Apr 3 2009 5:18pm
LotR re-read: Fellowship II.3, “The Ring Goes South”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring We continue the Lord of the Rings re-read with Book II, Chapter 3 of Fellowship, “The Ring Goes South.” The usual spoilers and comments follow after the jump.


What Happens

Searchers look for the Riders for nearly two months after the Council, and find eight horses and a cloak. Deciding that it’s safe, Elrond names the Company of the Ring: Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf; Gimli and Legolas; Aragorn and Boromir; and, reluctantly, Merry and Pippin. (And Bill the pony.) In preparation, the Sword that was Broken is re-forged, and Bilbo gives Frodo his sword Sting and, quietly, his mithril mail coat.

They leave on December 25 (per Appendix B) and journey by night without incident until they reach Hollin/Eregion, where they discover that black crows are overflying the land. Gandalf has misgivings about the winter weather, but Aragorn has stronger ones about a secret route Gandalf has suggested, and so they attempt the pass of Caradhras. A blizzard forces them to stop partway up, and while an Elven cordial and a fire started by Gandalf keep them alive through the night (also revealing Gandalf’s presence to anyone who can read the signs), the morning shows more snow on the way. Boromir and Aragorn force a way through the drifts blocking their retreat, and they stumble wearily down the slope as crows again circle in the distance.


I was surprised at how long this chapter is. My mental shorthand for the chapter after the Council is “a lot of faffing about waiting to leave,” and while there is that, I’d forgotten that the chapter actually takes them all the way up to Moria.

So, the faffing about. Gandalf says that “We hope that (the Riders) were all unhorsed and unmasked, and so made for a while less dangerous; but we must find out for certain.” Well, they find out for certain very quickly, as far as I can tell: three horses are found immediately, and another five are found on the rapids, which cannot be very far from Rivendell, certainly not two months’ travel from it. And it seems to me that the horses are the key thing, since none other will carry them; the cloaks are just cloth, and presumably if they had horses and no cloaks they’d manage just fine, since there’s no one around to interact with anyway.

I don’t think this delay ever seemed sensible to me. And then when I recognized that the Company (which, incidentally, is not called the Fellowship until Chapter 10’s title) left Rivendell on Christmas, well, I feel that Tolkien let his desire for symbolism override his sense for logistics.

(I have also heard it said that this is one way you can tell Tolkien was English, because no-one who lived around actual mountains would think you could travel across them in January, even without ill-will.)

The preparation does at least contain the reforging of Narsil, which is a paragraph I always thrill to:

The Sword of Elendil was forged anew by Elvish smiths, and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent Moon and the rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes; for Aragorn son of Arathorn was going to war upon the marches of Mordor. Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again; the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of the moon shone cold, and its edge was hard and keen. And Aragorn gave it a new name and called it Andúril, Flame of the West.

I love the rhythm, and the different kinds of light in the blade, and the—well, not personality, but feel, conveyed by the description and its new name.

* * *

I found Bilbo’s song after passing Sting and his mail coat on to Frodo to be surprisingly, revealingly bleak, with its talk of “how the world will be / when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see” and waiting for those who’ve gone on without him to return. Because it’s a song, I’d skimmed over it before, and while it’s clear that Bilbo is worried and upset when the Company leaves, the song adds another layer to it. I forgive him his insistence that the book have a happy ending, now, which I’d previously found jarring.

* * *

The composition of the Company: symbolic at least as much as practical, in its strict limit to nine and eschewing of horses—I remind myself that horses would not have been useful for much of their route and so this isn’t a case of taking symbolism too far. I think that the inclusion of representatives of “the other Free Peoples of the World” is, conversely, as much practical as symbolic, as a quiet theme throughout the book is that cross-group friendships are good (Merry & Pippin and the Ents, Men and Dwarves at Dale, and Legolas and Gimli and their peoples later on).

I also like Gandalf’s recognition that friendship, and thus emotional strength and support, can be as important as other kinds of strength when he supports Merry & Pippin’s going.

* * *

The departure of the Company:

Aragorn is said to sit “with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.” Which is another place Tolkien could have mentioned Arwen—surely she knows, too?—and did not.

A very peculiar interjection from the narrator, when Sam mentally reviews his pack’s contents, including “a good supply of pipe-weed (but not near enough, I’ll warrant).” Unless that's supposed to be his thoughts?

(Also, how much time could it possibly take for Sam to pull an Elf aside and say, “Is there any rope right at hand that I could have before I leave?” Only in Sam-dialect, of course.)

Because we’ve talked so much about handling the Ring or not, I noticed this time that Elrond charges Frodo “nor indeed to let any handle [the Ring], save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need.”

* * *

The “action” sequences:

The silence of Hollin, broken only by a single croak from the masses of birds? Creepy.

The first hint of the winged Nâzgul, roughly two and a half months after their horses are killed at the Ford.

Does Aragorn really “think no good of our course from beginning to end”? That’s a . . . remarkably dour statement, whether read narrowly (the planned travel route) or broadly (the plan to destroy the Ring). Come to think of it, he’d said basically nothing about that at the Council. Huh.

I have the impression that, throughout the world, it’s not uncommon to attribute personalities to mountains? They loom, they affect the weather, they are natural boundaries, they loom . . . So it doesn’t give me any pause that Caradhras is thought to be acting independently, whereas I at least wondered at the significance of Old Man Willow, back last book.

Also, I would prefer the house to be at 72 F year-round if money were no object, and so I particularly shiver the description of being caught in the blizzard, but I think that

A red light was on their tired and anxious faces; behind them the night was like a black wall.

But the wood was burning fast, and the snow still fell.

is effective writing regardless.

And the chapter’s last sentence, “Caradhras had defeated them,” is the tersest and darkest yet, I’d say—it’s similar to the ending of Book I, “(Frodo) heard and saw no more,” but that at least was preceded by the Riders being caught in the flood; here, they just stumble along with a cold wind at their backs.

* * *

Characterization roundup:

Overall it strikes me that this chapter has very little characterization of the Company members outside of what comes through for plot-necessary conversations and actions.

Merry and Pippin continue their prior roles, with Pippin speaking more lightly and Merry explaining what Pippin really means, in the opening section of the chapter.

Though the narrative now calls him Aragorn, he’s still Strider to the hobbits.

Boromir is practical and not afraid to speak up when it comes to areas of his expertise: he is the one to suggest they bring fireword for the attempt on the pass, to point out that the hobbits are going into hypothermia, to suggest a fire, and to suggest forcing a path back down the mountain. I also read a little wryness in his statement, “though lesser men with spades might have served you better.” (Also, he must be crazy strong. Forcing a path through chest-high snow? Just through knee-high is no picnic.)

(Conversely I find Legolas slightly annoying when he runs off over the snow and comes back, but maybe that’s just jealousy.)

The first real interaction with Gimli is in a section I love for its evocation of a passionately-remembered history, when he sees the mountains—the whole thing, all the way from “I need no map. There is the land where our fathers worked of old” to “Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram.” He’s otherwise practical and perhaps a touch dour, but I feel warmly toward him because of this section.

Moria next!

« Fellowship II.2 | Index | Fellowship II.4 »

Electric Landlady
1. Electric Landlady
Your comment about mountains made me think -- Hillary and Tenzing summited Everest in 1953, not all that long before Fellowship was published. I have no real basis for assuming this, but it seems to me that the concept of unclimbable, hostile mountains may have been in the air while Tolkien was writing.
Electric Landlady
2. legionseagle
Pur-lease Kate! When you say "I have also heard it said that this is one way you can tell Tolkien was English, because no-one who lived around actual mountains would think you could travel across them in January, even without ill-will" you are doing a great disservice to the common-sense of quite a lot of the English, too.

Admittedly, the technical English definition of a mountain is a hill which reaches 1000 feet or more, which doesn't sound a lot to many people, and admittedly genuinely English mountainous regions are much smaller, less elevated and less remote even than those you find in Scotland, Wales or Ireland, let alone the Alps (which Tolkien had visited).

However, my father brought me up (in England) in the belief that the eleventh commandment was, "Do not cause unnecessary inconvenience to the mountain rescue services". In his day be'd had to turn out with the Lake District Mountain Rescue Services to rescue (not always successfully) a fair number of unprepared walkers who'd set out to cross bits of the English fells in winter. Accordingly that bit of idiocy on the part of the Fellowship always made me cringe from my first reading of LOTR at age nine.

The fact that Boromir saw that the small people were dying of cold definitely made me feel warmer to him at the same time, too. It's a foreshadowing of Boromir's curious dependence on hobbits to bring out his better qualities, I think - perhaps there's something about them being outside his experience to date which means that he can react to them without reference to roles of precedence and conflict which taint his relationship with other members of the Fellowship? It's an element of Boromir's character which I thought Sean Bean brought out very well in the film (the sun striking the gold of the Ring on snow is one of the images I really remember from the first film).

Legolas revealing himself to be wearing shoes set off a few (undoubtedly unintended) echoes of my father's commentary about unprepared Southerners (eg from places like Birmingham and Oxford) attempting idiocies upon the mountains of Northern England: "And you see them trotting off up Striding Edge in city shoes and carrying umbrellas, and not realising that there are ice cornices which can crumble if you step on them, and screes which will sweep them away..." Actually, I can't imagine why he'd be wearing shoes not boots in those conditions, however Elvish he was. Do Elves not suffer from wet feet at all?
Electric Landlady
3. Confusador
I don't know, I think someone who grew up in South Africa could come up with a way that crossing the mountains in January would be a good idea. ;)
Of course, that doesn't help his case here, since the seasons in this part of Middle Earth clearly follow the Northern Hemisphere.
Electric Landlady
4. Richard the Mauve
Briefly, because this has been The Week From Hell (as compared to last week, which was The Week From Next Door To Hell, and next week which is shaping up to be The Week Which Once Dated Hell's Daughter).

