Academic journal article Mythlore

So Far from the Shire: Psychological Distance and Isolation in the Lord of the Rings

Academic journal article Mythlore

So Far from the Shire: Psychological Distance and Isolation in the Lord of the Rings

Article excerpt

TOLKIEN'S EPIC TALE THE LORD OF THE RINGS follows the journey of Frodo Baggins as he travels away from the safety and familiarity of his home in the Shire to fulfill the almost impossible mission of destroying the powerful One Ring. Along with his faithful servant Sam, Frodo travels literally to the other side of his world of Middle-earth; for much of the journey the two hobbits travel alone, isolated from their companions. It is this isolation and psychological distance, even more than the physical distance, that separate Frodo from all that is safe and known and ultimately take a toll on his self confidence and emotional strength.

Devin Brown, in a 2006 article in Mythlore, explored Frodo's consistent preference for seclusion, citing his quest in the text as one of moving "from isolation to community" (Brown 163). Following this focus, Frodo's sense of isolation as he loses all of his fellow travelers except for the faithful Sam is selfimposed: a character trait about which Frodo is warned by Gandalf and others. According to Brown, "if Frodo is to grow from his condition of isolation to the more mature condition of community, he will have to give up the Ring and his pattern of seclusion" (166). Inevitably, this type of personal quest remains incomplete; although Frodo does manage to destroy the perilous One Ring, he remains an introvert who prefers few friends and quiet times.

I would strongly disagree, however, with Brown's perspective on introversion and isolation: Frodo's ultimate success in carrying out his nearly impossible mission may be seen as proof that being "the quiet type" is not necessarily problematic. Frodo does care about his family and friends--indeed, he cares enough about the fate of all those in Middle-earth to risk his very life to save them. Rather, I contend, Frodo's increasing isolation as he journeys to Mount Doom is imposed on him from the outside, from a most powerful and unrelenting source--the Ring itself.

Previous scholarship by Michael Livingston (among others) has suggested that Frodo's array of psychological symptoms resulting from his arduous quest may be likened to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Though Tolkien himself, in a letter to L.W. Forster in 1960, emphasized that he did not think that either of the World Wars "had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding" (Letters 303), it is well known that PTSD first became a recognized mental disorder in treating returning World War I soldiers. Livingston's analysis seems quite apt in describing Frodo's change in outlook and behavior following his return from Mount Doom. The present essay, however, seeks to explain Frodo's emotional state and subsequent behavior during the quest, while under the direct, targeted influence of the One Ring's power and control.

Intensifying the negative effect of isolation on Frodo's inner turmoil is the constant presence of the evil power attached to the Ring that he carries. The fact that Bilbo's heir took on the burden of the Ring willingly fails to mitigate the downward psychological spiral that Frodo experiences as the Ringbearer; like the typical victim of emotional abuse, Frodo becomes aware of the Ring's ability to affect his behavior--and his spirit--long after he enters the original situation. The possession of the Ring ties Frodo irrevocably to the power of the Dark Lord, Sauron, and to the power inherent in the Ring itself. As Frodo gets further from the safety of the Shire and from all that makes him secure and confident in his ability to fulfill his quest, the Ring begins to take possession of Frodo's will; the dual elements of isolation and lack of control work against him and nearly destroy the usually stout-hearted hobbit.

Near the end of the tale, Frodo has lost his strength, his confidence, and even his will to live. It is Sam who almost forces his master to go on, and the Ring is ultimately sent into the Crack of Doom by the misguided actions of Gollum. …

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