Mar 12 2009 1:12pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship I.12, “Flight to the Ford”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring My offline life has gotten very slightly less overwhelming, so let’s return to the chapter posts with the last chapter of the first book of Fellowship, “Flight to the Ford.” Once again, I thank you all for offering up such interesting comments on the last post and throughout the overall discussion: it made fascinating reading in the time I was able to squeeze out.

Behind the jump, the usual spoilers and commentary.

What Happens

Frodo returns to consciousness and discovers that no-one else saw more than shadowy shapes when the Riders attacked. Strider says that the Riders think the knife wound will subdue Frodo to their will. He finds a plant, athelas, which gives Frodo limited relief. With Frodo on Bill the pony, they leave Weathertop and journey across the cheerless country toward Rivendell.

They cross the Last Bridge safely after Strider finds an elf-stone in the middle. They resume their cross-country travels and see the petrified trolls from The Hobbit along the way. When they return to the Road, Glorfindel, an Elf from Rivendell, joins them. He rode out when word came from Gildor of their peril; drove Riders from the Last Bridge; and left the elf-stone as a token of safe passage. He tells them that five Riders are now on their trail, and that he fears that others hold the Ford against them.

As they approach the Ford, all nine of the Riders appear and pursue Frodo, now on Glorfindel’s horse. Frodo makes it across the Ford, but three of the Riders cross as well and are nearly upon him when a great flood sweeps them away. The other Riders are driven into the flood by Frodo’s companions, who frighten their horses with fire. Frodo then passes out.


My principal impression of this chapter, I confess, is a lot of unhappy travel through emotionally-appropriate lands. (That’s still the pathetic fallacy, right?) I’m not sure if it actually drags, or if, like the trip across Mordor, I just find it dreary enough that it feels like it.

That said, I do have some mostly miscellaneous comments.

The attack and aftermath:

The other hobbits, at least, could not recognize Frodo’s invocation of Elbereth while he was vanished: they only heard “strange words.” It’s less clear if Strider understood at the time, but he asserts after hearing Frodo’s story that the name was more deadly than the blade—which isn’t saying much, since Frodo’s blade did no harm at all, except to the Rider’s cloak, left behind with a slash in it. Which is kind of peculiar: are we meant to infer that the Rider was temporarily disembodied by the harm of hearing “Elbereth,” to leave it behind? If so, that seems really wimpy, even given everything we’ve been talking about regarding the Riders’ powers and abilities at this point. I think the inference instead is that the Rider found it easier to leave the cloak behind, either because he purposefully discorporated to make a fast getaway, or because he just physically left and the cloak was briefly snagged by Frodo’s sword (which then ended up under him, not pinning the cloak to the ground, but you can’t have everything).

* * *

I read somewhere, possibly in Shippey, that Tolkien was so big on maps that his characters and narrative are forever talking like they’re instructing a cartographer just off-screen. I particularly noticed this when they arrive at the River Hoarwell, complete with alternate names, river courses, and explanations of adjacent geography.

* * *

“Trolls do not build,” Strider says. Is this the first instance of the Evil-does-not-create principle in LotR?

Strider’s treatment of the petrified troll—“Get up, old stone!”—shows a bit of his sense of humor. The trolls also allow Sam to show his creative side. I can’t help but read his song lyrics, though, as needing backup singers for the short lines like “Done by! Gum by!,” which don’t sound like something that the lead singer sings. Clearly popular music has changed from the model Tolkien must have had in mind.

(And, yes, a bit of foreshadowing, too, with Frodo predicting Sam will be a warrior or a wizard by the end of the journey, and Sam saying he wants to be neither. I remember that he is tempted by and rejects the warrior role when he puts on the Ring; I can’t remember if there’s any wizard component to that fantasy.)

* * *

Strider continues to be understanding and patient with Sam, not taking offense at Sam’s suspicion right after the attack at Weathertop. We get the barest hint about Arwen here, when Strider says that his “heart is” at Rivendell, and what I believe is the first statement of his ancestry: “‘The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past,’ said Strider; ‘and many more things than I can tell are remembered in Rivendell.’” Though even that is not particularly emphasized, and I think it would be easy to read that sentence and not realize that Strider is one of the heirs in question.

I note in passing that Strider is said to take Sam and Merry with him on different occasions to scout out new locations, but not Pippin (who is still wanting to look brave in front of him).

* * *

Now that I’m on the lookout for it, there are hints of supernatural perception by Glorfindel, but they are not unambiguous. For instance, he stops and looks at the thicket where the party is hiding even before Strider moves, but he could just have really sharp physical senses. And while he says that “my heart warns me that the pursuit is now swift behind us, and other danger may be waiting by the Ford,” it doesn’t seem to take supernatural senses to predict or fear that.

Of course, Frodo’s wraith-o-vision clearly signals that Glorfindel is special, as does his being sent out to ride against the Nine in the first place, but the ways in which he is are very subtle, at best.

* * *

Frodo’s defiance at the Ford is well done of him. I was going to write, “though ultimately futile,” but I’m not sure it was; I don’t remember if the slight delay caused by the exchanging of words was necessary for Elrond and Gandalf. I think not, but we’ll see next time, probably.

Apparently whatever effect the word “Elbereth” has on Riders, doesn’t work so well from halfway across a river. This time the leader just says, “oh yeah? Watch me break your sword . . . with my mind.”

I’m glad that the Riders are scarier, presumably because they’re all together at the Ford.

* * *


  • Frodo imagines pursuers sweeping above him on endless dark wings, in another bit of foreshadowing.

