Mar 19 2009 1:06pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship II.1, “Many Meetings”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring Time to start re-reading Book II of Fellowship, “The Ring Goes South,” with Chapter 1, “Many Meetings.”

Something a little different by way of introduction, though, above the cut: y’all may be amused by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Colbert talking about LotR, specifically Tom Bombadil (about 3:40 into this clip; if it doesn’t play in your country, I imagine you could turn it up on YouTube). Colbert is an even bigger geek than I’d realized, as he quotes, from memory and letter-perfect, the last 3/4 of Bombadil’s poem as he arrives on the Downs.

What Happens

Frodo wakes in Rivendell with Gandalf by his bedside, who eventually tells him that it’s been four nights since the Ford; the night before, Elrond removed a knife-splinter from his shoulder. Gandalf explains that the Riders are the Ringwraiths and were trying to turn him into another wraith; their horses were destroyed when Elrond commanded the river to flood, and so Frodo has nothing to fear from them at present.

Frodo is reunited with Sam, Merry, and Pippin and then goes to a feast, where he sees Arwen and meets Glóin. After the feast, he is surprised to see Bilbo. They talk of Bilbo’s travels after leaving the Shire, but when Bilbo asks to see the Ring, “a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony grasping hands.” Bilbo apologizes and tells Frodo to put the Ring away. Strider appears and he and Bilbo go off to work on a song.

Frodo dozes and wakes to Bilbo chanting “Eärendil was a mariner.” After Bilbo finishes, they leave and talk quietly, until Sam comes to suggest Frodo should go to sleep before the Council early the next day.


I can’t remember if I ever consciously registered the Book titles before. I certainly had to go back and look up the title of Book I (“The Ring Sets Out”). (Edit: turns out there is a reason for that; see comments.) Interesting that it’s “The Ring,” not “The Ringbearer,” though admittedly that’s not a unique identifier. 

This is a cozy transitional chapter, and so my comments about it are fairly scattershot.

* * *

First, bits about Frodo’s conversation with Gandalf.

Somehow I hadn’t noticed before that Frodo hadn’t told the others about his experiences with the Barrow-wight. But more interesting to me is Gandalf’s statement, “You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo, and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.” I don’t know if I ever interpreted that as supernatural/psychic before, but that’s how I read it now.

When Gandalf identified the Riders as the Ringwraiths, it’s the first time the phrase “the Lord of the Rings” appears in the text.

Gandalf says Butterbur isn’t stupid, but I don’t see anything in the text, either so far or from what I recall about the return to Bree, to make me agree. Does anyone else?

I am foolishly pleased that Frodo agrees with me that it’s easy to not realize that when Strider talks about “the heirs of Elendil,” he’s including himself; Frodo has to ask Gandalf explicitly in this chapter, “Do you really mean that Strider is one of the people of the old Kings?”

Gandalf says that Elrond removed a deeply-buried splinter from Frodo’s shoulder, which was then melted. Later that day, Frodo thinks that “his arm was already nearly as useful again as it ever had been.” This suggests to me that Elrond’s removal was not surgical, and anyway I can’t imagine Elrond doing such a thing; but I can’t imagine how he did do it, either. Yes, “magic,” but I can’t picture a plausible scene in my head.

Wraith-dom, invisibility, and nothingness: Gandalf tells Frodo that the Ringwraiths’ “black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.” Later, he thinks that Frodo “may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.” Both of these seem functionally equivalent to me to invisibility—I mean, unless the robes are very heavily starched indeed—but if there’s anything more subtle being implied to other readers besides good v. evil, I’d like to hear it.

* * *

Why doesn’t anyone tell Frodo that Bilbo is in Rivendell? Okay, he falls asleep right after wondering where he is to Gandalf, but Glóin has plenty of opportunity, and Sam, Merry, and Pippin all know, and they don’t mention it either.

(Speaking of Frodo and Glóin, I am very amused that Frodo is so focused on the food that he doesn’t even notice Glóin is sitting next to him for “some time.”)

The bit where Frodo shows Bilbo the Ring:

Bilbo’s appearance through the shadow seems to be foreshadowing Gollum. And on this reading, it seems to me more that the change is in Frodo, or rather Frodo’s perception, than in Bilbo, which shows that the Ring is already getting its hooks in. (Or, at least, if it’s in Bilbo too, he recovers very quickly and gracefully after one quick look at Frodo’s face.)

