Feb 10 2009 12:42pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship I.9, “At the Sign of The Prancing Pony”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring In the Lord of the Rings re-read, two developments: chapter 9 of Fellowship, “At the Sign of The Prancing Pony,” and a shiny new index of all the re-read posts, which is also linked at the bottom of each post. After the jump, a chapter summary and commentary.

What Happens

The hobbits arrive at Bree in the dark. Harry the gatekeeper seems strangely interested in them, but lets them through. After he does, a dark figure climbs over the gate.

At The Prancing Pony, the innkeeper Barliman Butterbur welcomes them and encourages them to join the company in the common room after they eat. Merry declines, but the other three go. Frodo (traveling as Mr. Underhill) explains their presence by claiming to be writing a book, and then listens to Men and Dwarves talking about trouble in the South and to Pippin gossiping. A “strange-looking weather-beaten man” named Strider warns Frodo that Pippin is talking too freely. As a distraction, Frodo stands on a table—overcoming a brief temptation to put on the Ring—gives a short speech, and sings a song of Bilbo’s about the cow jumping over the Moon. During the encore presentation, he falls off the table and the Ring ends up on his finger, causing him to vanish. The local hobbits draw away from Sam and Pippin, but three men—a “swarthy” local, a “squint-eyed southerner,” and Harry the gatekeeper—leave after giving some knowing looks.

Frodo crawls to Strider’s corner, takes off the Ring, and agrees to talk to Strider after Strider implies knowledge of Frodo’s real name and the Ring. Frodo then comes back to the firelight, where Butterbur also asks him for a private word.


A deliberately transitional chapter, and though considerably less eventful than the prior, not without its tension.

It opens with an omniscient history and geography lesson, quite explicitly establishing that Bree is a step into the wider world, but only a small one. It’s much more cosmopolitan than the Shire, with Men and Hobbits living in the same community and travelers regularly stopping at the Inn; and yet that only goes so far, as the residents of Bree “did not themselves travel much; and the affairs of the four villages were their chief concern.”

I’m not sure what to make of the claims that Bree is the oldest settlement of hobbits and the home of Men since the Elder Days; it feels thematic, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. More of the relatively self-centered nature of the inhabitants, perhaps?

Or, perhaps it’s just that “Bree stood at an old meeting of ways,” making it plausible that all the relevant characters would be present there.

* * *

Ominous yet ambiguous bits:

First, the curious gatekeeper and the dark figure. This caught my eye because the description seems to deny a connection between the two:

The man stared after the hobbits for a moment, and then he went back to his house. As soon as his back was turned, a dark figure climbed quickly in over the gate and melted into the shadows of the village street.

(Emphasis added.) And yet I believe Harry is later revealed to be in league with the Black Riders. So, why would one bother to enter Bree behind his back? It’s a small thing, but not one I have an answer for.

Another ambiguity, but a consistent and deliberate one, is the Ring. When Frodo first stands on the table,

He felt the Ring on its chain, and quite unaccountably the desire came over him to slip it on and vanish out of the silly situation. It seemed to him, somehow, as if the suggestion came to him from outside, from someone or something in the room.

And later, Frodo is unsure how the Ring came to be on his hand: “perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room.”

I don’t buy the Ring responding to the low-level evil of the three men who later leave the room, but since Frodo doesn’t know that there’s a Rider in town, the ambiguity about the Ring’s capabilities remains for the reader.

* * *


Merry is again the brisk common-sense one, telling the others to mind their Ps and Qs in the common room. Pippin reverts to seeming young and careless to me here, though Frodo’s fear that he might mention the Ring might be Ring-related paranoia rather than an actual danger. Sam is basically absent except for a brief fish-out-of-water comment.

Strider, now. Meeting him again for the first time was peculiar, since the competent leader in Rohan and Gondor is how I always think of him. Here, the way he presents himself to Frodo seems much less, hmmm, politic? than my memory of his skills later on. More about this next chapter.

And the difficult issue of skin color shows up earlier than I’d remembered, with one of the suspicious types being “swarthy.” Again, more on this later.

* * *

Finally, in The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey reports that the song is something Tolkien had previously published, an attempt to reconstruct the ancestor of the nursery rhyme, much like attempts to reconstruct Proto-Germanic from English, German, and so forth. It doesn’t make me any fonder of the song, but at least I understand a little better what the heck it’s doing there in the text.

« Fellowship I.8 | Index | Fellowship I.10 »

Jo Walton
1. bluejo
It was Aragorn who was the black figure who climbed over the gate to avoid being seen by Harry. He says he overheard what they said "to old Bombadil and each other".
Leigh Butler
2. leighdb
Yay, index!

The dark figure climbing over the gate: that couldn't have been Strider? That might be a dumb question, but the description of the figure as you quoted it, especially the use of the word "quickly", just doesn't say Black Rider to me.
Leigh Butler
3. leighdb
Oops, bluejo beat me to it.

Well, at least now I know it wasn't stupid.
Kate Nepveu
4. katenepveu
Of course you're right, and I don't know how I've never noticed before that, in the next chapter, Strider explicitly says "I slipped over the gate just behind" the hobbits. (This, at least, is not infant-caused sleep deprivation, because I've *always* been confused about that.) Thanks, guys.

Leigh: yeah, now I don't have to be jealous of your index any more! =>
Evan Langlinais
5. Skwid
God, I'd forgotten the stupid song distraction ploy! I much prefer the movie version of this scene, if for no other reason than the brilliant delivery of the line "It comes in pints? I'm getting one!" It's become a standard among my companions that one invites the others out for a drink by asking "It comes in pints?"
Lance Weber
6. LanceWeber
Look at the situation from Aragorn's perspective, because I think this night in Bree is the closest thing to outright panic in a non-combat situation we ever see from Aragorn, despite the dangers he faces later.

Gandalf is nowhere to be found and there are multiple Black Frakking Riders closing in on a bunch of bumbling, typically clueless and carefree hobbits. Do they even have the Ring or did they sell it for pipeweed at the Green Dragon?