  • The tunnel-gate combination leading into and out of the Old Forest reappears at the Road leading up to the Ford,where there is a tunnel in the form of “a deep cutting with steep moist walls of red stone,” which opens up again “as if through a gate of light.”

  • The Riders’ horses are at least ordinary in their fear of fire, or so a handful of horse novels as a child tells me.

* * *

Thinking about Book I as a whole, I got curious about the levels of tension and plot, so went back and made a list of the chapters:

  1. Bilbo leaves.

  2. Infodump of DOOM. Frodo and Sam must leave the Shire.

  3. They leave, eventually. First Black Rider seen. Gildor.

  4. Black Riders lurking around. Farmer Maggot.

  5. Interlude at Crickhollow.

  6. The Old Forest. Rescued by Bombadil.

  7. Interlude at Bombadil and Goldberry’s. Frodo puts on the Ring for the first time.

  8. Barrow-wight. Rescued by Bombadil.

  9. Arrival in Bree. Frodo puts on the Ring for the second time.

  10. Strider joins the group. Merry encounters a Black Rider.

  11. Attacks on Crickhollow and the hobbits’ room at Bree. Attack at Weathertop. Frodo puts on the Ring for the third time.

  12. Fleeing from Riders. Glorfindel. Confrontation at the Ford.

You could group these chapters in different ways, but some divisions that leap out at me are chapters 3-5 (first foray out of the Shire), 6-8 (Bombadil), and 9-12 (Bree and consequences). Alternatively, there’s chapter 5-8 as the “basically Rider-free” chunk of pages. With these two methods of grouping, I can certainly understand the feelings of people who object to the early pace. Yes, I also understand the function served by all of these chapters, as we’ve talked about . . . and yet I’m not sure I don’t agree. (I’m also not sure I do, which is peculiar. Apparently I’ve hit the stage of analysis where I can see all sides too well and not disagree with any of them.)

What else? We’ve met a couple of Elves, a few Men of varying qualities, one Tom Bombadil, and one River daughter; some Black Riders, a nasty tree, and a Barrow-wight. We’ve gotten some pieces of the big mythic history of Middle-earth. The world is starting to open up for the hobbits, though not nearly as far as is going to happen in a couple of chapters (just for starters).

What are your thoughts about Book I as a whole?

« Missing Scene? | Index | Fellowship II.1 »

1. legionseagle
I've recently re-read "The Return of the King" and was most struck that in Cirith Ungol Sam is mistaken both for an Elf warrior and for a "tark" (presumably wizard?) because he managed to get past the Watchers. I think the bit in this chapter is explicitly foreshadowing Sam's transformation.
Kelly McCullough
2. KellyMcCullough
legionseagle, I may be misremembering, but I think "tark" is Orcish slang for a man of Gondor (or possibly of the west in general).
3. dulac3
legionseagle@1: Actually "tark" is an Orcish corruption of the elvish word 'Tarkil' which means "high follower" and refers to the Edain.

Kate: I don't know if Strider's reference to the fact that "Trolls do not build" is meant to be an explicit example of the 'evil cannot create' rule...simply that Trolls are pretty dimwitted cave-dwellers. After all, Sauron built Barad-dur and I assume that the orcs must have some kind of homes or camps in which they live, however squalid. The rule against creation is more meant to reflect evil's inability to create life or anything truy new in the order of Creation (with a capital C).

I quite like Book I and have no quarrels with Tolkien over the slowness of pace or the fact that we are eased into Middle-earth. I don't know that I enjoy this segment (or at least all parts of it) as much as I used to when I was younger (does that say something about its role as a bridge between LotR and _The Hobbit_?), but I still love the scenes with Farmer Maggot, the Barrow Wights, and quite enjoy everything from Bree onward. It's also nice to get a greater glimpse of the Shire which only serves to ultimately heighten the imppact of the final, necessary, chapter of the Scouring of the Shire. If we don;t know what kind of idyllic life was lost, or almost lost, then how are we able to count the cost?

I imagine Strider made greater use of Merry and sam since he probably appreciated their greater maturity (and perhaps capabilities) and still saw Pippin, the youngest and most care-free of the bunch, as needing to be kept out of trouble (as Gandalf would have agreed).

Frodo's defiance: even if it had no material benefit at all, it's extremely important as it shows how he cannot easily be bent to the will of evil...even while holding the Ring. This is an important point that is at the crux of why he is even qualified to be the Ring Bearer.

Glorfindel: the line between the abilities of the Elves as supernatural vs. natural is a fine one indeed. Since they generally represent unfallen humanity they have abilities that I don't think Tolkien would call 'magical' in the way we normally understand that word, that still certainly seem very much outside of the norm.
4. Erunyauve
I find it interesting in whose names Frodo defies the Riders at the ford: he invokes two people, "Elbereth and Luthien the Fair."

