Tolkien and Tarot: How Frodo Undertakes The Fool’s Journey in LOTR

Tolkien and Tarot: How Frodo Undertakes The Fool's Journey in LOTR

A look at how Frodo’s adventures in LOTR echo the Fool’s Journey in the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

The Road Goes Ever On And On…

If you’re not familiar, the Fool’s Journey is the mythological explanation of the 22 Major Arcana in chronological order. The Major Arcana are the “named” cards of the Tarot deck, each representing a concept or conceptual identity such as The Sun, The Moon, The Hanged Man, etc. These cards are in a numbered order, and one of the ways of reading meaning in these cards follows the journey of Card 0, The Fool as he encounters the other entities of the Major Arcana. For the purposes of this exploration, I’m referring to the Lord of the Rings book series, not the film series.

Frodo the Fool

The Fool is representative not of stupidity, but of the innocent faith that comes with lack of experience. The Fool is eager to begin his journey, greeting it with open arms, oblivious to the cliff’s edge he is about to cross. He is also represented by an unusual number, 0, which stands outside of the positive and negative numbers. He is a blank slate to be impressed upon. Here we meet our Fool, Frodo Baggins.

Every journey needs a catalyst… like Gandalf, the Magician / High Priestess

The Magician and the High Priestess (I and II) are often two sides of the same coin, the balancing forces in the perceived world. The Magician is often positive, the active force that interacts with the world through concentrated will and sheer effort, that spurs the Fool into the beginning of his journey. The High Priestess is often, but not always, the negative side of this. The Priestess represents the “mysterious unconscious”; in other words, the base ground for actions to create unrealized potential. Frodo meets Gandalf and is sent on his journey, yet at the same time, becomes acquainted with the power and potential of Sauron, and of unbridled evil in general.

Aragorn and Elrond: Royalty and Rivendell.

The Empress, Emperor, and Hierophant (III, IV, and V) represent nature, structure, and exposure to the wider world in turn, and are often interchangeable in order. The first hint of the Hierophant is found in Frodo’s meeting of Aragorn and appears again as he becomes acquainted with Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir and is forced to change his limited perspective on life to fit his new experiences. The Empress is here represented by Rivendell itself, a glorious safe-haven of nature that nurtures those within its boundaries. With this, Elrond represents the Emperor, creating the Fellowship of the Ring with attention to the law and structure that he is accustomed to and setting each individual further down the path.

Every journey needs a Chariot.

Admittedly, The Lovers (VI) is the one card that seems to only half-fit this narrative and does so when combined with the following card, the Chariot (VII). Half of the Lovers’ narrative is the Fool’s responsibility to find and understand his own values in the context of his changing world perspective. The Chariot, then, represents a time of great change. The Fool has developed a sense of himself and a sense of inner-control, an answer to the question asked by the Lovers, yet will undergo a challenge that will test this newly developed willpower. Spontaneity or lack of planning here may result in failure. Frodo’s trek over the Misty Mountains and, in an unplanned turn of events, through the Mines of Moria, which ultimately leads to Gandalf’s fall into the chasm of Khazad-dûm, takes the path of assurance followed by devastating failure.

Frodo’s trials of Strength in Khazad-dûm lead to yearning for a Hermit’s knowledge.

It is here that Frodo’s Strength (VIII) is tested. The challenge presented by the Chariot may cause suffering and disillusionment, as is shown by Frodo’s misery and withdrawing from the rest of the Fellowship. As the party reaches Lórien, Frodo begins to search for deeply-rooted answers to the “why?” of this path, not from an idle curiosity as he might have once had, but from a driving need to find a deeper truth. Frodo seeks solitude, as the Hermit represents the Fool searching for a guide to answer his questions.

Round and round they go: The One Ring and the Wheel of Fortune

Frodo then offers the Ring to Galadriel, testing her own Strength. She refuses because she foretells her own corruption, setting in motion the Fool’s own Wheel of Fortune (X). The Wheel of Fortune represents a higher understanding of the way in which life connects at various angles. Frodo, our Fool, begins to heal from his loss of Gandalf and understands the way power works on this grander scale of Middle Earth.

Justice, corruption and Gollum

Justice (XI) demands that Frodo must decide what the vision of Middle Earth that he has come to see means for himself, the responsibility for his past and the honest course for his future. As he seeks to understand the place of good and evil, he begins to understand a symbolic character once corrupted in his very place, Gollum.

