Tuesday 22 February 2022

Frodo's and Sam's coma after the one ring has been destroyed: Another of Tolkien's nods - but why?

In the chronology of The Lord of the Rings - Appendix B - there is a strangely long period between the destruction of the One Ring and the rescue of the unconscious Frodo and Sam by Gandalf and the eagles - and Frodo and Sam awakening to participate in the celebration on the Field of Cormallen. 

March 25 - The Host is surrounded on the Slag-hills of Dagorlad. Frodo and Samwise reach the Sammath Naur. Gollum seizes the Ring and falls in the Cracks of Doom. Downfall of Barad-dûr and passing of Sauron. [...]

April 6 - The Ring-bearers are honoured on the Field of Cormallen.

Apparently Frodo and Sam were asleep for about a fortnight! 

The only explanation comes a few pages later when Gandalf says: 'The hands of the King are hands of healing, dear friends,' he said. 'But you went to the very brink of death ere he recalled you, putting forth all his power, and sent you into the sweet forgetfulness of sleep. And though you have indeed slept long and blessedly, still it is now time to sleep again.'  

In The History of Middle Earth - Sauron Defeated; Christopher Tolkien comments that in the earliest draft the date of Frodo and Sam's awakening was the third of April, and subsequent revision put-in fourth and seventh, before settling on sixth. 

But why so long? Christopher says: "I do not know precisely what considerations impelled my father so greatly to prolong the time during which Sam and Frodo lay asleep." The only clue is a marginal note saying: "More time required for [?gathering] of goods" 

I have puzzled over the chronology of this period of time, and I cannot see any reason why F&S should be compelled to remain comatose for such an unfeasibly long period of time - in an era without the possibility of parenteral hydration and nutrition!

Any suggestions? 


Clive Shergold said...

Tolkien appears to use unconsciousness as a sort of 'plot punctuation' at the crux of his hobbit characters' stories. Bilbo was knocked unconscious after seeing the Eagles at the Battle of Five Armies, which is the resolving event of The Hobbit. Merry was found, effectively unconscious, by Pippin, after stabbing the Witch King; this was the 'high point' of Merry's story, after which he is inactive until after the destruction of the Ring. Pippin is knocked or crushed unconscious by a troll at the final battle, after hearing Gandalf announce the Eagles. And finally, Frodo and Sam are rendered unconscious by exhaustion, noxious gases, the after-effects of carrying the Ring and Sauron's downfall.

Is it possible that Tolkien wished to emphasise the magnitude of what the hobbits, individually, have achieved and suffered, by having them somehow overcome by enemies even though ultimately victorious? In which case the time spent unconscious by Frodo and Sam would indicate that their struggle and achievement was so much greater that those of the other hobbits. This would parallel the larger story of Frodo's failure to completely heal, as a consequence of his physical sufferings and his spiritual battles, and therefore his need to be 'removed from the consciousness of Middle-earth'.

What has puzzled me is the fact that although Sam's is the point of view from which we see their re-awakening, it was actually Frodo who woke first. Given their respective stories, my expectation would have been for Sam to recover faster.

Evan Pangburn said...

The first thing that came to mind, is that they saw too much and had rest their eyes.

But then I got to the end of the article and it was clarified that they needed to gather their goods. So that settles that.

Would you pester Frodo and Sam about having took too long? I believe I'm unlike you, Dr. Charlton, in that I actually prefer some things to remain a mystery, and this one is a really good one! It would be a shame if it were simply explained away.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CS " it was actually Frodo who woke first. Given their respective stories, my expectation would have been for Sam to recover faster."

Yes, for sure. That is another reason why I don't think the long sleep was motivated by the inner logic of the stories (e.g. the need for recovery of Frodo and Sam), but served some kind of delaying process dictated by something Tolkien felt he needed to make more time for.

I don't regard this coma as Tolkien writing under inspiration - but Tolkien tinkering with chronology for reasons of plot (something we can see him doing often in the drafts of History of Middle earth - lining up the separated plot strands. For example, the length of the prolonged stay in Lothlorien was driven by such considerations). But it does not seem clear what exactly Tolkien was trying to achieve by it here - he was allowing time for *something* to happen, but I don't know what.

Clive Shergold said...

