The world has begun to return to normal, and in so doing our heroes begin to realize that the world no longer needs the Ring-bearers.

After the events of the last chapter, the “clearing up” begins, first by heading over to the Lockholes and releasing all the prisoners.

Then there was Lobelia [Sackville-Baggins]. Poor thing, she looked very old and thin when they rescued her from a dark and narrow cell. She insisted on hobbling out on her own feet; and she had such a welcome, and there was such clapping and cheering when she appeared, leaning on Frodo’s arm but still clutching her umbrella, that she was quite touched, and drove away in tears. She had never in her life been popular before. But she was crushed by the news of Lotho’s murder, and she would not return to Bag End. She gave it back to Frodo, and went to her own people, the Bracegirdles of Hardbottle.

When the poor creature died next Spring – she was after all more than a hundred years old – Frodo was surprised and much moved: she had left all that remained of her money and of Lotho’s for him to use in helping hobbits made homeless by the troubles. So that feud was ended.

Even hobbits, as resilient as they often are, can be tempted by the allure of wealth and power, as was the case with the Sackville-Bagginses.  It’s almost tragic, but in the end Lobelia learned that wealth alone would never make her happy, so she decided to quietly contribute to healing the hurt that her greed helped cause.

Meanwhile the labour of repair went on apace, and Sam was kept very busy. Hobbits can work like bees when the mood and the need comes on them. Now there were thousands of willing hands of all ages, from the small but nimble ones of the hobbit lads and lasses to the well-worn and horny ones of the gaffers and gammers. Before Yule not a brick was left standing of the new Shirriff-houses or anything that had been built by ‘Sharkey’s Men’; but the bricks were used to repair many an old hole, to make it snugger and drier.

Frodo helps mainly by restoring the proper (very loose) governance of the Shire while the Mayor is recovering from his imprisonment, and Pippin and Merry lead the hunt for the remnants of the ruffians.

Then, after several weeks of hard work, Sam finally remembers Galadriel’s gift, which contains soil from her garden as well as a seed.

‘What can I do with this?’ said Sam.

‘Throw it in the air on a breezy day and let it do its work!’ said Pippin.

‘On what?’ said Sam.

‘Choose one spot as a nursery, and see what happens to the plants there,’ said Merry.

‘But I’m sure the Lady would not like me to keep it all for my own garden, now so many folk have suffered,’ said Sam.

‘Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.’

I love how Frodo has learned to trust Sam’s humble wisdom, and in turn he’s started to trust it himself.  Sam goes all over the Shire planting saplings wherever beautiful or beloved trees had been lost, using a little of the dust for each, and plants the seed where the Party Tree used to stand.  Once he finishes that, he takes Pippin’s advice and scatters the rest in the middle of the Shire.

Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.

That next year, 1420, was so abundant that it eventually became a byword for beauty and quality in the Shire.  Sam used his gift to help others, and he received bountiful returns.

Frodo eventually moves back into Bag End, and subsequently invites Sam to live with him.

‘There is no need to come yet, if you don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘But you know the Gaffer is close at hand, and he will be very well looked after by Widow Rumble.’

‘It’s not that, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, and he went very red. […] ‘It’s Rosie, Rose Cotton,’ said Sam. ‘It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so. And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken, and she says: “Well, you’ve wasted a year, so why wait longer?” “Wasted?” I says. “I wouldn’t call it that.” Still I see what she means. I feel torn in two, as you might say.’

‘I see,’ said Frodo: ‘you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in with Rosie. There’s room enough in Bag End for as big a family as you could wish for.’

So the four Travellers begin to return to business as usual – or rather, create new lives for themselves.  Pippin and Merry make quite a splash in Hobbit society,  going about in their “foreign” finery, singing songs and telling tales of faraway places and generally being quite dashing and charismatic.  They eventually assume leadership of their respective families.

Frodo and Sam, on the other hand, are ready for a much quieter life.

All things now went well, with hope always of becoming still better; and Sam was as busy and as full of delight as even a hobbit could wish. Nothing for him marred that whole year, except for some vague anxiety about his master. Frodo dropped quietly out of all the doings of the Shire, and Sam was pained to notice how little honour he had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrin and (if Sam had known it) to himself. Also in the autumn there appeared a shadow of old troubles.