* * *


Shippey talks about Tolkien taking the traditional, often-contradictory folkloric elements regarding elves and trying to place them all in a coherent context. Thanks to that, I now see some of the descriptions of Rivendell in a different light: Sam’s remark that there’s “Always a bit more to discover, and no knowing what you’ll find round a corner,” and Bilbo’s that “Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is.”

* * *

Arwen is ma’am-not-speaking-in-this-chapter, but at least she’s present. Why is she sitting under a canopy at the feast? Is this some reference to Faerie, or a borrowing of an aristocratic English tradition?

And another couple tiny hints of her relationship with Aragorn, Bilbo saying that she was that the feast, why wasn’t he? and Frodo seeing them together later.

* * *

“Eärendil was a mariner”: more water imagery in Frodo’s dream before it, with “an endless river . . . [that] drenched and drowned him,” but this time in a beautiful, non-threatening way, and one whose imagery is linked to the tale of Eärendil and thus, it seems to me, to the larger history of Middle-earth that Frodo is now part of.

And though I know the tale of Eärendil from The Silmarillion, I don’t think an unfamiliar reader could figure out what was going on from Bilbo’s poem, even with the context Strider gave earlier: in neither place is it explained that Eärendil has gone to ask for the Valar’s intervention against Morgoth.

« Fellowship I.12 | Index | Fellowship II.2 »

Jo Walton
1. bluejo
I have a very clear image of how Elrond got the shard out, but it's from nowhere but my own head. The shard was burrowing into Frodo's body, trying to get to his heart. Frodo was resisting it. Elrond had to use a kind of psychic ultrasound vision to find where it was and then he had to actually battle it (it had will and an agenda) to draw it out, and to draw it out in a way that wouldn't hurt Frodo more, because it was also a physical piece of a knife. It would be a kind of psychic tug-of-war between Elrond and the will of the Nazgul and the inherent evil magic of the knife. I think if you'd been there and looking, if you'd been, for instance, Sam or Bilbo, you'd have just seen Elrond standing with his hand on Frodo's shoulder, looking more and more weary as time went on, because everything important was happening at the magical internal level. Perhaps you'd have seen a star through his finger when he drew on the strength of his ring. Then at last the wound opened and regurgitated the splinter and Gandalf said something enigmatic and the wound re-sealed and Elrond went to have a lie down and a cup of tea.

It's worth noting that Frodo was wrong about being OK, his shoulder bothered him for the rest of his life. (And that's a large part of why this isn't a children's book.)
Agnes Kormendi
2. tapsi
The YouTube link is:

Jo, I have the exact same image of Elrond's treatment!

But I'm not sure that the fact that Frodo is not completely healed makes LotR less of a children's book. While I don't think it is a children's book, it is one that children can enjoy greatly (I certainly did) though of course they read it on a different level of experience and symbolism. I know that in tales, such wounds should heal perfectly, but I never had a problem with this as a child, because I knew that certain injuries keep on hurting a very long time. So while I had nothing against princes being chopped up and then put together again in fairy tales, I didn't find the fact that Frodo was troubled by this wound anything but normal.

Since we know that the Ring enters a sort of symbiotic existence with its bearer, drawing him more and more into the world of wraiths (consider Gollum), I think that both Frodo and Bilbo have a certain degree of "ringwraithness" in them that's magnified when Frodo uncovers the Ring. The fact that they can both overcome this just shows how hobbits are in some respects even tougher than the mighty Numenorians.

(By the way, I wonder who it was that took the Ring up to Rivendell and hung it on a new chain, and whether s/he was tempted to take it...)

As for nobody telling Frodo that Bilbo is there, I alway thought that Bilbo wanted it to be a surprise and asked the others not to tell him.
3. dulac3
A few comments Kate:

I can see how the statement: “You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo, and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.” would come across as some sort of psychic probe by Gandalf, but I don't know that I think this is the case myself. Gandalf, as one of the Maiar, has a deep insight into how people work/think/act (I think the Elves share in this as well), he's basically just very perceptive and I think he was able to both explicitly hear in Frodo's mumblings while he slept what he needed to know about what had happened to Frodo and also, based on his general insights into 'how people work' in addition to his specific knowledge of Frodo himself, intuit any motivations/feelings/thoughts that Frodo had left unsaid. He's one of the Wise after all, and I just don't see Gandalf as the kind of guy who would poke around in another's mind without some kind of permission.