As he's sitting there trying to figure out a way to approach them without tipping off the spies he is certain are here at the inn, the hobbit dancing on the table actually puts the Ring on as a finale to his show?!

Of course Strider is less than politic - he's actually showing remarkable restraint in these circumstances, because sure as hell those Black Riders are going to show up just as soon as they hear about a disappearing hobbit in Bree.
Andrew Foss
7. alfoss1540
I read the series no less than 6 times before I realized that the dark figure was Strider.

It is with the approach of Strider that the Hobbits for the first time realize how dire their straights are - even though they have come close to being killed 3-4 times in 2 weeks - especially if you count all the close calls with the Black Riders.

Speaking of these close calls - and our discussions about them in the past 5 chapters, has anyone thought about just what they would have done to Frodo and the other Hobbits if they had come face to face with Frodo and the Ring? Would they have killed him in the Shire? Would they have just taken the ring, Would they have captured him. In this Chapter, they make a true attempt on the Hobbit's lives - slashing up the pillows.

Strider's Actions in Bree seem more like may of the descriptions he and Gandalf give at Council - when talking about the years long hunt for Gollum - where it seems everyone involved shows less than their own measure. Call it Gollum Charm. But Strider ambled about all over Middle Earth and found nothing and then was unable to properly interrogate Gollum to the level they needed. That is not the Kingly Aragorn who we see in Rohan or Gondor either.
Soon Lee
8. SoonLee
alfoss1540 @7:
where it seems everyone involved shows less than their own measure.

Interesting thought. It's like the sum is greater than the component parts and also, it's not until the Fellowship and the circumstances they encounter that fellowship members are forced to fulfil their potential. We see that in most if not all the members of the fellowship (the seed of courage in Hobbits, the Aragorn the Ranger toiling in obscurity etc). Adversity as the agent of revelation.
9. Graydon
alfoss1540 --

The nazgul will act in ways that reflect Sauron's chief fear, which is of someone else getting the ring. So they have to not only obtain it, they have to get it secretly. If they get it overtly, and the news gets out, they might not make it back to Mordor.

I think Strider here has a whole lot of trouble because he can't coerce the hobbits; other ethical considerations aside, coercion to get control of the ring will go badly wrong. He has to get Frodo to voluntarily come with him. Frodo's never been out of the Shire before, and Aragorn is visibly not respectable, with no one here who can or will vouch for him.

Plus, Frodo has apparently been hit six or eight times with the stupid stick; is he falling under the influence of the Ring? Is the ringbearer -- the person Aragorn knows as well as Gandalf is meant to have it -- someone who is most easily rendered evil, or at least venal, through opportunity to dismiss responsibility? Or is something powerful and evil close enough, and strong enough, to mess with Frodo's head? Aragorn can't answer any of these questions, and the answers are important.
Mitchell Downs
10. Beamish
I always took "Strider" to be a lost man at this point in the story.

Sure, later we come to understand that as Aragorn he is Isildur's Heir and a true Numenorean, and that is the man who will rise to this legacy and become King. But at the time Frodo first meets him he is just "Strider", a man hiding from his true self as much as he and his Dunedain have been hiding from Sauron for a few generations (which is centuries among those long-lived Numenoreans). He is gruff and impolitic because he functions purely out of duty and not real passion or hope.

It takes the forming and ultimately the breaking of the Fellowship for "Strider" to be finally cast aside and for Aragorn to seek his destiny and become willing to accept, and fight for, his Crown. At the risk of beating this metaphor to death, his spirit is as broken as his sword at this point in his life.
11. Heather J.
beamish: I completely agree. That is way I remember Strider/Aragorn as well.
JS Bangs
12. jaspax
I recall reading somewhere that Tolkein did not know, at the time he first wrote this chapter, that "Strider" was in fact Aragorn--that this was something he discovered over the course of his writing, as writers sometimes do.

If so, it explains the strange slow change from Strider the Ranger to Aragorn Isildur's Heir over the course of the series, as a reflection of Tolkein's own change of mind. In any case, I've never found the change incongruous--on the contrary, it's one of my favorite aspects of LotR.
13. Graydon
jaspax @12 --

Strider was originally a hobbit, even!

I think that while you're correct that the slow change reflects the writing process, it reflects a couple-four things in the subcreation, too.

First is that Aragorn does not himself see any hope of victory over Sauron; "with your hope I will hope" he tells Arwen when they plight their troth on Cerin Amroth about forty years prior to the scene in Bree. This is well after he served Thengel and Ecthelion and traveled widely with Gandalf, so you can't put it down to collywobbles, it's some degree of mature judgment and some gap in the foresight of his people. It is only after he finds out about the ring, and, more importantly, meets Frodo, that he starts to believe it's possible for there to be a victory and see how to go about it.

"She shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor"; if they win, he and Arwen have leave to marry. Which will break his foster, and her actual, father's heart; it's of a piece with the tale of Beren and Luthien, which he certainly -- having been raised in Imladris -- knows very well. (He's even met elves who met, if not knew, Beren son of Barahir as a living man.) This is a hard thing to want to accomplish, because even the best case is grievous.

The memory of the kin-strife is going to be if not vivid then horribly real, and Aragorn knows that Denethor -- whom he met when he served Ecthelion II, steward of Gondor -- is not going to want anything to do with a restoration from the line of Isildur. So even if he beats Sauron, and can approach his marriage whole heartedly, despite causing through a grief and a parting through the Doom of Men beyond the boundaries of the world, trying to claim the crown might well cause civil war and the ruin of all that remains of the culture and accomplishments of the Men of the West.

One of those accomplishments is the continued existence of the heirs of Isildur; Sauron thinks they're extinct when the north kingdom went down a thousand years ago, fighting with Angmar. If Sauron knew that they yet lived, he'd be trying to make them extinct, and Aragorn has lived his entire live being secret about who and what he is.

