Tolkien Geek

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


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 3

The Ring Goes South
"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens," said Gimli.
At the end of the last chapter, Sam had been appointed by Elrond to acompany Frodo - at his own insistence. In his wisdom, Elrond recognized the clear loyalty and devotion that Sam had for his Master and understood that he could only help Frodo. Further decisions as to who else should go with him had not been decided by the end of the council. Merry and Pippin, however, are adamant that they should be chosen to go since Sam was allowed.

Aragorn and Elrond's two sons, Elladan and Elrohir, leave Rivendell with some of the other Elves to determine the fate of the Ringwraiths. Remember that in the book - unlike the film - the Fellowship does not depart until December 25th. Frodo and the other hobbits at least get to enjoy the hospitality of Rivendell for another two months. When the scouts return they report that despite searching far and wide there is no sign of the Black Riders anywhere. Even Gollum had evaded their hunt. It is assumed that all of the Nazgul returned to Mordor. The time was fast approaching when the company must leave.

Once again Elrond asks Frodo if he still intends to be the Ring-bearer, and Frodo agrees. Elrond cannot advise them about much because a dark shadow that is descending interferes with his power of foresight. But he tells Frodo:
"You will meet many foes, some open, and some disguised; and you may find friends upon your way when you least look for it. I will send out messages, such as I can contrive, to those whom I know in the wide world; but so perilous are the lands now become that some may well miscarry, or come no quicker than you yourself."

Elrond then chooses the other members of the company, which shall be nine in number; "Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil." Gandalf will go with them. Legolas he chooses to represent the Elves of Mirkwood and Gloin's son, Gimli, for the Dwarves. For Men, Aragorn will go. It is also decided that since the journey shall at least lead them near to Minas Tirith that Boromir shall acompany them. Of the two spots remaining, Elrond says he will send Elves of the House of Rivendell. Merry and Pippin, who Elrond intended to send back to the Shire to warn the other hobbits of their danger, are insistent that they go as well. At first Elrond decides to send Merry but not Pippin. After some encouragement and support from Gandalf, Elrond reluctantly agrees to have them both complete the Fellowship. Oddly enough, Merry and Pippin will later prove to be indispensible to the success of the quest.

As Tolkien set about writing and re-writing and re-re-writing many drafts of this part of the story, it is important to explain that the make-up of the Fellowship, and even their number, seemed to keep changing. In the early drafts, the number of hobbits was still in a bit of a state of flux. At one point there was a part of the story where Gandalf rescues the hobbit guarding Crickhollow from the Black Riders. It was not yet Fatty Bolger but the character known as Odo Took. Gandalf, riding Shadowfax, rides with the hobbit to Rivendell and there were five hobbits in total. And to confuse you even more, Pippin is not yet Pippin at this point. He was Folco Took. Tolkien was still deciding on what that character's name would be. So the very first configuration of the Fellowship had the five hobbits: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Folco and Odo. Joining them were Gandalf, Glorfindel, the version of Strider that was still called Trotter and some dwarf named Frar (or at one point, Burin).

The next revision had the group comprised of Frodo, Sam, Merry, Faramond (changed from Folco), Gandalf, Glorfindel and Trotter. Seven is the number, though the count returns to nine soon afterward because Tolkien pencils in the name Boromir in his notes and Burin is put back in the mix. Now he makes a further change from five to four hobbits (Odo was eventually scrapped altogether) with the Pippin characters name not yet settled - over time this character went from being called Frodo to Folco to Faramond to finally Peregrin (or Pippin for short). There are two men: Trotter, who is no longer a hobbit, and Boromir. The final three end up as some variation of Gandalf, one Elf and one Dwarf. Glorfindel is replaced with Erestor, an advisor to Elrond.

Confused? It isn't until the fourth completed draft that the Fellowship begins to look like the one we are all familiar with. We have Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Boromir, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas and Erestor and either (but not both) Merry or Pippin to make nine. For whatever reason, Tolkien seemed insistent at this point to have two Elves. Perhaps he thought it important to have one Elf from Mirkwood, of the Teleri race, and one to represent the Noldor. He began to lean toward the idea that Pippin was expendable. He scrawls in his notes "Shall Pippin return to the Shire?". It seems Tolkien was as reluctant as Elrond to send both of the younger hobbits, but his inner-Gandalf must have given him the necessary nudge to get him to reluctantly agree (as Elrond had). I find it interesting that part of the thought process that Tolkien used got translated into the story through the character of Elrond.

OK, so now we have the final tally: four Hobbits, two Men, a Wizard, a Dwarf and an Elf. Are we all clear now? Good.

Elrond commands that the shards of Narsil be re-forged. The new sword is given a new name by Aragorn: Anduril, Flame of the West. As Frodo's Numenorean blade was broken at the Ford of Bruinen, Bilbo gives to him his Elvish blade, Sting - a blade which, like Gandalf's Glamdring, glows when Orcs are near (the other blade, Orcrist, found in The Hobbit is buried with its owner Thorin Oakenshield). Bilbo also gives Frodo his mithril coat that Thorin had given to him during that adventure. He makes Frodo promise to wear it under his clothes and keep it a secret between them. Peter Jackson uses this device to the hilt, as it were, with a "fake death" scene for Frodo in Moria - one of several such scenes that many fans complained about.

The morning that the Fellowship leaves, Elrond warns that Sauron is no doubt now aware of the fate of the Ringwraiths and will likely send spies looking for them everywhere. They must be extremely cautious and he also tells each of the company that no one of them is bound to follow Frodo any farther than they desire to. Boromir blows the horn of Gondor, which Elrond advises him not to make a habit of unless he be near Minas Tirith or if he is in dire need. Boromir is a bit indignant at this reproach. He tells Elrond that it is customary for him to sound the horn whenever he begins a journey and that he "will not go forth as a thief in the night". I found this an interesting choice of words considering his ultimate fate at Parth Galen, when he tries to take the Ring from Frodo.

Each member of the company brings their signature weapon of choice. Aragorn and Boromir both have their swords. Frodo has Sting and Gandalf carries Glamdring. Gimli has his trademark axes and Legolas carries a bow and quiver as well as a knife (PJ gave Legolas two knives in the films). The three other hobbits all still have their blades of Westerness. Merry's will play an important part in the end. Also, Sam's beloved pony from Bree, who he has named Bill, travels with them as their beast of burden.

The Fellowship goes over the bridge leading out of the valley, cross the Ford of Bruinen and turns Southwards - the Misty Mountains towering on their left. The plan is to climb the pass of the Redhorn Gate along the side of Caradhras "the cruel", one of three major peaks towards the southern end of the mountain chain. From there they would follow over to the other side and down the Dimrill Stair. When they reach the land of Hollin, or Eregion (where Elves once dwelled and had forged the lesser rings), they notice a flock of black birds that looks like a dark cloud heading towards them and they hide among the rocks. These crow-like birds are called crebain (pronounced CREH-bine) and are from Dunland, the land of men who fall under the influence of Saruman. They are clearly searching for them and will appear several more times.

The company follows a narrow path up the side of Caradhras and begins to deal with snowfall. It is slow-going and as they proceed the drifts begin to get bigger and seemingly impassable. Aragorn and Boromir have to plow through the snow to create a path for the others. Legolas is sent on ahead to survey the path. He is able to quickly and nimbly cross the snow without leaving much in the way of tracks. This is an interesting characteristic of Elves and one that Peter Jackson thought important enough to remember when making the film, Fellowship of the Ring. If you watch the scenes where everyone is trudging through the snow, you can see Legolas walking on TOP of it. A nice touch.

At this point, the storm is not only getting worse but it almost seems to be purposely punishing them, as if it were being controlled by an outside source. Legolas returns to report that the drifts continue to rise but then fall again, making it managable for the little folk. Aragorn and Boromir bear the hobbits on their backs as they continue to dig a path. After an arduous trek, they find a familiar sight. It seems they ended up backtracking to where they had started. This, combined with their fatigue, the cold and a storm that would not seem to let up, forces them to turn back. "Caradhras had defeated them."

Next: A Journey In The Dark

[Chronology: October 25th 3018 T.A. through January 12th 3019 T.A.]