Yeah, I'm not totally convinced that Butterbur's not pretty stupid as well, but I think it was not so much that Gandalf meant "Butterbur's a smart guy" more that he meant "Butterbur may be no Einstein, but most people overlook his true strengths". It's sort of analagous to the Hobbits themselves. At first appearances they're flighty, self-absorbed, and insular (and in a way this is all quite true), but when push comes to shove they turn out to be a whole lot tougher and more resilient than you thought...sometimes even more so than the Wise and Powerful would be in similar circumstances. Tolkien is basically saying "You can't judge everything by first appearances...even if those appearances are partially true." We end up finding when the Hobbits return that Butterbur seems to have become something of a capable leader in Bree when the hard times came, so he apparently was able to grow beyond his apparent limitations. He may not be wise, but he has some level of common good sense that makes him more than simply stupid.

Elrond's "magical" healing: not sure I ever explicitly pictured this myself, but since the Morgul-blade is said to have disappeared when Aragorn picked it up I always sort of considered it to be half 'physical' and half 'spiritual' in nature. Perhaps, as a wraith-tool that actually turns it's victim into a wraith ( this maybe why some of the dead of Arnor came back as Barrow Wights?), it can exist in both planes of existence, though perhaps not at the same time. Maybe Elrond was able to turn it back from a physical piece of blade into a wraith-form which he extracted by magical means and then it re-hardened into a physical object. This is all fan-boy wankery speculation of course. :)

I'm not sure if Gandalf's reference to Frodo becoming like a clear glass is meant to denote his becoming wraith-like, or is more a comment on his pure heartedness and the fact that his true spirit is not clouded or obscured by evil and can be a visible example to others (like the phial of Galadriel which I think this statement prefigures). Just like the phial, Frodo is a vehicle that allows the 'light' of goodness to enter the world. The wraiths, on the other hand, are nothing but emptiness. They have nothing inside to show without the coverings of their robes.
4. Lsana

If you don't mind me asking, where are you finding the "book names"? They don't appear in my edition.
5. Richard the Mauve
Re: “You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo, and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.”

I think there are (at least) two ways of interpreting this, which is probably precisely what Tolkien intended. The obvious reading is that Gandalf is talking about two separate actions: he has listened to Frodo talking in his sleep, and he has also used his supernatural abilities to probe Frodo's mind and memory.

There is another way of reading it, which is to see Gandalf's statement as a single action: he has listened to Frodo talking in his sleep, and from that talk Gandalf has been able to deduce what happened to Frodo (his memories) and how the incident has changed him (his mind).

Re the similarity of invisibility between the wraiths and Frodo: I'm not quite sure what you mean here Kate, but could Tolkien be drawing a distinction between evil (which is invisible and draws one into its emptiness) and good (which is invisible because it is hidden by the light that shines out of it)?

Re the canopy: There was an ancient custom of the person of greatest nobility in a formal gathering would be honoured by a seat beneath a canopy. You can still see remnants of this in some English castles, where the lord would sit in the Great Hall of his castle, underneath the canopy of honour, and receive guests. (Of course, if a lord of greater nobility visited, he would take a seat under the canopy, perhaps even displacing the lord whose castle it was.) Interestingly, this custom can be seen in old churches where the altar (the Throne of God) is often beneath a canopy, or at least the ceiling above it is painted differently. You can also see a remnant of it in old courthouses in England, where the judge, as a representative of the Sovereign, sits in a chair that is beneath a somewhat stylised canopy. It seems plausible that Arwen, in whom the likeness of Luthien was said to have come again, would be accorded such an honour.
Agnes Kormendi
6. tapsi
Dulac3, I absolutely agree with you in that the the Morgul knives are more spiritual than physical, and that Elrond's healing is not just physical (interesting point about the barrow-wights), but I think they can be both at the same time, not physical in the moment of impact and spiritual afterwards and that... After all, the broken tip is edging towards Frodo's heart, which suggests a physical presence. And I think that the reason Frodo's not completely healed is that the spiritual component of such a wound is not like a cut but more like gangrene, and that sort of corruption can stopped but not undone, and on the anniversary of being stabbed, it is this "memory" that gets him sick. Also, he's sick on the anniversary of the destruction of the Ring, which seems to "inflict" similar damage (feeding on the Bearer until he becomes one of the wraiths).

