And now for chapter 10 of Fellowship, “Strider.” But before we get to the usual spoilers and commentary, I wanted to thank everyone who’s been commenting for carrying on such interesting and enlightening conversations. I’d prefer to be more of a circulating party host than an absentee landlord in the comment threads, but it’s lovely to know that the conversations will happen all the same even when I’m far too busy. So, thanks, everyone.
Strider follows Frodo, Pippin, and Sam to a parlour. He says that he followed them to Bree because he’d been looking for Frodo, who is still in danger: the Riders will be back and Bill Ferny will sell them the story of Frodo’s disappearance. He asks them to take him as a guide. Sam is opposed, Pippin is silent and uncomfortable, and Frodo is confused and asks for more information.
Strider is about to tell his story, but retreats when Butterbur comes in. Butterbur eventually admits that Gandalf had charged him to forward Frodo a letter, back in the summer, but he’d forgotten. He also tells Frodo that black men have been looking for him. He is frightened but still willing to help when Strider comes forward and says the men come from Mordor. Butterbur leaves to send Nob to look for Merry, who is not in the room.
Frodo reads Gandalf’s letter, which tells him to leave the Shire by the end of July, and says that he can trust a man he may meet called Strider, whose true name is Aragorn. Frodo asks Strider why he hadn’t said that he was Gandalf’s friend, and Strider replies that he didn’t know of the letter until now, and anyway “I hoped you would take to me for my own sake.” When Sam is still dubious, Strider loses patience and shows the hilt of a sword—which he then reveals to be broken. He discusses travel plans, and then Merry comes rushing in, followed by Nob.
Merry says that he’s seen Black Riders in the village. He went for a walk, and when he saw a “deeper shade” across the road, he “seemed to be drawn” to follow it. He heard two voices, turned for home, and then fell over when something came behind him. Nob found him near Bill Ferny’s house, where he thought he saw two men stooping over him. When he arrived, though, he only found Merry, who seemed to be asleep and ran back to the inn as soon as he woke. Strider attributes this to the “Black Breath” and anticipates some action before they leave, perhaps from Ferny, the Southern strangers, and Harry the gatekeeper (but driven by the Riders). The hobbits and Strider settle down for the night in the parlour, while bolsters imitate the hobbits in the room they originally checked into.
This re-read has really made it clear to me that I’d never actually thought about Aragorn’s history or motivations at this point in the story before. Tolkien, of course, doesn’t help by leaving so much of his backstory for the Appendices; but a fair bit of interpolation is still required, since those are told from such a distance.
Fortunately, y’all have done a lot of that already, in comments to the last post, pointing out the length of his fight, the stakes, his (at best) doubt that any victory can be possible, and what utter nitwits the hobbits must look like to him there in Bree. (Also, Graydon, your discussion of Aragorn’s understanding of what Arwen’s choice actually means makes me suddenly and acutely happy that he never tried the “I love you and therefore I’m going to dump you for your own good” thing, because good grief I hate that.)
So, in the parlour, Strider has two goals which could well be mutually exclusive: first, getting the hobbits to wake up, already; and second, convincing them to take him as a guide. The plot, in the form of Gandalf’s letter, intervenes to solve this dilemma, but I am curious whether Strider had any other strategy in mind besides telling them his story (and just how much detail would he have gone into, I wonder?) and hoping for the best. It may have come out all right in the end—Frodo displays a degree of perception in noting that Strider’s “voice has changed” as they talk, and he says later that he wanted to trust him—but I think it would have been a close thing, especially with Pippin and Sam’s attitudes.
(Also, it occurs to me, in light of the nitwittery, that Strider must be feeling very isolated indeed to hope for the hobbits to take to him for his own sake.)
* * *
Miscellaneous Aragorn stuff:
Of course it makes sense that he knows Bombadil, yet his casual reference indicating so (“I need not repeat all that they said to old Bombadil”) surprised me, perhaps because he doesn’t contribute to that part of the discussion at the Council of Elrond.
I presume that his painful memories of the Riders are from the undocumented time he spent in the East after his service to Gondor. Unless I’ve completely missed something textual, which at this point would not surprise me.
Relatedly: as he remembers, “(t)he room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim.” This doesn’t seem likely to be a literal effect, since we have no reason to think Aragorn capable of causing it; I’m not particularly crazy about it as an example of the pathetic fallacy, either.
He does handle Butterbur well, after being understandably irritated at first, by quietly offering him something concrete and within his capacities to do.
His Ring-temptation scene comes and goes so quickly that I’d nearly forgotten about it. That works just fine for me: he already knew Frodo had it and thus had time to prepare; he’s not confronted physically with the Ring; and he has family history as a guide.
The “why, exactly, are you carrying around a broken sword?” problem. Graydon has offered an attempt at making this plausible. My inclination is that the shards of Narsil would normally be kept in Rivendell; and so, while I’m not crazy about the idea that it would be taken out of Rivendell just now, whether for a Dúnedain ritual or some other purpose, I guess I’ll nod and move on.
* * *
Once again, Merry is associated with a Nazgûl, this time being inexplicably drawn towards one. I’d never noticed this consistent theme before, and will be interested to see how Weathertop plays out.
Also, “I thought I had fallen into deep water”? I’m inclined to think of this as evocative description, rather than referencing anything specific.
Finally, Strider says that he does not think the Riders will attack the inn:
They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people — not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe, the gatekeeper too. They had words with Harry at West-gate on Monday. . . . He was white and shaking when they left him.
More on that next time (which I hope will not be so delayed).