i found comfort and understanding in the most unlikely of places last night. way back in august, i ordered a book that proves just how big of a geek i am: the letters of jrr tolkien - a compilation of personal letters from tolkien to his wife, children, friends, editors, publishers and fans. in many of these letters, he describes in great detail the mythology of the lord of the rings, as well as his own thoughts behind his characters and stories. when the book first arrived, i excitedly read the first few letters, then added it to the stack of books on my nightstand, to be finished at a later date and time (refer to image, top right).
the stack has only grown since august (refer to image, bottom right) and i didn't pick up this particular book again until last night. i flipped through the pages, reading letters at random, fascinated by the words of this incredible man. i've read biographies about tolkien, but to read his own words is much more personal. i finally came across a letter that tolkien had written in "reply to a reader's comments on frodo's failure to surrender the ring in the cracks of doom" (pg. 325). tolkien's response to this reader - his explanation of why frodo was not a failure - spoke directly to my own questions about why this tragic accident happened and why Z was called back to his heavenly home at this time. this will probably not make sense to anyone else (especially if you have no idea who frodo is (which, if that is the case, my literary soul weeps for you)), but for me it was a moment of pure revelation and understanding (and i do not use the word "revelation" lightly or in mockery of sacred things; rather, i say it with the utmost respect and reverence, recognizing that all enlightenment comes from the spirit).
from tolkien's letter, dated september 1963 (pg. 326 - 329):
Frodo indeed 'failed' as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted. I do not say 'simple minds' with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable. Their weakness, however, is twofold. They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget that strange element in the World that we call Pity or Mercy, which is also an absolute requirement in moral judgement (since it is present in the Divine nature). In its highest exercise it belongs to God. For finite judges of imperfect knowledge it must lead to the use of two different scales of 'morality'. To ourselves we must present the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength (+grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could achieve. To others, in any case of which we know enough to make a judgment, we must apply a scale tempered by 'mercy': that is, since we can with good will do this without the bias inevitable in judgment of ourselves, we must estimate the limits of another's strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances.
I do not think that Frodo's was a moral failure...
Frodo undertook his quest out of love - to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could; and also in complete humility, acknowledging that he was wholly inadequate to the task. His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way and to go as far on the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. He did that. I do not myself see that the breaking of his mind and will under demonic pressure after torment was any more a moral failure than the breaking of his body would have been...
I think it is clear on reflection to an attentive reader that when his dark times came upon him and he was conscious of being 'wounded by knife sting and tooth and a long burden' (III 268) it was not only nightmare memories of past horrors that afflicted him, but also unreasoning self-reproach: he saw himself and all that he done as a broken failure. 'Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same, for I shall not be the same.' That was actually a temptation out of the Dark, a last flicker of pride: desire to have returned as a 'hero', not content with being a mere instrument of good...
'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... 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.
...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.
new year's eve was one of the last night's that Z and i spent time together. we had each celebrated midnight with other friends, but met up later that night (or morning, rather) to join with the remaining time zones in ringing in the new year. i can't even remember what we were talking and laughing about, but i do remember just looking at him and seeing how truly happy and excited about life he was and saying to him, "i've missed you." he replied, "i've missed me, too." i didn't quite understand what he meant at the time, but i do now. the effects of war, PTSD and medications; the effects of trials, challenges and struggles that no one person should ever have to deal with had taken their toll on him. he had been broken physically and mentally, as well as emotionally and spiritually. he was in so much pain, pain that i didn't see or couldn't have even comprehended. he had been wounded beyond my - or anyone's - ability to heal him. he just wanted to be himself again, but "the force of particular circumstances" was too much for him to overcome. so Z was "sent [home] or allowed to pass" in order to be healed and find peace for his mind, body and spirit.
some readers of this post might think that i am absolutely crazy for drawing parallels between frodo's journey in middle-earth and Z's journey in mortality, but it's important to know two things before you make a final judgment on my level of sanity. first, i love, love, love tolkien. i love the hobbit and the lord of the rings, and i love middle-earth (it's my happy place) consequently, Z was also a big fan of the lord of the rings. second, i have been praying with all the energy of my heart for some sort of understanding as to why this has happened. tolkien's book of letters has been sitting by my bed for almost six months, and i know picking it up last night and thumbing through its pages was not a coincidence. so, call me crazy if you want, but i choose to believe that this was a direct answer to honest and earnest prayer. not what i expected, of course, but i'll gladly and humbly accept it.