Re: Butterbur, I think Gandalf means that he's a more than capable innkeeper, which means he has to be a clever and quick person in certain aspects, but he's running a huge inn, and matters that don't directly touch on his day-to-day affairs can slip his mind. And how would he know that these matters would eventually, if indirectly, touch on his day-to-day affairs? He's not stupid, a stupid man couldn't handle something like the Pony, but he doesn't have time to even try to see a broader picture. He's an overworked hotel manager without a personal organiser that'd keep beeping when he forgot something.
7. annew
I always assumed that when Gandalf said that Butterbur was not stupid, he meant that he had the kind of smarts that were not necessarily applicable to the situation at hand. The kind that allow you to run a business, for example, but not realize the importance of delivering a particular letter.
8. Tony Zbaraschuk
We do see Gandalf and Elrond and Galadriel engaged in a kind of telepathic conversation much later (in book VI, when they're riding home through Dunland). Then there's his communication/reinforcement of Frodo on the High Seat of Amon Hen at the end of book II. So it's not impossible that Gandalf has abilities of that sort. But they tend to be very veiled; Tolkien doesn't go in for detailed game stats of how his characters work. (Indeed, the detailed games post-date Tolkien by a decade or two. Hard to remember that sometimes after a lifetime of D&D).

The Ringwraiths being totally invisible except for their clothing reminds me of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man (something Tolkien might well have read growing up), where to gain the full advantages of his power the poor namesake must be totally defenseless... being a Ringwraith is just not easy, is it?
Kate Nepveu
9. katenepveu
Quickly--Lsana, ah ha ha, how interesting. I have illicit electronic editions that I put on my PDA and read at 3am while nursing an infant, and the _one time_ I don't check them against the printed copy . . .

So, no, those aren't canonical and no Book titles were used in the editions I own. Looking at my one-volume edition, apparently Tolkien had titles that weren't used: "The First Journey" & "The Journey of the Nine Companions"; "The Treason of Isengard" & "The Journey of the Ringbearers"; "The War of the Ring" & "The End of the Third Age".

How very embarassing. Sorry.

More later.
10. Ralph Giles
bluejo, your external description of what Elrond's healing would have looked like is a lot what is directly described of Aragorn's in Book V:

Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; ...

However, his actions are somewhat different with the other two patients, although the spiritual nature of their afflictions is described similarly. In all three cases, the athelas is clearly an essential component of his magic.

It's nice to realise, looking at this, that Ian McKellen's gesture with Pippin after the Panantír has a basis in the text. In the Jackson films it's one of the few times we see him doing obvious magic.
Lance Weber
11. LanceWeber
Gandalf speaking of Barliman in this chapter:
"He is wise enough on his own ground. He thinks less than he talks, and slower; yet he can see through a brick wall in time (at they say in Bree)."

I think it is important to also note that we see the first hint that Gandalf (and Elrond) has a grander plan that includes Frodo. Right before his transparent comment he muses (emphasis mine):

'Still that must be expected,' said Gandalf to himself. 'He is not half through yet, and to what he will come to in the end not even Elrond can foretell.'
Andrew Foss
12. alfoss1540
Back to the power of the Shire - When Gandalf is discussing Glorfindel unveiled - and the Power in Rivendell to withstand the might of Mordor, for a while: and elsewhere, other powers still dwell (Lorien, Northern Mirkwood to a lesser degree). There is power, too, of another kind, in the Shire.
(a land of ferociously non magical beings - Hobbits).

What is the source of the enchantment of the Shire? Past Elven inhabitance?
Kate Nepveu
13. katenepveu
And now for the less urgent responses:

Jo, I love your description of Elrond's healing, especially the "Gandalf said something enigmatic", which made me laugh. I shall adopt it as my mental image forthwith.

tapsi, good catch--now I'd also like to know who re-strung the Ring. And if Bilbo did want it to be a surprise that he was there, okay, though I didn't get that feeling at all from their first meeting.

dulac3, I thought of Gandalf's mind reading as less as an intrusion as being unable to help seeing what Frodo was meaning as he talked somewhat incoherently, but there's very little to support that textually, I admit.

Richard the Mauve, I like your distinction about the variants of invisibility. And thanks for the canopy information--I suspected it was something like that.

Tony Zbaraschuk, pity the poor Ringwraiths indeed. =>

LanceWeber, Gandalf does indeed seem to be expecting that Frodo will keep the Ring for much longer, which I think is a mark of his opinion of Frodo.

