This article is from the Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ, by Steuard Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
[This updates question V.C.1 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]
While he seems to have been initially unsure, Tolkien eventually
made it clear that mortals who sailed to the West would remain mortal.
In Letter #154, he explains this:
...the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their
'kind' cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary
reward: a healing and redress of suffering. They cannot abide for
ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and
will 'die' - of free will, and leave the world.
He makes a similar comment in Letter #246, saying that
Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him - if that
could be done, _before he died_. He would have eventually to 'pass
away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within
An interesting addendum to these statements can be found in the
appendix to the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in _Morgoth's Ring_.
After explaining that the spirits of dead mortals go to the halls of
Mandos, and that only Mandos and Manwe know where they go "after the
time of recollection in those silent halls", Tolkien makes the
following comment on Frodo:
The sojourn of Frodo in Eressea - then on to Mandos? - was only an
extended form of this. Frodo would eventually leave the world
(desiring to do so). So that the sailing in ship was equivalent to
This leads to the fascinating (if uncertain) suggestion that Frodo and
the other mortals who went West may have gone to Mandos while still