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"Three Is Company" -- Let's go camping!

Curious
Half-elven


Jun 7 2010, 4:10pm


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"Three Is Company" -- Let's go camping! Can't Post

Last week I presented Book I, Chapter 2, "The Shadow of the Past," as a Wagnerian overture, full of heroic and ominous themes, and built around three dramatic revelations: this is the One Ring, Sauron knows you have it, and it can only be destroyed in Mordor. Looking at "Three Is Company," I am struck by the change in tone. Almost immediately Frodo bargains for delay in leaving the Shire, and Gandalf reluctantly agrees. Then Gandalf leaves with little explanation, and does not return in time for Frodo's departure.

Frodo cannot imagine that he is in danger in the Shire, and therefore takes no precautions against outsiders; he only takes precautions against the curiosity of his fellow hobbits, including close friends, by pretending to everyone that he is simply moving to Buckland. But he decides to walk to Buckland rather than ride.

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His plan - for pleasure and a last look at the Shire as much as any other reason - was to walk from Hobbiton to Bucklebury Ferry, taking it fairly easy.

I shall get myself a bit into training, too, he said, looking at himself in a dusty mirror in the half-empty hall. He had not done any strenuous walking for a long time, and the reflection looked rather flabby, he thought.



So after all the talk of a heroic quest against impossible odds in the preceding chapter, here Frodo treats his journey as nothing more than a camping trip. We get some clues that Frodo is being followed, though, and soon we get our first glimpse of the mysterious Black Rider.


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Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.

A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring. "And I am still in the Shire," he thought, as his hand touched the chain on which it hung. At that moment the rider sat up, and shook the reins. The horse stepped forward, walking slowly at first, and then breaking into a quick trot.

Frodo crawled to the edge of the road and watched the rider, until he dwindled into the distance. He could not be quite sure, but it seemed to him that suddenly, before it passed out of sight, the horse turned aside and went into the trees on the right.



Why does the rider leave? I'm not sure there is a good explanation, but it is certainly fortunate for Frodo that he does. Perhaps it helps that this first meeting takes place in daylight. At any rate, for a while Frodo shows more caution, walking parallel to the road rather than on it. But by that very evening the hobbits are back in the center of the road noisily singing one of Bilbo's walking songs, oblivious to any threat.

Once again the Black Rider appears, this time in the dark, and Frodo is on the verge of slipping on the Ring when elves appear, driving the Black Rider away. The elves, too, sing a walking song. It is extremely fortunate that they appear at this moment, the more so since these are High Elves, and Frodo comments on this "strange chance."

Tolkien is calling our attention to this bit of fortune, and I suggest that this is a pattern throughout LotR. Rather than glossing over improbable escapes Tolkien calls our attention to them, and hints that the hobbits are under some form of mysterious protection. Frodo himself comes to believe that he is fated to reach Mount Doom, although he does not believe that the protection will extend beyond that moment; Sam's unreasoning belief goes further, and he refuses to give up hope of escaping Mordor once they accomplish their goal. In some ways, both prove correct; the hobbits are rescued, but Frodo does not escape without paying a dreadful price.

Because Frodo's fortunate escapes follow the rules Tolkien has imposed on himself in his Secondary World, they seem credible in context, even though we might reject them as incredible in the Primary World. Indeed, Gandalf relies heavily on Luck or Fate or Providence and teaches Frodo to do the same. It is an asset as real as Frodo's ability to hide or move quietly, although skeptics like Boromir and Denethor question staking the fate of the world on such mysterious forces, prophecies or no prophecies.

In The Hobbit Bilbo also learned to rely on his luck, although the tone of that story was much lighter. Here Frodo's luck might be compared to Turin's Doom, which protected Turin's life but not his sanity or his companions. Frodo is not, of course, as ill-fated as Turin, but neither is he as blessed as Bilbo or Sam. Frodo's success comes with a heavy price. Although Frodo is brave and spiritually strong, and even gains a kind of wisdom, his success cannot be attributed to him alone. Frodo is a willing instrument for Providence, a willing tool for Fate, and as such he achieves a kind of greatness himself -- but also sacrifices all that he once held dear.