(revised 8/31/06)


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 2

The Council Of Elrond
"One Ring To Rule Them All, One Ring To Find Them,
One Ring To Bring Them All And In The Darkness Bind Them."
I could probably spend a whole day going through each piece of information revealed in this chapter. Basically, Tolkien presents the entire history of the Ring: from its forging by Sauron in the Second Age and its loss by Isildur at the Gladden Fields, through the circumstances of its arrival at Rivendell. There is more information presented in this one chapter than many novels have from beginning to end. At 32 pages, it is the longest chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. That being said, I will be focusing on a limited number of plot points that I feel I can add a little something to.

But first, there is a passage at the very beginning that I think is important. It's a description of Rivendell.
"[Frodo] walked along the terraces above the loud-flowing Bruinen and watched the pale, cool sun rise above the far mountains, and shine down, slanting through the thin silver mist; the dew upon the yellow leaves was glimmering, and the woven nets of gossamer twinkled on every bush. Sam walked beside him, saying nothing, but sniffing the air, and looking every now and again with wonder in his eyes at the great heights in the East. The snow was white upon their peaks."

I love this description mainly because fall is my favorite time of year. And while it's chronologically that time of year in Middle-Earth, Rivendell's constant state at this point in history is one of autumn. And this state parallels the condition of the race of Elves, which is currently declining in its power and presence. It is in fact only because of the power of the Elven rings that the realms of Rivendell and Lothlorien are able to hold back this decline by slowing the passage of time. The Elves are gradually leaving the shores of Middle-Earth and actually have very little at stake in its future, save for their love for it. The primary burden of opposing the Enemy will fall to the other free peoples of Middle-Earth.

Elrond introduces Frodo, the Ring-bearer, followed by other representatives at the council. There is the dwarf Gloin accompanied by his son Gimli. There is Legolas, whose father Thranduil is the Elven-King of the realm of Mirkwood. And there is Boromir, man of Gondor, who is the most recently arrived. Gloin is the first to speak. He tells of a messenger of Sauron (presumably one of the Black Riders) who asked Dain for any information he had concerning hobbits. "For Sauron knows," said he, "That one of these was known to you on a time." We are not told exactly how Sauron knows this, but I think it is safe to assume that he came by this information from one or more Orcs of the Misty Mountains who may have fled from the Battle of the Five Armies. One observant reader pointed out in the comments on this post that in Chapter Five of "The Hobbit", Bilbo mentions Dwarves to Gollum:

"I am Mr Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don't know where I am and I don't want to know, if only I can get away"
Based on this, it could be argued that in addition to "Shire" and "Baggins" that Sauron's minions were able to wrench from Gollum the fact that Bilbo had an association with Dwarves.

The messenger told them that Sauron was searching for a ring, though he greatly downplayed its importance to him. Great reward was offered the Dwarves for their assistance and if they refused then things would not go so well for them. Dain told the messenger he would consider Sauron's request and shortly afterward sent Gloin to Rivendell to warn Bilbo of the danger that was seeking for him and to also seek advice from Elrond on this matter. Now we have come to the subject at hand. For it is the Ring that is the catalyst for all of them being there.

For Elrond says to them:

"That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world."

The reader is left to wonder exactly what Elrond means by this. Is he implying that by some divine intervention this meeting was "so ordered" with the exact individuals who are now meeting to discuss what action was to be taken? Perhaps as a "guiding hand", the powers of the Valar or even of Eru Iluvatar are in play - though the idea that the characters are ultimately subject to their own free will is a theme that Tolkien emphasizes in his writings.

Elrond tells of the Ring's origins. After it was cut from Sauron's hand, it was soon lost in the bed of the River Aduin after Isildur was attacked by a band of Orcs. It was assumed that it was lost forever. After the fall of Arnor in the North, Gondor also began to decline. The Witch-King of Angmar gathered the rest of the Nazgul and many Orcs to him and went to Mordor. Soon afterward, the city of Minas Ithil fell to him and was renamed Minas Morgul. The Eastern lands of Gondor, called Ithilien were occupied by the Enemy and after constant attacks the original Gondorian capital of Osgiliath, which straddles the River Anduin, fell into ruin.

Though it is not explained here, the information included in Appendix A tells of how the Witch-King issued a challenge in the year 2050 of the Third Age to the Earnur, the King of Gondor, who was then lost at Minas Morgul. In his name, Mardil his Steward ruled until such time as an heir stepped forward to claim the throne. Mardil's descendents continued to rule for almost a thousand years (Earnur was childless). Boromir's father, Denethor, was the current Ruling Steward of Gondor. Over time, the people of Gondor mixed with those of lesser men and the noble Numenorean blood was diluted. Their lifespans shortened to a length similar to other men.

Boromir defends the pride and dignity of Gondor (which incidentally Tolkien had named "The Land of Ond" in his earlier drafts). He reminds those present that Gondor has borne the brunt of the responsibility for keeping the forces of Mordor in check, and that their lands had been spared much of its danger because of this. He states that his reason for coming is to consult Elrond about a verse his brother had heard in a dream that told of Isildur's Bane and the importance of a halfling that shall present a token indicating that Doom is near at hand. Denethor sent Boromir to Imladris (the ancient name for Rivendell) to seek greater understanding of the possible meaning of this dream. Looking back at the idea of divine intervention, in this case it can certainly by inferred. In his literary criticism titled, The Road to Middle-Earth, Tom Shippey writes: "In Middle-Earth, one may say, Providence or the Valar sent the dream that took Boromir to Rivendell."

Now Boromir learns that Isildur's bane is, of course, the One Ring. Elrond bids Frodo to bring it forth. Immediately there is tension between Boromir and Aragorn, who is introduced by Elrond as the descendent of Isildur and in his possession are the shards of Narsil, the blade that was broken. Aragorn points out that he and the remnants of the Numenoreans in the North have just as thankless a job as Gondor does in keeping evil at bay from the unsuspecting Free Peoples. Aragorn displays a pride and assertiveness towards Boromir that was not duplicated in the film. Peter Jackson's Aragorn plays it more low-key.

The chronicle of the Ring is continued with Bilbo's story and Gandalf's investigation of Gollum's original acquisition of the Ring. Gandalf then recounts his imprisonment at the hands of Saruman and reveals his treachery, which dismays those such as Elrond who once trusted him implicitly. True to Frodo's vision in the house of Tom Bombadil, Gandalf was placed atop the pinnacle of Orthanc, the tower of Isengard, by Saruman.

It is interesting to note that while the character of Saruman is portrayed mostly through third person accounts and flashback, his presence is keenly felt - as is Sauron's - in the events that are taking place. However, I appreciated the expansion of Saruman's screen time in the films as well as the brilliant casting of Christopher Lee in the role. I plan to discuss wizards - or Istari - in greater depth later on. But this is one place in the books where a wizard other than Gandalf or Saruman is discussed.

Radagast the Brown, lives in the lands between the Misty Mountains and the forest of Mirkwood. He is preoccupied with the birds and beasts of Middle-Earth and this distinction earns him the mockery and ridicule of Saruman, who uses Radagast's honesty and trusting nature to entrap Gandalf. Saruman tells him to find Gandalf and to warn him that the Nine Nazgul are abroad. Further, he asks Radagast to tell Gandalf that he should seek Saruman's aid at once before it is too late. So Radagast unwittingly helps Saruman in his scheme to at first tempt Gandalf to join him and to imprison him when he refuses.

But it is also Radagast who proves to be the source of Gandalf's escape. Before he departed for Isengard he asked the Brown wizard to spread the word to the birds and beasts that are his friends to bring any news of evil doings to Orthanc. Radagast communicates this wish to Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, who observes the mustering of Orcs. When Gwaihir arrives at Orthanc unlooked-for, he is able to bear Gandalf away from the top of the tower. He flies Gandalf to Edoras, where he is given use of the horse, Shadowfax. Following a swift journey along the same route the Frodo takes, Gandalf actually reaches Rivendell ahead of Strider and the hobbits.

The parties gathered then discuss the fate of the Ring, and seeing that it can be unmade no other way, resolve to send it to Mordor to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. Boromir of course makes a strong appeal for the Ring to be used against Sauron. But Elrond insists that the only ones powerful enough to wield it had not the strength to avoid falling victim to its evil.