I note with some diffidence that following the adoption by the UK of the Gregorian Calendar, involving the elision of eleven days from the calendar in 1752, the tax year was subsequently altered (in 1758) from ending on 25 March to beginning on 6 April (fuller details here).

Having noted this, and seen the coincidence of the dates, I cannot suggest any reason why Tolkien might have found significance in these dates, or have wanted to embody them in Frodo and Sam's experiences.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CS - That's a remarkable observation! Tolkien was very interested by calendars - devoting a whole Appendix of Lord of the Rings to the subject - so I would not be surprised if he knew about this adjustment in detail, and was making some kind of 'in-joke' here.

Clive Shergold said...

My attempt to provide a link to background information failed: it should point to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_taxation_in_the_United_Kingdom#Why_the_United_Kingdom_income_tax_year_begins_on_6_April.

Anonymous said...

That "the third of April, and subsequent revision put-in fourth and seventh, before settling on sixth" is a fascinating aspect of the matter - and 'mystery'. Tom Shippey was the first person I read attending to the wealth of events variously thought to have taken place on 25 March. If one thought of the Annunciation and Crucifixion as coinciding on 25 March, then 3 April would be the Octave of Easter. Fernand Cabrol in his 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia "Octave" article says, "Certain octaves were considered as privileged days, on which work was forbidden." The original 3 April would make sense in this typological liturgical-year context - but Tolkien then tried 4, 7, and finally 6 April - none of which obviously fits in with any such approach as far as I can see.

Dr. Eleanor Parker has a couple interesting posts at A Clerk of Oxford with attention to mediaeval dating of the Creation of the world - "'This doubtful day of feast or fast': Good Friday and the Annunciation" (23 March 2016) and "The Days of Creation" (18 March 2015) - but I cannot see how any of those datings would involve 6 April. Nor do any Saints whose Feasts fall on that day spring out as immediately likely to have a significant connection (though this might be worth pursuing in detail).

Their hydration would seem to require some wondrous dimension - on the part of Aragorn? Or Gandalf?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Philip Neal said...

This thought occurred to me and I rejected it because

a) The choice of 25 March as the first day of the New Year is a unique appearance of high Christian symbolism at the highest point in the whole story. Tolkien wept after he wrote the episode, and it is the last place in the story you would expect to come across hobbit (Proudfeet Proudfoots) comedy.

b) I consulted the current 50th anniversary edition in which the crucial date is given as 8 April in both the story and Appendix B. Appendix D, (Shire Reckoning, Kings' Reckoning, Stewards' Reckoning) shed no real light.

Can it really be an in joke about the tax year and the Ten Lost Days of 1752? I think that it can. Volume I appeared in August 1954 and volume II in November. That left volume III, including - near fatally - the Appendices. According to Carpenter, the idea of an index was dropped in January 1955, in March Rayner Unwin pleaded with Tolkien to finish the job, he called a halt and volume III finally appeared in October.

At that time, nobody expected the book to make money. The Unwins, a family firm, took a big risk in accepting it. Tolkien still had money worries and deferred his retirement to collect a bigger pension. I think that Niggle seems to have realised that he had to stop niggling, drop Appendix D and accept the "cash and kudos" which were his due.

Clive Shergold said...

Concerning the care of a long-sleeping hobbit: Frodo had previously been unconscious from 20 October - when he was carried from the Ford of Bruinen to Rivendell after succumbing to the wound of the Morgul-blade and the spell of the Witch-king - until 24 October, when he awoke. During that time, he was under the care of Elrond, and underwent extensive surgical investigation; the deadly fragment was not found and removed until the evening of 23 October. It is probable that Aragorn would have learned much from Elrond about the care of a weak, wounded and comatose hobbit in that time.

Anonymous said...

Tolkien would perhaps have thought the term "Nordic-Aryan" referring to his work as absurd, and yet the retention and the further development of the symbolism and themes across the ancient epics is undeniable. I had once had in my hands an edition of Beowulf translated into the "auld lang syne" by Tolkien, which is now unfortunately rotting in Detroit. When the wizard speaks of having gone through the most important sleep of one's life and to return again to that sleep infers a dimension beyond ordinary sleep to that of a journey or a crossing of boundary, and is certainly hinting at Frodo, and later Samwise, going onto the ship to cross the seas toward Elfen Hyperborea. As for the time taken to awaken the Hobbits, perhaps it was afterall a necessity of some preparations.