Kate: Insightful as always. Your analyses (in particular, but I am profoundly grateful to most of the people who have commented over the last few months) have given me new things to think about when I next get a few minutes to flick through LotR.

I never really understood Bilbo's sad little song when I first read FotR (at age 11). As I have aged, and watched my strong, skilled, keenly intelligent grandfather gradually become less able, more dependent, and finally pass away, I have gained some appreciation of what it means to "sit beside the fire and think". One day it will be me sitting beside that fire... Bilbo has earned his happy ending.

Re Arwen: Here's where I curse the fact that my HoME and assorted Tolkienolatry are in boxes several hundred miles away. I may be obliged to go and raid my parents' attic before long, if this keeps up. I'm sure that Tolkien comments, in one of his letters, on the general absence of women in LotR. He says something along the lines of he tried to record more women's voices but felt that nothing he wrote "worked". He also said, possibly in the same place, that just because the women are largely silent in the chronicles, one should not assume that they played a subordinate part. (Incidentally, and very prematurely, close to the top of my list of "The Women of LotR" is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, but I'll talk about that in a few months time.)

legionseagle@2: Boromir has a few redeeming moments, and the incident where he thinks first of the halflings is one of them. (But, alas, they are too few. Boromir is the only member of the Company where I feel Tolkien dropped the ball: I have replaced him in my head with film-Boromir, and there is none who shall deny me.) I think that it's not so much that they are outside Boromir's experience, but rather that he sees them as small, and therefore inferior/helpless/weak. I emphatically do not deny that he was moved by higher emotions, but I think that this moment might also reveal his prejudices as well. And then, in my more rational moments, I recognise that the halflings really were in peril from the weather. I'll have to think about this scene some more.

Re Legolas: The shoes are a bit jarring for me as well, but are Legolas' shoes and his light footprints not evidence that he touches Middle Earth but lightly, as do all the Eldar? Whatever that was is now past: Middle Earth is now the dominion of Men.
Agnes Kormendi
5. tapsi
I used to wonder about the long delay in Rivendell, too, and to be honest, I still can't quite justify it.

But apart from Christmas, and the winter Solstice symbolising the birth of hope, the return of the Sun, Good gaining strength (actually, the time they spend in Elrond's house is roughly that between Halloween / Samhain and Christmas, which is the darkest time of the year in many respects), the fact that they travel in winter is symbolic because it means it's more of a spiritual journey than a physical one (cold and discomfort notwithstanding), exactly because no-one in their right mind would travel in winter.

When we studied Old English and medieval Irish stories, we were told that winter is the season of the spirit, the otherworld, because it's pure, deadly and infertile. In the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer" it's quite strange that the narrator is at sea in winter (even more foolish than crossing the mountains), but then he starts to talk about spiritual issues and death and life after death, which can be an explanation for the odd choice of season.

I find it fascinating that most of what happens takes place between the autumnal and the vernal equinox, that is, in the dark half of the year. They spend two months in Rivendell, leaving right after the winter solstice.

In contrast, most of what happens in The Hobbit takes place between early May (Beltine) and early November (Samhain), that is, in the bright half of the year. Bilbo and the dwarves spend two weeks in Rivendell, leaving right after the summer solstice.

I'm not sure if this was an intentional contrast / similarity, but I find it intriguing.

On a practical note, Sauron certainly wouldn't expect them to leave Rivendell in the dead of winter. So in that respect travelling in winter makes sense. It's the long delay that still doesn't.

"I have also heard it said that this is one way you can tell Tolkien was English, because no-one who lived around actual mountains would think you could travel across them in January, even without ill-will"

That's funny because the English mountains are quite desolate and dangerous, and if I remember correctly, Tolkien was enough of a walker to know how ill-advised it was to be out there in January.

It never really stood out for me, because even though we usually have more snow than the British Isles, our mountains (roughly as high as those in the Lake District or Snowdonia) are a lot safer, simply because they weren't that thoroughly deforested and then eroded for hundreds of years. Not a place to be out in a blizzard, but definitely safe to walk in city shoes...

But then again, Tolkien's mountains appear to be in the same class as the Alps (and thoroughly deforested). They're not impossible to cross even in winter, it's just not the wisest thing to do. And to show that Tolkien actually knew what mountains were like, the Company doesn't manage to cross them -- they very nearly die trying.
Electric Landlady
6. debraji
legionseagle @ #2 - I don't think elves suffer from the cold as mortals do. Think of the elves of Lothlorien living on flets in the winter with only a screen for the wind, no fire or roof.

Confusador @ #3 - Tolkien was born in South Africa, but his mother brought him to England when he was a toddler, so any memories of the land of his birth were few and vague.

About traveling in the winter - that's when the ground is hard, which makes a world of difference. They certainly didn't seem to expect snow in Hollin or farther east, and only met with it on Cahadras.
Electric Landlady
7. Tony Zbaraschuk
I have replaced him in my head with film-Boromir

That's one thing the film got pretty right. Of course Boromir would be happy to train the son of the Thain, and the son of the Master of Buckland, in swordplay; it's just like back home. (And note how Tolkien just has them get weapons; modern films and books make a great deal more of the training... though it's possible that two of the Shire's young nobility would have had some arms-training anyway, even if they didn't talk about it much among those bourgeois Bagginses).

The thing that really bugs me is that the trip is possible earlier -- Elrohir and Elladan go all the way to Lothlorien and back before the Fellowship even sets out; you'd think the Fellowship could have gone along with them or something, or at least taken the same route. The only reason that this at all makes sense is that Elrond has to make sure that the road is clear at least that far and the Orcs aren't laying ambushes in the passes.

Come to think of it, maybe that does make sense: they try a winter journey because that's the season that the Orcs of the Misty Mountains are all hibernating or something...
Electric Landlady
8. Erunyauve
I always interpreted the Company leaving Rivendell in late December as Tolkien attempting to fit three facts together:
1. Frodo leaves the Shire on September 23, arriving in Rivendell on October 13. The council meets October 25.
2. The Ring is destroyed on March 25, the solar new year. March 23 was, until relatively recently, the first of the year (this is why October, the 10th month of the year, literally means "Eighth month")
3. The distance from Rivendell to Mount Doom is ~600 miles, as the crow flies, and a little over 1000 miles by the route they actually took (Rivendell -> Moria -> Lorien -> Rauros -> Ithilien -> Minas Morgul -> Mount Doom). Those numbers are inexact and come from me measuring the map in my copy of LotR with a tiny 6-inch ruler and then multiplying by the scale bar, so I may be off by a bit.
The idea that it would have taken about four months (three, if the month-long stay in Lorien isn't taken into account) to make that trip is reasonable, as this works out to a little over eleven miles a day on average - and this doesn't take into account all the time they lost getting lost, trying to climb Caradhras, the rough terrain, et cetera. Six months is a bit long (that's a pathetic 5 and a half miles a day) - this is an urgent mission! They're not going to dawdle. Google tells me that the average, reasonably fit person can walk about twenty miles a day, unencumbered, on level terrain. Personal experience tells me that I (in good shape) can hike an 8-mile trail up a mountain (up, and then back down again) in one quite grueling thirteen-hour day, with a day pack. Through-hikers in the mountains like to average 11 miles a day (with much more than a day pack). So, the Company (comprised partly of people who are rather out of shape and have short legs) averaging about eleven miles a day on uneven terrain, with gear, sounds about right, even excellent.
Unfortunately, Tolkien had written himself into a corner. He could:
1) Have the Ring be destroyed in January or February after the Company leaves Rivendell in October.
2) Have Frodo leave the Shire in December.
3) Have the Company dawdle on the road longer than they already do, or have them get lost more.
4) Have the Company stay at Rivendell for 2 months.
Of these options, option (1) is the least silly and least likely to require complex explanations, but Tolkien liked symbolism (we all know this), and of the other three, option (4) is least silly and requires the least amount of complex explanations. Try to imagine, for a minute, how Tolkien would have justified Frodo leaving the Shire in December. I cannot imagine Frodo doing that unless something else (dramatic) happened.
So, the company leaves in December. The Christmas day departure is probably also significant, possibly of the birth of hope (cough)?
Electric Landlady
9. Erunyauve
Addendum to my comment @8:
That should be March 25 in both the references to the date, not randomly the 23rd.
Also, March 25 is the Annunciation. I am told that this is an important Catholic holiday. I don't know enough about Catholicism to comment on the significance of the Ring being destroyed on this day, but it is possible that Tolkien was making a comment of some variety.
Kate Nepveu
10. katenepveu
More later, as SteelyKid has been most, most unhappy tonight and I am worn to the bone, but--

I'd understood the mountain comment to be at least half a joke. I'm sorry that so utterly failed to come through.
JS Bangs
11. jaspax
I love reading the LoTR comment threads. Unlike the WoT comment threads (which I'm also reading), these ones tend to be insightful and engaging.
Mitchell Downs
12. Beamish
Aragorn is said to sit “with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.”