This leads to a discussion of the Three Elvish rings of power. Elrond wears Vilya the ring of air and Galadriel possesses Nenya, the ring of waters. The power of these two rings are used to maintain the beauty and magic of Rivendell and Lothlorien, respectively. Gandalf was given Narya the ring of fire upon his arrival to Middle-Earth by Cirdan the Shipwright. Only he, Cirdan, Elrond and Galadriel know this. The question is asked by Gloin what would happen to the power of the Three should the One Ring be destroyed.

"We know not for certain," answered Elrond saldly. "Some hope that the Three rings, which Sauron has never touched, would then become free, and their rulers might heal the hurts of the world that he was wrought. But maybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is my belief."

This is a significant point that many readers overlook. If the Elvish rings fail, it would hasten the certain end of the presence of the Elves in Middle-Earth and their inevitable departure over the sea to Valinor. This is a bittersweet moment for the Elves for either way their time in Middle-Earth is ending.

Now all that remained was the question of who would bear the Ring on this quest? The Elves didn't fully trust the Dwarves and the Dwarves didn't trust the Elves (this is a quarrel that goes back to the First Age). And neither trusted the will of men. Now Frodo, the hobbit, realizes that there is only one answer.

"A great dread fell upon him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo's side in Rivendell filled his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his voice.

'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'"

This is a huge moment for Frodo that reveals his strength of character. His decision will require a tremendous sacrifice. For though he does not fully understand it, even if he succeeds and returns his life will be forever changed. In the film, Galadriel says of Frodo, "The quest will claim his life" - if not literally, it will certainly claim the life that he once knew. Even though Frodo wonders if "some other will" speaks with his voice, it is really his will - one that he did not know he possessed - that surfaces to take this responsibility upon his shoulders.

Next: The Ring Goes South

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

(revised 8/30/06)


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 1

Many Meetings
"'Hullo, Frodo my lad!', said Bilbo. 'So you have got here at last. I hoped you would manage it.'"
Starting Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring is really a milestone. I've known lots of people who've started reading it for the first time - swearing that they would make it all the way through the end of the story - only to abandon it. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, it's difficult for some people to "get into it" when the first half of the first book moves at such a slow pace and is dedicated mostly to exposition and character development. Second, since the beginning of the book contains so much material that never made it into the films, many first-time readers are confused by what seems like a very different story. Third, the sheer complexity of this whole new world with all it's strange sounding names, places and extensive history can be intimidating to some. And lastly...the poems! All those dang poems!

Now we've reached a point in the story where all the present and most of the future characters will converge on Rivendell and many long-anticipated explanations can be given. In fact, once everyone catches up over the next two chapters, it is the last time everyone will have the same information at the same time until the end. This chapter really is designed to lay the groundwork for all the plot points to be covered in the next one. And because of this, "many meetings" must take place. The first of these is between Gandalf and Frodo. Frodo awakens not sure where he his or exactly when. He has been mostly unconscious for four nights and three days since the excitement at the Ford of Bruinen. He is in the House of Elrond, and it is 10am on October the 24th.

Frodo learns of the source of the "magic" at the Ford, which was Elrond and Gandalf. It was Glorfindel and Aragorn (note: I will refer to this character exclusively as Aragorn going forward) who induced the remaining horses to charge into the flood of the river and all of the Nazgul were washed away - no longer a threat at present but sure to be returning to full strength in short order. We learn more about the nature of the wound Frodo received. The power of the Morgul blade was turning Frodo into a wraith under the ultimate control of Sauron. At the chase to the river, he was in fact partly in the wraith world, so much so that the nine Ringwraiths could actually see him without having to rely on their horses. Luckily, the blade had not touched his heart - as was intended - and Frodo's strength and fortitude were key in resisting its effects. But he would not have lasted much longer and was cured by the powers of Elrond with little time to spare.

The life has returned to Frodo's left arm and it no longer feels cold. However, Gandalf notices a change in the hobbit - one that will prove to be irreversible: "[Frodo] was smiling, and there seemed to be little wrong with him. But to the wizard's eye there was a faint change, just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand that lay outside upon the coverlet." And later that evening, Frodo himself will feel that he is not 100% right:
Looking in a mirror he was startled to see a much thinner reflection of himself than he remembered: it looked remarkably like the young nephew of Bilbo who used to go tramping with this uncle in the Shire; but the eyes looked out on him thoughtfully. "Yes, you have seen a thing or two since you last peeped out of a looking glass" he said to his reflection.
Many readers do not fully understand Frodo's state by the end of the story and question his desire to leave Middle-Earth. They should take note that it all starts with Weathertop and goes down hill from there. Frodo will never be able to go back to being the simple, carefree hobbit he was back in chapter 1.

Gandalf reveals little to Frodo of what became of him, preferring to wait until the Council of Elrond, but tells him he was held captive. Incredulous, Frodo has a hard time getting his head around the idea that Gandalf could be held by anyone or anything. But Gandalf assures Frodo that there are many evil powers in the world, "against some I have not yet been measured". Already he believes that his part in this tale will put him face to face with a danger he may not be able to overcome. This foreshadows the events at the Bridge of Khazad-dum.

Later that day, Sam comes running in to see that his master is recovering. He takes Frodo's left hand, unable to believe that it is warm again. In his wonder he begins to stroke Frodo's hand, then hastily steps back, blushing. Now I'm going to go off on a tangent here on a topic of much controversy. In a scene such as this, many a reader has suggested that this is indicative of a homosexual relationship - or at least attraction - between Sam and Frodo. There are many readers who are gay that infer this particular subtext to Sam and Frodo's relationship on a personal level, and that is not surprising as many aspects of The Lord of the Rings mean many things to many readers. What really irritates me, however, is people who project homophobic attitudes by pointing to this scene and others as "proof" of some kind of thinly disguised endorsement of homosexuality by Tolkien.

I personally don't believe that it was Tolkien's intention to imply such a relationship existed between the two hobbits. For one thing, Tolkien was not gay. So what would be the motivation? Also, Tolkien was a devout Catholic so it is highly unlikely that he would purposely include this kind of theme in the book. Some would argue that Tolkien could have been a "closeted" homosexual using this as an outlet for his repressed feelings, but I don't buy that. Those who knew him well can attest to his deep love for and life-long devotion to his wife, Edith. However, the most compelling rationale I have for debunking this myth is that what happens to each of them at the end. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and goes on to father thirteen children, living "happily ever after" so to speak while Frodo sets off into the West. If there was indeed a homosexual bond between Sam and Frodo wouldn't it have made more sense to have Frodo stay with Sam in Middle-Earth or to have Sam take the ship to Valinor with Frodo instead of waiting some fifty-five or so years afterwards?

So why the blush, Gary? Huh? Well, let's put Sam and Frodo's relationship into the proper context. There is an excellent essay by one of the contributors to the website on this subject. Although it is no longer available online, it is included as part of the compilation book The People's Guide To J.R.R. Tolkien. The author makes this point:
"Consider for a moment the class system of England in the early 1900's (and as it still exists today) and you'll see another valid reason why Sam is so awkward during this tactile moment. Sam is a gardener. He's a servant, not on the same social rung as Frodo and the other Bagginses. It is made abundantly clear that the socioeconomic structure of the Shire bear itself a mirror image of Tolkien's rural England. Servants aren't supposed to go touching their Masters, it's just not acceptable. Sam was just elated that Frodo survived and his recovery was complete. The fact that he visited Frodo often and held his hand is endearing, showing true depth of concern. However, at the same time he was inappropriately crossing class lines."
Not to mention the fact that trying to reconcile cultural norms of early twentieth century Europe to certain cultural sensitivities of modern America is like comparing apples to oranges. In any event, I don't want to belabor the topic. Readers will believe what they want to believe and it's not my place to judge. I just wanted to get my two cents in on it.

Anyway, shortly after this meeting, a number of others take place over dinner. Tolkien uses this scene to introduce a whole host of new characters (and re-introduce a couple of familiar ones). It is here that Arwen is described for the first time, as seen through Frodo's eyes. Elrond (first introduced in The Hobbit) is discussed. At the table, Frodo meets an elderly dwarf who turns out to be Gloin, who was one of the thirteen dwarves that traveled with Bilbo to the Lonely Mountain.

