The Lord of the Rings re-read continues with Chapter 4 of Fellowship, “A Short Cut to Mushrooms.” I confess that for some reason I had, and still have, a hard time thinking of much to say about this chapter, so while I always am very excited to hear other people’s thoughts, I’m even more so this time.
Frodo wakes up; the elves are gone. Frodo fails to tell his companions about the danger they’re currently in, and resolves to leave the Shire immediately. Sam vows to go with him.
Frodo decides to go across country, avoiding both a loop in the road and the Golden Perch inn. They get muddy and scratched, lose their way, and see and hear Black Riders. They find themselves on Farmer Maggot’s land. Maggot welcomes them, tells them that a Black Rider had just been asking after Mr. Baggins, feeds them dinner, and gives them a ride to the ferry, where they are met by Merry.
Farmer Maggot puzzled me at first, because I’d been sensitized to the whole insular = bad thing in the earlier chapters, and he’s just as insular, except that he’s clearly also supposed to be admirably shrewd. So, I have A Theory:
Farmer Maggot prefigures Tom Bombadil.
There. What do you think?
(And is the first example of “seem fairer and feel fouler.”)
* * *
Jo Walton has pointed out that avoiding the inn is a deliberate break in the pattern established in the first three chapters. The text says that at Farmer Maggot’s table, “Pippin found himself more than compensated for missing the Golden Perch,” which in prior discussion LJ user teckelvik noted as a part of a pattern: “they get their first taste of the danger of the uncultivated world, and their first unexpected feast, both within the Shire as they start out. A late afternoon and mushrooms, but it will get both worse and better before they are done.” rushthatspeaks also saw a similiar pattern: “‘Short cuts make long delays—but that’s not always a bad thing’. . . . The shortcut/twisty route/forgotten passage is weirder and dangerous and probably takes longer, but is also both actually passable and unexpectedly rewarding.”
* * *
I’d said in the chapter two post that I was unhappy that Sam was not given a choice whether to leave the Shire. This gets revisited here:
“Do you feel any need to leave the Shire now—now that your wish to see them has come true already?” [Frodo] asked.
“Yes, sir. I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want —I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”
That’s at the very least is a non-complaining assumption of duty, and maybe more depending on how one interprets “can’t turn back.”
Also, now I wonder about the hint of foresight here. It’s something I expect much more in relation to Frodo, and can’t remember if Sam gets visions or unexplained promptings to action as Frodo does throughout the book.
* * *
As my summary may have suggested, I disapprove of Frodo not telling Sam and Pippin about the Black Riders. Yes, it’s one thing to take your young friends into danger—but they’re in danger now, you’re just not telling them.
Granted, the Riders are still relatively non-scary as judged by their actions as opposed to Gildor’s comments, but still.
* * *
Finally, the chapter ends on a comforting reversal, as also befits its structural function: “Suddenly Frodo laughed: from the covered basket he held, the scent of mushrooms was rising.”
That’s all I’ve got: what do you all think?