Does Aragorn really “think no good of our course from beginning to end”? That’s a . . . remarkably dour statement, whether read narrowly (the planned travel route) or broadly (the plan to destroy the Ring).

We discussed earlier in the thread on Bree whether or not Aragorn was in some ways resisting or hiding from his destiny by being just "Strider the Ranger". Some readers reject that as an invention of the Jackson films where it certainly is very much his take on of the Aragorn character throughout all three films. Given the other edits (crimes?) of the films I think the negative view of that reading is amplified, but a bit unfairly.

Here again, however, we see two moments where Aragorn is not rushing to claim his destiny or be the willful leader of the Fellowship - that role is very much left to Gandalf. Rather, Aragorn is being reticent and even pessimistic. He certainly has taken a major step forward and shown enthusiasm in renaming the reforged Narsil as Andúril but I have always read some of that as a bit of Elrond pushing Aragorn out the door and on the road toward his destiny.

The films carry this character trait to a disappointing extreme and for far too long; but I definitely see a reluctance to "destiny" in the Aragorn character throughout the Fellowship. And it is the ultimate breaking of the Fellowship that causes, or allows, him to embrace it so that the Aragorn of the second two volumes is a man who wants his throne.
Matt Austern
13. austern
Combining the thread about logistics that don't quite make sense with the thread about Aragorn's character... Am I the only person who felt very frustrated with his attitude about going through Moria? He said he thought it was a poor choice, he kept issuing dire warnings about what would happen if they did it, and he clearly felt himself overruled, not just reluctantly persuaded, when they finally entered. Even after Caradhras, even fleeing from wolves, he still thought they shouldn't try to go through Moria.

So presumably he thought they should do something else instead. He's awfully silent about what that might be, though. Every other option was considered and rejected, after all. And he didn't argue for reconsidering any of them. Why did he think it was reasonable to argue against the one route that was on the table, without proposing an alternative? And why didn't anyone else ask him what he thought they should do instead?
Electric Landlady
14. legionseagle
Kate@10: Apologies for probably coming over as rather snappy. I did appreciate that the comment about the English and mountains was intended as a joke, but since it's a joke which depends on a shared, unspoken assumption about the stupidity/insularity of the English when it comes to coping with winter conditions in mountain regions I didn't find it particularly funny, probably because I've heard it all too often before: there was a good strand of it in a lot of the blog commentary on Natasha Richardson's recent skiing accident, for example.

I appreciate, though, that I find these scenes particularly tense and resonant for family reasons; as well as my father's experiences my first cousin was actually killed in an avalanche (in Northern Norway, on a scientific expedition) so I'm probably being over-sensitive.
Michael Ikeda
15. mikeda

I don't think he HAD any good alternative plan. I think it was just that he foresaw something very bad happening to Gandalf if they went into Moria. And he has an understandable reluctance to approve of his friend and secondary father-figure marching to what Aragorn suspects is his doom.

Even if, at some level, he knows there isn't any real alternative.
Kelly McCullough
16. KellyMcCullough
Richard the Mauve, this: The Week From Hell (as compared to last week, which was The Week From Next Door To Hell, and next week which is shaping up to be The Week Which Once Dated Hell's Daughter). made me grin.

On Boromir and whether or not Tolkien handled him less well than he could have (which is an argument for which I have a lot of sympathy): For those who are interested let me put my author hat on for a moment and note that it is very very hard to write a sympathetic character that you intend to kill, and doubly so to write one who falls from grace somehow and talk a little bit about why that is.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, you have to make sure that your readers care about the character so that both the death and the betrayal have real meaning. Second you have to write in foreshadowing and emotional cues that allow the reader to believe that someone they care about and empathize with would commit whatever betrayal you have them committing. Third you have to manage the amount of sympathy you're trying to build very carefully so that your readers don't care about and empathize with the betrayer so much that the betrayal destroys their emotional connection to the story. Fourth to manage all of that you (the author) have to invest in the character in much the way you'd like your readers to invest. Fifth, because of that it can be really emotionally wrenching to write.

I don't know if the writing Boromir type characters stuff furthers the discussion of this particular chapter, but I thought it might be worth adding a bit from the writer side viewpoint.
Electric Landlady
17. Viviannn
Kate, regarding the difficulty of forcing a path through chest-high snow, keep in mind that the snow is freshly fallen. After all, Caradhras whipped up this snowstorm just for the Fellowship. Freshly-fallen snow is light and usually powdery, unless the temperature is close to zero, but all the descriptions of cold make me think it isn't in this case. So it's much easier for the "doughty men" to force their way through the snow than it would have been had it been old snow that had settled.

I live in Canada, so I know snow. :) We still have quite a bit on the ground.
Vicki Rosenzweig
18. vicki
I'm trying to figure out whether it makes sense to think of the departure time in terms of the characters' ignorance of mountain travel. It appealed for a moment, but I don't think it works: Boromir, maybe. Gimli, maybe, since dwarves often go through mountains rather than over them, and time of year is much less relevant for that. Legolas, again possible, especially if we add the apparent Elvish ease of handling cold weather. But it doesn't work for Aragorn, nor Gandalf or Elrond.

I don't recall the hobbits having an opinion on the schedule; Frodo felt it was his task, and the others didn't want to abandon him to it, but they didn't know much about the world beyond the Shire, and might even have thought that going south meant winter wouldn't be an issue. (Many people even now think tropical and/or arctic climate starts much closer to their own homes than it really does.)
Electric Landlady
19. Iain Coleman
Kelly McCullough:

That's an interesting account, but I'm not sure I buy it. The writers of the LotR movie trilogy managed it quite effectively, so I don't think we should let Tolkien off on the grounds of difficulty.
Electric Landlady
20. sunjah
Re : logistics,
Bilbo, seasoned traveler well acquainted with the physical limitations of hobbits, does comment on the poor timing of the start; I believe he is the only one who does. He characteristically recites a verse which may be intended to be taken as an old chestnut (or Bilbo's attempt at a new chestnut):

"When winter first begins to bite/And stones crack in the frosty night/ When pools are black and trees are bare/'Tis evil in the Wild to fare. But I am afraid it will be just your luck."

It seems Tolkien was not unaware of the oddity/difficulty of having the Fellowship set out in winter, but did not make much of a convincing case for why it had to be that way. (Because he couldn't? forgot to? thought he had? accidentally edited it out? ) Would it be giving him too much credit to say he was illustrating how little even Gandalf really knew about hobbits and their limitations as well as their strengths?
Kelly McCullough
21. KellyMcCullough
Iain Coleman @ 19, I don't want to let Tolkien off the hook. I do think it can be done better. But at the same time, I don't think the comparison is entirely a fair one because it's fish and fowl. A movie is a cooperative enterprise and very different from writing a novel. The things an actor can do with a role with the support of a director a screenwriter and the rest of a movie crew are very different from the things you can do writing the same role by yourself in a book. For example, having a living breathing appealing human play the role allows for playing body language against dialog in a way you just can't write.

Conversely there are things you can do with a book that you can't with a movie. The council of Elrond is a good example. There's enormous depth there in the text that's pretty much inaccessible to film because of the static nature of the very long scene. Having "My Dinner With Elrond (Andre)" in the middle of an epic fantasy movie would not have worked well.

There are things to be said for both mediums, but the assumption that because something worked in the one it could work in the other is (I think) problematic.
Kelly McCullough
22. KellyMcCullough
Viviannn @ 17, or unless it's mid twenties and wet and heavy, which is what we've gotten way too much of the last couple of years here in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Electric Landlady
23. Iain Coleman

What makes Boromir more sympathetic in the movies isn't Sean Bean's performance, excellent though it is. It's the presence of two scenes: the scene where Boromir charmingly teaches Merry and Pippin how to fight with swords, and the scene after Gandalf has plunged into the deep in Moria, where Boromir insists that the hobbits be given time to grieve while Aragorn wants to press on.

These scenes pick up on the bit in the book where the Fellowship is struggling against the snow on Caradhras and Boromir shows particular concern for the hobbits, but they expand on that character note and make it much more prominent. We see Boromir care for the hobbits in a way that the rest of the Fellowship doesn't - and since we already like the hobbits, that makes us like Boromir.

The latter scene in particular also gives us an opposition between Boromir and Aragorn which isn't about politics or strategy, but is about character: Boromir is more concerned about feelings, and more preoccupied with the world as he immediately perceives it, while Aragorn is more thoughtful, and looks more to the long term. The movie doesn't tell us that Aragorn is wrong - indeed, it is clear that these qualities are what make him an effective leader in the War of the Ring - but it does show how Boromir's admirable qualities are linked to a short-sightedness that leads to his downfall.

Tolkien could very well have written these scenes, or something like them. The fact is, he didn't. It's possibly the only point where the movies improve on the books.
Kelly McCullough
24. KellyMcCullough
Iain, I agree that those scenes are a part of what makes Boromir more sympathetic in the movie, but I don't agree that Sean Bean's performance isn't at least as important. Bean is an enormously talented actor who was invested in the project primarily at the intersection of his one character with the story which has a huge impact on the depth of Boromir's character and on the way that character relates to the audience. For me at least, the little moments where (for example) we see the strain of fighting the ring on an extremely expressive face are every bit as important as the added scenes, and those are the kind of thing that's very hard to do in a book.
Electric Landlady
25. legionseagle
Richard the Mauve @4:

I'm not sure that here is exactly the place to respond to this "Re Arwen: Here's where I curse the fact that my HoME and assorted Tolkienolatry are in boxes several hundred miles away. I may be obliged to go and raid my parents' attic before long, if this keeps up. I'm sure that Tolkien comments, in one of his letters, on the general absence of women in LotR. He says something along the lines of he tried to record more women's voices but felt that nothing he wrote "worked". He also said, possibly in the same place, that just because the women are largely silent in the chronicles, one should not assume that they played a subordinate part."