Although neither he nor Frodo are keen on discussing issues related to the Ring or their presence at Rivendell at that particular moment, Gloin gives Frodo - and the reader - the quick lowdown and what has happened in that neck of the woods since the Battle of the Five Armies. Dain is still King under the Mountain and King Brand, Bard the Bowman's grandson, now rules the land of Dale, stretching down to the Lake-town of Esgaroth. Gloin lives a prosperous life at the Lonely Mountain with most of the other dwarves who participated in that quest, although the current fate of Balin, Oin, and Ori are unknown. The Dwarf encourages Frodo to come visit one day to see the glory of Dale. And Frodo promises him that he will. Unfortunately, he never will be able to.

Frodo goes with Gandalf to the "Hall of Fire", a large hall with no tables but with a great burning hearth at either end of the room - fireplaces are fed 24/7 in this room. It is a place for peace, thought and contemplation. As the guests enter, Frodo sees a strange sight:
"Suddenly he noticed, not far from the further end of the fire, a small dark figure seated on a stool with his back propped against a pillar. Beside him on the ground was a drinking-cup and some bread. Frodo wondered whether he was ill (if people were ever ill in Rivendell), and had been unable to come to the feast. His head seemed sunk in sleep on his breast, and a fold of his dark cloak was drawn over his face."
Of course, it is Bilbo.

Frodo is thrilled to see dear Bilbo but he seems to have aged quite a bit since they he departed the Shire. Remember that not only does Bilbo no longer have the Ring to keep him "well-preserved" but it has also been 17 years since the famous birthday party when he "disappeared". It seems he wandered Eastward and though he strayed from the road at times both North and South, he always found himself continuing toward Rivendell. He continued on to Dale with the Dwarves but soon returned to the House of Elrond. He was weary and he didn't expect that he would be going on any more journeys. As Bilbo explains to Frodo, "Time doesn't seem to pass here: it just is." The theme of "timelessness" in realms under the influence of rings of power will return when we enter Lothlorien.

Frodo and Bilbo catch up with news of the Shire and at one point, Bilbo thinks of his old Ring. The desire to return to the Shire gnawed at Bilbo from time to time. He says "but I am getting old, and they would not let me" - "they" being Elrond, Gandalf and (most likely) Aragorn. Eager to see the Ring again, he asks Frodo to show it to him. The scene that follows was reproduced in Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, though at a point after the Council of Elrond:
"Slowly he drew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him."
No doubt for a brief moment, Bilbo appeared to Frodo to be very "Gollum-like". Bilbo puts his hands over his face, realizing how difficult the burden is that Frodo now would bear instead of him.

The next section of this chapter focuses on Bilbo's writing of a poem (with the assistance of Aragorn, the Dunadan) about the legend of Earendil. This particular poem is rather lenghty and is difficult to follow as written. Earendil was a man born of the noble house of Tuor from the hidden elvish city of Gondolin who was wedded to Elwing, grandaughter of Luthien (the elf-maiden of the song Aragorn sang on Weathertop).

At the end of the First Age, Morgoth (the renamed evil Vala originally known as Melkor) so threatened the peoples of Middle-Earth that Earendil set sail for Valinor in the ship Vingolot to seek the aid of the other Valar in defeating him. Though the land of Valinor was forbidden to mortals, he was received by the Valar. For he bore with him a Silmaril, one of the jewels wrought by the elf-lord Feanor and later stolen by Morgoth. The Silmaril contained the light of Valinor. The Valar were persuaded to intervene and went on to Middle-Earth, defeating Morgoth in the War of Wrath, banishing him forever from the boundaries of the world. The price that Earendil paid for his entrance to Valinor was that he could never again return to Middle-Earth. The inclusion of this tale is not merely incidental as it serves as foreshadowing for the future of Frodo, who will make a similar sacrifice upon completion of the quest he pursues.

The story is told in full in Tolkien's The Silmarillion. Earendil's two sons, Elrond and Elros - both half-man and half-elf were given a choice. Either they could be of Elven kind or chose mortality. The Elves are immortal unless they die in battle or of grief, at which point there souls remain in Valinor in the halls of Mandos until the end of time. For men, they are all destined to die and it is believed that their souls left this world and joined with Eru for eternity.

So the choice to be mortal can be viewed as either a doom to be fated to death or as a gift to be freed from the weariness of an immortal life and become one with the "god" of Middle-Earth. Elrond chose to be of Elven-kind whereas Elros chose mortality. The descendents of Elros became the Numenoreans, which include Aragorn. These noble men have the blood of Elves running through them and are considered superior to other men. Though mortal, their lifespans are far longer than those of lesser men.

After Bilbo recites his newly composed poem, the guests at the Hall of Fire retire for the evening. For early the next morning there is to be a great council to discuss the history of the Ring and decide what must be done with it.

Next: The Council Of Elrond

[Chronology: October 24th through October 25th 3018 T.A.]

(revised 8/29/06)

Book One Chapters

Introduction To The Fellowship Of The Ring


1) A Long Expected Party

2) The Shadow of the Past

3) Three Is Company

4) A Short Cut To Mushrooms

5) A Conspiracy Unmasked

6) The Old Forest

7) In The House Of Tom Bombadil

8) Fog On The Barrow-Downs

9) At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony

10) Strider

11) A Knife In The Dark

12) Flight To The Ford


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 12

Flight To The Ford
"'We must make for the Road again.' he said. 'We cannot hope to find a path through these hills. Whatever danger may beset it, the Road is our only way to the Ford.'"
Frodo awakens. The other hobbits explain that they saw him disappear and heard his voice, then moments later he reappeared and the Black Riders had dispersed. Here, unlike in the film, Strider isn't the one who drives them away. This is because the way Frodo reacted to the Nazgul is much different. There were really three reasons why they left. The first was Frodo's brandishing a Numenorean blade, to which they were vulnerable. The next reason was because right after being stabbed, Frodo evokes the name of Elbereth. This is the Sindarin elvish name for Varda, Manwe's female counterpart in Valinor which translates to "star-lady". Manwe and Varda are the most revered of the Valar and the elves often evoke the name Elbereth when in danger or need (and remember that for Tolkien names can evoke great power). Lastly, the Riders feel that, because of the nature of the wound he has been given, Frodo can no longer easily flee them. In fact, its effect makes him susceptible to their will. So they intend to return when they have gathered their full strength of nine.

Strider attempts to heal Frodo using the leaves of an herb called athelas (colloquially known as kingsfoil). He will later use this same technique in the Houses of Healing at Minas Tirith. At this point, Frodo wonders to himself "if he would remain maimed for life". While he will eventually recover, the wound would ultimately continue to torment him. He would, in effect, remain "maimed" for the rest of his days in Middle-Earth. It is clear that they must make for Rivendell as quickly as possible. Frodo is too weak to walk so he is given the pony to ride, which has improved in its strength and weight since leaving Bree. They head South past the East Road, to a wooded area that will give them some cover. While no Black Riders are in sight, they hear the calling and answering of their terrifying shrill cries.

The journey is long and they continue for many days until they need to once again cross the Road by turning North. They're heading for the River Bruinen which forms the Western border of the lands of Rivendell. They must first, however, cross the River Hoarwell (which flows into the Gwathlo, also known as the "Greyflood") by the Last Bridge, an ancient stone bridge with three arches that crosses the valley through which the river runs. At the bridge they are relieved to find no sign of the Riders, but Strider discovers a green beryl, or elf-stone, that he believes was left there intentionally as a sign that the bridge is safe from the presence of the Nazgul. There are allies about as well as enemies.

While he is in great pain and feels a powerful cold overtaking him, Frodo is lucid enough to ask Strider about Rivendell. He responds, "There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond." This is another reference to the path that is laid before him as Isildur's heir. He knows that he cannot rest until he fulfills his destiny.

Ten days out from Weathertop, they discover that they have traveled too far North and must turn back Southwards again. They are in the troll-country, or the Trollshaws, which is to the Northwest of Rivendell. Frodo is taking a turn for the worse. His left arm is lifeless. The wound he received has closed up and a small bit of the Morgul blade is lodged in his shoulder. Strider says, "There is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out." They continue to travel as quickly as they can.