The Riders, as is noted, basically tell him to go stuff it. Yet, as Aragorn said earlier, the name of Elbereth is hurtful to the Riders, so it makes sense that Frodo - however unhelpfully - invokes the Vala. So why throw Luthien in there too?
I was always fascinated by this invocation. But then, who IS Luthien and what does she represent? She is 1) half elf / half divine, 2) the person who stole the Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, 3) representative of Arwen and Aragorn's hopes for her, and 4) quite possibly the ancestor of one of the Riders.
In the first and second cases, invoking her name is a way of reminding the Riders - and Sauron - about how Morgoth, who was infinitely more powerful than Sauron, got one of the three most precious objects in the world stolen from him (I always wondered why they left the other two). If Beren and Luthein were capable of that, they probably would have been capable of doing more to Sauron. The Riders and Sauron would not want to be reminded about how Morgoth was brought low by so (comparatively) little. In the third case, the Riders don't know who Aragorn is. They probably know who Arwen is, but they probably don't care at all about her relationship with Aragorn. The fourth case, I think, is interesting. Remember that it is said that three of the Nazgul were great lords of Numenor (this is said in the Akallabeth). Considering the nature of Numenorian royalty - and how non-royal nobility works in just about every country in history, it seems likely that nobility in Numenor is defined by how closely related a given noble is to the royal family and thus how directly a given noble is descended from King Elros. Elros, of course, being the great-grandson of Luthien herself. I can't really speculate as to what the Nazgul thinks of this fact (probably, nothing much), but I'd be willing to bet that the Black Numenorian nobility that was none to happy about this fact of their ancestry, what with the contempt they bore for elves, the Valar, etc. Someone throwing this in their face would probably really piss them off, and just might hurt - names, in the LotR world, have real power.
I doubt Frodo, at this point, knows enough about the Nazgul - or Numenor - to have cunningly chosen to invoke Luthien's name to fling at the Nazgul. Nonetheless, it is a significant choice.
Soon Lee
5. SoonLee

IIRC, in "The Silmarillion", Beren was to bring back a (one) Silmaril for Luthien's hand. The blade used to cut the first Silmaril out of Morgoth's crown snapped after the first, a shard hit Morgoth, causing a disturbance in his slumber - Beren & Luthien then flee.

I always thought that it was very much in keeping with fairytale narratives. They only needed one Silmaril, so one they got, and when they got greedy, things began to go wrong.
6. Erunyauve
SoonLee @5:
You are right, from the perspective of what Tolkien says. Also, you're probably right about how this is a fairy-tale thing about how greed is bad. Still, it is one of those little things that always bugged me.
7. legionseagle

Thanks for the info re "tark". Presumably the Watchers are something left over from Gondor, then, like the Towers of the Teeth, and the orcs assume Sam got past them on the strength of knowing the secret.

With regard to the overall scheme of Book One, I always felt it mirrored to some extent a child's playground game, the sort of chasing game where one is allowed to grab onto a fixed point or perform a fixed ritual and call "barley" or something of that sort (Iona and Peter Opie's "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren" describes numerous variants) to catch one's breath for a bit before having to risk being caught again. So you get Farmer Maggot, Crickhollow, Tom Bombadil, the Inn at Bree, (to a very limited extent) the Troll hollow and, finally, the promise of Rivendell as the "safe" spots, and everything else as the peril. The later books build the tension more; there are fewer spots offering even an illusion of safety and those become more ambiguous, but in Book One there's a very definite bridge both in tone and in the interplay of tension and release of tension with "the Hobbit".

Also it tracks (largely) Bilbo's earlier route and looks back to Bilbo's adventures (the dragon firework, for example) as well as bringing in new material and deepening and darkening the implications of the earlier story. It's a liminal area. As a result while I'm very fond of it (particularly the Barrow-Downs - the barrow-wight's song and Merry's reaction on regaining consciousness are things that resonated initially when I read it aged nine or so and which have continued to do so ever since) I think I always leave book one with a sense that "And now the real story will begin".
8. legionseagle

Thanks for the info re "tark". Presumably the Watchers are something left over from Gondor, then, like the Towers of the Teeth, and the orcs assume Sam got past them on the strength of knowing the secret.

With regard to the overall scheme of Book One, I always felt it mirrored to some extent a child's playground game, the sort of chasing game where one is allowed to grab onto a fixed point or perform a fixed ritual and call "barley" or something of that sort (Iona and Peter Opie's "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren" describes numerous variants) to catch one's breath for a bit before having to risk being caught again. So you get Farmer Maggot, Crickhollow, Tom Bombadil, the Inn at Bree, (to a very limited extent) the Troll hollow and, finally, the promise of Rivendell as the "safe" spots, and everything else as the peril. The later books build the tension more; there are fewer spots offering even an illusion of safety and those become more ambiguous, but in Book One there's a very definite bridge both in tone and in the interplay of tension and release of tension with "the Hobbit".

Also it tracks (largely) Bilbo's earlier route and looks back to Bilbo's adventures (the dragon firework, for example) as well as bringing in new material and deepening and darkening the implications of the earlier story. It's a liminal area. As a result while I'm very fond of it (particularly the Barrow-Downs - the barrow-wight's song and Merry's reaction on regaining consciousness are things that resonated initially when I read it aged nine or so and which have continued to do so ever since) I think I always leave book one with a sense that "And now the real story will begin".
9. Erunyauve
legionseagle @7:
I'm actually skeptical that the Watchers are something left over from Gondor.
The description of them in the book is (p. 178, hardcover Houghton Mifflin edition):
They were like great figures seated upon thrones. Each had three joined bodies, and three heads facing outward, and inward, and across the gateway. The heads had vulture-faces, and on their great knees were laid clawlike hands. They seemed to be carved out of huge blocks of stone, immovable, yet they were aware: some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abode in them. They knew an enemy. Visible or invisible none could pass unheeded. They would forbid his entry, or his escape.
The Watchers give way when Sam displays the phial of Galadriel: Its white light quickened swiftly, and the shadows under the dark arch fled. The monstrous Watchers sat there cold and still, revealed in all their black hideous shape. For a moment Sam caught a glitter in the black stones of their eyes, the very malice of which made him quail; but slowly he felt their will waver and crumble into fear.
Not Gondorian. Not Numenorian of the Elendil-and-Isildur variety. The Watchers are probably something Sauron installed when he took the place.
10. Tony Zbaraschuk
It's possible that the Riders are more terrifying at this point because Frodo is actually crossing over into their world himself at this point; he can see them and is more exposed to whatever it is they generate. They don't need darkness to create fear now; he can see them directly in the waking world.

