Spoiler Alert!! If you’ve not read the Lord of the Rings trilogy or seen Peter Jackson’s epic movies, back away from this article and get to it right away!! For those already initiated into Tolkeins magical realm, let’s get started!
Where did Frodo really go at the end of the last book?
The answer is pretty straightforward, but as you are about to see, it’s also shrouded in mystery.
First, let’s have a little recap. In those final pages of The Return of the King, Frodo, along with his friends Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, board the last ship leaving Middle Earth, known as the White Ship. They sail away on the Elven vessel alongside Gildor, Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel, and a whole host of other Elves.
They are heading West across the seas to the Elven realm of Valinor, part of the mysterious and heavenly ‘Undying Lands.’
What are The Undying Lands?
The Undying Lands, also known as the Blessed Realm of Aman, are separated from Middle Earth by the great Belegaer Sea.
The realm contains the magical land of Valinor, the ancestral home of the Valar. Valar is an angelic spiritual being that is often referred to as ‘masters of spirits.’ Born from Eru Iluvatar’s (God’s) own mind, these beings have no physical body; instead, they are reflections of the creator’s heart and mind.
Elves also live alongside the Valar in the mystical Undying Lands, but unlike their human, hobbit, and dwarf friends, they never die. Both the Valar and the Elves are immortal beings, hence the name, The Undying Lands.
“Behind the walls of the Pelóri, the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor, and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.”J.R.R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion
As you can see from Tolkein’s description in The Silmarillion, Valinor is essentially paradise, but not the kind that you have to die before you can go there.
Why does Frodo go to Valinor?
Only immortal creatures are allowed to reside in these guarded lands, but exceptions were made for ringbearers Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Their great sacrifice and bravery earned them a special place in Valinor.
Here, Frodo can heal the deep physical and spiritual wounds that he suffered during his epic journey into Mordor. Finally, he can live a free existence away from the great burden of the Ring. If he stayed in Middle Earth, the injuries inflicted on him would eventually destroy him. But here in the Undying Lands, he can rest, heal and replenish in absolute bliss.
What happens to Frodo in the end?
So we know where Frodo went and even why he went there, but Tolkien’s epic story still leaves a few questions unanswered.
#1. Is Frodo already dead?
Some fans of the Trilogy suggest that Valinor and The Undying Lands are a metaphor for heaven itself. Is it possible that Frodo had actually died before he boarded the White Ship, and was he sailing off towards the afterlife?
Here’s a quote from The Return of the King that kind of hints towards this idea.
“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.”
From Frodo’s perspective, he’s heading into a beautiful new world, but all Sam can see is “a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West”. It certainly makes sense why some people believe that Frodo’s journey into The Undying Lands is actually a metaphor for death.
As any LOTR fan knows, this epic tale is packed with metaphors, but even so, Tolkein was always adamant that his books weren’t allegory.
For this reason, most Tolkein scholars agree that the author’s description of the events at the end of the final book should be taken literally rather than metaphorically.
#2. Does Frodo become immortal and live forever in the Undying Lands?
It’s been suggested in many fan communities that Frodo could’ve been granted special Elvin immunity to death as a reward for his great sacrifice.
Robert Foster, the author of The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, explained in his foreword that he didn’t provide the dates and nature of the deaths of the characters who sailed to Valinor, “for they still live.”
But despite this, the common consensus between LOTR super fans seems to be that every mortal who goes to the Undying Lands will eventually die. It’s just the rules.
And Tolkein himself confirms this in his own private letters, where he makes it clear that Frodo and his friend Sam (who is also eventually granted a place in Valinor) would always be mere mortals and would eventually succumb to death even if they were to remain in The Undying Lands.
“…certain ‘mortals,’ who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome…I have said nothing about it in this book [The Lord of the Rings], but the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their ‘kind’ cannot be changed forever, this is strictly only a temporary reward: a healing and redress of suffering. They cannot abide forever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and will ‘die’ – of free will and leave the world.—Tolkein’s Letter 154
“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 forever on earth, or within Time.”—Tolkein’s 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) to destinations of which the Elves knew nothing.”— Tolkein’s Letter 325
So there we have it, definitive proof from Tolkein himself that Frodo, and his other mortal counterparts, did eventually perish in The Undying Lands. Their Time spent there was a kind of purgatory, but not the temporary state of punishment from the Catholic faith; instead, it’s a purgatory of “peace and healing.” And a well-deserved one at that.
But if Frodo eventually dies in Valinor, how does he die?
There’s no definitive answer to this question, although fans continue to debate the details on forums across the internet.
Many believe that due to the power and intensity of The Undying Lands, mortals such as Frodo and Bilbo would actually live a shorter life than the one they would have if they remained on Middle Earth.
One thing we know for sure is that many years after Frodo arrives in the Undying Lands, his fellow ringbearer and best friend Sam is also granted a place in the guarded realm and is allowed to join Frodo in what must have been a very happy reunion.
How they eventually come to perish will remain a mystery, but due to the heavenly nature of Valinor, we can be pretty sure it was a peaceful death.
Where Frodo went at the end of the Trilogy is no mystery. He sailed off to The Undying Lands, the realm of Elves and Valar, under special invitation thanks to his incredible sacrifice.
Once there, he undoubtedly enjoyed a peaceful existence amongst immortal beings. But what happened next is still up for debate. What do you think became of Frodo in the end? I’d love to hear your theories. Let me know in the comments below!