There's so much more to discuss with regard to the Ring going South than this particular issue, and, as you point out, there will be plenty of time to discuss it later on. But it leads me to spit feathers, nonetheless, and in no small measure because Tolkien was wrong. When he claimed he could not write women whose voices "worked" that was a failure of nerve, not a failure of ability, and the consequences of that failure have affected fantasy writing ever since.

He could write convincing women characters. When it comes to the right time I look forward to sharing my own admiration of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins with someone who obviously appreciates her as both a great comic creation in the grand tradition of Mrs Proudie and as, in her own way, a mythic heroine to rival Eowyn. After all, if he'd not had the sense to find another engagement elsewhere that day, I don't doubt that she would have been just as ready to take her umbrella to Saruman himself. The fact is that Tolkien chose not to do so. Consistently.

And the trouble with Tolkien's diffidence about women characters (which the fact that he had the all-male environment of the Inklings as his test-bed during the writing process would have done nothing to solve) is that while he did not set out to define - and, unfortunately, "define" means "limit" as well as "clarify" - a whole new genre, his achievement was so towering that he did in fact do so. And so his bug - his self-perceived inability to write women right, leading to his refusal to write them at all - suddenly became its feature.

Which is particularly worrying given that he set off to create a "mythology for England" (which as a matter of fact already had one - though he did not care for its parameters- and that existing mythology contained Boudicca and Cartimandua; Maid Marian, Fair Janet, Lord Donald's Wife and Alizon Gross; t'Owd Woman and Jinny Greenteeth and all).

Because of Tolkien's towering presence - which he could not have expected - he managed not merely to wipe women out of mythic history but pretty much out of actual English mythology. If you assume Tolkien's Elves to be the default, where does that leave Fair Janet? Or, for that matter, her terrifying adversary, the Elven Queen?

However, it is encouraging to note that, building upon the idea that "just because the women are largely silent in the chronicles, one should not assume that they played a subordinate part" I have authorial permission for the Quaker Orcs of the Misty Mountains (who fought against both their inbred blood-lust and considerable scepticism from the world of Men to be allowed to be what they wished to be) and whose deeds with the Eagle Ambulance Corps are still sung among the Beornings.
Electric Landlady
26. Richard the Mauve

Your points are all well argued, and I concede on the grounds of logic. I think that I'm particularly coloured by modern perception on this matter. I'm prepared to take Tolkien's self-confessed inability to write convincingly for women at face value because, well, I can't quite bring myself to imagine that he set out to excise women deliberately from the pages of English Myth (and I know that you're not saying that - it's a false dichotomy in my own head that predates these discussions).

I need to have a think about it, when I have some time free. I look forward to another skirmish on this point when the opportunity arises in the text. :-)

I was going to start an argument about Tolkien's "mythos for England", but I'm definitely not going to have time in the next week or two to argue it properly, so I'll leave it for others if they wish. In brief, I understand that Tolkien's frustration with pre-existing English myths is that they are patchy and lack consistency (and he holds the Normans responsible for this, as I recall). His vision of a mythos for England was to have a complex, complete and broadly consistent weave of stories. That's not to excuse him missing out Black Annis and her ilk, but I don't think it was snubbery for the sake of snubbery.

Finally, this: I have authorial permission for the Quaker Orcs of the Misty Mountains (who fought against both their inbred blood-lust and considerable scepticism from the world of Men to be allowed to be what they wished to be) and whose deeds with the Eagle Ambulance Corps are still sung among the Beornings., made me spit coffee down my nose and all over a research paper. Thanks. :-P
Andrew Foss
27. alfoss1540
Have we lost the significance of Caradhras as the enemy in the crossing vs the other possibilities? Let's See:

1) Possible sighting of a winged Nazgul - could be Sauron affecting life in the Mountains, though it has been said elsewhere about the long arm of Sauron reachin up this high north.

2) The Crows scouting out Hollin - who could they be scouting for?

3) Gandalf comment about his signature after lighting the fire - who would be watching that could affect life there and wouldn't any ability to see his spell be hidden by the blizzard?

4) Would Orcs be a part of the rocks falling? Led by Who?

5) I thought the movie had it pretty far fetched with Saruman encanting spells from Orthanc, but could that have been a possibility?

Also regarding the orcs - as we are about to comment about them in Moria, As far as Free middle Earth, the only ways through the Misty Mountains are: 1) North, 2) Pass followed by the Dwarves and Bilbo, 3) Dimrill Stair / Redhorn, 4) Gap of Rohan, 5) Moria.

Now the Orcs most definitly have caves and passages worming all through the Misty's. Also, Gollum finds his way in there as well - and unless we believe he snuck in behind the company when the Watcher begins its fury, there are other entrances to Moria from the West unknown to the free peoples, or Gollum took a long walk from the other end. We must discuss this more during the next chapter, but since it starts here, I wanted to put it down.

So questions: 1) Who made it all Hell? Caradhras or someone else? 2) What about other entrances?
Andrew Foss
28. alfoss1540
Richard @ 26 - I like to think of JRRT much like me and my D&D playing friends who were into Fantasy and SciFi. Kate not withstanding, you can tend to characterize us geeks as uncomfortable guys, who aren't the most extroverted. And Let's face it, 30 years after its writing - and towrds JRR's death, there were few who recognized what he had written as "literature" - the illuminati were too scared to compare fantasy Stories as "art".
Michael Ikeda
29. mikeda

According to the chapter "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales, Gollum did indeed enter Moria from the east.

(As far as Caradhas is concerned, my guess is either Saruman or Sauron asked Caradhas to block the pass.)
Electric Landlady
30. Viviannn
Hi again, I just want to point out that the Index hasn't been updated.
Andrew Foss
31. alfoss1540
I gotta get unfinished tales! Keep reminding.
Electric Landlady
32. sunjah
Tolkien's "failure of nerve" (as you put it) with regard to writing female characters is indeed disappointing, if that is not too mild a word. I have wanted to let him off more easily than you, my reasons (or rationalization?) being that Tolkien spent many formative years
1) in an English public school
2) at Oxford
3)in the trenches at the Somme and related military service
4) at Oxford...
Mari Ness
33. MariCats
@legionseagle and @richardthemauve:

The oddest part of the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien did, indeed, have prominent women characters in his tales of the First Age -- both in the very first Book of Lost Tales and the later Silmarillion.

I think, myself - and I may be wrong - that the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings has nothing to do with Tolkien's ability to write women - as Legionseagle notes, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is definite evidence that he could. But rather, this has its roots in the roots of World War I, a very gendered war where the men left to fight in the trenches, and the women remained to guard the homefront - in a sense, what Arwen and Galadriel do, remaining in Rivendell and Lothlorien to protect these places, while the men went off to fight.

When Tolkien was attempting to escape this war in his imagination, he turned to places like The Cottage of Lost Play (in the Book of Lost Tales) and the tale of Beren and Luthien, and other stories featuring strong women. When he was writing something that more deeply reflected his experiences in World War I (and much of The Lord of the Rings does reflect this) women were absent.

On a secondary note, I have often read The Lord of the Rings to be in part a journey of depression. This is particularly strong when Frodo reaches Mordor. I wonder if this is at all connected to the comparative lack of women.
Electric Landlady
34. legionseagle
sunjah@32: I've heard the argument you put forward above with reference to Oxford before, and, frankly, don't buy it. Oxford wasn't a monastery by the mid-20th century - far from it. Apart from the five women's colleges, all of which had been established in the late 19th century, and the numerous female academics and so forth, even male dons had wives, daughters, sisters and so forth. Two decades before Tolkien was even born Lewis Carroll was making up stories to amuse the daughters of the Dean of Christchurch. It may well have been an environment which facilitated the creation, by men who wished to do so, of a largely sex-segregated working environment, but the same was generally true of white-collar working environments at the time, and certainly other works of literature produced by people who'd been educated at Oxford do not have the marked absence of women which characterises the Lord of The Rings.

Look at the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth, for a start:
Hobbits. Relatively normal gender distribution in the population at large; all main hobbit characters are batchelors at the time of the story and either have lost their mothers young or their mothers are never mentioned.
Men: there presumably are other women in Rohan besides Eowyn but we don't get to see any. Women have been carefully evacuated from Gondor, the most defensible place in the entire country, prior to the start of war. Bree does not seem to have grasped the concept of barmaids.
Ents: Lost entire female half of population some millenia ago and worked out that this had occurred a few hundred years later.
Dwarves; "Only one Dwarf-woman is named in these histories". We don't get to meet her.
Elves: Two female elves with speaking parts and Galadrial apparently has attendant women. Who are quite nifty at weaving camouflage clothing but we don't get to hear anything else about them.