So there's a very real way in which his (at least potential) destiny is something that it would be wrong for Aragorn to pursue for himself. It would be setting his desire above his responsibility to family, people, and office. It isn't until the war starts that he gets to start fighting it overtly; starting that himself before time in pursuit of personal ambition would be a great evil, especially since that would let Sauron find him and probably kill him.

And, indeed, it is not until he meets Eomer in Rohan that Aragorn is actually in the war, and starts declaring himself as the King of Men.
Soon Lee
14. SoonLee
Beamish @10, Heather J. @11 & Graydon @14:

I've never found Strider to be a 'lost man' or 'hiding from his true self'; that's more the line Peter Jackson et al. took with the movies.

My reading is that he's very aware of his heritage, the situation and context (as Graydon describes it) and his actions are very much dictated by the long game. How could he not be, given his upbringing in Rivendell?

His ultimate goal is to marry Arwen. Judged on that basis, his actions are consistent with that goal. This is "The Great Game" he is playing.

His coming out is a pivotal moment in the story, and courageous. He is at once proclaiming his birthright & exposing his identity to the Enemy. Timing is everything. In Bree, it is still too early.
Linda Frear
15. tanguera
I agree with SoonLee that Strider is not able to reveal who he is at this point in time. To me, he came across as very watchful and aware of the situation around him. Because Gandalf related information to Strider, he would have known by this time that Frodo had the ring and the journey he is about to undertake. It is one reason he tries to warn Frodo to keep Pippin quiet lest he reveal too much.

As his story unfolds, I thought Aragorn came across as a strong man unable to live the life set out for him and saddened by things he felt he couldn't change (or fix.)
16. DavidT
@beamish and Heather J --

SoonLee has it right -- the idea of Aragorn as uncomfortable with his heritage and hiding from it is the fabrication of Peter Jackson. It's not in the books, and Tolkien would have loathed the idea.

I suspect that this has a lot to do with modern Commonwealth attitudes toward monarchy, and modern reader attitudes toward Heroic fiction. Jackson feld he couldn't make Aragorn kingly, because kingly = bad. He couldn't make him noble, because noble = hokey. So he has to make him a tormented forced-into-it not-quite-antihero commoner-king. Feh.
Mitchell Downs
17. Beamish
While Jackson certainly got many things wrong in his movies (e.g. the entire character of Farmir) he did not make up the internal conflict of Aragorn. That is very much in the books, while perhaps not a dramatic as the filmic character.

There is a reason the Dunedain have been hiding for centuries. There is a reason none of Isildur's Heirs have reclaimed the Throne of Gondor. They are lost, and so is Aragorn as their Chieftain. It is the Fellowship that pushes Aragorn to action, to finally take his place at the forefront of this battle. It is why he does not merely return to the North after the Fellowhsip breaks and why he chases after Merry and Pippin and joins with the Rohirrim - he has begun to take a much larger role in the Battle and now wants to claim his throne.

Yes, in Jackson's film he dwells far too much on this conflict and for far too long - by the time Aragorn is with the Rohirrim he absolutely is striving to claim his Destiny.

But the Strider met in Bree and who leads them to Rivendell is an uncertain man, and the Aragorn who first takes up the Fellowship does it out of nobility and duty - not necessary a desire to reclaim his throne. It is the Aragorn who emerges from the Breaking of the Fellowship who is finally certain of his way and knows that reclaiming the Throne of Gondor and Arnor is the true Path to victory for Men.
18. MattLondon
I remember at the Orson Scott Card Panel at NYCC 2008 Mr. Enderverse spoke at length about this particular chapter in Lord of the Rings. He felt that this was the appropriate place to start the saga, in medias res, with the hobbits in jeopardy, and introducing the second main protagonist. If you think about it, what comes before is just plodding exposition and extraneous set dressing to the archplot of the story. Kind of makes you wonder what all those Bombadils and barrow wights were for.
Agnes Kormendi
19. tapsi
"But the Strider met in Bree and who leads them to Rivendell is an uncertain man"

I don't agree with you there; I think he's actually quite certain of what to do, and even how to do it, it's just that with his reputation in Bree, he couldn't really pull it off any better. But he's decisive and his actions do save the hobbits lives already the first night.

He is tense and curt for certain, but he knows that there are several Riders tracking them, and he also knows exactly what those creatures are and how he wouldn't have much chance even against one of them. He's saddled with four hobbits who just don't seem to realise what's at stake and act like children. But Strider knows how to get them to Rivendell and does get them there, despite the attack at Weathertop.

I don't think he's uncertain, it's more like he wouldn't the best kindergarten teacher in the world.
Agnes Kormendi
20. tapsi
@MattLondon: maybe he was right in some sense but that would make it a very different book... maybe one more dramatic and tense, but I think it's better this way. LotR is not a thriller or an action centered story but an epic that gains momentum slowly.

Maybe the story would work better that way, because it would focus more on the plot and the characters (then focus a little on the world, and the cameras go back to the story), but perhaps the reason people like the book so much is that this focus is a little blurred and you're drawn into Middle Earth in an easy and casual manner.
Soon Lee
21. SoonLee
Matt London @18 and tapsi @20:

Also, readers are likely to have read "The Hobbit" prior to this. The slow build-up is a gentler transition from "The Hobbit" to LotR: the two are quite different in tone. Imagine the shock to the reader of "The Hobbit" had LotR opened with this chapter.

If it were a series published now, and without The Hobbit as prequel, it might work better to start the action in Bree, but we're talking about something that written in the 1930/40s.
Agnes Kormendi
22. tapsi
SoonLee, you're absolutely right...

I think that even if it was a more obvious place to start the book today, it would only be better in the short run. This slow pace lets the book grow on you in ways a book with a more action packed beginning does not.
23. DavidT

Respectfully disagree about Strider. The material in the appendices, hinted at by Aragorn's comments in Gondor, makes it pretty clear that he's been working systematically toward re-establishing the line of Isildur for decades by the time we meet him, with the active collaboration of Gandalf. The appearance of the Ring disrupts those plans, but at the same time offers him a somewhat clearer path forward.

