is not destroyed, death will follow; if it is destroyed, death will also follow. But Frodo's decision to keep the Ring is not of that noble character. We can rest assured that his decision is made wholly out of selfish reasons, as it is the corruption of the Ring that controls his mind and decision in Sammath Naur.

The other, subordinate, death-struggle, the battle between the forces of Minas Tirith and the hosts of Sauron, plays an equally important role. As discussed earlier, the outcome of this struggle will not determine the outcome of the conflict as a whole. If the army of Sauron demolishes the armies of the West, there is still a small hope in the futile mission of Frodo. Likewise, if the good side wins over evil, it is not over as long as the Ring exists, and can therefore only be a temporary triumph, and indeed the Battle of Pelennor Fields is won by the good side, but it is an important victory. As long as they keep on resisting, they buy time in order for Frodo to fulfil his task, and Sauron's attention to his own land is diverted. Here we see the importance of Faramir's knowledge of the whereabouts of Frodo and Sam. He is able to convey to Gandalf that hope lives on.

On the top of Mount Doom, help arrives from an unexpected source. Even though Frodo is invisible, Gollum is able to locate him and attack him, biting the Ring, with finger and all, off the hand of Frodo. In his joy over finally owning his "preciouss" again, he performs a sing-and-dance on the edge of the abyss, topples over, and disappears into the fire, destroying himself and the Ring. Here we see the truth in Gandalf's words that Gollum "has some part to play yet", and function twenty-six is fulfilled: "a task is accomplished" (Propp 55).

Frye brings up the act of mutilation as a common ingredient in the quest-romance: "it is often the price of unusual wisdom and power" (193). When it comes to Frodo, he has to pay the price of mutilation to regain the wisdom, lost by his temporary insanity. In his case, wisdom does not mean to be wise and learned, instead it stands for the common sense he otherwise possesses. As to power, the matter is a bit more ambiguous. He has to get rid of the power - the Ring - in order to regain another kind of power - the power over himself. We also have his power to save the world, and even if it is not Frodo personally that throws in the Ring, the merit is his, as he has brought it there.

Keenan talks about the mutilation as a "symbolic castration". Frodo has lost his sexuality, and this "represent the death of the body", and this is a further step towards his androgyny, (69-70). Keenan seems to contradict himself when it comes to the symbolism of death. By putting on the Ring Frodo denies death, but when he discusses the sexual castration later on, he sees the invisible Frodo as symbolically dead. He puts on the Ring to escape death, but the second he does that he is dead anyway. That does not make sense, at least not to me.

Frodo and Sam are rescued in the end, and are taken back to the land of the living, to be celebrated as the heroes they truly are. The quest is fulfilled, and incidentally or not, it ends in the same way as in The Hobbit, with the arrival of the Eagles (H 262; LR 927). The Hobbits, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam, have all gone through some traumatic and heartbreaking episodes, and have lived to see the result of their success. What remains now is the celebration, function number twenty-seven (Propp 56), and then the journey home to their beloved Shire. In the last stage of the quest-romance, we shall see what the effects of their adventures ultimately are when it comes to their persona.

Continue to: Anagnorsis - The Recognition

or go to the Table of Contents


FOOTNOTES
5. In my opinion, it should in fact be called the Battle of Seven Armies, as the eagles appear later in the fight, and after that, Beorn the Shape-changer, who "violently hated orcs" and "in [this] battle killed Bolg, the leader of the Orkish forces (Foster 42). Beorn is alone, but as he is the difference between victory and defeat, he should be counted as a seventh army.

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