I think it's a bit hard to blame the Oxford - a city which produced people like Dorothy L. Sayers, Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby, Rose Macauley et al - for this boggling absence of women in Middle-Earth.
Electric Landlady
35. legionseagle
Damn! I meant to say, of course, Minas Tirith, not Gondor, above. I'm clearly insufficiently caffienated.
Agnes Kormendi
36. tapsi
I wrote a long and detailed post and just as I was finishing it, there was a power surge. Damn.

The main points were, as I recall:

- The fact that Oxford was not an exclusively male society, or that Tolkien had met / married / tutored women doesn't mean that he was comfortable around them or that he had was confident enough about his insights concerning them to write more prominent female characters.

- Lobelia is NOT a prominent character. She's a comic character on par with Butterbur, and the fact that Tolkien could pull that off doesn't mean he had no right to worry about writing a scene where an ancient and noble lady such as Arwen talks about her deepest feelings.

- An Aragorn / Arwen scene would have stood out here. Aragorn is not a POV character, we only see him act, and deduct his emoitions form his actions. We don't get inside his head. We know how the hobbits feel about things, if they're scared, but when they're not around, as in the chase across Rohan, we just get the bare facts.

- An Aragorn / Arwen scene would have stood out also because we mostly see romantic episodes only when they have direct influence on the plot, such as Éowyn's infatuation with Aragorn, and her subsequent decision to ride into battle, or as rewards at the end.

- Both The Hobbit and LotR are about long treks into the unknown, and people traditionally didn't take their women on such dangerous journeys, unless they planned to settle there.

- Bilbo and Frodo are bachelors, but they are strange folks, as hobbits say. Pippin and Merry are practically teenagers, so it's no surprise they're not married yet. Sam is actually engaged and marries as soon as they get home. As for their mothers, why would we see them? Sam's dad is the only one of their parents we meet and that's because he's Sam's "connection" to Bag End.

I recall the original post was a lot more coherent, but it's gone now... :(
Electric Landlady
37. legionseagle
tapsi@36 I accept your points about Tolkien's worries about writing female characters being genuine; the purpose of my post was to challenge sunjah's argument that it was Oxford to blame for making him that way. Essentially, Tolkien sets up a narrative where women are remarkably absent even by the standards of the heroic epic, and because he is a great genius that then becomes the default setting for the entire genre. So skilled is he that the very fact of the invisibility of women in Tolkien itself becomes invisible, but as a matter of fact it's very odd indeed, however logical and seemless it appears in the context of the book.
Andrew Mason
38. AnotherAndrew
Regarding women: MariCats has made one of the points I wanted to make, that the absence of women is a distinctive feature of LOTR (and The Hobbit), and they have a more prominent role in the First Age material. So the explanation cannot be simply either the Tolkien couldn't write women or that he was afraid to; it must be more complex that that. It was, of course, LOTR and not the First Age works which set the agenda for heroic fantasy, so what legionseagle says about Tolkien's impact there is certainly right.

My other thought - since we got into this in connection with Arwen - is that even by the standards of LOTR, Arwen's silence and passivity are striking. Galadriel and Eowyn only appear in limited parts of the work, but they are prominent and active in the bits where they do appear. Likewise Lobelia. Even Goldberry has more to do and say than Arwen. This seems to need an explanation of its own.

Parenthetically, was Tolkien still working with the idea of 'a mythology for England' when he wrote LOTR? I thought that idea related to a very early phase of the legend, perserved in The Book of Lost Tales and related works, and that Tolkien had abandoned the idea of a special connection with England by this stage.
Mari Ness
39. MariCats

I have to admit that when I first read Lord of the Rings Arwen's sudden appearance at the end caught me a bit off guard - I had by that point completely forgotten her brief introduction in Rivendell and the banner she sent to Aragorn. (I think that's mostly it for her appearances until she shows up for the wedding, although I may be forgetting a casual mention or two.)

But I took it as part of how so many fairy tales work -- where the prince after multiple quests finally wins the princess that he barely knows, simply because this is part of his reward (along with the kingdom) for taking the quest in the first place. This is particularly true for tales collected/retold by men; in the French salon fairy tales written by women, the princes and princesses chatter. A lot. But I digress. So I was further astounded when I headed to the appendixes to find that Arwen had more than just this fairy tale trope - all relegated to an appendix.
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
Hi, all. Before I go possibly-Internet-less for the next day or two, some quick responses.

Let me say that first, I'm going to save detailed comments on Where Are All the Women, Dammit? until later, but will be referring back to the thoughtful discussion here when I do.

Now, some thematic responses:

About Boromir:

Indeed, the little tiny movie-only scene of him training the hobbits in the sword is what I was thinking of when I noted that the chapter was fairly bare of non-plot-essential characterization. I don't really remember what other hobbit-related characterization of him we get later, but whatever it is, I know it previously hadn't given me as good an impression of him as in the movie.

KellyMcCullough @ #16, as far as writing a character you intend to kill off--I never thought of it like that, and will have to keep in it mind as we go.

About leaving in the winter:

tapsi @ #5, I like the additional thematic resonance you suggest about traveling in winter. Still doesn't make sense to me, but I like it.

Tony Zbaraschuk @ #7, good point that Elrond's sons made it to Rivendell and back in just two months! Alas that we have no textevd for hibernating Orcs. (I presume.)

Erunyauve @ #8, thanks for reconstructing the timeline calculations. I could draw speculative connections between the destruction of the Ring and the Annunciation, but it's not my theology, so I will pass on that for the moment.

Viviannn @ #17, I live in New England and our freshly-fallen snow varies from light and powdery to wet heavy and dense. =>

Finally, legionseagle wins the Internet for today with the Quaker Orcs.

And now I must run. More later!
Electric Landlady
41. UnderHill
I'm a canadian, too, and it snowed where I am, today, a lot - although the ground is now warm enough for it to have melted rather than stayed. I think that a lifetime's accumulated hours and hours of snow shoveling, not to mention skiing, snowshoeing, skating, sledding, making snowforts, and waiting for the bus in January blizzards, gives me some authority on the subject of the white stuff. I love the scene on Carhadas because it does really show the cold, exposure, wind and volume of snow as ferociously dangerous. It ain't easy walking though even a moderate amount of snowfall to the store if the plows haven't come by, even if you aren't going up hill with the wind shrieking at you. Carhadras is indeed formidable, and Boromir and Aragorn impressive. And that new-fallen snow can't have been light and fluffy; snow driven by the wind like that is dense and solid.

I remember being delighted by Legolas being able to run on the surface of fresh snow when I first read the books - I was eleven or twelve. Now, as a cranky, cynical forty-something, I am annoyed because I can't believe it and it boots me right out of the story. I am back on the sofa with my cup of tea (or in the bathtub with a glass of wine, or whatever) trying to figure out what it is about elves that lets them do this, or what Tolkien was UP to with that. Maybe in some other story I could believe that a body with mass roughly that of a grown human person could stroll around on the surface of a foot of wind-packed snow - if the author had sold me some mechanism to help me believe it. I can imagine someone from Hogwarts doing it after reciting the appropriate charm, for example. But most things in Tolkien's world behave very much as things in this world do, and everything is usually so beautifully realized and described, that it just doesn't make sense to me. Something is missing, it needs some little bit of conjury to help me believe.

("Oh, don't worry," said Legolas, rummaging in Bill's pack, "elves carry invisible showshoes at all times!" and he ran off down the mountain...)

I have been noticing other places in this re-read where something supernatural doesn't quite work for me. Apparently I can still swallow Balrogs whole, extra levels of elvish perception, mind-mediated healing, wizardly fire-starting and a lot of other things, but there are things like Legolas and his invisible snowshoes that I can't now accept as I once could.
Electric Landlady
42. dulac3
Underhill@41 I too am Canadian (take off, eh?) and share your ambivalent experience with the white stuff. I think Tolkien does do an excellent job of evoking the cold, snowy weather of Caradhras. When it comes to Legolas and his snow-walking I just write it off to the preternatural nature of Elves. As with their heightened (or 'other') perceptions they seem to have some level of control over how they interact with the world (Arda) and the actual physical stuff that makes it up that is beyond what we mere humans are capable of. This allows them to be the master artisans and craftsmen that they are, since they have an innate understanding of how things work and what they are made of. I think tied in with this is an ability to shrug of some of the more onerous effects of nature. They don't seem to feel extremes of temperature like humans do and are apparently able to go without what we consider sleep. The exact mechanism of walking on top of newly fallen snow may be hard to fathom in this context, but I think it was simply a scene to point out how 'other' Elves are when compared to everyone else and to highlight the abilities that set them apart from us. I think in the HoME volume _Morgoth's Ring_ there is an essay on some of the nature of Elves and it is stated that their spirit has a greater element of control over their physical body than does ours. This may mean that they can actually vary their mass, at least temporarily, however strange that may seem to someone from a more scientific age. You may not 'buy it' any more with that explanation than without, but I think Tolkien was at pains to point out some of the essential differences between Elves and Men not just in regards to their physical nature wherever he could.