In Bree, the only indecision I see is how to get the hobbits to accept him as a friend and guide.
24. Graydon
The "slow pace" is absolutely required if you want to have a normative Shire that Frodo loses, too. The fair companies and bright arrays and elevated existence of the ruling classes of Gondor and Rohan aren't normative for hobbits; normative for them is not being in much of a hurry, peace, order, good food, and a relatively flat social structure. Without that -- decidedly bucolic -- picture of hobbit society, it's all about heroism, rather than the things that heroism becomes valuable by defending.

That would drastically change what the book is about.

Beamish @17 --

I don't agree that Aragorn, or the Dunedain of Arnor, are hiding in a moral or developmental sense; they're hiding in a practical or tactical sense, having been almost exterminated by the war with Angmar. Aragorn's internal conflict is about means, and (a little) about not being an angelic being, as he knows Gandalf to be, not about what he needs to do. He's very concerned to act morally, and it's not always obvious what that is, especially given the consequences of failure and the presence of the ring.

Getting the hobbits from Bree to Rivendell is somewhere past challenging; the hobbits lack the context to understand what they have gotten into, or the skills to use where they are. That much maligned "you would die first" line about looking like Strider is a bit of temper, but it's also very deeply true; he's been fighting and traveling for something like seventy years when we see him in Bree, almost always anonymously, and if the Dominion of Men is coming, as it might, the Long Defeat applies just as much to the Numenoreans as it does to the Elves, and they've gone on anyway. (A thousand years of cultural cohesion, to keep going as the guards and wardens of what was their kingdom, once; there is no actual historical analog of this for a very good reason...)

There's a reason Aragorn tells Arwen on his death bed that he is the last of the Numenoreans, and it's not hubris. Much of the last thousand years of the Dunedain of Arnor can be understood as a care not to expend themselves too quickly. That care to last until the end shows in Aragorn's personal choices throughout the book, starting with his actions in Bree -- he's doing his best to talk to the hobbits in a way that does no harm, rather than setting out to immediately do good.
25. dulac3
Have to agree with the others who view uncertain-Aragorn as more or less a creation of Jackson. It made for a compelling movie character, but that's just not really the Aragorn of the book. Any perceived 'uncertainty' here is, I think, rather secrecy and the need to play his cards close to his chest.

The Kin-strife was a powerful moment in the history of the Numenorian peoples as Graydon alluded to and I think Aragorn has the long memory of his people here, coupled with his personal knowledge of Denethor, to make him less than likely to start trumpeting his claim to the throne until he has a much more secure foothold. Also, at this point the less the enemy knows of exactly who, and what, stands against him the better. If they can slow his march into the world they can buy more time for everyone...if Aragorn had revealed himself at this point it could simply have spurred on Sauron to actions the West was not yet ready to deal with. Aragorn picked his moment very precisely, and actually used it to divert Sauron's attention where he wanted it to be. I never got the feeling that he was uncertain of his place in the world or the eventual actions he would take. He was only uncertain of when they would happen.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
alfoss1540: interesting question, about what the Nazgul would have done at this point. You make me realize I'm not sure I understand their motivations when they _do_ come face to face with Frodo in a couple of chapters, so I'll be looking at that hard when we come to it.

Beamish, like many other people, I don't see Aragorn as you do, but the resulting discussion has been extremely interesting, so I hope you don't regret making the comments!

Graydon, I'd never seen Aragorn as actually *reluctant* to get things going, as it were, rather than recognizing the opportunity wasn't there, but the reasons you give do make a great deal of sense.

(Also, the failure to properly display Frodo's loss of the normative Shire was one of the problems I had with the third movie's ending.)
27. Graydon
Kate @26 --

There may not be a good word for it; "reluctant" is about the best I could find.

Aragorn very clearly wants to marry Arwen, having fallen simply and totally in love in his youth and not wavered from it. He very clearly wants to fulfill his destiny, even, because it would be a good thing to do and he knows enough -- Denethor's "wizard's pupil" gibe has something behind it -- to understand why it's important that the passing of the elves have some new order to pass *to* and he is even honestly aware of what he is and could be in his own proper person as King of Men.

But Aragorn also really loves his foster father (and brothers) and he's in a position to know what the Choice of Luthien means, probably better than Arwen, because he is a mortal man and understands mortality in a way she just isn't going to. So it's... not the wrong choice, but it's a really really expensive choice, in ways that are brutally unfair.

Elrond Half-Elven, mighty among Elves and Men, is the only major elf figure in the mythology who never makes a mistake of moral judgment. (You can argue that he's the only such major figure, even counting men and wizards.) He's the one who never knew his father, whose foster-father is as damned as an elf can get, whose brother goes off to be king of Numenor and die (with no news coming directly between Numenor and Middle Earth for all the years of Elros' life on Numenor), whose wife gets tortured by orcs, and whose daughter makes the choice of Luthien and marries the mortal foster-son he loves as the children of his body. Oh, and as an elf, his memory neither forgets nor fades.

Aragorn knows all of that; almost certainly in better detail than survives in the sources we have. (He has at least heard and very likely knows all of the Lay of Luthien in Elvish, for example.) He'd have to be some sort of monster not to be aware of the meaning of what he was doing and asking in terms of its cost to Elrond. He does it anyway, and is not wrong to do it, and he has some kind of direct revelation-or-trust personal faith that Eru will sort it out with mercy in the end.

But it is for fair and certain really expensive for those he loves best, and he knows it, and I think this informs both his tendency to solitary labours and journeys and the flat refusal to claim the crown until he's outright acclaimed to it by the lords and people of Gondor. He's going to do the work, but he's not going to demand the reward.
Soon Lee
29. SoonLee
Something else that occurred to me: when he meets Frodo, Aragorn is described as having "a shaggy head of dark hair flecked with grey, and in a pale stern face a pair of keen grey eyes."