Luthien actually, specifically, beat Sauron in one of his strongholds (admittedly with the help of Huan, the Hound of Valinor), so naming her is a direct slap at the Riders' boss. I don't think that Frodo knows that at this point in the tale, but who can say what Elven-lore he might have learned from Bilbo, if Sam could have picked up on the Gil-galad story? It feeds more directly off his last encounter with the Riders, when Aragorn was telling the tale of Luthien, so more likely it's Frodo sort of casting back to his last pleasant memory.

And Frodo has the Ring, too. He doesn't actually invoke its power (and it's still "neither the Ring nor me!"), but the Riders have to be aware of its presence, and hesitant before it. It's sort of interesting to compare this passage to Frodo's other clash with a Ringbearer by the river: his treatment of Gollum at Henneth Anun in Book Four. Very, very different in so many ways... but still an example of Frodo attempting to pit his will against someone else's, to get them to change their course of action. There are so many symmetries and reversals it's almost impossible to list them all.
11. legionseagle

If the Watchers are not Gondorian, and (as has been pointed out above) "tark" is an Orcish corruption of "Man of Gondor" why is it "tark's work" to get past them?

This is where my initial misapprehension that "tark" meant "wizard" stemmed from. Sam in fact (as we all know) gets past the Watchers by raising the Phial of Galadriel. But the orcs he overhears speculating about his identity think he is either an Elf warrior or "one of those filthy tarks". As explained above, whether rightly or wrongly, I have always seen the scene in Cirith Ungol as being foreshadowed by the scene in the troll vale discussed above, where Sam explicitly denies any ambition to be "a wizard or a warrior". Now, the orc who assumes Sam's ability to get past the Watchers is evidence of his being a "tark" also assumes that, whatever a tark is, it can go where an Elf Warrior cannot ("it got past the Watchers and that's tarks' work"). So at least in the lore of orcs there is something about "tarks" which gives them specific power over the Watchers which Elves (at least according to Orc lore) do not possess.

My suggestion was that the Watchers, like Minas Ithil, like the Towers of the Teeth, like (to some extent) the statue of the King at the crossroads are Gondorian in origin but turned to a fell purpose or at least that orcs think they are so that it makes sense to orcs that certain Gondorians can wrest them back to their proper purpose or at least away from Sauron's for the time being.

It's not something I'm putting forward other than tentatively, but I am putting it forward with regard specifically to whether (as Kate suggests) Sam is only wrong about not becoming a warrior when he disclaims it at the foot of the troll statues, or whether it's a much cleverer foreshadowing of Sam ultimately taking up both parts of the warrior/wizard destiny.
12. JoeNotCharles
I definitely don't get the impression that evil in general doesn't build - industrialization and building the wrong things (big ugly mills and furnaces) is one of the main markers of evil. It's just life that it can't create.

legionseagle: it's "tark's" work because Gondor is the enemy, so the orcs have been taught to hate and fear them. This scene (and the ensuing mistaking of Sam for a great warrior or wizard) shows that the common orcs don't have any more idea of the actual abilities of their foes than the heroes have of the exact capabilities of Sauron - they're just infantry.
13. Erunyauve
Tony Zbaraschuk @10:
You are right about Luthien's connection with Sauron. I'd completely forgotten about that! Additional insults to the Riders!

legionseagle @11:
My guess as to why it is the work of a "tark" to get past the Watchers:
To go up against the Watchers you need to be a powerful opponent of them. In a way the orcs who posit that only an elf or tark could get past the Watchers are right - Sam couldn't get through on his own he had to get the help from Galadriel (via her phial).
I don't think I agree with your assessment of how Sauron uses the things he captures from the Gondorians. Minas Ithil is a fortress. It got captured and now he uses it. It's value is partly symbolic (it's the sister city of Minas Anor), but its chief value is its strategic value. If you look at a map of the area, you'll see that Minas Ithil is in the western foothills of the Ephel Duath, not far from the Anduin. As far as I can tell from squinting at the map I have, the distance from Minas Ithil to the Anduin isn't much - maybe twenty miles. Also, if you want to get in or out of Mordor (and you don't have wings), there are two passes: Cirith Ungol and Udun. Minas Ithil controls the eastern approaches to Cirith Ungol. The Towers of the Teeth control Udun. Sauron wanted the Towers of the Teeth and Minas Ithil because they were symbolic, yes, but also because strategically, he needed them. If he didn't control Udun and Cirith Ungol, he was nearly boxed in - the only other way out is to go east, past Nurnen lake, and then south around the eastern spur of the Ephel Duath.
Did Sauron take pleasure in capturing Minas Ithil and the Towers of the Teeth for symbolic reasons? Did he go out of his way to trash them (carefully) and make them mockeries of what they formerly were? Absolutely, yes. But that's not why he wanted them. That's the perk.
As for the King at the Crossroads, I don't see its condition as being a deliberate policy of Sauron's, I see it as graffiti applied by gleeful orcs. I think that if Sauron wanted to make a Point (in capitals) about how he controls the cross-roads, he would have come up with something more clever (and creepy) than a fake head and some graffiti. He's a demi-god, for goodness sake.
Agnes Kormendi
14. tapsi
Tony Zbaraschuk @ 10

"It feeds more directly off his last encounter with the Riders, when Aragorn was telling the tale of Luthien, so more likely it's Frodo sort of casting back to his last pleasant memory."

