By Elizabeth Russell
Frodo to Mordor
Frodo mounts the peak of a stony crag and gazes across the expanse to the overshadowing gloom of Mordor.
“’Mordor!’ he muttered under his breath. ‘If I must go there I wish I could come there quickly and make an end!’”The Two Towers
I am currently listening to the Tokybook.com audiobook/audio-drama of The Lord of the Rings (which I highly recommend!), and when I got to that part, those words just pierced me. I know how he feels. Anyone who experiences great pain of body, mind, or soul knows the dread that comes from anticipating an agony that you know must be delayed.
There is a surgery coming, a migraine building, a labor beginning, and in your mind you cry out, “If it must come, I wish it would come quickly and make an end!”
It’s not that the anticipating is worse than the suffering. Sometimes that is true, but I am not speaking of those times. I am speaking of the times when you endure agony beyond imagining, and no amount of anticipation can match the reality. It’s not worse. It’s just more. And when you already have so much to bear, more is a terrible thing to endure.
Christ to Golgotha
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.”Luke 22:44
Frodo’s agony naturally puts me in mind of Christ’s, and I am sure that Tolkien, being himself a devout Catholic, was not unaware of this connection. I thought how terrible it must have been for Christ to have known the total and complete extent of his sufferings before they occurred.
For Frodo, even at this stage of dreading his future suffering and wishing for it to come if it must, could not imagine the misery of his later journey. If he had, being only hobbit, he might have turned back. There is a reason that I forget how bad my migraines are when I am not enduring them, and women forget the pain of their labor when their new-born is placed in their hands – the human body cannot remember pain like that and function on a day to day level.
But Christ was not merely human or hobbit. Being divine, He had full knowledge of His coming agony, which is why He suffered from hematohidrosis, a rare condition of sweating blood that came from His immersive anticipation of His coming passion.
Frodo knew the temptation of walking away from his calling, he knew the likely death that stalked him, and he knew the toll the ring of power was taking on his body, but he could not imagine the encounter with Shelob, the dreadful marching with the orcs, and the loss of his very personhood to the ring. He could not know how, afterward, he would always feel like he had lost a part of himself. Had he known these things, these terrible things, would he have had the strength to go on?
If We Knew…
Thank God we do not know our agony until we face our challenges, and that when we face them, it is God, not us, who must endure. Paul says,
“He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”2 Corinthians 12:9
Luckily, Christ gives us the grace we need to endure in the moment. He gave Frodo Sam: to save the ring from the orcs, to bear him up the side of Mount Doom, and at the end, when the ring of darkness has consumed Frodo’s being, God gave Frodo Gollum, to enact the moment of salvation.
I could talk forever about this: the relationship between Frodo and Christ, and how Gollum is like Judas, and Sam like John the Evangelist, and Boromir like Peter. How Tolkien so clearly grasped the nature of suffering, perhaps on account of his experiences with war, and how Christ is the Savior above all Saviors, because He recognized, felt, and understood the total weight of His redemptive journey before it even began, and yet still accepted His Father’s Will. But such things are the root of life, they are the answers to suffering, pain, and love, and to attempt to discuss them in full would take up a whole book, if not a whole lifetime. So I will leave you here as I return to Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol, and their humble journey toward the dreaded suffering of Mordor.