Aragorn is 87 years old at this time. It's mentioned elsewhere that the Numenoreans age more slowly than other Men, and Aragorn's age is not something that receives much attention, but I'd never pictured Aragorn as a greying man.
31. Erunyauve
As regards Aragorn's personality and presentation in Bree, I agree with all those who have been pointing out Aragorn's careful calculation (over decades).
I think it also bears noting that not long before Aragorn met the hobbits in Bree, he and the rest of the Dunedain had gotten in a fight with the Nazgul. The Dunedain had gotten their asses whipped. This must have been weighing heavily on Aragorn.
I have a major bone to pick with Jackson re the movie Aragorn. The movie Aragorn is a decent character and one that's fun to watch as he develops. But, he is not the Aragorn of the book. Totally different person.
Also, applause for Graydon @ 27.
32. Graydon
Thank you all, though I left out "mother threw herself into the sea to avoid capture when he was very small, and he hasn't heard from her since" and "after two thousand years of warfare against Sauron, his good friend, near-generational peer among the royal Noldor, and cousin, Gil-galad, dies; Gil-galad's millenia of effort and final heroic sacrifice are nullified by Isildur's fall to the One Ring. For the next three thousand years, starting with Isildur's one surviving son, Elrond fosters, educates, and generally looks out for Isildur's descendants."

Erunyauve @31 --

Unfinished Tales includes a note that Aragorn wasn't at Sarn Ford when the Nazgul forced it. He was presumably looking for Frodo by then. (He may, although I don't know if there's anything in Tolkein's writings of any sort that discusses this, have been retrieving the shards of Narsil from the Dunedain settlements in the Angle, and been diverted by the news about Gandalf and Frodo mid-journey, since otherwise carrying around the shards of Narsil is hard to explain!)
33. Erunyauve
Graydon @ 32
If you're right (and you might be, my copy of Unfinished Tales isn't at hand), then I'd argue that Sarn Ford would be extra weighing on Aragorn.
After all, he is the chief of the Dunedain, and he wasn't there when a bloodbath occurred. Probably his presence wouldn't have mattered at all, but the feeling of "I should have been there" was probably nagging him, especially if he was wandering around looking for Frodo. If he goes to Bree and finds Frodo acting like an idiot, that wouldn't have made him very happy. Remarkable restraint, indeed!

The thing about carrying Narsil around always bugged me. Why the hell would a guy with 50 jillion enemies wander around without a usable weapon?! If he was only carrying it temporarily because he'd just been on a collection mission, it makes more sense. Your explanation makes great sense.
Soon Lee
34. SoonLee
What if it's not the only sword he carries?
Agnes Kormendi
35. tapsi
I hope it wasn't the only sword he carried, but then he had two swords with him and nobody even noticed it? Though probably people weren't paying that much attention to grumpy old Strider...

(and yes I'd join the applauding crowds, Graydon; it was a very evocative post and one I agree with)
36. Erunyauve
SoonLee @ 34:
Highly doubtful that he's carrying two swords.
Since Narsil is explicitly referred to as being in the scabbard on Aragorn's hip, his other sword (and presumably he has one) is not with him. If he had it, why would he put Narsil, which is broken and thus near-useless in battle, there? Why not (say) wrapped up in his bag?
Aragorn is many things, but stupid he is not. A soldier with as much experience as he would never put his primary weapon in an out-of-reach place and put a nonfunctional weapon in its place. The only way having Narsil in his scabbard is if his other sword isn't there at all.
This, incidentally, may be compounding Aragorn's unease. He's in a bad spot - Nazgul, spies, foolish hobbits - and he's got (probably) a short knife, a bow, and a broken sword. Not exactly what you would want in that situation.
Soon Lee
37. SoonLee
Erunyauve @33:
According to "Unfinished Tales", Aragorn was not with the Rangers at Sarn Ford when the Black Riders attacked, so he would have had no knowledge of their presence. The Rangers who fled were hunted down or driven away, so did not manage to get word to him. Aragorn "was away to the north, upon the East Road near Bree" at the time. It must have come as a rude shock to discover that Black Riders were at hand.

The text of this chapter does imply that the Shards of Narsil is Aragorn's main weapon - it's in the scabbard he wears by his side. I'm finding it hard to reconcile him travelling the Wilderness with only a broken sword as his main weapon. Not wise.
Agnes Kormendi
38. tapsi
Yes, from the text it seems that Narsil IS his only sword at that point and if he has any other weapon, it's not mentioned. That does not necessarily mean he's unarmed, and perhaps he's wicked with a staff, but... well, even Tolkien made mistakes, I guess.
39. Erunyauve
SoonLee @ 37, tapsi @ 38:
I totally agree that carrying only a broken sword in that situation is not so smart. Really implies that Aragorn was NOT planning on this happening, or that Tolkien made a mistake.
40. dulac3
The whole Aragorn with a broken sword thing is odd (though it works beautifully as a symbol of both his history and destiny). I was going to argue that the rangers were not acting as warriors per se and more or less had a covert 'keep an eye on things' role going on in the area (the battles of the fall of Arnor being far behind them in history) and certainly never expected to have to tangle with even a large party of orcs let alone some Nazgul...but I don't know if I quite buy it.

