Chapter VI: Many Partings
Time has passed. It’s after mid-summer and things are great. Aragorn is king, Arwen is queen, and the world is rebuilding and making itself anew. But Frodo and the hobbits want to go home. I can’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want to go back to the Shire? But Frodo wants to go to Rivendell first and see Bilbo. He didn’t come with Elrond and Arwen for the wedding. He’s gotten too old to travel, and now that the Ring has been destroyed, he’s gotten even more fragile. Aragorn declares they will depart in a week, for he will go with them for awhile. Arwen has a gift for Frodo: a place on the last ship to leave for Valinor. She will not be going, she says, “for mine is the choice of Luthien, and as she so I have chosen… But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West until all your wounds and weariness are healed.”
A week later, they all prepare to depart. It’s a big company- the Fellowship, of course, plus Arwen, Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, Galadriel and Celeborn and their people, Faramir, Prince Imrahil and the Knights of Dol Amroth, and Éomer and Éowyn. They taking Theoden’s body back to Rohan for burial, and then Éomer will be crowned. Along the way, they pause in the Drúadan Forest and Aragorn gives the land to Ghân-buri-Ghân and his people forever and promises no one will enter their land without their permission.
Two weeks later, they arrive at Edoras. There is a grand funeral for Théoden and they sing stirring songs about the battle and Théoden’s fall and the glory of it. Merry weeps by the grave mound. He loved Theoden, after all. After that comes Éomer’s coronation. It’s a less formal affair than Aragorn’s was, but Rohan is a bit less formal than Gondor in general. During the coronation feast, Éomer announces Éowyn’s betrothal to Faramir.
Soon after, some of them prepare to depart. Aragorn and his knights, the hobbits, and the Elves, except for Arwen who will remain in Edoras for now. This is where she says farewell to her people. All of her people. Forever. “None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.” The peoples of Middle-earth have afterlives, but Elves and Men go to different places after their deaths. Elrond and Arwen will go to those separate places and be parted forever. Arwen has chosen mortality to be with Aragorn. She is utterly sundered from her people.
But the rest of the company departs, gifts in hand (Éowyn gave Merry a horn, which will come in handy later). They set off towards Helm’s Deep, where they rest for a couple of days, and Legolas and Gimli explore the Glittering Caves of Algrond as promised. From there they go to Isengard. The ents are still there and have drastically changed the scene. Where there used to be an industrial wasteland, now there is a green garden. Gandalf asks Treebeard about Saruman, but it turns out that the ents weren’t quite as watchful as they intended to be. They don’t like caging anything that lives, and because Saruman is crafty and knows how to manipulate people, he talked his way out of the tower. Gríma went with him. So while Saruman no longer has his wizard magic, he can still cause problems. Gandalf is a bit annoyed but accepts what he can’t change.
Now is a time for more partings. Aragorn is turning back from here, and Legolas and Gimli are going to visit Fangorn Forest. Gandalf, the hobbits, and the Elves are going onward. Of all the farewells, the Elves’ parting with Treebeard is the most bittersweet. Treebeard is part of a dying race. With no Entwives, there will be no Entings. Forests may endure, but the Ents won’t last much longer. The Elves are leaving Middle-earth altogether. Treebeard says, “It is sad that we should meet only thus at the ending. For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air. I do not think we shall meet again.” Celeborn tries to put a good spin on their parting, but Galadriel confirms Treebeard’s fears: they will never meet again. They have all survived the great battles, but the Fourth Age is for Men, and many things that are old and beautiful are passing away, never to return.
Galadriel’s last words to Aragorn are words we should all bear in mind: “Use well the days.”
Six days out from Isengard, the company comes across a ragged pair on the side of the road. It’s Saruman and Gríma. This is a chance meeting, and both Gandalf and the Elves give the former wizard another chance to redeem himself, but Saruman is too bitter to take it. He’s filled with hatred and spite. He has sharp words for the hobbits, too, and none of them likes the way he talks about the Shire. Gandalf thinks Saruman has one last bit of mischief up his sleeve. But they still have a long way to go, so they leave Saruman and Gríma to their bitterness and head onward.
Several days later, it is time for the Galadriel and Celeborn to turn away towards Lorien. On their last night together, after the hobbits are asleep, Gandalf sits up with the Elves. “Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they [Gandalf and the Elves] would sit together under the stars, recalling the ages that were gone and all their joys and labors in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands. For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro.”
Yes, Gandalf and the Elves have telepathy among themselves.
