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I'm new to the LOTR fandom and I only just finished the movies and am going to now work my way through the books.

Why does Frodo choose suicide at the end? When he gets on the boat with the elves it seems like he's choosing to go to heaven instead of staying with his friends.

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  • Given Tolkein's deep religious convictions, having Frodo 'commit suicide' is just not believable.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 1 at 12:54

2 Answers 2

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Frodo isn't committing suicide. In Tolkien's world, the elves came from, and return to, Valinor (aka The Undying Lands). This isn't Heaven, per se, just a place where the suffering of Middle Earth does not reach. You don't die to go there, you travel by boat. Remember, the Elves were immortal, and they were on the boat with Frodo. The Rings of Power series isn't very good, but they do a decent job of depicting this when Galadriel and her team are put on a boat and sent to Valinor.

There's three major reasons for Frodo to leave Middle Earth for Valinor

  1. The journey took its toll on Frodo. It was a long and hard journey, and one that saw Frodo nearly get killed several times. In addition to the physical taxation, there's the fact that Frodo is also constantly being tempted by the One Ring. Samwise only realizes what that weight is when he briefly takes the ring from Frodo after Frodo is apparently killed by Shelob in RotK.
  2. The movies omit the Scouring of the Shire (whereby the Shire itself is radically transformed into a heavily industrial area), but it more or less ruins the Shire for Frodo. It's no longer the peaceful countryside it was at the start of LOTR. You see this hinted at in Galadriel's vision in the FotR movie.
  3. Of all the injuries Frodo sustained in the quest to destroy the One Ring, the one that has the most impact on him would be when Angmar stabs Frodo with a Morgul knife in FotR. Part of the knife breaks off and nearly kills Frodo (hence why they become desperate to get him to Rivendell). Elrond manages to remove the remaining blade, but it still does lasting damage to Frodo. Only in the Undying Lands can Frodo truly escape the pain of that wound.
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    Otherwise good answer, but I don't really see the second point. The Shire is pretty much restored at the end of the book, and Frodo lives a quiet and comfortable life. He would be well off If it weren't for the injuries and lasting effects of the ordeal he went through.
    – Lykanion
    Commented Apr 30 at 14:11
  • Thank you! I know my question was voted down for not having done research but a lot of posts I had seen didn't explain this or only explained with book context that I didn't have.
    – Meg
    Commented Apr 30 at 17:14
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    +1 The 'lasting damage' done by the Morgul blade and by other experiences are trauma. I get the sense that J. R. R. was recognizing the kinds of PTSD experienced by some veterans of WWI—in which he participated as a soldier—and wanted to create for Frodo the possibility of 'balm in Gillead' (to crib from Poe :).
    – Lexible
    Commented Apr 30 at 18:59
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    Minor nit-pick: the elves don't come from Valinor. They were born in Middle-earth, and some went to Valinor for a period of time. Still, +1 given the extraordinary degree of restraint in your comment on the series that shall not be named. Commented Apr 30 at 19:51
  • This “fact” that Frodo is constantly being tempted by a non-extant ring rings false and quite incoherent to me, granted I’ve only seen the adaptations.
    – Adrian M.
    Commented Jun 1 at 2:48
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Tolkien addresses the point a number of times in his letters:

But the promise made to the Eldar ... for their sufferings in the struggle with the prime Dark Lord had still to be fulfilled: that they should always be able to leave Middle-earth, if they wished, and pass over Sea to the True West, by the Straight Road, and so come to Eressëa – but so pass out of time and history, never to return.
But in this story it is supposed that there may be certain rare exceptions or accommodations (legitimately supposed? there always seem to be exceptions); and so certain 'mortals', who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo); and as a unique exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and 'servant' of Galadriel.
I have said nothing about it in this book, but the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their 'kind' cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary reward: a healing and redress of suffering. They cannot abide for ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and will 'die' – of free will, and leave the world. (Letter 154)

'Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured', said Gandalf (III 268) – not in Middle-earth. Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him – if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually to 'pass away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time. So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil.
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It is clear, of course, that the plan had actually been made and concerted (by Arwen, Gandalf and others) before Arwen spoke. But Frodo did not immediately take it in; the implications would slowly be understood on reflection. Such a journey would at first seem something not necessarily to be feared, even as something to look forward to – so long as undated and postponable. His real desire was hobbitlike (and humanlike) just 'to be himself again and get back to the old familiar life that had been interrupted. Already on the journey back from Rivendell he suddenly saw that was not for him possible. Hence his cry 'Where shall I find rest?' He knew the answer, and Gandalf did not reply. (Letter 246)

As for Frodo or other mortals, they could only dwell in Aman for a limited time – whether brief or long. The Valar had neither the power nor the right to confer 'immortality' upon them. Their sojourn was a 'purgatory', but one of peace and healing and they would eventually pass away (die at their own desire and of free will) (Letter 325)

It's clearer in the book: Frodo gets no recognition in the Shire—Merry and Pippin are hailed as heroes and Sam has this sudden upward social mobility, becoming Mayor—and he has recurring episodes resulting from the trauma. You have to know that Frodo literally decided to become the new Dark Lord when he got to Mount Doom. He was totally wanting to dethrone Sauron and replace him. That guilty look that Elijah Wood has in the movie when everyone is kneeling/bowing to the hobbits doesn't capture half of it. Also, the whole experience for Frodo leading up to that point is much more grueling and traumatic in the book, even if you have to pay close attention to see it.

Additionally, Frodo decided to go with Bilbo, not just leave his friends:

Bilbo went too. No doubt as a completion of the plan due to Gandalf himself. Gandalf had a very great affection for Bilbo, from the hobbit's childhood onwards. His companionship was really necessary for Frodo's sake – it is difficult to imagine a hobbit, even one who had been through Frodo's experiences, being really happy even in an earthly paradise without a companion of his own kind, and Bilbo was the person that Frodo most loved.
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From the onset of the first sickness (Oct. 5, 3019) Frodo must have been thinking about 'sailing', though still resisting a final decision — to go with Bilbo, or to go at all. It was no doubt after his grievous illness in March 3020 that his mind was made up. (Letter 246)

There is also in-universe acceptance that Frodo was not dead, if you take a passage from a letter as counting toward that front. Frodo was not legally dead in the Shire, and Sam (as mayor) had the property laws adjusted to take into account the event of someone departing West over the sea!

When Master Samwise reported the 'departure over Sea' of Bilbo (and Frodo) in 1421, it was still held impossible to presume death; and when Master Samwise became Mayor in 1427, a rule was made that: 'if any inhabitant of the Shire shall pass over Sea in the presence of a reliable witness, with the expressed intention not to return, or in circumstances plainly implying such an intention, he or she shall be deemed to have relinquished all titles rights or properties previously held or occupied, and the heir or heirs thereof shall forthwith enter into possession of these titles, rights, or properties, as is directed by established custom, or by the will and disposition of the departed, as the case may require.' (Letter 214)

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