I agree with you; though Luthien was an important figure in the histories of Sauron and the Ringwraiths, I think Frodo's evocation here has more to do with her tale being the last brave and heroic tale he had heard.

Book I is probably my favourite part because it's so slow and full of unexpected turns. It must be a family thing; my sister started LotR about six times, and she always put it down once the hobbits made it to Rivendell, saying it was boring after that. I think that was because from that point on it was a heroic story, where before it was really more of chase, as legionseagle @ 8 pointed out, and she could identify with that more easily.

Ah, yes, and water is a threatening, primal force once again.
15. other alias
Tolkien singing the Troll Song:
16. Teka Lynn
The Troll Song actually kickstarted me into finishing LOTR. I'd picked it up and read through, say Lothlorien, any number of times and then lost interest (I don't know why, just one of those things). Then I found Sam's song in one of the anthologies used for my English class, set it to music, and launched into LOTR for the umpteenth time. This time, it grabbed me. I never looked back.

Some people get bogged down by the poems/songs in the novels. For LOTR and Thomas Covenant both, I used the prose as a way to surf to the poetry, which was what really interested me.
Andrew Foss
17. alfoss1540
Of all Tolkien's Books, I have read Book1 FotR the most. I read it twice before reading the full series (my reading ability had not progressed enough at that time to enjoy it - I was still in Hobbit mode - which I had read 4 times by then).

Since we started this in December, I reread all of LOTR, The Hobbit and most of the better battle scenes of the Silmarillion. And now will slowly embark on continuing the reread together.

When I first read Fellowship, I was too much influenced by the characters in the LotR cartoon with the Styx soundtrack and terrible animation, which left out so much. And I actually still see those cartoon characters in my mind as I read it. I still believe them more (especially Sam) than I believe a lot of Jackson's interpretations. Also, I made the mistake of rewatching Return of the King on cable - a mistake I will not make again.

Book 1, as we have uncovered, opens the true depths of the History of Middle Earth. In the Hobbit, the History was anecdotal. We are now being catapulted into the middle of it. Each time I read it, I am captivated by its depth, and quickly fall in love with the story again.

Kate - it we have not Thanked you enough up to now, then let me say thanks again!

Where Kate finds the land between Weathertop and the Ford "dreary" I saw it completely different. The midgewater marshes were dreary and unbearable. These lands seemed much more menacing - fear lurked around corners. There were wierd passes, forests and generally scary places where Trolls could be.

Speaking of Trolls, I am intrigued that Aragorn knows litte of this area and North. He grew up in Rivendell. He, at this point in his life has been literally ALL OVER Middle Earth - and by his own admission spent much time "guarding" the Shire. How could he not know the Trollshaws and the Ettenmoors and all of Rhudaur. It is his backyard - as well as being part of Arnor, his rightful kingdom. I have trouble with no one knowing exactly how far it is from Rivendell to Bree. And also remember all of the old forts and strongholds that are also talked about in this territory. What youngster would not go to visit and explore?

So as far as the topography, this area to me is absolutely fascinating. The entire chapter had me on the edge of my seat, and I have read it more than 16 times (and twice in the past 3 months).

Other than the Hobbit, are there other references to this area that show its details???
18. dulac3
legionseagle@11:Just to reiterate what Erunyauve said about "Tark's work"...the reason the orcs thought Sam was a "Tark", and thus could get by the Watchers (and Shelob), was not because Tarks were the original creators of the Watchers, but because they were powerful of Westernesse who had access to "elvish magic" and would thus be strong enough to overcome something that was probably built by their own evil master. In this sense a 'tark' or even an elvish hero are being seen as some kind of powerful bogeyman by the orcs. They've been living in safety behind the walls of Mordor for some time, guarding an unbreachable pass, and suddenly there's word afoot of some enemy warrior around wounding Shelob and getting past the Watchers...must be one tough dude!

Just reading the descriptions of the Watchers makes me highly doubtful that it was something the Gondorians would have made.
Agnes Kormendi
19. tapsi
alfoss1540 @ 17

I think Aragorn knows the area, only maybe he's never come across Bilbo's trolls before. After all, it's a wide stretch of land... :)
20. Graydon
alfoss1540 @17

Aragorn's father and grandfather died fighting in the Trollshaws; he
doesn't go there because he doesn't want to die.

No one knows exactly how far it is from Bree to Rivendell because Rivendell is a legendary destination. This is a sort of narrative convention in heroic stories. ("Of which many had heard, but few knew where it lay" says Boromir; Tolkien himself compared it to Winchester, if Arthur still lived there and we knew for sure Winchester was the Arthurian capital, and then points out that Elrond is both nobler and more ancient than an alive-in-1950 Arthur would be.)

This is, in its way, one of the first and best hints that Strider the Ranger is more than he seems; he's *from* the legendary destination.

"Tark work" --

Remember all the bits about "before the power and the craft of Numenor waned in exile"? They were a capable lot, and beating spells is probably something the orcs -- who appear to have a very long memory for this sort of thing as a group -- would remember. All of Sauron's victories are materially expensive, and all his defeats are materially total. This doesn't really matter to the evil demiurge; another thousand years to defeat the elves isn't much to Sauron. To the orcs, it's another genetic bottleneck.