Perhaps weapons like a hunting knife and bow had been sufficient up to this point and so Aragorn didn't think he'd need another sword? I have to admit that I find it hard to believe that he would consider undertaking what he knew would be the dangerous enterprise of leading multiple (or even one) hobbits through the wilderness to Rivendell without a more substantial weapon, but maybe he felt the need to bring the shards of Narsil to Elrond's house in preparation for their reforging and wanted to travel light and not be hampered with the weight of an extra weapon? Of course according to the original plan I don't think Aragorn would have been leading the hobbits there at all, not alone at least...Gandalf was supposed to meet them and if things had gone according to plan Aragorn would probably not have needed a sword other than Narsil since Gandalf had both Glamdring and power to spare against the relaatively minor threats that were expected to exist in the Wild. As things turned out, unfortuantely for them, this plan fell apart and so Aragorn not only had to lead the hobbits by himself, but had to do it without a substantial weapon.
41. Graydon
So far as I can tell, Aragorn with the shards of Narsil in Bree only works if:
- the Dunedain use it as a relic for the taking of oaths or some similar ritual purpose
- Aragorn (or someone) brought it from Rivendell for that purpose to the Dunedain settlements in the Angle, in part because that sort of administrative detail would need tidying up before things got drastic, and it was clear that things were about to get drastic even to people (all the Dunedain but Aragorn) who didn't know about the Ring being found OR the shards are normally kept there and need to be taken to Rivendell where the elven-smiths who can remake it are
- Aragorn gets caught by events, the news that the Black Riders have entered the Shire/been seen/etc. or the Gandalf has not arrived or that the Ring hasn't left the Shire. He goes alone to meet and help the ring-bearer because otherwise he has to tell someone else about the Ring, and he wants to avoid doing that if it is even vaguely possible. Aragorn takes the shards with him in the way that makes them easiest to carry (Narsil, hilt and blade, is quite likely in the range of four feet long, and would be very hard to put the blade shard into his pack unscabbarded without it slicing its way out. Losing any of the shards of Narsil is not to be contemplated...) because he is likely to get to Rivendell before any of the other Dunedain will, and if it is time or nearly for him to declare himself, he must have this sword reforged. So it has to get to Imladris with him or before him.

Fortunately for the suspension of my disbelief, I think this fails to contradict anything we know and generally fits with events, though there is effectively no textual support for it.

Aragorn has no intention of fighting while getting Frodo to Rivendell; one man, especially one man with non-combatants to sheppard through the Wild, has no business doing any fighting, and he knows it. It's also unclear what any sword is going to do against a Ringwraith in any case. (Even the Barrowdown sword, out of a royal burial and spell-wrought for the specific bane of Angmar, didn't survive being used. Glamdring likely would, but we don't see that.)

Aragorn's also trying to avoid notice; showing up armed for war (which we know the Dunedain have the kit for because that's exactly what they eventually do as the Grey Company) would have everyone talking for miles around, and make it difficult to get into the Prancing Pony. Showing up as a traveler is how Rangers normally show up, which is the least-gossip situation.

Besides, war gear is heavy; it would slow him down. (Bad.) It would make Frodo wildly unlikely to talk to him. (Bad.) It would make him an obvious, obvious target for the nazgul, who probably do not know (because their spies do not know) that Aragorn in a Dunedain; they think the Dunedain of Arnor are extinct. (Bad to be a target; BAD to get the Witch-King thinking about the line of Isildur surviving.)

So I suspect Aragorn brought more or less the least much kit to Bree that he thought would do for a quick trip to Rivendell, and elected to rely on skill and knowledge beyond that to avoid encountering enemies. Which does make sense; he does not, on that trip, want to fight at all.
42. Erunyauve
Graydon @ 41:
Total agreement.
I'm thinking that Aragorn in Bree has on him:
-hunting knife and/or dagger
-bow and quiver (since he is mentioned using them during the trip between Bree and Rivendell)
-small pack w/ food, water, a packet of some healing stuff - but not athelas, of course - (I think he binds Frodo's stab wound)
-clothes (1 set)
-maybe a comb

highly doubtful he's carrying anything else.
Andrew Foss
43. alfoss1540
I hate missing a day!

Graydon@27 - Your discussion about the tragic events on Elronds' sad life will bring us to a further discussion of the lives and death of Elves.

Coming up at the Council of Elrond, and the story Legolas relays about Gollum escaping - and the 2 elves guarding the tree being killed - Anything or anyone who has lived for that long of a life to be snuffed out guarding a tree???

I think that we should ponder the impact of death on the immortals left living. You can understand the reluctance of elves to go to war - Why live 1500-3000-10000 years only to die in a skirmish. Elrond mourns the loss of Arwen by choice. But wouldn't these more sudden, tragic or meaningless deaths be so much more sad?

A theme for later discussion.
44. dulac3
alfoss1540 @43: except that elves don't really die when 'killed'. Certainly not as Men do. The spirits of elves go to the Halls of Mandos in the Undying Lands and they may even be reborn into a new body (as per Glorfindel). It is only the spirits of men that seem to disappear, going "outside the circles of the world" to somewhere only Eru knows.
Soon Lee
45. SoonLee
Graydon & Erunyauve:

That explanation doesn't break the story. The Rangers are like a neighbourhood patrol, sufficient to cope with the small-scale threats that crop up from time to time. The locals are dismissive of them, which is exactly the reputation they desire and that reputation can't be maintained if they travel heavily armed.

The Black Riders are too powerful for the Rangers to cope & events evolved more quickly than they expected. Aragorn and the Rangers are caught out. This reading is consistent with Aragorn's behaviour in Bree. Also, reading ahead, from Bree to Rivendell, the only weapons he uses when under attack are firebrands, not swords.
Agnes Kormendi
46. tapsi
But I think that even if he had had another sword with him, he would have used firebrands against the Ringwraiths, because fire harms them more than steel does. But I'm not sure this method would have been equally effective, had they been surprised, say, on the road, or by enemies that can be sliced up neatly.

"Besides, war gear is heavy; it would slow him down. (Bad.) It would make Frodo wildly unlikely to talk to him. (Bad.)"

While it would be foolish to carry full war gear for a trek through the Wilderness, because it's heavy, Aragorn appears to be armed with a sword and Frodo doesn't seem to mind at all. After all, they are armed as well. They're heading out to the Wilderness.

It's worth remembering that even though the Rangers are a neighbourhood patrol of sorts, that neighbourhood is the Wilderness, and I'd find it odd if even Bree folk looked askance at swords. After all, we're talking about a huge stretch of rather dispiriting land, if the descriptions in The Hobbit are anything to go by, a land where trolls aren't that uncommon and where you won't find a village or even a farm for weeks. Travelling it without a weapon more useful in close combat than a hunting knife seems to be an odd decision, any way I look at it.

