And we conclude the first book of The Lord of the Rings with “The Breaking of the Fellowship.” After the jump, the usual spoilers and comments.
(Guys, we’ve actually finished the first book! A third of the way done, woo!)
The Company camps on the west bank. Sting shows orcs near, but Frodo and Aragorn cannot tell on which side of the river. The next morning, Aragorn sets out the Company’s choices: to go east, or west, or their separate ways. No-one says anything. Aragorn tells Frodo that, as the Ring-Bearer, he must choose his own path. Frodo asks for, and is granted, an hour in solitude to choose, and wanders away uphill.
Frodo is no closer to a decision when he is startled to find Boromir watching him. Boromir progresses from trying to persuade Frodo to come to Minas Tirith, to asking for the loan of the Ring, to demanding the Ring, to attempting to take the Ring by force. Frodo puts on the Ring and flees. Boromir pursues in vain, then seems to come to his senses when he trips and falls, weeping and calling for Frodo to come back.
Frodo does not hear Boromir; he has fled to the Seat of Seeing at the top of Amon Hen. Still wearing the Ring, he sees war everywhere he looks, until finally his gaze is caught by the Dark Tower, Barad-dûr. There he senses a searching Eye, which has almost located him when he throws himself off the Seat. He feels two powers striving in him, the Eye and a Voice that calls him “fool” and tells him to take off the Ring. Then he became aware of his power to choose and does, taking off the Ring. The Eye passes him by.
Frodo resolves to go to Mordor alone, since either he cannot trust or does not wish to risk the others. He puts the Ring back on and heads for the boats.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the rest of the Company has been debating what they should do and what Frodo is thinking. Boromir arrives and tells them that Frodo vanished up to an hour ago. Merry, Pippin, Gimli, and Legolas run off to look for him. Aragorn, having failed to get them to search in an orderly fashion, charges Boromir with guarding Merry and Pippin and begins tracking Frodo.
Sam starts out in Aragorn’s company but falls behind and realizes that Frodo has decided to go alone. He arrives at the shore in time to see an apparently-empty boat leaving. He wades into the river; Frodo pulls him out and returns them to the shore. When Frodo realizes that Sam will not be left behind, he admits to being glad. They cross to the eastern shore, and the book ends with them looking for a path into the Land of Shadow.
This is actually less of a cliffhanger than I’d remembered. Frodo and Sam have come to a turning point in their story, the end of one phase and beginning of another, as the text says. And we know that orcs are near-ish, but not that they’re on this bank of the river and thus that the remnants of the Company are in imminent danger. However, I have absolutely no idea how I reacted, when I first read this, to a whole book of no Frodo and Sam. What did you all think? (I’ll save talking about the other effects of splitting up the story this way for later on.)
By the way: what does it say that the very first time the Company is referred to as the Fellowship (at least if searching my e-copy can be trusted), is in the chapter title that announces its Breaking? (Aragorn calls them a fellowship, lower-case, when he tells them it’s time to decide at the start of the chapter.)
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I was impressed by how Boromir progresses to trying to take the Ring by force. It’s a lovely demonstration of how the Ring works: not an instant switching to Evil, but a gradual insidious rational-sounding seduction. (Yes, this does make my questions about people touching the Ring much less important.) I particularly like how it plays on his sense of Gondor: its worth, its people’s distinctiveness (not “elves and half-elves and wizards”), and its Númenórean heritage (conveniently ignoring the source of that heritage). Plus, it uses the feeling that the plan to destroy the Ring has basically no chance of working—which is entirely rational, as far as I can see. Finally, it was a nice touch to have Boromir offer Frodo a guilt-free way out of his burden. I don’t think it would have worked even if he’d given Frodo a chance to accept the offer, but it was a canny move.
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In comments to the last post, legionseagle proceeded on the assumption that Aragorn knew that the Ring was affecting Boromir. This surprised me because the principal point about Aragorn’s leadership that I wanted to bring up here was whether Aragorn failed as a leader by not noticing Boromir’s state.
(I don’t think Aragorn failed by not attempting to guide the Company. It’s very important that Frodo make his own choice, and Aragorn recognizes this. Plus, Aragorn is on record as thinking very poorly of Frodo’s chances in Mordor, but he knows that he doesn’t have any better option for destroying the Ring, so what’s he going to say?)
Right. Back to the Boromir question. I have never found anything in the text indicating that Aragorn noticed what was happening to Boromir. And I have two reasons for thinking that this absence means that he didn’t notice, as opposed to that Tolkien choose not to mention it. First, he says to Boromir, “I do not know what part you have played in this mischief, but help now!” I read this to indicate newly-dawned suspicion (as shown just before in his “hard and not too kind()” look), being set aside for more urgent matters. Second, if he did notice, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have taken appropriate precautions such as, for instance, paying attention to Boromir’s whereabouts while Frodo was off by himself.
In other words, the choice is between Aragorn not noticing, or not taking proper action in response. Neither speaks well of him, but the first seems both preferable and more plausible, inattention being less culpable than failure to protect—even if inattention is difficult to reconcile with the kind of awareness that spotted Gollum following them basically from the beginning.
What do you all think?
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In other character news, this is the chapter where Sam comes into his own. He is not only correct in his assessment of Frodo and Boromir, but he says so and acts on it. I think he says more in this chapter than in most of the rest of this book total.
Merry and Pippin are Frodo’s friends and concerned for him, but they don’t respect his decision to seek the destruction of the Ring over his own safety, as they both want to stop him going East. I will do them the credit of thinking that they are solely motivated by his welfare, even though they don’t want to leave him but also don’t want to go to Mordor. (Gimli and Legolas say the same, but at least they only want to pressure Frodo by presenting him with their vote for Minas Tirith, and don’t propose to actively stop him.)
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At the Seat of Seeing:
Did anyone else spot “Fool” as coming from Gandalf, the first time they read? I’m sure I didn’t, though it seems so characteristic now that I know.
I like the way Frodo’s visions are presented, first the landscapes and then, oh look, war everywhere.
It is definitely early days for Frodo in terms of the Ring’s influence on him, when he can put the Ring back on, just moments after Sauron was seeking it, with no apparent trouble.
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And to wrap up, a look back at the structure of the book.
- Many Meetings: Recaps and reunions
- The Council of Elrond: Info-dump of Doom, the sequel.
- The Ring Goes South: The start of the journey up through the retreat from Caradhras.
- A Journey in the Dark: Wargs, the Watcher in the Water, and finding Balin’s tomb.
- The Bridge of Khazad-dûm: Attack by orcs and a Balrog; Gandalf falls.
- Lothlórien: Healing water on the way to Caras Galadhon.
- The Mirror of Galadriel: Meeting Galadriel and Celeborn; mourning; the Mirror.
- Farewell to Lórien: Gifts and parting.
- The Great River: Travel, with glimpses of Gollum and a winged Nazgûl.
- The Breaking of the Fellowship: Boromir tries to take the Ring; Frodo and Sam leave.
There are definite parallels with the first book. The closest is the first two chapters, followed by the just-past-midbook, rather lengthy, interludes of peace and safety. But the peril and action is more intense early in this book, as opposed to late in the previous: post-Lórien is a lot quieter than I’d remembered, and Lórien longer.
Next time, a cinematic interlude before we start re-reading The Two Towers.