The Hanged Man: Boromir’s treachery turns Frodo’s world upside down

The Hanged Man (XII) comes into play as Frodo’s world is “turned upside down”. Boromir attempts to steal the Ring, overcome by the negative emotions it draws to the surface. This is the moment in which Frodo must further realize his vision as propelled by Justice, finding life not so easily tamed despite these newfound realizations. He feels lost and defeated by how far he has come and how much he has sacrificed, but ultimately, he finds truth and relinquishes his internal (and potentially external) struggle, though of course, he remains the bearer of the Ring. The Fool carries on.

Greetings, Death: You are now entering Mordor

This is, of course, where the Fellowship of the Ring cuts off. Because this is specifically about Frodo’s journey, we’ll cut to Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s journey to Mordor. This is where we meet Death (XIII) in the literal. Sam believes Frodo dead at the hands of the Orcs, and puts himself on the path of the new beginning that Death also often represents by taking on the responsibility of carrying the Ring to Mordor.

Again, we skip ahead to focus solely on Frodo, and jump to Return of the King. Sam serves as Frodo’s Temperance (XIV) throughout most of the trilogy, but as they are reunited, even more so. He balances out the wild emotional turmoil that Frodo experiences and centers around caring for Frodo’s well-being, especially as he rescues Frodo.

The Devil and the Tower: Frodo struggles with the pull of the One Ring atop Mount Doom

The Devil (XV) and The Tower (XVI) are, as to be expected, the pinnacle of Frodo’s struggle atop Mount Doom. The Devil represents the evils of ignorance and hopelessness and places the material (the Ring, the power it grants) above the desired peace that cannot coexist with this evil. The Tower is Frodo’s monumental crisis, the great occurrence that generates enough power to free Frodo from The Devil, though the process may be difficult. Destruction of The Tower is necessary for the rebirth of the “light of truth”. In this case, the Darkness dissipates from Gondor due to Frodo’s actions.

The Star brings hope in the wake of victory…

The Star (XVII) is the immediate peace after the destruction of The Tower. Aragorn is crowned king and surrounding areas return and rebuild. The end seems to be in sight. However, The Moon (XVIII) quickly follows.

…but Saruman’s Shire, lit by an illusive Moon, makes victory feel hollow.

Here, the Fool is subject to a fantasy, a false sense of security after his great battle. Frodo and the Hobbits return home to find Saruman secretly responsible for the destruction of the Shire and their homes.

Frodo requires the clarity of the Sun to pronounce Judgment.

Clarity found through the help of The Sun (XIX). Judgment (XX) follows, as Frodo absolves both himself and Saruman and makes a deeper Judgment about his own character and his own path. He recognizes the calling to a new path.

The World: There And Back Again.

This journey comes to a close with The World (XXI). I find this particularly unique, if not perfectly fitting. The traditional interpretation of the World in the context of the Fool’s journey is as follows, from the Joan Bunning interpretation of the Smith-Rider-Waite deck:

“The Fool reenters the World (21), but this time with a more complete understanding. He has integrated all the disparate parts of himself and achieved wholeness. He has reached a new level of happiness and fulfillment.

The Fool experiences life as full and meaningful. The future is filled with infinite promise. In line with his personal calling, he becomes actively involved in the world. He renders service by sharing his unique gifts and talents and finds that he prospers at whatever he attempts. Because he acts from inner certainty, the whole world conspires to see that his efforts are rewarded. His accomplishments are many.

So the Fool’s Journey was not so foolish after all. Through perseverance and honesty, he reestablished the spontaneous courage that first impelled him on his search for Self, but now he is fully aware of his place in the world. This cycle is over, but, the Fool will never stop growing. Soon he will be ready to begin a new journey that will lead him to ever greater levels of understanding.”

Frodo’s Fool’s Journey comes to an end… with new beginnings.

As we know, Frodo leaves the Shire with the other Ring-bearers to find peace. As a child, this ending always struck me as sad – to leave home and the people he knew and loved, so young and bearing the burden of such evil. Yet, as I’ve interpreted the rest of the trilogy along the Fool’s journey, I begin to see this ending a new light. Frodo leaves the Shire with an understanding that he has fulfilled his promise.

Lacking the fear of evil and the narrow scope of the world that he began the journey with, he is unburdened to continue anew among those who share his burden, and thus make it seem as if there is no longer a burden at all.