Where did Frodo go? (Where didn’t Frodo go? But seriously.) Does Frodo die at the end of the books? Let’s get into it. This post will, of course, contain spoilers for The Lord of the Rings (books and movies).
Frodo goes to the Undying Lands with the elves. While the mortal human, hobbit, and dwarf characters discuss death and dying (and do plenty of it) in Lord of the Rings, the immortal elves don’t talk about their end in the same manner at all.
Galadriel describes it in The Fellowship of the Ring after Frodo offers her the One Ring and she chooses not to accept: “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” Her use of the word diminish suggests a change, if not death itself. (This line is identical in the book and the movie.)
According to The Lord of the Rings Wiki:
“The Undying Lands were a realm inhabited by Ainur and Eldar. The area included the continent of Aman and the island of Tol Eressëa. The ocean Belegaer separated the Undying Lands from the western shores of Middle-earth. Only immortals and ring-bearers were allowed to live in this realm.”
Frodo is tired. Frodo has been through the gauntlet and suffered tremendously. The elves offer him a reward for his bravery as ring bearer (a reward also given to Bilbo, and later to Samwise).
Frodo explains his choice to Sam in the book The Return of the King:
“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: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”
He also says: “I am wounded, wounded; it will never really heal.” This suggests that remaining in Middle-earth—living—is too difficult.
Gandalf says, in the book: “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.”
His lines are slightly different in the movie:
“Farewell, my brave Hobbits. My work is now finished. Here at last, on the shores of the sea, comes the end of our Fellowship. I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
The dialogue continues, where it does not in the book (borrowing words from elsewhere in the book):
Gandalf: It is time, Frodo.
Sam: What does he mean?
Frodo: We set out to save the Shire, Sam. And it has been saved, but not for me.
“Frodo, you just threw the One Ring into the fiery pits of Mordor, what are you going to do next?”
“I’M GOING TO DISNEYLAND!”
Okay, that isn’t an exact quote; it’s something Patricia Elzie-Tuttle said to me as a joke. But it is worth considering what kind of reward the Undying Lands are.
In the movie The Return of the King, we see Sam take Frodo to meet the elves at the harbor (aka the Grey Havens), where he is reunited with Bilbo. They are both clearly alive! Frodo and Bilbo sail with the elves and Sam returns home. While it is not explicitly stated that they stay alive, we do not see them die; we see them literally sail away.
Although Tolkien swore up and down that The Lord of the Rings was not allegory, it was undeniably full of metaphor.
After the goodbyes on the shore, Sam watches Frodo go:
“Then, Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went abroad; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea 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 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. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-Earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart. Beside him stood Merry and Pippin, and they were silent.”
If that isn’t a metaphor for death, I don’t believe there has ever been one. Especially specific is the line: “the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.” Certainly it did not appear to Sam that Frodo was any longer in this world—though that is not inconsistent with the idea that he left Middle-earth.
Despite not explicitly showing Frodo die, the movie suggests—in dialogue between Gandalf and Pippin—that going to the Undying Lands is indeed what happens when you die:
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores…and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No…No it isn’t.
I cannot tell you how to interpret the books or the movies. I could tell you what I think, but I’d rather tell you this: whatever you believe, that is what happened.
In Appendix B: The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands), “Later Events concerning the Members of the Fellowship of the Ring” in The Return of the King (book), it is revealed that after many years of living in Middle-earth, Legolas built a boat in Ithilien and sailed from the Grey Havens to the Undying Lands, bringing with him his dear friend Gimli (the only dwarf ever to go to the Undying Lands).