As for the first book as a whole, well, I think it's a climb, or a ramp; the
hobbits are going from a rather bucolic, peaceful location to a wider world
that has all sorts of wonderful and terrible things in it but which also has the last of a millennium-long war going on. It seems much slower now than I think it would have to someone who did not already know about elves and orcs and trolls and the idea of a Dark Lord; Lord of the Rings really did alter the narrative landscape that much.
21. DG Lewis
Seconding the big thank you to Kate for this, and adding in the same to the commenters -- I look forward to new comments as much as I look forward to new chapters.
22. goshawk
My original take on Book 1 was that it was just a slow set-up, and when I read it first I was stuck in Europe with no English-speaking friends and only limited French, so I was willing to take my time on books. Later, it became comforting, something I'd read when I wanted something familiar and non-challenging, but not shallow.

Dulac3 @3 really nails something I've been thinking about lately (a whole lot of WWI papers I've had to write); the real purpose of this book is to situate the reader within the hobbits' point of view.

Tolkien took great pains to give his readers an anchor, something familiar from which to address the text (no, really - he shifted hobbit-tongue to make it English-like, then shifted the Rohirrim so it would still be similar, in line with the idea that they once lived in proximity to hobbits. this is why most fantasy authors are mere pale imitators in their worldbuilding efforts), and this book establishes that anchor. You have to regard the Shire as "home", yours as well as theirs, to understand the fear and uncertainty of leaving it, and this slow build-up does that (at least it did for me).

Book I establishes home and then makes us leave it, in fear, but then it remains as a happy memory of safety and comfort all the way through our journeys with the hobbits. There's always that sense that while the adventures are taking place Out Here In The World, home is still Back There, same as when we left it. The "foothold", as Gandalf calls it, though like him we are presently unable to set foot there.

Which is, of course, what makes those last chapters so horribly real. Tolkien, as a veteran of the Great War, would have understood what it was to return home and find that the War had not spared it. Think of how many homes and livelihoods are ruined by the War of the Ring - the Westfold of Rohan, the fields of the Pelennor, Dale, to name a few. With the Scouring of the Shire, we're given one small glimpse of the scouring taking place all over Middle Earth. But Tolkien makes us love the Shire, so that when we return with the hobbits we care about the damage as much as they do.

And maybe, too, so that we understand that what Frodo gets at the end is a very poor consolation prize for what he's lost. But that's just a speculation. =)
23. Graydon
The invocation of the name of Luthien the Fair is tricky, because we never really know how much Elvish lore Bilbo knows before he leaves the Shire (there's a narrative indication that the Silmarillion, "Translations from the Elvish by B. Baggins" as done in Rivendell was a work of considerable scholarship, but no indication of when that scholarship began in Bilbo's personal chronology) and thus how much he might have taught to Frodo, but there is a good reason for Frodo to invoke Luthien, there at the Fords.

Well, really, or at least arguably, two reasons.

The first is that Beren and Luthien returned from death. Pity and mercy are incomprehensible to those who are pitiless (Sauron and the Witch-King certainly qualifying as pitiless) and it was pity that lead to the War of Wrath and the overthrow of Morgoth, and that pity began with the song of Luthien moving the heart of Mandos to pity, and that happened because of the Quest of the Silmaril. It's a "the world has a purpose, and you are evil, so you don't and can't understand it, but you're going to help fulfill it anyway, nah nah" taunt from that angle. "All that you do will rebound to the glory of Illuvatar! Nah!"

The second part is the promise of Luthien; her line will never fail. For that to be true, no victory of Sauron will ever be complete, and that promise is at a minimum from Manwe and more likely Illuvatar (since the three marriages of elf and man are specific intentions of God), Sauron's hope of overcoming the promise is effectively non-existent.

The Witch-King knows enough facts about the lore to know all that, but I suspect that this is either one of the odd promptings Frodo gets, or Frodo's insistence that whatever happens to him, all is not lost, coming through, more than an explicit defiance. There have been very dark fates before, that hope and striving overcame; there are things beyond the circles of the world and any power Sauron might imagine to possess.
Andrew Foss
24. alfoss1540
More on location and topograhy - One of the places where Peter Jackson had some shining moments - or did he choose the right location in New Zealand and added good illustrators - was in showing the drammatic landscapes of Middle Earth. My question is about how well travelled JRR Tolkien was, and from where did he pull some of the landscapes he writes about? Without TV and Movies, he either had to experience this, read about it or make it up. So . . .

1) Shire - pastoral England

2) Old Forest - Northern Europe - WWI - Ardennes Black Forest?

3) Bree - pubs of England

But as we leave Bree, landscapes change.

Weather Hills - with the old roads and battlements?
Land between Weathertop and Rivendale - Not shows as Mountainous on the maps, but descriptions and Jackson showed different - any ideas on a similar landscape as a reference? Same with the Misty Mountains. Had Tolkien been to see the Alps? My reference is the Sierras in California.

Also, it would be good to revisit this as we progress. I noticed also while rereading The Hobbit, my original memory of the landscape between Loudwater and Rivendell (as well as Jackson's) differs.
25. Elaine T

Tolkien and locations as Alfons asks in 24 - I'd think any place with old ruins could have been a basis for the Weather Hills and rest of Arnor that our gang travels through. Englad, I have the impression, is rather full of medieval ruins... And maybe some additions from WWI destruction ? My Annotated Hobbit memories tell me Tolkien did go hiking in the Alps, so there's your Misty Mountains, although, I like you, fit them to the Sierras.

Could the Midgewater be based on the fens down south of England?

Ithilien, IIRC, was based on Italy.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
Hi, all.

