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I was reading in the first volume of the Lord of the Rings recently, and ran across this quote when Gandalf and Frodo are talking about the Ring for the first time after its true nature has been discovered.

"There wasn’t any permanent harm done, was there?" asked Frodo anxiously. "He would get all right in time, wouldn’t he? Be able to rest in peace, I mean?"

What did Tolkien mean by "rest in peace"? Evidently, in modern terms it usually refers to death, but was that what Frodo was referring to, or was this a foreshadowing of Bilbo's journey across the sea?

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    I don't have access to FotR, but was this after Frodo was told about the ringwraiths or how old Smeagol was? If so, he might be worried that Bilbo would turn into an immortal wraith or an "indefinitely delayed" Gollum, and not die properly and completely and be at rest in death. – Gaurav Mar 21 '17 at 2:16
  • Saying that you hope somebody to be able to rest in peace isn't saying that you want them dead. It's saying that, when they die, you hope they'll die with a clear conscience and so on. – David Richerby Mar 21 '17 at 15:28
37

He's referring to Bilbo's retirement to Rivendell. Bilbo's plan was to relax, listen to the songs, translate some books, and work on his memoirs. As Gandalf put it in the next line: ‘He felt better at once'.

I don't think Frodo had Bilbo's longer-term prospects in mind. He didn't know that a journey across the Sea was in the cards. All the rest Bilbo was expected to get was at the Last Homely House.

Frodo (and Hobbits in general) don't seem to think much about the Afterlife, and the uncertainty of what happens when you go The Elves Know Not Whither. "Rest" doesn't seem to figure into it: maybe for Elves, in Mandos, but not for Men.

It is a bit of an oddity for Tolkien to have used a phrase there with such clearly Catholic overtones. He generally tried to avoid evoking our religion(s) into Middle-earth. Tolkien's ear sometimes failed to notice when his turns of phrase had other meanings. (Every time he mentions "Tirion upon Túna" I still mentally add "... upon Rye"). So I think here he's referring simply to the straightforward event: Bilbo went to Imladris, to rest, peacefully.

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    The guy had a character named Úrin... Some people just don't hear this kind of things :) – VicAche Mar 21 '17 at 13:02
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    @VicAche. Teleporno is probably his most infamously unfortunate name. – TRiG Mar 21 '17 at 13:12
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    @VinAche or Gimli, son of Gloin, son of Groin... – syntonicC Mar 21 '17 at 18:35
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    @syntonicC But aren't we all sons of Groin in our own way? – Walt Mar 21 '17 at 19:16
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    I don't think you can use the phrase "rest in peace" without referring to the period after death, especially if you're a Catholic like Tolkien. Frodo's stammering about makes it even more likely that he was talking about it. But the notion of resting in peace after death, and not resting in peace if you were especially wicked, surely isn't that Catholic, and I know of no real world religion that doesn't (or didn't) entertain a similar notion. – sgf Mar 21 '17 at 20:15
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Remembering that Tolkien was Catholic, I would suggest that the meaning is not specifically or simply death, but rather the ability to rest in peace after death -- which in Catholic terms means to be reconciled with God. Thus I think the import of Frodo's question is whether or not Bilbo has been irredeemably corrupted by the ring.

Though Bilbo's passage over the sea would constitute his resting in peace, I don't know that I would go so far as to call this a deliberate foreshadowing. It is all too easy to find associations in any text is you look hard enough. I would want foreshadowing to we written in a heavier hand than this before I called it by that name.

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    It seems like the phrase is intended more literally than this. Frodo hopes Bilbo can rest peacefully instead of fitfully or in pain (or wracked with desire like Gollum). – user1101 Mar 20 '17 at 19:59
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    And indeed that journey is foreshadowed heavily, and the foreshadowing is then called back to. Frodo has a dream in the house of Tom Bombadil that foreshadows his and Bilbo's journey, and then that foreshadowing is explicitly mentioned on the last page of the novel. – Eric Lippert Mar 20 '17 at 21:01
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Consider what Gandalf told Frodo about the ring:

A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until every minute is weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the Dark Power that rules the Rings.

Immediately after that, Frodo starts asking about Bilbo, and in the context of this, Frodo would obviously prefer Bilbo to eventually die rather than have that happen to him.

(Also I believe that Tolkien assumed Frodo to be good on the whole, and that he assumed that a reasonably good person accepts that dying is the natural course of events, and not something to be opposed to, but this is just conjecture.)

  • Re your final, parenthetical statement: this is partly addressed when Frodo and Gandalf are discussing the morals of life and death. "Deserves [death]! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement." (FotR, Chapter 2; emphasis mine) The same theme comes back later, when Frodo spares Gollum's life in the Emyn Muil, and in the end his choice is vindicated - the entire quest would have failed without Gollum's unwitting help. – Rand al'Thor Mar 22 '17 at 23:32
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I doubt it very much. This conversation between Frodo and Gandalf occurs very early on in The Fellowship of the Ring, the second chapter in fact (The Shadow of the Past). Frodo had not even used the Ring, or fallen under its spell. Since Bilbo had already lived well beyond any normal lifespan, it would be understandable if Frodo had thought about his eventual demise.

I don't think that the books indicate when Frodo learned that Bilbo (and he himself) would be joining the Elves on their exodus into the West. There may be some intimation of it in The Return of the King, but it is years since I have read the books.

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