Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 4

A Short Cut To Mushrooms
"That settles it!" said Frodo. "Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones. At all costs we must keep you away from the Golden Perch."

Having reflected on the warnings of Gildor, Frodo's plan at this point is "to walk to Bucklebury as quickly as possible." He even begins to consider continuing his journey out of the Shire as soon as they reach Crickhollow - and without companions. When he informs his friends that he wishes them to stay out of danger and allow him to continue on alone, Sam protests and repeats the instruction given to him by the elves: "Don't you leave him!" they told him to which he of course replied "I never mean to."

In the film version, this order is given to Sam by Gandalf and he poignantly repeats it at the end of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring when once again Frodo intends to leave his trusted companion behind at Parth Galen. Sam clearly establishes his loyalty to Frodo which will only strengthen as the stakes of the quest increase along the journey. And the reader will come to understand the importance of Sam's role as caretaker to the Ring bearer. It is this bond and commitment to his friend and master that proves to be so critical to the success of Frodo's appointed errand to destroy the Ring.

Sam also seems to have changed a little since his meeting with the Elves. He feels a sense of responsibility to follow Frodo and "see it through" - meaning the quest, wherever it may take them. Sam's exposure to beings from outside the Shire seem to have piqued his interest in the larger world of Middle-Earth and reduced his trepidation about leaving home.

Frodo intends to make a straight line across country though Woody End and avoid going back North to the Stock Road, where he would surely encounter another Black Rider. Pippin warns Frodo "Short cuts make long delays". Pippin has no idea how long the delays will be in future short cuts beyond Buckland (three chapters worth). The hobbits cross the Stock Brook and at this point they sing another walking song that those who have seen the Extended Cut of Fellowship of the Ring will remember being sung rather heartily by Merry and Pippin at the Green Dragon:

"Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go,
To heal my heart and drown my woe.
Rain may fall and wind may blow,
And many miles be still to go."
Doesn't that just get you hankering for a great big glass of your favorite stout or lager? I swear its moments like these that make me think these hobbits would make terrific drinking buddies.

Now, that the reader is off his guard, Tolkien ratchets up the tension a bit with the sudden startling cry of the Nazgul.
"A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high piercing note. Even as they sat and stood, as if suddenly frozen, it was answered by another cry, fainter and further off, but no less chilling to the blood."

Now the hobbits know for sure that there is indeed more than one Black Rider.

As they continue through the open lands of the Marish, Frodo and the hobbits find there way to Farmer Maggot's farm. Frodo is haunted by the memory of being caught trespassing on this same land looking for mushrooms when he was a lad living in Buckland. His fears of the farmer's dog are allayed when Maggot invites them in for a beer to share the story of the Black Rider that had inquired to him about "Baggins" not more than a short while before they arrived.

Something interesting to note is that in the original draft, Tolkien had Frodo put on the Ring with Farmer Maggot being unaware of his presence in his home as a sort of joke on the old hobbit. This however conflicted with his later decision for Frodo to keep the Ring a secret from his companions and to reveal in the next chapter that they were in fact already well aware of it (and had conspired to hide this fact). In addition, Tolkien decided that such a light-hearted use of the Ring was inconsistent with his attempt to convey its dangerous nature. When Frodo does finally put on the Ring in Bree, it will (as it should) have dire consequences.

In their conversations with Farmer Maggot, I find it amusing that he and his neighbors in the Marish, on the outskirts of the Shire, find the residents of Hobbiton to be a little strange. It shows just how provincial the hobbits can be even towards those living in other parts of the Shire as well as the irony that those in Hobbiton find those of Buckland a bit odd. Neither group thinks Frodo benefited much from his association with the other.

The chapter winds up with Maggot offering to drive the hobbits in his wagon to the Bucklebury Ferry. Heading North up the Causeway the specter of the Black Riders is upon them as they hear the clopping sound of horse hooves coming from out of the fog. Those reading this for the first time have already been primed for such a confrontation, but Tolkien lets the reader exhale in relief as it turns out to be only Merry Brandybuck looking for his friends, who are late in meeting him. As Maggot bids his farewell, he leaves Frodo a parting gift - a bag of the mushrooms that the hobbit so coveted in his youth. Their shortcut does indeed lead them to mushrooms. The four hobbits continue towards Buckland and what they hope will be a well-deserved rest at Crickhollow.

[Chronology: September 25th 3018 T.A.]

Next: A Conspiracy Unmasked

(revised 8/10/06)


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