Okay, yes, I agree that the line about trolls building is not an example of the evil-non-creation principle; its flat nature just caught my eye, is all.

dulac3, _do_ the Elves represent unfallen humanity? Somehow that just strikes me as all wrong--they can't go to Heaven, after all, and they are certainly capable of sinful acts.

Erunyauve, it had not occured to me that Luthien could be an ancestor of some of the Nazgul. What a neat little connection.

legionseagle, I agree that there's very definitely a strong dangerous place-safe place pattern in this book, and wonder if my memory's correct that the interludes, later on, become more character-dependent than location-dependent, if that makes sense. I'll be looking for how that pattern evolves.

Tony Zbaraschuk, I tend to forget that the Nazgul are ringbearers, I don't know why, so thanks for bringing the comparison to Gollum up for when the time comes.

tapsi, interesting about identifying more with chase than heroic modes of storytelling. I guess when I was a kid I didn't want to read about things I identified with, but things I aspired to . . .

other alias, thanks for the link to Tolkien singing the Troll Song! The line breaks gave me a much different conception of the pacing/phrasing/whatever than that, so I really appreciate it. No more Motown backup singers in my mind, now.

alfoss1540, DG Lewis, you're welcome, but explicit thanks aren't necessary--continuing to engage in productive conversation more than enough.

goshawk, of course you're absolutely right that Tolkien intended to establish the hobbits as the readers' stand-ins and the Shire as their home, which I think is a nice example of how authors cannot, in the end, anticipate what their readers will bring to the text. Would Tolkien have ever imagined a kid in New England reading _LotR_ for the first time in her basement, and re-reading it every year in the green mountains of Vermont? Seems unlikely to me, and yet there I was--and so it was much less inevitable that I would fit into the reader-space Tolkien imagined, and indeed I don't really in many ways. And yet here I am.
27. Tony Zbaraschuk
Tolkien himself compared it to Winchester, if Arthur still lived there and we knew for sure Winchester was the Arthurian capital, and then points out that Elrond is both nobler and more ancient than an alive-in-1950 Arthur would be.)

Considering Elrond's age, and the establishment of Rivendell, it's probably more like going to Ur to meet Gilgamesh, or perhaps to Jerusalem to hear David or make a deal with Jacob.

On locations, there are some very alpine scenes in the White Mountains, which recall the Alps where Tolkien vacationed once or twice.

The Elves are not unfallen humanity -- they're artistic humanity, the side of us that loves to make and create... and so their fall is not, as that of the Dwarves, into greed, but into obession with their art and its products. Feanor, sundering the Noldo and slaying the Teleri to retrieve the Silmarils; the smiths of Eregion, trying to preserve their makings unstained and unchanged through time, when change comes to all things beneath the Sun.

(There might be a sense in which Hobbits are rural humanity, or at least unheroic humanity, and the Dwarves are technological humanity, but let's not push things too far.)
28. dulac3
Kate@26: I guess it would have been better to say that the Elves express Tolkien's view of what humanity might have been like in an unfallen state (purely in terms of their mental and physical abilities, as well as immortality), not that they 'represent' unfallen humanity. Certainly in a moral sense the Elves aren't much better than Men, so I didn't mean to imply they were in the perfect moral state an unfallen human would be in.

I think I read somewhere though (perhaps the Letters?) that Tolkien did base the Elves on what he thought humanity might have been like (again in terms of physical, mental, and as Tony Zbaraschuk pointed out artistic powers) if they were unfallen.
29. Richard the Mauve
At last, I can contribute. Well, I could if I could find the reference. Someone (I think it was Shippey, but most of my books are in storage at the moment) postulated that Tolkien based Sam's song on an English folk-song style, and put forward a couple of extracts of old songs as evidence.

other alias@15, thanks for the link to Tolkien singing the song. That made my night.

And now I must re-lurk while I boil my brain in an attempt to exorcise the earworm that Kate has given me. Motown? This 'applicability' thing has a real dark side to it. ;D
Agnes Kormendi
30. tapsi
Just dropped by to say that I can't find the link for this chapter on the Re-Read Index page...

tapsi, interesting about identifying more with chase than heroic modes of storytelling. I guess when I was a kid I didn't want to read about things I identified with, but things I aspired to . . .

The interesting thing is that my sister never liked heroic stories, not even as a child. She loved Strider but didn't like Aragorn; I think she didn't aspire to be a hero. Well, we've been sisters since I was born, but I've never understood her...
31. Graydon
Way back there, in Appendix F:

Elves has been used to translate both Quendi, 'the speakers', the High-elven name for all their kind, and Eldar, the name of the Three Kindreds that sought for the Undying Realm and came there at the beginning of Days (save the Sindar only). This old world was indeed the only one available, and was once fitted to apply to such memories of this people as Men preserved, or to the making of Men's minds not wholly dissimilar. But it has been diminished, and to many it may now suggest fancies either pretty or silly, as unlike the Quendi of old as are butterflies to the falcon – not tha any of the Quendi ever possessed wings of the body, as unnatural to them as to Men. They were a race high and beautiful, the older Children of the world, and among them the Eldar were as kings, who now are gone: the People of the Great Journey, the People of the Stars. They were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, through their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finarfin; and their voices had more melodies than any mortal voice that now is heard. They were valiant, but the history of those that returned to Middle-earth in exile was grievous; and though it was in far-off days crossed by the fate of the Fathers, their fate is not that of Men. Their dominion passed long ago, and they dwell now beyond the circles of the world, and do not return.