One evening, Frodo lay in and out of consciousness: "Frodo lay half in a dream, imagining that endless dark wings rode above him, and that on the wings rode pursuers that sought him in all the hollows of the hills". This dream clearly looks ahead to the future, when the Nazgul search for him astride their winged Fell Beasts later in the story.

Now here it is worth mentioning that it seems to be taking an unreasonably long time to get to Rivendell. And why if Strider is so familiar with these lands do they seem to be making odd turns and then having even to back-track at one point? Well, part of the problem is that Tolkien painted himself into a bit of a corner when he wrote The Hobbit. In that story it takes Bilbo, Thorin and company a full forty days to travel from Bag End to the house of Elrond. Granted they followed a much more leisurely pace, but roughly the same journey in The Fellowship of the Ring at first seems to take less time.

Frodo begins his journey from Bag End on September 23rd and arrives at Weathertop on October 6th. This is only fifteen days (which includes an extra night's stay at Tom Bombadil's). In the distance remaining, the party in The Hobbit had traveled twenty-six days before they reached Rivendell and that was while riding ponies. So even if you take into consideration that Strider drove them, with the wounded Frodo, to cover more distance per day than the dwarves the distance between Weathertop and Rivendell should take at least three weeks. Tolkien had encountered an inconsistency that he really hadn't thought through. So this is why in only two chapters they cover such a wide distance compared to previous chapters. Tolkien tried to cover himself in the last chapter:

"I don't know if the Road has ever been measured in miles beyond the Forsaken Inn, a day's journey east of Bree," answered Strider. "Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise. It is a strange road, and folk are glad to reach their journey's end, whether the time is long or short. But I know how long it would take me on my own feet, with fair weather and no ill fortune: twelve days from here to the Ford of Bruinen, where the Road crosses the Loudwater that runs out of Rivendell. We have at least a fortnight's journey before us, for I do not think we shall be able to use the Road."
All of this is examined in Karen Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-Earth, a fantastic resource. Fonstad, by trade a cartographer, is a huge Tolkien fan and has painstakingly mapped out everything - and I mean everything - in Tolkien's world.

Tolkien even decides to make a stop at a place familiar to readers to The Hobbit. As they follow a worn path, they discover the troll-hole where Bilbo and Gandalf had found their elvish blades, Sting and Glamdring. Further off in a clearing they come upon the three trolls that were introduced in Chapter 2 of The Hobbit and stood there still, having been turned to stone almost eighty years earlier. Frodo and Sam recognize them from the many times Bilbo told them the story. I almost wish, however, that Tolkien had not included this reminder that in his earlier work there were trolls with the names Bill, Bert and Tom that spoke with a cockney dialect. That depiction of trolls seems too inconsistent with the way they are presented in The Lord of the Rings.

I want to share a quick personal note on the troll song that Sam sings at this point. For the longest time I had trouble putting a tune to this song - until I had kids, that is. When my oldest was just a toddler, I became familiar with an old traditional English folk song called "The Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night". I never heard this song in my own childhood but after I had been subject to hearing it over and over, it dawned on me that this Troll song followed the tune of "The Fox" exactly. Also, I can't help but get a chuckle at the part when Sam uses the word "boner" (heh, heh...he said "boner").

This is the second time in two chapters that Tolkien uses a song to break the intensity of the moment, just before he ramps it up again. Later that evening, they encounter Glorfindel, an Elf from Rivendell. It seems that Gildor, the Elf that Frodo, Sam and Pippin met back in Chapter 3, had warned Elrond upon his return journey of the peril that Frodo was in and advised him that the hobbits would be heading East. Many new readers often confuse Gildor and Glorfindel, thinking they are the same character. Anyway, Glorfindel - sent at the request of Elrond - reveals that it was he who left the elf-stone at the Last Bridge. He had been doing his best to chase away any Black Riders in the area. When Glorfindel examines Frodo's wound, he admits that healing it is beyond his skill (much as Strider had said) and that they should make for Rivendell without stopping. The Elf insists that Frodo ride his much-swifter horse, Asfaloth, instead of the pony.

They continue for another couple of days until they are in sight of the River Bruinen. There is a certain point where the river has been forded with stones and it is necessary to cross this in order to continue on to the valley where Rivendell lay. All of a sudden, the Black Riders are upon them and Frodo must ride out at full speed to evade them. At first, he is hesitant as he feels them silently commanding him to wait. Glorfindel orders the horse in the elvish language to ride on! From different directions, the Riders begin to converge on Frodo, calling to him with their fell voices.

The horse carries Frodo across the Ford of Bruinen. Frodo halts Asfaloth and turns to face all nine Nazgul that are approaching the river. He brandishes his Numenorean sword and yells for the Riders to go back. Back to Mordor. "To Mordor we will take you!" they respond, shouting "The Ring, The Ring!" Here Frodo makes a heroic stand against them which unfortunately was removed from the film Fellowship of the Ring. "By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair," said Frodo, "You shall have neither the Ring nor me!"

As the Riders begin to cross, an unknown power causes a change in the river:

"At that moment there came a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. Dimly Frodo saw the river below him rise, and down along its course there came a plumed cavalry of waves. White flames seemed to Frodo to flicker on their crests and he half fancied that he saw amid the water white riders upon white horses with frothing manes. The three Riders that were still in the midst of the Ford were overwhelmed: they disappeared, buried suddenly under angry foam. Those that were behind drew back in dismay."

The remaining black horses are filled with madness and they rush headlong into the flood. All of the Riders are washed away. Once again, Frodo loses consciousness.

Here ends Book One of The Fellowship of the Ring. The story continues in Book Two with Chapter One: Many Meetings

[Chronology: October 6th through October 20th 3018 T.A.]

(revised 8/27/06)


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 11

A Knife In The Dark
"At once Strider flung himself on the ground behind the ruined circle, pulling Frodo down beside him. Merry threw himself alongside.
'What is it?' he whispered.
'I don't know, but I fear the worst,' answered Strider."
When the hobbits departed from Buckland to face the dangers of the Old Forest back in Chapter VI, Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger was perfectly content to stay behind and hang out at Crickhollow, probably feeling that his part in Frodo's adventure was over and that the danger has passed him by.

He was wrong.

While Strider and the hobbits slept in the parlor of the Inn, Fatty looked out onto the mists that rolled across the lawn towards the house. Fear seeped in through the open window.
"As he stared out into the gloom, a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound. Terror seized him. He shrank back, and for a moment he stood trembling in the hall. Then he shut and locked the door."

Three Black Riders were approaching the house. Breaking down the door, they enter Crickhollow. But Fatty escapes through the back door, his cries alerting the other residents of Buckland. The Brandybucks sounded the Horn-call of Buckland, which hadn't been done since The Fell Winter of 2911 (T.A.) when white wolves crossed the frozen Brandywine River. Interestingly enough, it will be another Brandybuck, Meriadoc, who will once again sound the Horn-call to alert the hobbits at the Battle of Bywater at the end of "The Return of the King". The horn Merry uses, however, will be the Horn of Mark. The neighbors come running and the Black Riders flee. Temporarily foiled, they think "Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later." Indeed, this passage foreshadows the danger that will threaten all of Middle-Earth, including the tranquility of the Shire.

Meanwhile, in Bree, as the light of the day enters the parlor, Strider and the hobbits return to the room that they had abandoned for the night. The mess that they find is evidence that Black Riders had paid it a visit and they decide to leave at once. They are dismayed to find that their ponies have been stolen. Since they must try to obtain replacements, any hope they had of slipping out of the village quietly was now gone. In fact, by the time they get under way, what seems like the whole population of Bree had arrived to witness their departure. Bill Ferny sells them a single, scrawny, half-starved pony for a king's ransom. He gives the travelers some taunting but Sam hums an apple at Ferny's head and smacks him square on the nose. Once they leave town, Strider leads them off the road and through the wilderness to the North, towards the Weather Hills.

Whenever I think back to this point of the journey, for some reason I always think that it takes place over several chapters. But in reality the distance between Bree and Rivendell is covered completely in Chapters 11 and 12 - a period of about three weeks. Perhaps it's because these chapters are so much longer than the previous ten. The pace quickens significantly at this point. They make considerable progress early on, only slightly "bogged" down as they pass through the Midgewater Marshes - if you'll pardon the pun. The mosquitoes mercilessly eat them alive as Sam exclaims, "What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?". Though this line is ultimately included in the Extended Edition of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, it is given to Merry instead. I could never understand this. It could be that he and the other production people liked the way Dominic Monaghan delivered this line.

