Time to start re-reading Book II of Fellowship, “The Ring Goes South,” with Chapter 1, “Many Meetings.”
Something a little different by way of introduction, though, above the cut: y’all may be amused by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Colbert talking about LotR, specifically Tom Bombadil (about 3:40 into this clip; if it doesn’t play in your country, I imagine you could turn it up on YouTube). Colbert is an even bigger geek than I’d realized, as he quotes, from memory and letter-perfect, the last 3/4 of Bombadil’s poem as he arrives on the Downs.
Frodo wakes in Rivendell with Gandalf by his bedside, who eventually tells him that it’s been four nights since the Ford; the night before, Elrond removed a knife-splinter from his shoulder. Gandalf explains that the Riders are the Ringwraiths and were trying to turn him into another wraith; their horses were destroyed when Elrond commanded the river to flood, and so Frodo has nothing to fear from them at present.
Frodo is reunited with Sam, Merry, and Pippin and then goes to a feast, where he sees Arwen and meets Glóin. After the feast, he is surprised to see Bilbo. They talk of Bilbo’s travels after leaving the Shire, but when Bilbo asks to see the Ring, “a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony grasping hands.” Bilbo apologizes and tells Frodo to put the Ring away. Strider appears and he and Bilbo go off to work on a song.
Frodo dozes and wakes to Bilbo chanting “Eärendil was a mariner.” After Bilbo finishes, they leave and talk quietly, until Sam comes to suggest Frodo should go to sleep before the Council early the next day.
I can’t remember if I ever consciously registered the Book titles before. I certainly had to go back and look up the title of Book I (“The Ring Sets Out”). (Edit: turns out there is a reason for that; see comments.) Interesting that it’s “The Ring,” not “The Ringbearer,” though admittedly that’s not a unique identifier.
This is a cozy transitional chapter, and so my comments about it are fairly scattershot.
* * *
First, bits about Frodo’s conversation with Gandalf.
Somehow I hadn’t noticed before that Frodo hadn’t told the others about his experiences with the Barrow-wight. But more interesting to me is Gandalf’s statement, “You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo, and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.” I don’t know if I ever interpreted that as supernatural/psychic before, but that’s how I read it now.
When Gandalf identified the Riders as the Ringwraiths, it’s the first time the phrase “the Lord of the Rings” appears in the text.
Gandalf says Butterbur isn’t stupid, but I don’t see anything in the text, either so far or from what I recall about the return to Bree, to make me agree. Does anyone else?
I am foolishly pleased that Frodo agrees with me that it’s easy to not realize that when Strider talks about “the heirs of Elendil,” he’s including himself; Frodo has to ask Gandalf explicitly in this chapter, “Do you really mean that Strider is one of the people of the old Kings?”
Gandalf says that Elrond removed a deeply-buried splinter from Frodo’s shoulder, which was then melted. Later that day, Frodo thinks that “his arm was already nearly as useful again as it ever had been.” This suggests to me that Elrond’s removal was not surgical, and anyway I can’t imagine Elrond doing such a thing; but I can’t imagine how he did do it, either. Yes, “magic,” but I can’t picture a plausible scene in my head.
Wraith-dom, invisibility, and nothingness: Gandalf tells Frodo that the Ringwraiths’ “black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.” Later, he thinks that Frodo “may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.” Both of these seem functionally equivalent to me to invisibility—I mean, unless the robes are very heavily starched indeed—but if there’s anything more subtle being implied to other readers besides good v. evil, I’d like to hear it.
* * *
Why doesn’t anyone tell Frodo that Bilbo is in Rivendell? Okay, he falls asleep right after wondering where he is to Gandalf, but Glóin has plenty of opportunity, and Sam, Merry, and Pippin all know, and they don’t mention it either.
(Speaking of Frodo and Glóin, I am very amused that Frodo is so focused on the food that he doesn’t even notice Glóin is sitting next to him for “some time.”)
The bit where Frodo shows Bilbo the Ring:
Bilbo’s appearance through the shadow seems to be foreshadowing Gollum. And on this reading, it seems to me more that the change is in Frodo, or rather Frodo’s perception, than in Bilbo, which shows that the Ring is already getting its hooks in. (Or, at least, if it’s in Bilbo too, he recovers very quickly and gracefully after one quick look at Frodo’s face.)
* * *
Shippey talks about Tolkien taking the traditional, often-contradictory folkloric elements regarding elves and trying to place them all in a coherent context. Thanks to that, I now see some of the descriptions of Rivendell in a different light: Sam’s remark that there’s “Always a bit more to discover, and no knowing what you’ll find round a corner,” and Bilbo’s that “Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is.”
* * *
Arwen is ma’am-not-speaking-in-this-chapter, but at least she’s present. Why is she sitting under a canopy at the feast? Is this some reference to Faerie, or a borrowing of an aristocratic English tradition?
And another couple tiny hints of her relationship with Aragorn, Bilbo saying that she was that the feast, why wasn’t he? and Frodo seeing them together later.
* * *
“Eärendil was a mariner”: more water imagery in Frodo’s dream before it, with “an endless river . . . [that] drenched and drowned him,” but this time in a beautiful, non-threatening way, and one whose imagery is linked to the tale of Eärendil and thus, it seems to me, to the larger history of Middle-earth that Frodo is now part of.
And though I know the tale of Eärendil from The Silmarillion, I don’t think an unfamiliar reader could figure out what was going on from Bilbo’s poem, even with the context Strider gave earlier: in neither place is it explained that Eärendil has gone to ask for the Valar’s intervention against Morgoth.