I don't want to go too much into the question of women and LotR for this chapter, I think that will come up as more relevant later, but just speaking of Arwen: I think it can be argued that she plays a small role here, and throughout the story, because the tale of Aragron and Arwen is at best secondary to the story Tolkien is trying to tell. Maybe we would consider it more even-handed if she had a larger speaking part here, but the fact is that Tolkien wasn't telling the romantic tale of an elven-maid and her mortal lover (he did that in spades with the tale of Beren and Luthien) he is telling the story of the quest to destroy the one Ring. To start introducing the romance of Aragorn and Arwen as anything other than an implied undercurrent to the story would shift the focus away from what he wanted to tell. I imagine if he had given us the whole tale of this then that would have been the story he wrote, not the tale of the Ringbearers, and if he had given us only a little bit more many readers would have cried foul and said that he should not have introduced so much of the romance story without fully expanding on it. Leaving it in the appendix and merely implying the story through hints and implicatiosn in the main text not only helped keep the story on track, but added another implied layer to the tale's background to give it depth. I don't think he kept Arwen's role to a minimum because he disliked writing strong women (Luthien saved Beren's bacon more times than I can remember!), but because that wasn't the tale he was telling here.

Kate: I think the narrative aside of “a good supply of pipe-weed (but not near enough, I’ll warrant)” is meant to be coming from Sam, not the narrator per se. At least that's how I always took that comment.
Electric Landlady
43. Viviannn
Kelly and Kate, I assumed that the snow could not be wet and heavy because everybody feels so cold. Mind you, the sense of cold is a relative thing. I remember getting amused during my first trip to Britain when the announcer on the TV news said it was "very cold" because it was -2. I have wondered if the Middle Earth climate is supposed to be British, or colder than that.

I'm not familiar with hard, wind-driven snow. From what I remember of the good old days before global warming, wind sculpts the snow into peaks and folds, but freshly-fallen snow is still light. When I was a kid, we got a big snowdrift in the driveway, and we dug into it and made a cave--not something we could have done had it been hard.

Maybe Legolas uses magic to walk on the snow? Perhaps he's levitating. Either that, or elves are not very dense. :) It bothered me too, but only a little.

Regarding the absence of women, what struck me as most odd is the way Arwen is barely there until suddenly she's marrying Aragorn. She pops up like a jack-in-the-box. Before then, you don't get enough indication that there's a relationship there. I have wondered if Tolkien would have liked to work all that stuff about their relationship into the text, but either he or his editor decided it was too much and had to go in an appendix.

It's a good thing we have Eowyn dressing up as a man, going to fight and taking down the head Nazgul; she's the only woman who gets to do something interesting. The rest just look ethereal or, in the case of Goldberry, dance a lot. (I find Goldberry almost as irritating as Tom Bombadill!) I'm very fond of Eowyn. I regret that her accomplishment was diluted by her needing Mary's help, but then Tolkien obviously wanted each hobbit to have something heroic to do. Even Pippin gets to kill a troll.
Electric Landlady
44. Mike Molloy
Legolas being able to run on the surface of fresh snow...I can't believe it and it boots me right out of the story.

Yeah, me too. It's funny, one of the things that clearly annoyed Tolkien was the degraded notions about elves that were popular in English culture in his day, the representation of them as twee little munchkins of the sort you see in Keebler commercials. His stories set in Middle Earth's first age, in Silmarillion and Book of Lost Tales and the rest, present a completely different picture, and the elves of those stories seem a lot like higher quality Vikings--you know, they lived in forests in cold, northern regions, they hacked their own kingdoms out of the primeval wilderness, considered the poet-warrior a natural combo profession, etc. (But they lived forever! Hence the "higher quality".)

In The Hobbit, though, Tolkien himself presents elves as somewhat more cutesy; when Bilbo and the gang visit Rivendell, and all the Elves seem to do is sing some rather silly songs and make jokes about the dwarves. Not too surprising, since the Hobbit wasn't really set in the same world as the first-age stories; The Hobbit is itself a light-hearted fairy story, so it's natural to use the stereotypes the culture provides. In LOTR the elves are generally more like what they are in the first age stories, but there are these occasional backslides into the more twee picture, and this is one of them.

I mean, one of the big stories of the elves in the first age is the crossing of the Arctic ice pack, which was supposed to be a great ordeal and during which supposedly many of the elves died. If they can just run across the surface of the snow, though, what's the big deal about crossing some water that's frozen solid? Just walk right over.

Another example like this is late in ROTK, I think after Frodo and Sam are back from their trip to Mordor and they're having the big feast, where everyone's eating and resting up from all their adventures, but Legolas doesn't need to eat or sleep because of...something about the sweet air of Ithilien being nourishment enough for him. (Maybe he could photosynthesize.) There's another nifty special feature that's not mentioned elsewhere, and that sure would come in handy on a lot of occasions. I guess that's why you never seem to see any elves farming.
Andrew Foss
45. alfoss1540
Legolas and eating - remember Legolas also has just a nibble of Lembas when they are running across Rohan in pursuit of Merry and Pippin (I think that was the books and not the movie). He remarks that it will nourish him for a full day.
Electric Landlady
46. legionseagle
Dulac3 - I'm not sure that the problem with Arwen is that we don't get to see her story with Aragorn being worked out - I think you're right that this would probably unbalance the narrative. But the thing that is odd, as commenters above have mentioned, is her complete passivity. She's characterised by a complete lack of agency.

Here we have a supernatural being several thousand years old, faced with the rise of a power which is threatening to annihilate everything her people have always fought for, whose servants are the creatures who have tortured and violated her mother. We're told that she's passionately in love (to the point of being prepared to sacrifice immortality and gamble on an unknown factor, being the Doom of Men, as far as the afterlife is concerned). Her only chance for union with the man she loves is if her becomes King of Gondor and Arnor, and there are all the forces of Sauron sitting between him and that objective.

And what does she bring to the War of the Ring? Embroidery! I'm sure it's very nice embroidery, and it no doubt gave a great boost to morale at the appropriate moment, but it's not equivalent to disguising yourself as a vampire in order to confront a corrupted God in his own citadel, is it?

I don't think people who find Arwen curiously lacking in the Rivendell sequences are wanting to see her being lovey-dovey with Aragorn, particularly, but I think they are picking up on the difference between "low-key" and "functionally irrelevant".
Electric Landlady
47. Mike Molloy
My comment above sort of fell into the "harshing on small inconsistencies" category, so I wanted to say a little more.

I really don't think anything deeply connected to Tolkien's understanding of the elves is going on in the "Legolas running atop the snow" scene, that this is a key clue to the elves' nature (as it would be if we were to take it seriously, since elsewhere they seem pretty much as affected by gravity as the rest of us). I think Tolkien liked to throw random cool fantasy elements into scenes, little extra bits that help give the story its atmosphere of otherworldliness and magical goings on, for example manifesting Galadriel's ability to foresee bits of the (possible) future by her mirror, or a specific detail such as the banner of Rohan (white rider on green field, IIRC), or Gimli's song about the days of Old Khazad Dum while the gang is camping in Moria. The fact that these little details are *not* essential to the story is just what sets Tolkien's work apart from so much from the average work of fantasy fiction; these small, random details help make the fantasy elements seem real, because the real world is filled with small, random details. Tolkien was really good at this sort of thing, and when he did it, it usually worked. Legolas running on the snow is one that doesn't work, for me.
Electric Landlady
48. Jon Meltzer
#46: Uh, yeah. If Arwen had actually been "Luthien again" she would never have let Aragorn go on his life-changing quest alone.

Poor Arwen. Everyone comparing her to the heroic ancestress she couldn't live up to; and she internalized that to such an extent that she had to find her own Beren. With some therapy she could perhaps have found a nice elf and been happier.
Agnes Kormendi
49. tapsi
Part of the reason Luthien ran off with Beren was that Thingol wasn't exactly supportive of their affair... but Elrond accepts Arwen's choice. I think Arwen doesn't follow Luthien's example because she doesn't want to break her father's heart even more.
Terry Lago
50. dulac3
legionseagle@46: Riffing on what tapsi says in 49: perhaps one other reason that Arwen is more passive in this story than Luthien was in hers was that Beren had no one else to save him but Luthien. She had to go out and be a hero or he would have died horribly. Aragorn has got quite a number of powerful allies including Gandalf and eventually her brothers and the Dunedain of the North who are watching his back. There's no guarantee that they can save him from death, but certainly it makes the necessity of her stepping into the role of boyfriend-saviour much less imperative. Also, maybe Arwen just isn't wired to be an adventuress the way that Luthien was.

If we want to fall back on the "LotR was based on an account written by Hobbits" argument we could note that at the time of the Rivendell interlude the hobbits were (I think) unaware of the connection between Aragorn and Arwen, and were even surprised to see her show up later in Minas Tirith (again I think...not sure) after the war was over and so perhaps they didn't catch the nuances at the time in Rivendell that would otherwise have made their way into an expanded Arwen-role at this point of the story.
Soon Lee
51. SoonLee
Not within the main narrative but in the appendices, Celeborn is said to later move to Rivendell to live with the sons of Elrond.