One can only read so much of Old Prof Tolkien's notes and other writings, especially On Fairy Stories, before the suspicion creeps in that he really did believe in Elves, as an actual part of creation. Whether this was a belief about the character of the far past, a sort of agnostic literary and linguistic desire, or a sub-creative will to make the Eldar come into being through just emulation of the delegated creative power of God, I don't think anyone could ever had said with certainty, not even JRRT himself, but he morned them as a real loss, and not loss of much that was fair and old and loved, nor the loss of the Fall of Man.

The Elves are their own thing.
32. Tony Zbaraschuk
Yes. Aragorn is as close as we get in the story to seeing an unfallen Man, and Tolkien knows quite well that the entire race of Man is already fallen; Morgoth went to meet them before they ever met the Elves, and did or achieved something there.

(I agree with Graydon that the Professor certainly would have been pleased beyond measure, and not entirely surprised, if an Elf had stepped out of the woods of Buckinghamshire and stood before him.)

Biologically they are the same species as Man, since they can interbreed (or could); Tolkien located the difference specifically in their souls.
Kate Nepveu
33. katenepveu
Tony Zbaraschuk @ 27, I quite like your suggestions about the other humanoid species in Middle-earth as representing aspects of humanity. Yes, they're their own things, but there's also thematic relationships and positioning.

Richard the Mauve @ 29, sorry for the earworm, but I really couldn't resist sharing that . . .

tapsi @ 30, I'll drop a note to the nice site admins asking them to update the index. Thanks for pointing it out.
34. Radynski
Am I the only one not seeing the link to this article in the Index?
Soon Lee
35. SoonLee
Aragorn sings "a slow song in a strange tongue" over the Morgul-knife hilt. Any guesses as to the language?

Clearly, it's not Westron, the Common Tongue, and it's unlikely to be the Elvish languages (Quenya or Sindar); I suspect the hobbits would have been able to work that out. I wonder if it was Adûnaic, the Numenorean tongue.
36. dulac3
SoonLee@35: It's certainly a possibility that it's Adunaic, but why do you say it's unlikely to be Elvish? That's what I always thought it was. It seems to me that Elvish would be the most likely language to have some kind of power over a weapon of the enemy...certainly more potent than a human tongue, especially since it's only Elvish healing that can save Frodo in the end from his wound.
37. DemetriosX
Tolkein's rendition of the troll song is interesting. I had always thought it fit the tune of "John, John, the grey goose is gone and the fox is on the town-o" perfectly, but that isn't what he's singing. Or maybe he just couldn't carry a tune.

One thing that really stands out in book 1 for me is the change in language. It starts off very "children's story" (the brief fox viewpoint, for example) and slowly darkens over time. By the time we get to Bree, it is more boy's adventure and we've hit adult fantasy be the end. This process actually continues, evolving on to high fantasy and overly elevated, pseudo-medieval talk. It's less apparent here, but he also uses this change in language for different viewpoints: more down to earth with Merry, Pippin, and Sam, really high-flown with elves and in Gondor, and so on.

Frodo's loss of consciousness is also probably symbolically significant. He is crossing over into a new phase of his life, indeed a new life altogether. He is passing into the unknowable from the familiar and it is a change which cannot be perceived. It is probably comparable to Dante's swoon as he crosses the Styx.
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
DemetriosX, the difference in language style is somewhat present from the beginning, I think, when you look at the characters' dialogue, but yes, we're still pretty closely in hobbit POVs and so the chances for the narrative style to change haven't really come yet.

Interesting about crossing the river! I like it.
Soon Lee
39. SoonLee
dulac3 @36:
Given that the conceit of LotR being an account by the hobbits of the end of the Third Age, I would have thought that the writers (Bilbo & Frodo) would have recognized Elvish when they heard it, and Frodo was there when Aragorn performed the song. (Though on checking, Frodo might have been semi-conscious at the time.)

In which case, it could have well been Elvish, and the other hobbits not recognizing it, reported it to Frodo & Bilbo as a strange tongue. It would have been nice though, if it had been Adûnaic, and some remnant of it remained. After all, Elrond is half-human, and there were healers too among the Edain, the Men of the First Age.
40. DavidT
@DemetriosX: Yes, I had the same tune in mind for the Troll Song as well. "The fox went out on a winter's night / He prayed to the moon to give him light / For he'd many a mile to go that night / Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o..."

I like ours better. :-)
Tyler Sliwkanich
41. slikz21
The thing that I've always liked about LotR is the rich fiction that Tolkien created. The world was created for the story - not the other way around. Although certainly a very important one in the history of middle earth, LotR is still just that - one of many.

I can understand the point of view that knocks the story for taking too long to "get going," but that was really what hooked me in the beginning. The Hobbit's journey seems more believable when they run into characters such as Bombadil and Farmer Maggot (what a weird name!), instead of journeying to Mordor like a hamster in a plastic ball - completely isolated.

Also, I can't say with complete subjectivity anymore, but the Riders had such an air of mystique about them when I first read it. Besides Tom Bombadill, who is less fantastical that I remember, the Riders are the first sort of foray into the unknown on the journey and it simply left me wanting more.

Just a quick aside to the movie. I remember reading someone's comment that they would almost prefer the story to begin in media res, but I don't think that would work for the book. It would be cheating the scope and believability that Tolkien labored so long to create to begin the story like that. The faster pace works for the movie because, well, it's a movie.

One last note: a lot of commentors on here simply astound me with the breadth of knowledge that they draw on - it really helps to understand the story that much better.

Slowly catching up here :D
Kate Nepveu
42. katenepveu
slikz21, welcome, and I love the hamster-ball image. It reminds me of this silly car commercial that keeps playing on the cable channels I watch. =>

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