One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange. He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.

‘What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?’ said Sam.

‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’

But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day. It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth. Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.

The people of the Shire don’t understand Frodo’s part in the war, but then, just about the only people who could empathize with him are the other Ring-bearers, and perhaps he doesn’t want anybody to, because the whole reason he did what he did is to prevent anyone else from having to bear that kind of burden.  So even after everyone else has moved on, Frodo is still haunted by the past, and struggles to hide it from Sam.

Time goes on, and Sam and Rosie have baby Elanor (named after the flowers in Lórien), and Frodo is still occasionally revisited by the pain of his wounds.  Then one day he sets out toward Rivendell with Sam, ostensibly to celebrate Bilbo’s 131st birthday, making him older than the Old Took.

It was evening, and the stars were glimmering in the eastern sky as they passed the ruined oak and turned and went on down the hill between the hazel-thickets. Sam was silent, deep in his memories Presently he became aware that Frodo was singing softly to himself, singing the old walking-song, but the words were not quite the same.

Still round the corner there may wait

A new road or a secret gate;

And though I oft have passed them by,

A day will come at last when I

Shall take the hidden paths that run

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

And as if in answer, from down below, coming up the road out of the valley, voices sang:

A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!

silivren penna míriel

o menel aglar elenath,

Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

We still remember, we who dwell

In this far land beneath the trees

The starlight on the Western Seas.

Elrond, Galadriel, Gildor, and many other high elves are setting out for the Grey Havens to sail across the sea.  Of course Elrond had one of the Elven Rings, and Galadriel has another, but the third is conspicuously absent from the party.  Also Bilbo’s along for his last journey.

‘Where are you going, Master?’ cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

‘To the Havens, Sam,’ said Frodo.

‘And I can’t come.’

‘No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.’

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor, and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.’

This is why I love this story: Because it acknowledges that the hero doesn’t always get the happy ending he deserves.  Nothing ever ends with complete happiness for everyone in this world.  Frodo literally gave Sam the story he was writing and tells him to finish it for him, because Sam and his family represent exactly what he was fighting for.

They reach the Havens and find Gandalf waiting there (as well as Merry and Pippin), finally revealing that he’s the bearer of the third Elven-ring – the ring of fire, as it were.  This helps explain his fire-magic specialty, but it’s also the main reason I question whether he ever actually died, because they seem to imply that no bearer of a Ring of Power can die – it may not be limited to the One.  I also wonder if his mention of “the secret fire” in his speech in Moria was referring to this ring, but that’s pure speculation on my part.  What’s really interesting, though, is he used it so differently from the other Elven-rings – Elrond and Galadriel used their rings to create havens and fortresses for their people, but Gandalf, who doesn’t really have a people, used his ring to become an active agent in world events.  What’s even more interesting is that his ring was initially used for the same purpose – it belonged to Círdan the Shipwright, master of the Grey Havens, but he gave it to Gandalf when he first appeared in Middle-earth to combat Sauron, entrusting the safety of himself and his people to others.

‘You tried to give us the slip once before and failed, Frodo,’ [Pippin] said. ‘This time you have nearly succeeded, but you have failed again. It was not Sam, though, that gave you away this time, but Gandalf himself!’

‘Yes,’ said Gandalf; ‘for it will be better to ride back three together than one alone. Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’

[…] And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West.

I really love how they incorporated this description (and honestly, this feeling) into the films, partly in Gandalf’s discussion of the afterlife with Pippin in Minas Tirith and partly in the closing song, “Into the West”.

Sam did everything Frodo said he would and more, and his daughter Elanor even became a Maid of Honor to Queen Arwen.  But after Rosie died (at a ripe old age), Sam handed over the Red Book to Elanor and finally followed his master.

This book has plenty of structural issues (mainly in regards to worldbuilding), but I always leave it with the same bittersweet feeling of farewell.  It gives a picture of the beauty of an ordinary life with all its joys and sorrows.

But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was a yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

Next week: The year in review, and a new adventure…

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