But since the whole broken sword issue is so romantic and grandiose, and Aragorn not having a proper weapon does not break the flow of the story (or even come up as a problem), I think this could have been something that Tolkien simply never noticed.
Michael Ikeda
47. mikeda

Just out of curiosity, why is it that you think Glamdring would have survived after hitting a Nazgul?

Is it Gandalf's own power or something about the sword itself?
48. Graydon
Tapsi @46 --

"Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on the hilt of a sword that had hung concealed by his side. They did not dare to move."

The hobbits don't know Strider has a sword until he shows them. From their reaction, they'd have been much less willing to talk to him had they noticed.

Thinking of the Rangers, the Dunedain of Arnor, as anything like a neighborhood patrol strikes me as somewhat mistaken. They aren't an army, but, well, let me quote Theoden from rather later in the book. 'If these kinsmen be in any way like to yourself, my lord Aragorn, thirty such knights will be a strength that cannot be counted by heads.'

They aren't all Aragorn, but they're uncanny, tough, and capable; individually they are considerable-much tougher than the just run of the Riders of Rohan, say. They've been successfully warding the Shire and Bree for hundreds of years, to the point where the majority of the Shire-folk don't believe in uncanny things at all, thinking them only stories. Yet "a day's march from foes that would freeze his heart, were he not guarded ceaselessly" Aragorn says about Barliman Butterbur, and by extension all the Bree-folk; it would be another day's march to the Shire, but there haven't been any serious leakers in a very long while. (Not since the Fell Winter.)

So I think the better modern analog is not "neighborhood watch" but "special forces". Not going to fight pitched battles, but going into the wild after them is a dreadful idea.

Economically, it's closer to a combination of the Havens, Rivendell, the Rangers, and the Shire's agricultural productivity producing this odd little oasis of peace and good order in Eriador, without either the Elves or the Dunedain feeling it necessary to explain to the hobbits what's going on.

Mikeda @47 --

In practical terms, it's both, but I think the sword would be enough on its own.

Gandalf, in a subtle bit of moral chiding about Pride outside of Edoras I'm sure Hama missed and Aragorn (the intended target) didn't, says "Here at least is my sword, goodman Hama. Keep it well. Glamdring it is called, for the Elves made it long ago." In handing over Glamdring, Gandalf is handing over the more famous, and better sword, compared to Narsil/Anduril.

Glamdring goes beyond "the Elves made it long ago"; Glamdring was originally the sword of Turgon Lord of Gondolin, Turgon son of Fingolfin son of Finwe, High King of the Noldor in the beginning of days.

As such, Glamdring was almost certainly forged in Aman before the darkening of the Two Trees, by Noldor smiths directly instructed by Aule and probably also by Morgoth, since Morgoth was responsible for giving the princes of the Noldor the notion of swords and armor while slowly inciting their rebellion from the authority of the Valar. (This is why they had military arms when they got to Beleriand.) Even if it was—as the lesser possibility!—made in Gondolin, it was Turgon's sword, in that city of supreme Elvish craft, Turgon who himself made visually convincing replicas of the Two Trees; not alive, of course, but a mighty work of craft.

Turgon went to battle precisely twice; the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and the Fall of Gondolin. More than six thousand years later, Bilbo, Thorin's company of dwarves, and Gandalf find it in a troll-hole in Eriador. (The orcs they encounter in the Misty Mountains know and fear the sword; Turgon must have been an indescribable terror.) Remember that Turgon's dad challenged Morgoth to single combat and went several rounds before succumbing, and that Morgoth was never healed of the wounds of Fingolfin's sword Ringil, that glittered like ice; Glamdring would be of comparable making and smith-craft.

So Glamdring is really really ancient -- like Galadriel and Narsil, it is older than the Moon -- and the (very probable) work of the Noldor in Aman, which makes it in this cosmology a mightier type of thing than a Ring-wraith. It has also survived a couple-six millenia without maintenance. (Not that Tolkien intended quite that abyss of time when he was writing The Hobbit, but that's what the canon has in it now.)

Eowyn's sword shatters; Merry's sword, meant for the task, smokes like a dry stick. I don't think Glamdring would do either; it's not like beating on a Balrog for a week appears to have troubled it at all, and a Balrog is a worse and mightier foe than a Ring-wraith. Nor would even the Witch-King of Angmar have the knowledge of smith-craft to know how to unbind such a work, so all his spells would lack the knowledge to avail him.
Soon Lee
49. SoonLee
On a different note, did anyone else like the song Frodo sang in the inn? I still remember the first time I read it, the "aha!" moment upon realising that it was "Hey Diddle Diddle".
Andrew Foss
50. alfoss1540

Thanks for the Glamdring History lesson. I always thought the Troll Hole finding wes odd (in fact I just read it about 3 days ago and Gandalf's trite commentary about it at the time was funny).


Where did you find that commentary on Elven Death? I don't recall it.
Michael Ikeda
51. mikeda

One caveat is that the Witch-King's power to destroy blades that strike him might have been something basically designed by Sauron. Who is both a powerful Maia AND a master-smith.
52. Erunyauve
mikeda @ 51:
I'm not sure the caveat is necessary. Graydon's point about the Glamdring enduring repeatedly stabbing a Balrog is quite important.
Remember, after all, what a Balrog is - a Maia (fire-type) that followed Morgoth after he stormed out of Valinor.
Gandalf himself is also a Maia, of course. If Morgoth had made the Rings and thus the Nazgul, he might have been capable of creating a being capable of withstanding Glamdring (though Graydon's point re Ringil is well put as well), what with Morgoth being a Vala and all.
However, it is Sauron that made the Nazgul. Sauron (a fallen Maia!) would never be capable of creating something equal to himself, only something lesser.
In theory, Sauron would be vulnerable to Glamdring.
So, in summary:
If Maia (Gandalf) + Glamdring > Maia (Balrog) + Firey Whip, then it's a fair bet that Human (or Maia) + Glamdring > Quasi-Human, even if the aforementioned Quasi-Human (i.e. the Nazgul) is endowed with Maia-esque powers by his creator, Sauron. Also, if Elf (Fingolfin) + Ringil (similar to Glamdring) < Vala + Unspecified Weapon only barely, then absolutely Ringil/Glamdring > Maia-endowed human.
Agnes Kormendi
53. tapsi
Graydon, you're perfectly right, both about Aragorn's concealed weapon and about the Rangers being more of a "special force". But doesn't that then put the hobbits arming themselves in a strange light?
54. Graydon
tapsi @53 --

