Artax was evidently profoundly affected by the Swamp of Sadness, eventually sinking into a deep depression. However, the Swamp had no effect whatever on Atreyu, which Artax thought was likely due to him wearing the Amulet. That being the case, why didn't Artax just go back and wait for Atreyu outside of the swamp?

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Beforehand, they didn't know the effect of the swamp.

When Atreyu and Artax first reach the swamp, it looks gloomy and forbidding but no more than that. Despite the name, they didn't realise that anyone entering it would get so depressed that they sank into the swamp.

The little horse uttered one last soft neigh.

"You can't help me, master. It's all over for me. Neither of us knew what we were getting into. Now we know why they are called the Swamps of Sadness. It's the sadness that has made me so heavy. That's why I'm sinking. There's no help."

-- Chapter 3 (C), emphasis mine

Afterwards, it was too late.

By the time they realised what was happening, Artax was already too far gone to be saved. The above quote is from when only the horse's head is protruding from the black water. When they stop, he's already sunk in up to his belly. Most importantly, he doesn't care. Part of the effect of the Swamps of Sadness is depression and apathy, and someone in that state is unlikely to be able to make the effort required to pull themselves all the way out of the bog and back to safety.

"With every step we take, the sadness grows in my heart. I've lost hope, master. And I feel so heavy, so heavy. I can't go on!"

"But we must go on!" cried Atreyu. "Come along, Artax!" He tugged at the bridle, but Artax stood still. He had sunk in up to his belly. And he made no further effort to extricate himself.

"Artax!" cried Atreyu. "You mustn't let yourself go. Come. Pull yourself out or you'll sink."

"Leave me, master," said the little horse. "I can't make it. Go on alone. Don't bother about me. I can't stand the sadness anymore I want to die!"

-- ibid

Artax lacks the willpower even to try to extricate himself, let alone to survive slogging back to the outside of the swamp. Atreyu tries his best to pull him out, but there's nothing he can do. It's not just drowning in the black water that kills Artax; it's his own apathy.

  • True - it seemed to have at least some effects from the beginning, though - why did it take so long for them to figure out the effects so that he could go back sooner? Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 14:43
  • @EJoshuaS It had some effects from the beginning, but it wasn't obvious that they'd be fatal, or indeed that they were an effect of the swamp itself rather than just Artax in a bad mood. Look at it this way: they expected to have to endure hardship on their journey, and feeling depressed shouldn't have been enough reason to turn tail and run away unless he knew it would kill him - and by the time he realised that, he didn't care any more (and it was probably too late anyway).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 20:02

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