I think we have an overall consensus about Butterbur; you all are right, I hadn't thought of the level of ability that it would take to run an inn successfully.
Soon Lee
14. SoonLee
alfoss1540 @12:

Perhaps a reference to the Rangers patrolling around Bree & the Shire?
Soon Lee
15. SoonLee
alfoss1540 @12:

Perhaps a reference to the Rangers patrolling around Bree & the Shire?

Oops. Double post.
Michael Ikeda
16. mikeda

I see it more as a reference to the Hobbits being inherently difficult for Sauron to corrupt. Most of them don't have much of the kind of power-hunger that Sauron works best with.

Changing the subject to Butterbur. One thing to note is the way Gandalf says things--both "wise enough on his own ground" and "can see through a brick wall in time". The former phrase probably does refer to Butterbur being fairly smart about things he's familiar with (such as running an inn). I think Gandalf is also saying that Butterbur is, in general, perceptive in the long run when he thinks carefully about something Which I think is demonstrated to some extent in his reactions in the "Strider" chapter earlier--once he gets over his initial fright and surprise he comes to a fairly good assessment of the situation, and (as suggested above) in his later role as town leader during the troubled times following the withdrawal of the Rangers.
Mary Kay Kare
17. MaryKay
tapsi -- It isn't the fact of the long healing itself, it's the implications. On the simplest most basic level children don't need to know there are wounds that never heal. Time to learn that later.

On deeper levels, the wounds Frodo sustain that never heal are the payment for saving his world. The world he can no longer live in because of the wounds. This leads to what I find one of the most heart-rending scenes in all of literature -- when Frodo's friends say good-bye to him as he leaves Middle Earth forever. (The Christ parallels are numerous and obvious.) This particular kind of sacrifice is not really the stuff of children's books.

18. legionseagle

I disagree with the idea that children's books should not deal with sacrifice and the nature of wounds which never heal. However hard one may want to protect children from mortality, it's going to hit them sooner or later, and the timing and the manner is never going to be how you might like it to be. The beauty of dealing with such themes via works like LOTR is that the sacrifice makes sense; it doesn't have the random messiness of real life, and so while poignant and painful, it's easier to deal with.
Soon Lee
19. SoonLee
mikeda @16:
Either way, I've always felt it as wishful thinking or brave words, given the sheer numbers that Sauron was amassing.

Once Gondor was dealt with, the rest of the region in which the story takes place, being as sparsely populated as it was, would inevitably fall. Sure, places like Rivendell & the Shire (where there actually are people to resist the armies) could try fighting back, but it would have been like trying to turn back the tide.
Andrew Mason
20. AnotherAndrew
Bilbo: are we ever told where Frodo thought he was? Rivendell just seems the natural place for him to be, so I wonder if no one bothered to mention it because it didn't occur to them that Frodo didn't know.

LOTR as (not) children's book: what do we mean when we say that something is a children's book (assuming we're not just talking about marketing)? Saying 'It's not a children's book' seems different from saying 'It's not suitable for children'; a lot of people, I think, would agree that LOTR is not a children's book, even though they read it and loved it as children. (On the other hand, saying that something is a children's book doesn't mean, I think, that it's not suitable for adults. It's more complicated than that.)
21. JoeNotCharles
"I see it more as a reference to the Hobbits being inherently difficult for Sauron to corrupt. Most of them don't have much of the kind of power-hunger that Sauron works best with."

And yet Saruman managed it just fine...
Michael Ikeda
22. mikeda

Saruman managed to corrupt ONE hobbit and used him to bring in human thugs to intimidate the rest.

(Although at least one more hobbit was corrupted after the thugs were brought in.)
23. DavidT

For me, a "children's book" is a book whose primary intent is to be read and enjoyed/appreciated by children. "Not a children's book" means that it is intended primarily to be read and appreciated by adults.

I think it's fascinating (and sad) to note which works of fiction for adults get 'downgraded' by the general or critical public. Most Americans these days think that _Gulliver's Travels_ is a children's book (if they've even heard of it), though no one who has read it would agree. _Watership Down_ is considered a children's book because it's about talking rabbits. And any book with no explicit sex in it is at risk of getting the "children's book" label, because of course no one would write a novel for adults without including explicit sex...
24. legionseagle
With reference to Frodo becoming "like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can" it does seem to tie in with "Earendil was a Mariner" later in the chapter, since the price of Earendil saving Middle-Earth last time around was to become the Flammifer of Westernesse, and that light is then captured by Galadrial in the phial she gives to Frodo in Lothlorien.