So the hobbits say farewell to Galadriel and Celeborn one day, watching them go until the Elves disappear into the mists. I think it’s a little metaphorical- they’re also disappearing into the mists of time.
The dwindling company of the hobbits, Gandalf, Elrond, and his sons, turn toward Rivendell and one evening they come into the valley and find the Elven lights shining ahead of them. The first thing Frodo does, even before eating or washing, is to find Bilbo. The old hobbit is asleep. He’s 129 years old now. He’ll only be making one more journey in his life. For now, he’s finishing up his writings and editing his old poems when he’s not napping. After two weeks, and after celebrating their shared birthday, Frodo suddenly has a desire to go back to the Shire. Frodo speaks with Elrond, and they agree that he and the other hobbits will depart the next morning. Gandalf will go with them, at least as far as Bree.
Frodo says his good-byes to Bilbo. The old hobbit is sleepy and a little confused, but he asks Frodo to organize his papers and stories for him. He also asks about that ring. Frodo replies: “‘I have lost it, Bilbo dear. I got rid of it, you know.”
“‘What a pity!’ said Bilbo. ‘I should have liked to see it again.'”
Though it’s been years since Bilbo last saw the Ring, he hasn’t fully recovered from its effects. Frodo won’t fully recover, either. At least, not while he remains in Middle-earth.
Chapter VII: Homeward Bound
Gandalf and the hobbits have set out for the Shire. Later, on the sixth of October, Frodo starts feeling unwell. This is the anniversary of his being stabbed by the Lord of the Nazgûl. His shoulder hurts, and he feels sick and depressed. Gandalf says that some wounds will never fully heal, and Frodo hopes he’ll be able to find rest soon. Gandalf says nothing about that.
The next day, Frodo feels much better and they arrive at Bree. It looks different from the last time they were there. Less welcoming. The gate is locked and there is no one to let them in. It turns out that dark happenings have been going on in Bree and surrounding areas. Ruffians are about, doors are locked, no one is traveling, and business has been bad- especially at the Prancing Pony, where Barliman Butterbur is surprised and pleased to see them all. He’s flabbergasted at the hobbits’ stories– especially when they tell him that scruffy Strider is now king of Gondor and the North. Butterbur tells them about the robbers in the woods and how bad of a year it has been, and that goods aren’t coming up from the Shire like they have been. In the course of the evening, the hobbits realize that the Breelanders’ surprise at seeing them is due to the finery they’re wearing and how much they’ve changed. As much as Bree has changed, they have changed even more.
Butterbur is depressed about the changes for the worst they’ve been dealing with, but Gandalf tells him to take heart. Changes for the better are coming. The King will be coming one day to make the lands peaceful again.
Then Sam finds out that Bill the Pony is there in Bree! He was shaggy and thin as a rail, but he showed back up in Bree and Butterbur has been taking care of him ever since. Sam insists on seeing him at once.
The hobbits stay in Bree for the next day, but it’s gloomy. Someone calls for a song, but they are hushed. This is no time for songs and cheers, the others say. The next morning the hobbits rise early so they can make it back to the Shire before nightfall. The Bree-folk are there to see them off, and Butterbur wishes them well and hopes they come back to see him now and then.
Once they’re off, the hobbits try to figure out what’s going on. They figure that Bilbo’s odious cousin Lotho has something to do with the foul goings-on, but Gandalf tells them they’ve forgotten Saruman. He had his eye on the Shire long before Sauron had ever heard of the place, and if we remember way back to the first couple of chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, we’ll remember that there were rumors of bandits and border incursions. These weren’t coincidental, but the hobbits have largely forgotten about them while they were off saving the world.
Later that day they come to the point in the East Road where they said good-bye to Tom Bombadil. This is where Gandalf leaves them. He wants to talk to Bombadil but has never really had a chance. He’s spent centuries running across Middle-earth, trying to keep ahead of the darkness. Now that his great task is done, he can afford to take some time off and relax with the odd beings of the world. He tells the hobbits to hurry so they can get to the Brandywine Bridge before the gates are locked. Merry’s confused, as there are no gates on the roads into the Shire. Gandalf tells them that they’ll discover things have changed, but they will manage.
Then he bids them farewell and turns Shadowfax off the road and is gone. Merry notes that they’re back down to the group they started off with- just the four hobbits who set out a year ago. To him, it’s like what happened to them far away is a dream.
Frodo says he feels like he’s falling asleep again.
“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our Fellowship…” Chapters VII and IV, ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ and ‘The Grey Havens’