Hobbits arming themselves with the swords of the Barrow-Downs? I don't think that counts as "themselves"; Tom flatly tells them to do it, at a time when they're going to be taking him very seriously indeed, what with just saving them from a horrid weird fate for the second time in what, four days? It's quite some time before they make any attempt to use those swords.

By the time it's Peregrin swearing service to Denethor or Merriadoc to Theoden, they're substantially different hobbits. Frodo never gets comfortable with arms, and Sam seems to regard going armed in much the same way as he would putting on heavy gloves to prune the roses.

Hobbits have an intellectual knowledge of arms; that's in the introduction, I think, rather than the actual text, but it's there. What they don't have is an emotional context for it, and if the first time you realize "that man has a sword" the man is Aragorn having just very deliberately turned off the "nobody special, just this guy" field and stood up as the Heir of Isildur in the same small room you're in, well. One can I think excuse the hobbits being a bit stuck on the correct protocol for a response. (Especially since, quite a while later, Eomer son of Eomund has what is effectively the identical "excuse, must reboot cognitive faculties" response!)

mikeda @51 --

I would not be surprised if Sauron, left to his own devices, could break or shatter one of the forged-in-Aman swords of the High Elves. But I wouldn't be surprised if he couldn't, either. Some of the Noldor were greater in smith-craft than Sauron, and Sauron's dominion was always over minds more than substance; it's Morgoth who wanted dominion over the material substance of Arda. Sauron wanted everyone to be efficient.

Also note that the sword of the Barrow-Downs, a work of man's hands in the Third Age, the craft of Numenor having presumptively waned somewhat in exile by that time, doesn't shatter. It is destroyed, yes, but slowly. If Merry had been up for it, he could have got more than one blow in. If someone of sterner will than Merry had been using it, the sword might have survived; we don't know. But if that anonymous smith of the Dunedain of Cardolan could do that much, and Legolas -- Sindar though he is -- could say of the shades of the dead men of Dunharrow "weak and frail as I deemed them", I have no trouble imagining that Glamdring isn't going to much care that it's hitting a ring-wraith.

Erunyauve @52

I don't think it's theory that Glamdring could hurt Sauron; Elendil and Gil-galad were able to destroy Sauron's physical form somehow, after all. And neither Narsil nor Aiglos have quite the pedigree Glamdring does.

It's finding the arm to wield it that's the trouble.

The weapon on Morgoth's side of the Morgoth/Fingolfin matchup was Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld; the great black mace of Morgoth. Fingolfin eventually trips in one of the pits blasted into the landscape by Morgoth's blows with this weapon, to his undoing, so Sauron naming the great battering ram for use on the gates of Minas Tirith after it makes a great deal of sense.
55. dulac3
alfoss1540 @50: I believe reference to the afterlife of the Elves is made in _The Silmarillion_, but the fullest discussion of this can be found in the HoME volume _Morgoth's Ring_.
Michael Ikeda
56. mikeda
Some further thoughts related to my post@51

I'm not particularly convinced by the argument that Glamdring could safely strike the Balrog therefore it would survive striking the Witch-King.

Based on what is said (and what is NOT said in other contexts), it seems to me that the Witch-King's power to destroy blades that strike him is something unique to him (or perhaps to the Nazgul generally)--something due to some specific quality that the the Witch-King has, rather then just an indicator of his level of general power.

One question is how Aragorn's "all blades perish" is to be taken. Is he just relaying a historical observation? Or does he actually know (probably from Gandalf or Elrond) the extent of the Witch-Kings power in that matter?

And if he does know, is it a simplification for "any blade any of us are likely to hold" or does he really mean literally "any blade"?

(All that said, it's definitely plausible that Glamdring would survive striking the Witch-King.)
Jo Walton
57. bluejo
It's specifically stated in The Hobbit that Sting, Glamdring and Orcrist were made in Gondolin.

Amazing Galdalf let Orcrist be buried with Thorin, really.
Tudza White
58. tudzax1
How many pieces were there to Aragorn's sword? I always thought it was one or two and that the usable length was such that Aragorn carried it around and actually used it. I know the pieces were brought back to Rivendell after the sword was broken, the book says so, but it doesn't mean they stayed there.

With regards to Elves thinking twice about fighting and dying, you haven't read the Silmarillion have you? My respect for elves dropped many points after that since many of their greatest seemed to be greatest at killing and not long on thought. Damned idiots killed anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat.

Orcrist only? I thought they buried that swell heart of the mountain jewel with him as well.
Kate Nepveu
59. katenepveu
tudzax1, I don't know how many pieces, but "the blade was indeed broken a foot below the hilt." So that wouldn't seem very usable to me.
60. Elaine T
"He cast his sword upon the table that stood before Elrond, and the blade was in two pieces." Council of Elrond.
Agnes Kormendi
61. tapsi
"Amazing Galdalf let Orcrist be buried with Thorin, really."

He did it out of respect and remorse, I suppose, as any good Old German would have done. But even if he had thought it was a bad idea to bury Orcrist, what could he have done to retrieve it? Fight all the dwarves gathered there? It doesn't look very logical to us to bury treasure when it could be passed on and used, but apparently they still held on to the old ways of venerating the dead, at times at a cost to the living.

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