So it follows that all three of Elrond's children chose to be numbered among the Race of Man. And I thought Elrond was a tragic character before.
Electric Landlady
52. Erunyauve
Unless I am highly mistaken, it is said later on (or implied highly) that eventually Elladan and Elrohir later leave Middle-Earth and go to the Havens.
Totally an aside: I have been bugged ever since I learned the meaning of the names of Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir. Their relatives have names that not only sound neat but mean neat things too. But them? No, they're Royal-Daughter, Elf-Man, and Elf-with-a-Horse.
I think Tolkien got lazy, or, more probably, he came up with the names and then got slightly hamstrung when he went to figure out the meanings.
The characterization of Arwen is something that always bugged me. I wanted, so badly, to see the reality of how much Aragorn and Arwen loved each other. But it just isn't there. I think dulac3@50 has a point in that all this is told from the hobbit's POV (specifically, Sam and Frodo's, the authors of the Red Book), but still.
The end effect, at least for me, is that Aragorn rejecting (smart, active, badass) Eowyn in favor of (inactive, makes nice embroidery) Arwen actually diminishes him in my eyes. What, he couldn't handle a strong, badass wife. Similarly, I'm hugely bugged by Eowyn's statement (to Faramir, in the houses of healing) that she's going to stop being a fighter and become a healer. But that rant can wait until we get to that chapter.
Electric Landlady
53. legionseagle
dulac3@50: actually, I find Arwen jarringly passive not because I'm comparing her to Luthien but because I'm comparing her to my mother and all her contemporaries who "did their bit" in WWII. While I accept Tolkien's utter loathing of and rejection of allegory "in all its forms" (in which context, incidentally, can anyone tell me what was going on in that apparently pointless but no doubt very naturalistic story he wrote about the incompetent amateur painter waiting for a train?) even he conceded the notion of "applicability".

And if we talk about LOTR and its applicability to WWII the point you notice is that women - like my mother, who was 19 when the war broke out, rather than 2901 or however old Arwen is - didn't worry about whether they were "wired to be an adventuress" before volunteering. They didn't consider that their specific loved ones had other people to watch their backs.

They worked out that every single scrap of every available person's efforts were going to be needed, even if that did mean working out how to handle a machine lathe that had been set up for someone six inches taller and 100lbs heavier than you were (women workers in munitions factories were not allowed to set their own lathes, because that would have made them "semi-skilled" rather than "unskilled" workers, and that would never have done). And they went out and did it. And did it again. And again. And again. In factories which were prime targets for bombing raids.

And that would have been happening out at Cowley when Tolkien was writing LOTR, barely a mile and half from the centre of Oxford.

And if you assume (as one has to assume, since Hitler was mortal and Sauron was not) that the imperative to defeat Sauron was even greater than the imperative to defeat Hitler, one is left with the question, "What the Hell did Arwen think she was playing at?"
Electric Landlady
54. debraji
I don't think Tolkien was much interested in women. My impression is that he preferred them as objects to strive for and venerate, not as comrades or equals. He loved his wife and daughter, but reserved his real intellectual kinship for his colleagues, the Inklings, and his sons.

But I think the insight Tolkien showed into Eowyn's fear of being imprisoned by her role as a woman is an example of Tolkien moving past his limitations, and I honor him for that. It was so far out of his comfort zone, perhaps, that once Eowyn had served her purpose and dispatched the Witch-King, he had her renounce heroics and take up gardening.

But the lack of female characters, even in the background, is truly stunning. Just imagine if he'd populated LOTR with more three-dimensional female characters!
Soon Lee
55. SoonLee
Erunyauve @52:
But the whole point was that the fates of Elrond's children were tied to his. While he remained on Middle Earth, they lived as elves, immortal. When he leaves (at the end of LotR), his children have an irrevocable choice, to leave with him to the Undying Lands or to remain & become mortal. No take-backs.

Hence at the end of the "Tale of Aragorn & Arwen", when he lays dying, it's mentioned that even if Arwen wanted to go west, she couldn't anymore. So, while Elladan & Elrohir might move to the Grey Havens, they wouldn't have any right of passage from there to the Undying Lands; they are now mortal. That choice was made when Elrond left & they stayed.
Electric Landlady
56. UnderHill
When we were all discussing Radagast not so long ago, there was a certain amount of willingness to believe that he was doing useful stuff that just didn't get into the books because it wasn't central to the narrative. There was some respect for Radagast. Now Arwen is getting criticism because she stays home and engages in needlework. We don't like her passivity, and her being kept safe at home as a prize to be claimed later by Aragorn if the west is victorious. But she HAS done something pretty huge, after all: she has chosen to put her immortality on the line, and has allied her elvishly prescient self as closely as is possible with Aragorn. Shake it free of gender roles for a moment, and think about how much it means for a person to be really, unshakably believed in by another worthy person - whether male, female, parent, sibling, or friend it does not matter - she's doing something meaningful, and important. Quiet faith and hope are not as compelling in a story as disguising yourself as a man and running off to war, but they count. And although Eowyn is a great character and a real hero, she is running off for selfish reasons. She can't stand to be left alone to mind the home front and probably die alone long after those she cares for die in battle, and that is what she sees as her likely future. She is supposed to stay home and take care of her people, but she ducks her duty and rides off in search of death, because she has so little hope. Arwen doesn't do anything flashy and we don't know too much about her inner life and she is nowhere as interesting a character as Eowyn, but she is more grown up (well of course she is, how much older is she?) more steady and reasonable. In a way she does represent for me those that got down to work at home in the factories while the men were at war.
Electric Landlady
57. UnderHill
Mike Molloy @ 44 - Legolas On Ice does seem like a bit of the old elf style from the Hobbit, I agree. And now thanks to you I will always be picturing Legolas photosynthesizing. (Does he eat more in the dark of Moria, I wonder?)
Electric Landlady
58. legionseagle
underhill@56: I never really bought the idea that Radagast was doing useful stuff "off-stage" either. One of my criticisms of Arwen is essentially literary: an editor could have taken a blue pencil and wiped her completely out of the story and it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference. Aragorn's actions would be exactly the same. Arwen's sacrifice of her immortality has no resonances for me because we're never allowed to see her live in the first place. I don't get any sense that Aragorn sees her as real or important to him, and the point Kate made about the comment that only Elrond understanding how he felt on departing from Rivendell really reinforces how irrelevant Arwen is - she's the ultimate "spatchcocked woman" as Erskine Childers described the love interest his publisher insisted he put into .
Michael Ikeda
59. mikeda
Mike Molloy@44

There's a big difference between a quick dash over a bit of snow and a lengthy trek through frozen wilderness.
Electric Landlady
60. Erunyauve
SoonLee @ 52:
The choice laid upon the children of Elrond is that they can, at any point in their life (whether or not their father is in Middle-Earth or not) choose their mortality. Once they do, they become mortal. Elladan and Elrohir did not have to sail with Elrond to sail at all. Tolkien never explicitly says what happened to the twins, but in one of his letters (#153) he says, "The end of sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and remain for awhile." (my emphasis). I take this to mean that maybe the twins went to Valinor, and maybe they didn't, but certainly the choice was still theirs to make after their father left.
I always interpreted Arwen's statement that there are no ships left for her as saying that there literally aren't any ships. Remember that not long after this conversation, Legolas (and Gimli) go to Valinor - and they have to build their own boat.
Soon Lee
61. SoonLee
I wasn't aware of the option to delay their choice, it wasn't in the LotR. It comes across as a cop-out to me, and contradicts the textual content of LotR, at least what I remember of it.
Eric Scharf
62. EricScharf
I fully agree that women are woefully absent from LotR, and that little in Tolkien's historical circumstances excuses this failing.  The hollowness of Arwen's portrayal, in particular, displaces me every time I read the wedding chapter.

It occurs to me that the most economical remedy would have been to give Arwen a seat at the Council of Elrond.  With portentous affirmations of the necessity of destroying the Ring and steadying gazes upon Aragorn (duly noted by our Hobbit historians), we could get a better idea of her belief in Elessar as well as some foreshadowing of the long-term perspective of Galadriel.  It's a bit of a cheat, but here Arwen would be standing in not only for Galadriel but also for Celebrían and Gilraen and their contributions to the quest.

I don't mean to suggest that this would begin to repair the absence of developed female characters*, but it would help justify Aragorn's fidelity and perserverance.

* Why does no one ever mention Shelob?  She's got motives, personality, influence, and she even survives the War.
Michael Ikeda
63. mikeda

I don't recall anything in LoTR that says or suggests that Elrond's children had to make their choice at the same TIME as Elrond. They just have to choose at some point in time.

(And it seems that they would remain elves unless they specifically choose to become human.)
Electric Landlady
64. legionseagle
EricScharf@62. Good idea about the Council of Elrond, especially the idea that she would be standing in for Gilraen as well as Celebrian, each in her own way a casualty of the long defeat.

I always count Shelob as one of the Nine: that is, the Nine Females Characters Who Speak in LOTR, even though strictly she only hisses (the others are Goldberry, Arwen, Galadriel, Eowyn, Ioreth, Lobelia, Mrs Cotton and Rose).
Soon Lee
65. SoonLee
mikeda @63 & Erunyauve:
Located the references in Appendix A.
"But to the children of Elrond choice was also appointed: to pass with him from the circles of the world; or if they remained, to become mortal and die in Middle Earth."

Tale of Aragorn and Arwen:
"That so long as I abide here, she shall live with the youth of the Eldar," answered Elrond, "and when I depart, she shall go with me, if she so chooses."

