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There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep. This is what Frodo says in Return of the King when he is finishing up his memoir, and it is both literal and metaphorical. Frodo actually did receive some injuries that scarred him too deeply and too terribly, and those wounds never fully healed. It is said that Frodo experiences pain from his injuries on every anniversary since he received them. Metaphorically speaking, Frodo says this because he feels he can never truly get over the events of The Lord of the Rings and move on with his life. The pain from his injuries hurts him because of his vivid memory, sort of like a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Because of this, Frodo believes that if he leaves Middle Earth and sails to the Undying Lands (a place only immortal beings and Ring bearers are able to enter) that he will finally find peace and be able to live out the rest of his life free of physical and mental pain. Since Frodo saved all of Middle Earth, he is granted access on the last ship to leave Middle Earth in place of Arwen, never to return. This shocks his friends, especially Sam who has developed an unbreakable bond of love and friendship with Frodo due to the events of the trilogy. From the moment Frodo leaves the Shire till the Ring is destroyed, it is about one year.
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But Frodo was in the presence of the Ring for seventeen years before beginning his journey (in the book). Frodo was so attached to the Ring that he failed his mission of destroying it and was only successful by chance after Gollum attacked him on the Cracks of Doom. After Gollum bit Frodo"s finger off, and therefore the Ring off, they both stumbled over the ledge along with the Ring which was then destroyed, finally. But the Ring"s grip on Frodo will never truly let go, something Frodo is reminded of when Bilbo still asks to see the Ring after many years apart from it. Frodo didn"t let the Ring go into the fires of Mount Doom. The Ring had won until fate intervened—a fact Frodo will have to carry with him the rest of his days.
How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand—there is no going back. When Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to the Shire, it"s a bittersweet feeling. Here they are, back home, the place they"ve wanted to be for the past eleven and a half months. But everything is different now that they have a completely different perspective on life and their world. When they look around at each other, there is sadness in their eyes, especially Frodo"s. This is because although they are in a familiar place doing something they"ve done a thousand times before, Frodo feels like an empty shell going through the motions with the constant lingering memories of all that has happened.
Frodo cannot go back to his old life. There is no turning back, only moving forward. That is the only way Frodo will ever heal spiritually and mentally. This is something Frodo understands before he even finishes the mention. Several times throughout the trilogy, Sam and Frodo both are heard saying how they don"t think there will be a return home journey. When Gollum says to Frodo at the entrance of Torech Ungol "go in or go back," Frodo says very distinctly that he "can"t go back." The meaning of this is more than surface level, as Frodo subconsciously understands that this mission will claim his life—or rather his old life.
At the end of Return of the King, when the four hobbit friends are being honored for their journey, there is a heavy tone of sadness in Frodo"s aura because although he is glad there is no longer a great evil threat lurking over Middle Earth, he wishes very badly that none of this had happened. He wishes he could have stayed innocent and naive. Frodo now understands what depths evil can reach, and he can never pretend to go back to being so ignorant. This is why Frodo—from the time the Ring is destroyed to the time where he steps onto the White Ship—has a fixed expression of sorrow upon his face.
Once he boards the ship, he turns around to his dear friends, and smiles. He is moving forward and has taken the first step to self-recovery. There is a significant shift in the atmosphere as Frodo leaves behind the past and heads off on a new journey where he can find his footing again.
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