On a personal note, for many years now whenever I hear the familiar sound of katydids out the window on a hot summer evening, I refer to them as Neekerbreekers - the name Sam gave to the insects that harassed them throughout the night with their disturbing "neek-breek, breek-neek" noise.

That night as Frodo tries to sleep, he notices a flashing light off in the Eastern sky on one of the hilltops. Not even Strider knows what it is, but they will soon find out. At last they begin their approach to Weathertop. At the summit of the hill lay the ruined watchtower of Amon Sul, built by Elendil. Weathertop was the southernmost and tallest of the Weather Hills and it was where Elendil awaited Gil-galad and Cirdan, leading the Elves of Lindon, who would join with the men of Arnor and Gondor in a unified attack on Mordor at the end of the Second Age.

Amon Sul, which means "the Hill of Winds" in Sindarin (a form of Elvish), was claimed by two of the three kingdoms that resulted from the break-up of Arnor and was a source of dispute between them. Because of the commanding view of the East Road, it's location provided a strategic advantage to whomever controlled it. Amon Sul was also the repository of one of the seven Palantiri, or seeing stones. In 1409 of the Third Age, the Witch-King of Angmar attacked the stronghold and razed the tower to mostly rubble. The Palantir was moved to the city of Fornost but later lost in 1974 along with the last King of the Northern Realm, Arvedui, in the Ice Bay of Forochel. The site that remained was an ancient reminder of the time of the Numenoreans. As one of the Dunedain, Strider was quite familiar with it.

Strider leads them up a path that he knows so that they may make their ascent to the top without being seen from the East Road. When they reach the summit, it at first appears that their hope of finding evidence that Gandalf had been there would fade until Strider notices a small pile of stones with a flat white stone on top with the ruins for "G3" scratched into it. Strider interprets this to mean that Gandalf had indeed been there on October 3rd - which was three days prior. He guesses that the light they saw at that time was the result of Gandalf encountering some of the Black Riders and he notices that much of the surrounding rock is scorched.

Then their worst fears are confirmed, when they look over the lip of the hill and see several black dots at the foot of Weathertop. Danger was approaching. Strider explains to Merry why it is so difficult to evade the Nazgul. While their horses can certainly see:

"in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly."

He adds also that "the Ring draws them".

They dig in and Sam asks to hear Elvish tales and poems. Strider recites a part of the story of Beren and Luthien - a rather lengthy part, in fact. He later elaborates on the story of love between this couple, man and elf, which is told in full in Tolkien's "The Silmarillion". The story relates directly to Strider on a personal level as he, a mortal, is in love with Arwen, an elf-maiden who is descended from Beren and Luthien. Much more of the history of this relationship is told in the Appendices and Peter Jackson expands this storyline throughout the three films. One gets the feeling that Tolkien is just busting to include all of it here but that he understands to do so would pull the reader away from the story at hand. Actually, its inclusion here, even in such an abridged version, seems a little out of place as we anticipate an attack by the Black Riders.

Sure enough, with less than two pages left to the chapter, five of them quickly appear. In Frodo's fear, his resistance to the Ring becomes unbearable and he slips it on his finger. Suddenly, Frodo is able to see the true form of the Nazgul beneath their cloaks.

"In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown."

It was the Witch-King of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul. He bears down on Frodo with his Morgul blade, penetrating his left shoulder. With his last bit of strength, Frodo takes off the Ring and blacks out.

[Chronology: September 30th through October 6th 3018 T.A.]

Next: Flight To The Ford

(revised 8/26/06)


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 10

"Go on then!" said Frodo. "What do you know?"
"Too much; too many dark things," said Strider grimly.
How ironic that a character who would become so central to the plot of The Lord of the Rings should be created with so little direction in mind. Tolkien admits quite candidly that when he first seated this strange man in a dark corner of the Prancing Pony he really had no idea how he would ultimately fit into the story. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he writes in letter number 163 that "I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo". Over time, however, he was able to give Strider quite a bit of backstory - laying the foundation for the role he would play as the heir of Isildur.

The rangers of the North were descended from the Dunedain (pronounced DOO-na-dine), a race of men who escaped the destruction of Numenor and sailed to Middle-Earth during the Second Age to establish the Realms in Exile of Arnor and Gondor. The Dunedain were considered the noblest race of men and, having been enriched with elven-blood, they were blessed with a lifespan approximately three times that of ordinary men.

After the Northern Realm of Arnor failed due to war and kin-strife, those later generations of Dunedain became scattered. They were reduced to the role of protectors of the lands that made up the former kingdom. In fact, although the presence of the Dunedain rangers was unknown to the residents of the Shire, it was their efforts to keep the forces of evil in check that allowed the land of the hobbits to enjoy its isolation from the rest of Middle-Earth.

Aragorn (Strider's true name) and his Dunedain kin stayed closely allied with the Elves and from them they were able to derive great wisdom and learning. They were also fluent in the Elvish languages. After Aragorn's father, Arathorn, was killed by an orc-arrow, he and his mother, Gilraen, were taken under the protection of Elrond in Rivendell. Being descended directly from Isildur, Aragorn's destiny becomes tied to the fate of Ring and ultimately the future of Middle-Earth.

After most of the guests have left or retired, Frodo and his friends returned to the parlor where they had dined to meet with Strider, who informs them that he has important information that would be advantageous to them. The only price he asks in return is that they "must take me along with you, until I wish to leave you". Although Frodo is at first non-committal, Strider describes the dangers that surround him in Bree, including the proximity of the Black Riders that are still on his trail and such shady folks as Bill Ferny and his associates from the South.

It becomes clear that Strider's knowledge of the lands beyond would prove useful to the hobbits once they leave the village. And despite Sam's warnings to Frodo (due to his natural distrust of strangers and his protective instinct for his master), Frodo is inclined to at least learn more about this ranger before he decides whether or not to trust him. For this, Strider admires Frodo's prudence. After a time, Barliman Butterbur enters the parlor to tell Frodo that he finally remembered what it was that he had so much trouble recalling. He informs Frodo that he was told to look out for a hobbit that fit his description and traveling under the name "Underhill". His original instruction was also to forward a letter to a Frodo Baggins of the Shire, which he had forgotten to do.

The letter, which he now gives to Frodo, is from Gandalf. After Butterbur leaves, Frodo opens the letter which is dated Mid Year's day (roughly the equivalent of July 1st by our calendar). In it, Gandalf warns Frodo that he must leave the Shire immediately because of some ill news that he has become aware of. While he expects to meet up with the hobbits at some point, Gandalf writes to Frodo that he should look out for a man called Strider, whose real name is Aragorn. As part of the letter, Gandalf includes a passage from a legendary poem:
"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
The poem describes the prophecy of the true heir of Isildur re-forging the sword Narsil (which was broken at the Battle of Dagorlad fighting Sauron) and returning to seek his rightful claim as king of a united Arnor and Gondor. That heir of course is Strider. Interesting to note is that the last four lines of the above poem are included in Peter Jackson's The Return of the King and are spoken by Arwen.

Incidentally, there is a gaffe committed by Tolkien in the text of Gandalf's letter. The letter was written on Mid-Year's Day, months before Frodo ever left the Shire. However, one of the postscripts warns Frodo "Do NOT use It again, not for any reason whatever!". As of that time, Frodo had not used the Ring ever. Tolkien was no doubt referring to Frodo's use of the Ring at Tom Bombadil's (not to mention) his most recent instance earlier that evening. But unless Gandalf had a pretty good hunch that Frodo would use the Ring before receiving the letter there is no reason he should warn him not to use it "again". Likely this was an editing error from early drafts before Tolkien had fully worked out the circumstances of Gandalf's absence. In fact, in an original outline, Strider (under the early name Trotter) was the one who gave Frodo a version of the letter, having received it from Gandalf himself. Evidently at this point Gandalf's imprisonment at Orthanc had not yet been thought of.