Incidentally, with regard to the song "Earendil was a Mariner" I'm entirely of Aragorn's opinion; it is somewhat cheeky of Bilbo to go round writing songs about the somewhat traumatic circumstances in which his host lost his parents. Though as Bilbo is the sort of house-guest who shows up out of the blue and stays for seventeen years, eating six meals a day throughout, perhaps the Rivendell Elves have given up expecting him to have finer feelings.

My personal theory about why they asked for "Earendil was a Mariner" twice is that some of the younger element among the Elves were using it as the basis for an improvised drinking game ("and every time he uses a clunky archaism, take a drink. Every time he uses the word "tarried" take a large drink. Last Elf standing wins").
25. selidor
Later, he thinks that Frodo “may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.”

I always interpreted this as Frodo becoming less 'material', disconnected from the intensely materialistic physicality with which hobbits are portrayed by Tolkien, and drifting more towards the remoteness that the elves have and which eventually grows and draws them away towards the Western Lands.

The Ringwraiths have this aspect as well, drawn in a dark mirror likeness; they are disconnected and ghostly, immaterial and drawing physicality only at certain times. I always had the impression that their physical power grew and waned in proportion to the amount of Sauron's attention that they were receiving. (This interpretation also correlates with their relative weakness in the Shire, and Gandalf's worry and care over being noticed as little as possible). As roaming scouts of Sauron's will, if you will the continuous thought ticking over in the back of Sauron's mind about how to deal with his worst worry, they seem to have the same substance as Sauron: malice-shadowed darkness and air.
Agnes Kormendi
26. tapsi
MaryKay: I think LotR is simply too long and complex for children under a certain age, and by the time they're old enough to follow the plot, they're also old enough to deal with such topics. I believe it is probably better that 6-9 year old kids know that there are injuries that never heal. Maybe I've never had a problem with this because my grandparents volunteered to help disabled people and we often shared a car with them, and since it was introduced as something natural, if sad, it didn't scare me any more than it does now.

legionseagle@24: hmm, that drinking game sounds good, but I think they just did it out of kindness... after all, Bilbo at this point is very old and while he's not going senile yet, he is a grumpy old man. Now that's a stage Elves apparently don't reach, so I think they are simply moved by this strange, but valiant little creature growing old on them.
27. birgit
Later, he thinks that Frodo “may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.

Frodo just asked Gandalf about how Glorfindel looked when he was nearly in the wraith world. Gandalf probably thinks that Frodo is more like Glorfindel than the Nazgul.
28. jreffell
On the protection of the Shire from various evils, I think it's a bunch of things:

Practically, they had Gandalf and the Rangers looking out for them for a while. They were also perfectly capable of handling "normal" evils when it came to it -- see Bullroarer Took.

While Saruman was able to corrupt some of them -- as nasty as the scouring of the Shire was relative to the Shire, if you compare it to life in almost any other part of the west at that time... they did OK. There are even hints (iirc) that some of the hobbits might have risen up without help, eventually. And of course, the help that came was limited to hobbits! (If hobbits who had seen and done more than hobbits ever had before.)

It boils down to *most* hobbits as individuals being hard--not impossible--to corrupt. The lack of a grandiose form of power-hunger is key -- even Gollum, the fastest-to-be-corrupted-by-the-ring hobbit we know of (he probably wasn't very nice to begin with) only wanted *secrets*, not power over others. OK, maybe enough power to eat them, but it's still totally lacking the grandiosity that *all* of the powerful folk (Gandalf, Galadriel, Boromir) feel about the ring.

That lack of grandiosity would be totally alien to Sauron, since it neither characterized him nor his usual foes (Elves, wizards, horribly important men, the VIPs of Middle-Earth). So it becomes a weird sort of protection from him.
29. UnderHill
Regarding the question: who re-strung the Ring on a new chain while Frodo was unconscious? I wondered about that, too, and came to picture three or four very serious and careful elves, picked for strength of character, all meeting together to thread the ring cautiously through its new chain and around Frodo's neck, without ever touching the Ring. If all of them were aware of the danger, and all with very clear intentions that nothing should go wrong, the presence of companions and witnesses would make the whole thing less dangerous and more likely to succeed. If one started to waver, that one could duck out before being overcome. Thus a Fellowship of Restringing the Ring was assembled in my mind for that dangerous task...
30. legionseagle
Re UnderHill's comment @29, it occurs to me that Saruman's peril (and, to some extent, Denethor's) arose initially from similar precautions not being taken to protect those engaged in studying ring-lore. Clearly, had there been a Research Fellowship of the Ring it would have avoided a lot of trouble...
Michael Ikeda
31. mikeda

Denethor's problem had nothing to do with studying ring-lore.