Pretty clear-cut to me.
Electric Landlady
66. Erunyauve
SoonLee @ 65:
I'm not going to deny that those are there (or that they seem clear-cut), but those really don't combine with what Tolkien said in his letters.
I guess we just put a question mark next to Elladan and Elrohir's fate?
legionseagle @ 64:
I like the idea of Arwen representing Gilraen, Celebrian (et al) at the council. Come to think of it, Tolkien never lists all the people at the council by name, he just says that there were other elves of Rivendell. Arwen could certainly have been one of them.
Kate Nepveu
67. katenepveu
Mrs. Maggot also gets a line. Or maybe two.
Electric Landlady
68. Tony Zbaraschuk
Tolkien can write powerful and active female characters -- Luthien above all, who's a substantial action heroine in her own right, but Erendis (in "The Mariner's Wife" from Unfinished Tales for conflicted motivations and understanding of female dilemmas) certainly qualifies, and there are others.
Electric Landlady
69. legioneagle
Tony Zbaraschuk@68: Given he can (write powerful and active female characters), the question arises why doesn't he do so more thoroughly in LOTR? Especially since neither the tale of Luthien and Beren nor (by definition) Unfinished Tales were published in his lifetime. Furthermore, the issue in LOTR isn't the absence of powerful and active female characters, it's the absence of female characters, full stop.
Agnes Kormendi
70. tapsi
I find it a little odd that Shelob is listed as a "woman". Technically, she IS female, but she's a monstrous spider, not a woman. By the same token, we could argue that Glaurung and Smaug are "men" but I don't see anything particularly male (and Shelob's or Ungoliant's female) in their behaviour; they're monsters and that's that.
Terry Lago
71. dulac3
legioneagle@69: Um, ok...are you saying that Eowyn is a figment of my imagination? I'd call her not only a female character, but a pretty powerful and active one at that. Also, Galadriel? Maybe you don't like her, or think she is not strong enough, but she plays a pivotal role in the narrative even if she's not a sword-wielding member of the Fellowship herself.

As to the whole Arwen fiasco in these comments: I guess Tolkien felt, for whatever reason, that he had either no wish or no need to write her into the narrative of LotR as a 'full' character. I think enough examples have been given to show that this wasn't due to an inherent inability to write female characters at all (or even strong ones), or because he had some kind of hate-on for women in general. We can really only speculate, maybe it's as simple as the fact that he felt that since her story most strongly revolved around the tragic love between a mortal and an elf-maid, and he had already written that story, in multiple versions, to his satisfaction, that he didn't want to spend more time doing it again in LotR which was ultimately the story of the Hobbits.

I'm not exactly surprised at the venom generated over this character, but I am a little bemused. Elladan and Elrohir are almost as important to Aragorn as Arwen was, as were his Dunedain brethren, but we hear only the smallest of peeps from them in the tale and no one cries foul on that count.
Soon Lee
72. SoonLee
Erunyauve @66:
Where possible, I go with the original published text. The letters etc. published posthumously, while fascinating, can hardly be canonical. Tolkien changed his mind many times about many aspects of Middle Earth. But I figure The Hobbit & LotR (must) represent the finalised versions. Again, no take-backs!

So for me, Elladan & Elrohir chose to be Men, not ultimately surprising given the close relationship they had with the Rangers & Aragorn. Unlike the elves, content to while away the years in Rivendell with poetry & song, the brothers seemed to spend most of their time 'adventuring'. That indicates to me that they had a greater affinity for 'Men' than elvenkind.

NB:I'm likely offline for a few days, so replies may be delayed.
Electric Landlady
73. Erunyauve
SoonLee @ 72:
I agree that the letters were published posthumously, but, of course, they were written before he died. Letter # 153 is dated September 1954 - after the publication of Fellowship but before the publication of Two Towers, so this letter very much reflects that Tolkien was thinking at the time of publication.
Judging by the context - Tolkien referred to the recipient's commentary on Treebeard - it seems obvious that he was someone who had received (probably due to the fact that he is referred to as the owner of a bookstore) an advance copy and thus knew the ending before it had been published.
As for the contradiction with the Appendices, I am willing to offer some possible wiggle room.
Firstly, the first quote you cite, from the section on Numenor: But to the children of Elrond choice was also appointed: to pass with him from the circles of the world; or if they remained, to become mortal and die in Middle Earth. This could (could! be interpreted as saying that Elrond's children were bound to, at some point in their lives, make a choice. They could (1) become mortal and stay in Middle-Earth or (2) go to Valinor, like the father. This trip to Valinor does not necessarily have to be simultaneous with their father's. I realize this is rather spectacular hair-splitting, but I would note that with can denote "going at the same time as to the same place" or "going in the same general direction as." If Valinor is counted as a "general direction" (i.e. West), then this does not contradict. As for the second quote, from the story of Aragorn and Arwen: "That so long as I abide here, she shall live with the youth of the Eldar," answered Elrond, "and when I depart, she shall go with me, if she so chooses." I really must protest the inclusion of this comment. The context of the comment is very telling. Rather than type out the whole thing, I will summarize:
Elrond and Aragorn are speaking. Aragorn has been making eyes at Arwen and Elrond has noticed. Elrond warns Aragorn off, saying that (1) Arwen outranks Aragorn by a lot, (2) Aragorn is a boy next to her, (3) even if Arwen did choose Aragorn, Elrond would be upset. Aragorn asks why. Elrond replies with the quote above. Aragorn compares the situation to Luthein and Beren, then guesses that Elrond is planning to leave Middle-Earth in the near future. Elrond confirms this and then ends the conversation. So, Elrond's comment is is not "if I leave Middle-Earth Arwen must come with me at that exact moment to not become mortal" but "if I leave Middle-Earth Arwen must not have decided to marry you in order to not become mortal." I'd point out that Elrond's presence in Middle-Earth keeps Arwen immortal - she and Aragorn pledge themselves to each other in T.A. 2980, and they are married in T.A. 3019. If she'd become mortal due to being with Aragorn, she would have aged in this 39-year gap, but she didn't. It is possible that the marriage is what aged Arwen (this seems to be the case with Luthein, but then the gap is too small to be sure), but I will note that later in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, it says, ...Elrond...forsook Middle-Earth, never to return. But Arwen became as a mortal woman.... This is after her marriage, I might add. This implies that it was Elrond's presence that kept Arwen immortal.
Electric Landlady
74. Elaine T
If she does start aging after he leaves that implies her brothers did too. Yet one of the letters says they delayed their choice.

In the Tale of A&A, though, it's when Aragorn dies that we're told her light dies, and I've always taken that to be her 'elven light'. They glow, or something remember? Anyway it seemed to be saying that was when mortality really took hold. Before that she appeared elven, still.

Personally, I think they all chose mortality. It hangs together with the published texts that way. Poor Elrond... arriving West to meet Celebrian and having to tell her none of the kids came with him.
Electric Landlady
75. legionseagle
tapsi@70 I agree that it's stretching a point to call Shelob a "woman". Fortunately, with Kate's happy recollection of Mrs Maggot's great contribution to the War of the Ring ("You be careful of yourself, Maggot! Don't go arguing with any foreigners and come straight back" - wise words indeed) I no longer have to stretch a point to bring the number of women characters who speak in LOTR up to the magic tally of Nine.

However, Shelob is female, and her female-ness is of her essence - Tolkien himself pointed out that her very name is simply She+lob (= Female Spider). And she's important not merely as a monster but as the mother of monsters: "Far and wide her lesser broods,bastards of her miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen..."
Sharyn Blum
76. rynners
MariCats @ 33

I was very struck by your mention of LoTR as a journey of depression. I had neither considered this nor heard it mentioned in my reading on the subject. However, on reflection, this is very apt, in my opinion.

Whether that was an intentional device by the author or simply a case of "reading one's own story" into the text hardly matters, though it may be an interesting point of debate. The result is that it does capture something of the experience (not only of depression itself but also the nature of recovery, as Frodo's experiences in the later chapters show) in an abstracted form.

Do you have on hand the titles of any specific commentaries or texts that reference this theme in the books? While I've drawn a few quick parallels in my mind, I'd certainly be curious to see the topic discussed at greater length.
Electric Landlady
77. UnderHill
Tolkien wrote LOTR for publication. The writings with generally acknowledged strongly developed prominent female characters (eg. Luthien) not written for immediate publication. Maybe he was happy to write them for himself and a few others but not comfortable enough with his strong female hero characters to publish? (Too revolutionary? Like Darwin putting off publishing The Origin of Species?)
Electric Landlady
78. Iain Coleman
Tolkien wrote LoTR for publication because he couldn't get anyone to publish the Silmarillion, much to his disappointment. It's a bit unfair to hold that against him.
Electric Landlady
79. UnderHill
Iain Coleman @78: Of course, I had forgotten that - well, I like this even better as a theory, then - maybe he regretfully left them out of the LoTR because he thought it might help get the books published. As part of a general "dumbing down" in tone.
Kate Nepveu
80. katenepveu
Belatedly--thank you all for the high level of civil discourse on gender issues. I appreciate it more than I can say.
Charles Dunkley
81. cedunkley
One note on the delay in Rivendell is that considering Frodo had come so close to passing over into a wraith, a delay of a couple of months before setting out on a long journey would certainly be beneficial.

Along with making sure the Fellowship would not be simply ambushed once they were far enough away, coupled with Frodo's healing, makes sense.

Also, we're talking about immortal elves here. I would think 2 months would be a blink of an eye to Elrond and others, no matter how pressing events might be overall.
Electric Landlady
82. KatherineW
Despite reading the timeline in the Appendices multiple times and knowing that the Fellowship leaves Rivendell on December 25, it didn't hit me until right now that the Quest of the Ring departs on Christmas and the Quest is accomplished around the time that Easter can occur (late March).

In the context of Tolkien's Christianity, I'm pretty sure this wasn't coincidental.

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