Frodo asks Strider why he didn't tell him that he was a friend of Gandalf at the outset. He answers that without the letter, it wasn't likely that he would have believed him. What's more, Strider adds "I hoped you would take to me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But here, I believe my looks are against me." The reader is able to sense the kind of loneliness that Strider must feel as a wandering ranger. At this point, he bears his true identity to Frodo: "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn; and if by my life or death I can save you, I will".

Throughout his works, Tolkien uses this theme of the importance of one's identity and protecting it by not revealing one's true name. This is especially true of the dwarves. There is an old superstition that by choosing to give your real name to someone you don't know, you are ceding an advantage to them over you. For Tolkien, a person's name has power. This is why so many times in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is referred to as "the enemy" of "the shadow of the East" rather than by his true name. So Aragorn's revelation is a significant show of trust for Frodo. And this is the beginning of a bond that is formed between the ranger and the hobbit that will strengthen over time. Frodo agrees to let Strider be their guide.

At this point the reader can be forgiven for forgetting about Merry, who had decided to stay in the parlor for a bit and then go out for a walk. He returns at that moment, out of breath, reporting that he has seen a Black Rider, on foot and talking with someone on the street not far from the Prancing Pony. They decide it would not be safe to go back to their room and instead they gather up their belongings and sleep in the parlor. They plan to depart early in the morning.

Before he goes to sleep, Frodo looks out the window up into the starry sky. Once again Tolkien has Frodo observe a sight familiar to the reader. He looks up to see a constellation called the "Sickle". In a footnote at the end of the chapter, Tolkien points out that this is the hobbits' name for the "Great Bear" (Ursa Major). We also know this familiar star formation as the "Big Dipper".

[Chronology: September 29th through September 30th 3018 T.A.]

Next: A Knife In The Dark

(revised 8/23/06)


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 9

At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony

"What his right name is I've never heard: but he's known round here as Strider."

At this point in the story, the hobbits are definitely out of their element. But Tolkien takes care not to thrust them too quickly into too strange a world. Instead he uses the village of Bree as a kind of weigh-station where men and hobbits live together in harmony. While "outsiders" from the Shire are a novelty, they are not seen as on oddity the way they will be in other lands, where "halflings" are only the stuff of legends. The Prancing Pony is an inviting place that projects a welcoming sense of safety and security. But we will soon see the shady characters that inhabit its dark corners. The hobbits are so unaware of the danger all around that they get a little careless. But they also come into contact with an important ally.

Like the Shire, Bree is a place where its inhabitants pretty much keep to themselves and maintain a focus on their own affairs. But the people of this village (along with those of the three others nearby - Staddle, Combe and Chetwood) take an interest in hearing about the goings-on of places far away from traveler's who pass through, unlike the Shire folk. While Bree is fairly isolated, it does come more into contact with the outside world - including with those who keep it protected from the sort of evil things that they are unaware of.

One thing that is important to note is that by this point in the story, Tolkien had spent no less than 20 months writing and re-writing the chapters that would ultimately become Book One. And for all of his work, so little up to this point actually made it into the films. On the other hand, while we have thus far covered eight chapters and almost 150 pages - slightly less than one third of the entire "Fellowship of the Ring", the exact same point of the story in Peter Jackson's film of the same name has also reached one third of its running time (in the Extended Edition). It kind of gives you an appreciation for the constraints that Jackson had to work with. If Gildor, Farmer Maggot, Tom Bombadil and other elements of the story we have just reviewed ended up in the film, it would likely be going into its third hour right about now.

As the hobbits finish their questioning by Harry the gate-keeper and head into town, we notice a bit of danger lurking nearby.

"As soon as [Harry's] back was turned, a dark figure climbed quickly in over the gate and melted into the shadows of the village street."

Of course, the reader likely takes this to be a Black Rider. We will see, however, that someone else has taken an interest in "Mr. Underhill" and his errand.

More than just a place to grab an ale and spend the night, The Prancing Pony was an outpost of sorts where travelers along the East Road and to some degree the Old North Road (known as the Greenway as it has become overgrown with grass from lack of use) could gather and catch up on the latest information about lands in all directions. "News From Bree" was a term synonymous with "up-to-date information" and the Inn found many a diverse guest - from dwarves to men of the South - congregating for such conversation.

Sam, being the most wary and suspicious of the four hobbits makes it clear to Frodo that he'd just as soon find logging in a house of fellow hobbit-folk. Frodo reassures him that it was Tom Bombadil's recommendation that brought them here. In the PJ film, it is Gandalf that directs Frodo to meet him at the inn, though he gives so such specific instruction in the book. It's just kind of assumed that if they made it this far, this lonely outpost would be a logical point to meet up with the wizard.

We are introduced to the inn-keeper, Barliman Butterbur, who at that moment quite has his hands full tending to all his guests. Often the harried fellow mentions that something the hobbits say reminds him of something that he can't quite remember. The fact is that Butterbur is in the possession of some important information for Frodo - in only he could recall what it is. Up until the very last draft, Butterbur's first name was Barnabas. This change to "Barliman" was a last minute one by Tolkien in the final version.

After a pleasant supper in a quiet parlor, Butterbur encourages them to mingle afterwards with the other guests in the common room (the main part of the tavern). While Frodo, Sam and Pippin feel refreshed enough to join the mixed company, Merry decides to go outside for a walk and a "sniff of air". The hobbits enter the common room and, needing a pretense for their presence away from the Shire, Frodo decides to tell the guests that he is thinking of writing a book (an idea inspired by Bilbo no doubt) and he was gathering information about hobbits in other lands. Once the astonishment of the crowd dissipates (hobbits are not generally known for their interest in the literary arts, outside of their own genealogy), a chorus of voices breaks out to share with him all the stories he could care to hear.

Much of the conversation focuses on the recent influx of men coming up from the South, where there was "trouble" about. Even though the Bree folk were unenthusiastic about these events, one of these travelers makes it clear that more will be coming in the near future: "If room isn't found for them, they'll find it themselves." The first-time reader is not yet aware of the activities of Saruman and the dire effect it will very soon have on the Shire.

At this point, Frodo notices a "strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall". The man seems keenly interested in the business of the hobbits and Frodo inquires to the inn-keeper about this stranger's identity. He's a "ranger", explains Butterbur, "one of the wandering folk". Little is known of the business of these rangers who travel swiftly through the Northwestern lands of Middle-Earth, coming and going quite suddenly. This particular ranger is known as Strider, because he "goes about at a great pace on his long shanks. He was in fact the dark figure who climbed over the gate to follow them.

Before Tolkien had a handle on who exactly Strider was supposed to be, he named the character Trotter and in his earliest form was a hobbit who wore wooden shoes (hence the name). Tolkien had a difficult time deciding how this Trotter was going to fit into the story at first, but he knew that without Gandalf (and even his whereabouts hadn't been fully worked out yet), the hobbits needed a guide to shepherd them through the wilderness. So despite his mysterious appearance, he comes off right away as someone that Frodo feels he can trust (even if Sam doesn't).

Strider motions for Frodo to come over to him and he introduces himself - though he had already found out the hobbit's pseudonym of "Underhill" from overhearing Frodo at the gate tell the other hobbits that this is the name by which he was to be called. Strider immediately warns Frodo this isn't the Shire and that he and his friends need to be careful that they don't talk too much as there are odd folks about. As a reader, I immediately get a sense from Strider that there is nothing malevolent about him. Just at that moment, Strider notices that Pippin is recounting to some of the guests the story of Bilbo's party - and is approaching the incident with his disappearance. It is clear that he knows more than he has let on.

Frodo fears that Pippin's story will bring about inquiries into the name "Baggins" and that the young hobbit might go as far as to mention the Ring, be he is at a loss as to how to interrupt Pippin and finally jumps up on the table and makes a bit of a speech, thanking the other guests for their hospitality. They call for a song, so Frodo decides to sing one that Bilbo wrote. It tells of the Man in the Moon, who one night decides to drive his lunar chariot down from the sky to get his fill of a "beer so brown" at an inn much like the Prancing Pony. In the song, Frodo introduces such characters as a fiddle-playing cat, a dog with a fond sense of humor, a prancing cow and animated tableware that dance with each other. You can easily guess that this is a rather long version of the rhyme we all hear as children (and share with our own children) called "Hey, Diddle, Diddle, The Cat and the Fiddle". Being a professor of languages and their history, Tolkien though it would be cool to present this commonly spoken nursery rhyme as a derivative of something written back in the days of Middle-Earth - by Bilbo Baggins, no less. At least this version makes a bit of sense out of what we have only known as nonsensical.