His basic problem was that he didn't realize that Sauron was successfully influencing what he saw through his palintir.
Michael Ikeda
32. mikeda
Should add that Sauron was not only influencing what Denethor saw through the palintir, he was likely directly influencing Denethor (although in a more subtle way than how he influenced Saruman).
Agnes Kormendi
33. tapsi

Originally I also though they needed a whole team to take care of the Ring and that it stays with its current Bearer, but then I checked it in the book and Gandalf actually touches the Ring, holds it for at least a few seconds, and hands it back to Frodo without obvious signs of reluctance when he identifies the Ring back in the Shire. So probably under certain circumstances, even the most powerful can handle the Ring... The Ring appears to become more and more ominous after the hobbits leave the Shire, almost as if it was waking up, responding to Sauron's need... or as if Tolkien had just realised this tale was going to be more serious than he had originally intended.
Andrew Mason
34. AnotherAndrew
DavidT @ 23: that makes sense to me. But it means we can't decide whether something is a children's book just by summarising the content; we need to know something about the author (though if we're familiar with the cultural setting, the language, the design and so on may be a clue).

Tapsi @ 33, and others regarding the ring's corrupting power: did we not discuss this earlier? I think we reached the conclusion (which is in line with what Tapsi says) that the idea that the ring instantly corrupts whoever touches it is a movie thing, and that in the book it works more slowly and more subtly.
Michael Ikeda
35. mikeda

A key point being that, while Gandalf (and perhaps some Rivendell craftselves) handled the ring they hadn't, in their minds, taken "possession" of the ring. Which makes touching the ring for very brief periods reasonably safe.

(Not COMPLETELY safe, as Gollum seems to have been corrupted by the Ring on first sight, but reasonably safe for someone like Gandalf or a Rivendell craftself.)

(And, on another subject, yes I am aware I misspelled palantir in #31 and #32 above.)
Soon Lee
36. SoonLee
Coming soon, a One Ring dose-response curve.

Any volunteers?
37. Ralph Giles
mikeda @35: you mean palantír? :-)
38. JanniLS
The Tom Bombadil bit on Colbert amused me muchly when I first heard it ...
39. legionseagle

Aren't you pitching it rather strong to suggest that Denethor's problem has nothing to do with ring-lore? Even Faramir gets pretty close to deducing what Isildur's Bane must be ("taken somewhat from the hand of the Enemy") based on general (Gondorian) knowledge and Gandalf's behaviour seventeen years previously when searching the archives.

Even though Faramir seems to assume that what Isildur took from Sauron's hand was something akin to the Holy Hand-Grenade of Eregion, and he only has a lightbulb moment a couple of pages later on when he suddenly realises that if your enemy has a famous ring and someone is supposed to have taken something powerful and dangerous from his hand the ring is quite a likely candidate, there's no reason for Denethor to be so dense especially if Sauron was influencing him through the palantir. Furthermore, he could easily track which parchments Gandalf had been searching after Gandalf had left Minas Tirith (but let us hope not by the trail of pipeweed ash, as depicted in that rather horrific scene in the movie where Gandalf is smoking and waving a torch right over piles of priceless manuscripts: "I thought I heard a million archivists cry out in terror and be suddenly silent").

Even if the parchment is written in an archaic language Denethor certainly is a great lore-master and has the resources of Gondor at his hand. I'm sure in 17 years he could have got at least an inkling of what Gandalf was so interested in on his last visit. Certainly all his behaviour from the moment he sends Boromir to Rivendell seems focussed on getting Isildur's Bane for Gondor, and given, as indicated above, how close the less devious Faramir got to working out what Isildur's Bane was without his father's (dis)advantages on the palantir front, I think there is every reason to suggest that he knew or had a strong suspicion what he was looking for.
Michael Ikeda
40. mikeda

I think it's clear from what we know about the effects of the palantir, that Denethor's problem was due to the palantir. And more particularly to Sauron influencing him (directly and indirectly) through the palantir.

