The Lord of the Rings Reread

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

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

Behind the jump, the usual spoilers and commentary.

What Happens

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

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

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


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

That said, I do have some mostly miscellaneous comments.

The attack and aftermath:

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *


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

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

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

* * *

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

  1. Bilbo leaves.

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

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

  4. Black Riders lurking around. Farmer Maggot.

  5. Interlude at Crickhollow.

  6. The Old Forest. Rescued by Bombadil.

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

  8. Barrow-wight. Rescued by Bombadil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts about Book I as a whole?

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