Returning Home

Big time spoilers for The Lord of the Rings – especially the ending – ahead.  

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  There aren’t too many things in my life that have stayed constant since age 14, but these books continue to inspire, motivate, and comfort me.  As I’ve grown, aged, and lived, the meanings have changed, the understandings deepened, but every time I pick them up, I find something new.  When I first read the books, I was thrilled by the exciting adventure, the battles, and, oh yeah, Aragorn.  These days, it’s a different part that I keep turning to read.

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings now is the ending.  The movie version leaves out part of the original ending, and I understand that choice at some level.  The original ending is messy, hard, and complicated in a way that’s difficult to translate to the screen.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book ending, it looks initially like a very traditional storybook ending wrap-up.  Then the movie and book part ways: there is evil waiting in the Shire for the returning hobbits.  They have to fight yet another battle to get the Shire back – their home is ugly and changed by that evil.  The book and the movie return to sync when Frodo departs Middle Earth.

When I initially read The Return of the King, the scouring of the Shire irritated me a bit.  It seemed…unnecessary.  The major task was fulfilled, the ring destroyed, the epic showdown at the gates of Mordor fought, and the hobbits returned home triumphantly.  Then Tolkien throws in this seemingly discordant sadness and destruction.  It’s no wonder Peter Jackson left it out of the movie.  It feels unfair that after everything the hobbits have done and the horror they’ve been through they don’t come home to a hero’s welcome, that there’s still more to do.  This isn’t a Harry Potter ending.

Now, though, I get it.  Tolkien has captured the reality of life after being touched by struggle and tragedy, in whatever form that comes to particular people.  You don’t walk through Mordor and remain untouched.  Even once the main event is over and evil seemingly vanquished or at least survived, it’s coming home to find more work to do and reminder after reminder sitting in your front yard.

We walked through Mordor the days my daughter nearly died.  We walked through Mordor when my brother so inexplicably left us.  The days when nothing made sense.

I hoped when we finally came back, naively, it would still be mostly the same.  I knew better.  But I hoped.

Instead, it’s been the weariness of battling back what those journeys took from us.

It’s no longer the epic battles of life and death.  It’s the bitterness at the bottom of the glass, the sh*ttier stuff, but battles that are no less for their smallness.  It’s fighting those unwelcome triggers and reclaiming home.

It’s knowing when to lay down the swords and begin the peaceful work of planting and bringing green life back to damaged land.  It’s showing mercy.  In some ways, this is almost harder.  It requires vulnerability, patience, honesty, kindness, and diligence.  Qualities that some days are tough to muster.

Tolkien doesn’t give Frodo a beautiful happy ending in his beloved Shire.  The wounds simply go too deep.  I take a lot of heart, though, from Sam’s ending.  Sam, who also bore the Ring, touched evil, who also walked through Mordor.  Sam, who “planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each.  He went up and down the Shire in this labour…”  Sam, who receives these words at the last, painful farewell: “Do not be too sad, Sam.  You cannot be always torn in two.  You will have to be one and whole, for many years.  You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.”

That is an ending – or perhaps another beginning – worth all of the work.

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7 thoughts on “Returning Home

  1. I never thought of the ending that way. Like you, I was annoyed that after all Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen had been through that they had to return to the Shire to find trouble. That they had to battle again. Yet I know see what you’re getting at. That things change so much following waking through Mordor that home won’t be the same, even if it may seem so on the outside.

    You’ve been through a lot in the past few years. Far more than most people will ever experience. And I’m sorry that you have to face rebuilding and regrowing when all you want to do is heal. I’m struggling with that too. Maybe that’s also a part of Tolkien’s lesson. That we need those who have walked through Mordor by us as we go through this. Because the Shire was lost until the Fellowship returned home.

  2. Wow. Here from the roundup and this post is absolutely beautiful. I haven’t read the books since I was a teenager, and now I want to…I find so many things much more meaningful with the perspective of age & life lived. I’m so sorry you are in this place, and hope for peace for you soon.

  3. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.” – Love this. Yes at the end of it all, there is work to be done ….

  4. Oh, such a gorgeous post. Such an artful way to weave the book ending of The Lord of the Rings trilogy with your own experiences. I hope for you that “you have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do,” and that while the scars will linger, that you can plant those saplings. Just beautiful.

  5. “Instead, it’s been the weariness of battling back what those journeys took from us.

    It’s no longer the epic battles of life and death. It’s the bitterness at the bottom of the glass, the sh*ttier stuff, but battles that are no less for their smallness. It’s fighting those unwelcome triggers and reclaiming home.

    It’s knowing when to lay down the swords and begin the peaceful work of planting and bringing green life back to damaged land. It’s showing mercy. In some ways, this is almost harder. It requires vulnerability, patience, honesty, kindness, and diligence.”

    This is so true, so apt, for all of us who have been through infertility and other losses and trauma. No matter what our outcomes, we still have this work to do. Lovely post.

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