Whatever parchments he might have studying in his spare time are a side matter, at most.
41. UnderHill
On Denethor, Sauruman and Palantiri (Palantirs?) To me, the essential thing seems to be that the person in question has something in their character that allows temptation and greed to take root and grow. As I think about it, it seem to come down to not enough common sense, combined with too much pride - Denethor in his pride and despair lacks the common sense that HAS to keep on trying until all is truly lost (even when things look very bad) when your whole world is at stake. Saruman both lacks the common sense and has too much pride to understand, that no, he is really not different from anyone else who falls under the spell of the Ring. Both of them are missing an essential something that would keep their ideas in perspective and allow them to understand themselves, and to understand where their schemes and plans are taking them. I think that Sauron having a line to them both via Palantir might not have been enough to corrupt them, if there was not already a susceptibility there. It was their pride and desire for power that made them look, which falls in with the "desire for power makes you vulnerable to corruption and control by Sauron" theme.

legionseagle@30; if either Denethor or Saruman had been able to work with someone in a "Research Fellowship" they probably would have been safer from being sucked in by the temptation of the Ring! I have trouble picturing either of them involved in successful teamwork with anyone. They are both cold, proud characters who are jealous of their power - I can't see either of them sharing their secret, dangerous thoughts. It would make them too vulnerable, they are not able to trust anyone enough, they are "control freaks" if you will. (I can kind of picture Wormtongue as a beleaguered research assistant.)

I think one of the enduringly wonderful qualities of Gandalf is that he does have that sense of perspective, he doesn't always take himself so seriously. He can sit down and have a beer with the rest of the Fellowship, or play with smoke rings when he's not saving the world just at that moment. This is all of a piece with him hanging out with and enjoying the society of hobbits. Somehow I think that because he is so grounded, it helps to keep him protected, in a way that Saruman and Denethor were neither of them protected.

And, legionseagle@39: That scene in the archives just about drove me mad. Gandalf would NEVER treat priceless historical documents like that. Never!
Matt Austern
42. austern
I would have said that the palantir is a symptom of Denethor's real problem: unhealthy pride. He kept the palantir a secret because he didn't think anyone else was worthy to know about it. He allowed Sauron to corrupt him because it was flattering for him to think of himself as Sauron's adversary in single combat. He knew who Aragorn was, and resented the idea that anyone else could be the equal (or worse, the superior) of the Steward of Gondor.
43. SDoyle
Just a earlier bit of Colbert LotR geekdom (from 2005 I think):
Andrew Foss
44. alfoss1540
RE: Denethor and the Palantir and all the old Scrolls

I had always had the impression that Denethor probably knew exactly what Gandalf was looking for - and eventually found - in the old scrolls. In fact, I would postulate that he had copies or the originals (found during his time working with Saruman, whom Denethor gave access to the records years before) locked up somewhere, maybe his secret palantir tower. Gandalf only found what he did after it was allowed - maybe Denethor conveniently left it somewhere just to finally get rid of Gandalf.

The historical record from the scrolls, as well as the "wisdom" from the Palantir, were together the basis of his delusion of grandure.

Funny I hadn't put together that both Saruman and Denethor were duped by Sauron in the same way - Pride and Palantiri made great weapons.
45. UnderHill
This discussion about Denethor has made me see something in a new light. Despite being the first one to have the prophetic "Seek for the Sword that was broken" dream, and being the one who dreamed it many times to Boromir's once, it was not Faramir that was chosen to travel on the quest to Imladris. I always took what Faramir said to Frodo and Sam at face value...

"Alas that ever he went on that errand! I should have been chosen by my father and the elders, but he put himself forward, as being the older and the hardier (both true), and he would not be stayed."

... and imagined that it was Boromir being the pushy-older-brother-who-wanted-to-go that decided who was chosen. But there are two parts to that sentence: Boromir put himself forward, but it was Denethor and the elders that chose. Denethor sent the son that was most likely to bring the Ring back to him. (Or if he didn't guess that Isildur's Bane was the Ring, it was still the son most likely to see things his way, and most likely to think first of how to turn things to the advantage of Gondor, that he chose.)
46. DBratman
It is possible to touch the Ring and not be corrupted by it.

It is also possible to be corrupted by the Ring and never touch it.
Peter Schmidt
47. PHSchmidt
Re: Denethor - remember that Gondor had fallen into decadence, with leaders that had grown more interested in pursuing abstruse lore in an attempt to live forever than to lead their people well. More interested in building tombs than their realm.

Re: Gandalf setting fire to manuscripts - was he not the foremost master of fire in Middle Earth? I don't think there'd be any risk of him setting something on fire unintentionally, or not being able to quench a fire instantly.

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