During the second performance of this little song, Frodo falls off the table (as the cow is jumping over the moon, parked outside the inn) and finds the Ring has slipped on his finger. He disappears under the table, to the surprise and annoyance of most of the guests. Here is an important deviation in the film. In Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, the circumstances of the Ring ending up on Frodo's finger is different. Certainly, PJ thought that Frodo dancing on the table, singing a ridiculous song, seemed out of place in that particularly tense scene at the inn. However the biggest difference is that the Ring goes up in the air and falls down onto Frodo's finger. In the book, Frodo is handling it in his pocket when he falls.

While being quite different in "how" the Ring gets on Frodo's finger, the "why" is still the same question. Did the Ring manipulate itself onto his finger? Or did Frodo subconsciously put it on himself - despite the danger - to make himself disappear from the situation? Or was it a combination of both? We don't really get a straight answer from Tolkien in the book:

"How it came to be on his finger he could not tell. He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall. For a moment, he wondered if the Ring itself had not played him a trick; perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room."

Both of the ways the Ring gets on Frodo's finger (in the book and the film) seem implausible, but on the other hand why not give Frodo the benefit of the doubt? Anyway, it's certainly food for thought.

Certain suspicious looking folk in the common room suddenly leave as if this turn of events had caused them to go spread the word. Two of these men, Billy Ferny of Bree and a squint-eyed man from southern lands, are spying on behalf of an unknown employer. Strider takes a hold of Frodo and chastises him for the damage he has just done. For now it is revealed that he does indeed know Frodo's true identity and has some knowledge of his business. At Strider's request, Frodo agrees to speak with him later in private. And, as it turns out, Butterbur has remembered what he has been trying to recall this whole time and asks to come to his room later to share some information with him. Frodo agrees.

In the meantime, Frodo's use of the ring has alerted the Black Riders of his presence in Bree. They are coming...

[Chronology: September 29th 3018 T.A.]

Next: Strider

(revised 8/23/06)


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 8

Fog On The Barrow-Downs
"They would soon now be going forward into lands wholly strange to them, and beyond all but the most vague and distant legends of the Shire, and in the gathering twilight they longed for home."
The chapter opens with a gorgeous passage that not only got included in Peter Jackson's Return of the King but inspired that film's main song, recorded by Annie Lennox. In Frodo's last night in the house of Tom Bombadil, he dreams again:
"Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise."
This verbiage is used by Gandalf during the siege of Minas Tirith to reassure Pippin that death is not the end, but merely another path - one that we all must take. Gandalf's words paraphrase the passage above:
"The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass...and then you see it. White shores. And beyond...a far green country under a swift sunrise."
If there was any imagery that could provide more positive reassurance of the experience of death, I've never heard it. The description is of the Undying Lands, which men actually do not get to see. Their fate is to become one with Eru, the one - a fate denied the Elves until the end of time. But whether you see this as a vision of heaven or an hallucination brought on by the trauma of passing out of this world, it is most encouraging. In any case, the dream or vision that Frodo experience reveals Frodo's fate to the reader. Though she does not know it yet.

In the morning, Frodo and the hobbits bid Tom and Goldberry farewell and head North along the Western slopes of the Barrow-Downs. And as they journey they find themselves strangely drawn further East, up along the Downs. Now, for those unfamiliar with Tolkien's grand vision of this world's history we need to remind them that this part of Middle-Earth was at one time part of the Northern Kingdom of the Numenorean realms in exile - namely Arnor. Whereas Gondor was the Southern Kingdom, Arnor was it's Northern counterpart which stretched from the Blue Mountains in the West to the Misty mountains in the East.

In a nutshell, Elendil (the father of Isildur) ruled both realms from his throne in Annuminas. Upon his death at the Battle of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age, in which Sauron was slain. Isildur, his eldest son, assumed his rule while the descendents of his younger brother Anarion - also killed during the siege of Barad-dur - ruled Gondor from Osgiliath. (Editor's note: Isildur, being the older of the two brothers, remained the true heir of Elendil as ruler of the entire race of Numenoreans.) Isildur was killed at the Gladden Fields - on his victory tour back to Arnor - and the Northern Kingdom was ruled by his descendents. Unfortunately, upon the death of Earendur - the tenth King - Arnor was broken up into three separate states - Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. This was due to a power dispute between Earendur's three sons. The Witch-King of Angmar (aka the Lord of the Nazgul) made war upon the broken kingdoms for many years and all fell into ruin.

During these wars, the area through which the hobbits now traveled, became a grave-yard for these Numenorean warriors and kings. From The Complete Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler: "The hills were crowned with old stone circles, isolated dolmens and numerous 'barrows', or stone-chambered burial-mounds, where the early Men had buried their noble dead." Evil spirits from Angmar, under the ultimate control of Sauron's spirit, invaded these tombs and animated and possessed the dead bodies buried within. These spirits were known as "Barrow-Wights".

This is the evil that awaited the hobbits as they trekked across the haunted lands. While taking a rest, the hobbits fall asleep and awoke to find the lands around them covered in a fog. Disoriented, they made their way the best they could but soon realized that they were lost. They encountered two huge standing stones jutting out from the land like jagged teeth. Before long they lost track of each other and Frodo tried to make his way through this nightmare:
"He imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside, and the starry sky was unveiled. A glance showed him that he was now facing southwards and was on a round hill-top, which he must have climbed from the north, out of the east the biting wind was blowing. To his right there loomed against the westward stars a dark black shape. A great barrow stood there.

"Where are you?" he cried again, both angry and afraid.

"Here!" said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. "I am waiting for you!"

At the feel of an icy touch, Frodo blacks out.

He wakes, lying inside one of the Barrows - a pale, greenish light glowing all around him. He sees lying near him Sam, Merry and Pippin, looking deathly pale and all clad in white. Across their necks lay a long sword. A hand, at the end of a long arm, comes groping along on its fingers and Frodo wonders what he will do.

But a courage awakens in him and he seizes a short sword near him and whacks the hand off of the phantom arm. A shriek and a snarling noise results and Frodo remembers the song that Tom taught him. He sings it and Tom's voice answers - also in song. Before long, stones are rolled away and light enters the Barrow. Tom appears at the opening to the Barrow and his words are like kryptonite to the Barrow-Wights. Once again, Tom Bombadil comes to the hobbits' rescue.

With the help of his words, Tom awakens the hobbits. After a time, Tom finds their wayward ponies and the hobbits are able to change back into clothes from their packs. Out of the Barrow, from which they were imprisoned, Tom finds four long, leaf-shaped daggers and gives one to each of them. The significance of this moment is important because of the role Merry's dagger will play in the destruction of the Lord of the Nazgul.

This blade, being wrought by the Numenorean men of Westernesse, has a special power that enables it to harm the Lord of the Nazgul. Certainly the Witch-King had no reason to think he would ever encounter such a blade again. Had the hobbits not gotten lost and captured by the Barrow-Wights (and had Tom not saved them) then the Chief Nazgul would not have been killed by Eowyn (with the help of Merry). The fate of many a character during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields would have been different - perhaps even the final result of the battle itself.

As Tom tells the hobbits of the men who once wielded these blades, he mentions that the sons of these forgotten kings still wander, "walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things the folk that are heedless". It is the Dunedain, the Rangers of the North, that he is describing. As they listen, the hobbits see a vision of Men. One of them has a star upon his brow. This vision foreshadows the introduction of a new and significant character that we will meet in the next chapter. It is also a scene that they will see in reality in Chapter VI of "The Return of the King" on their journey home.

Tom then escorts the hobbits to the boundaries of his lands, saying "Tom's country ends here: he will not pass its borders. Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting". As he bids them goodbye, the travelers then head for the East Road and on to the village of Bree. We never encounter Tom Bombadil again.

[Chronology: September 28th 3018 T.A.]

Next: At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony

(revised 8/22/06)