In retrospect, this last summer in the Shire, followed by a last walk through the Shire, proves to be a lingering good-bye to all that Frodo holds dear. Although Frodo's delay causes him and his companions all kinds of trouble, it is hard to begrudge his reluctance to leave, especially if he has a premonition that even if he returns, he will never again be able to live a carefree life in the Shire.

The elves seem aware of these mysterious forces in Frodo's life, and reluctant to interfere, even when it seems that they should accompany Frodo and protect him from his enemies. That's not the way things work in Middle-earth, which is why Gandalf later argues against sending Glorfindel with the Fellowship and brings Merry and Pippin instead. The time of the elves has passed; if the mortals are to defeat Sauron they must do so essentially on their own, with the aid of Gandalf, who was sent to give that aid.

But what about Legolas? Legolas joins the Fellowship as a sort of witness, a token representative of his race. Legolas is by no means the most powerful elf in Middle-earth, and does not lead the expedition. Legolas is not a High Elf, let alone a leader among the High Elves like Glorfindel or Galadriel. Rather, Legolas is representative of the wood-elves who still live in Middle-earth and have no plans to leave, since they do not consider themselves Exiles. While it is true that Legolas eventually does leave, he didn't expect to do so, and he becomes an exception among his people.

The High Elves do give Frodo some supplies and gifts along the way. Glorfindel and Elrond and Galadriel offer aid and assistance, but only in a limited manner. Here, even though he knows nothing about the Ring, and isn't sure of the nature of the Black Riders, Gildor names Frodo elf-friend -- that is a powerful gift in Tolkien's Secondary World. And Gildor says he will send messages throughout the land. We know that those messages reach Rivendell, but might they also reach Bombadil? Might they also have something to do with the mysterious fog that comes from the Brandywine River and seems to give the hobbits some form of protection against the Black Riders? That's unclear. But what would seem like foolishness in the Primary World -- leaving Frodo to fend for himself against the Black Riders -- may prove to be wise in Tolkien's Secondary World.

Subject User Time
"Three Is Company" -- Let's go camping! Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 7 2010, 4:10pm
    How often do the ringwraiths find a false trail? NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 7 2010, 7:05pm
        In "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 7 2010, 7:44pm
            Nazgul or Aragorn Seven Fathers Send a private message to Seven Fathers Jun 7 2010, 9:34pm
                Aragorn did not dress in all black. Also he would not be asking for Baggins. Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Jun 7 2010, 9:46pm
                    true... Seven Fathers Send a private message to Seven Fathers Jun 7 2010, 11:36pm
                I've never heard that theory before. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 7 2010, 10:09pm
                    I thought it was a Nazgul, but never could be sure Seven Fathers Send a private message to Seven Fathers Jun 7 2010, 11:25pm
                    Well, Aragorn first got at the Hobbits sador Send a private message to sador Jun 8 2010, 7:31am
                Another reason for assuming Nazgul, not Aragorn... Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Jun 8 2010, 3:55am
            Black Riders and Fear beren_boy Send a private message to beren_boy Jun 8 2010, 4:58am
                I like that NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 8 2010, 12:16pm
                Hobbits rush in where wizards fear to tread? Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 4:10pm
                    Saruman acting a little wimpy; more on the Nazgul CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 8 2010, 5:10pm
                        Are you absolutly certain that was Saruman at Fangorn's edge?// Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Jun 8 2010, 5:42pm
                            Gandalf denies that it was him. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 6:05pm
                                You trust someone who could not remember his own name?// Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Jun 8 2010, 8:15pm
                                    Ha! Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 8:40pm
                                But he doesn't confirm that it was Saruman. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jun 8 2010, 8:17pm
                                    Then they would have seen Saruman, Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 9:01pm
                                    Gandalf's guesses in 'The White Rider' should be taken with a grain of salt. sador Send a private message to sador Jun 9 2010, 5:55am
                        The palantir has disadvantages. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 5:43pm
                    Indeed... beren_boy Send a private message to beren_boy Jun 8 2010, 11:53pm
                    Well, Gildor seems to say so specifically. sador Send a private message to sador Jun 9 2010, 5:47am
                        I'm not sure what you mean. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 11:09am
            I think Tolkien dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Jun 8 2010, 8:35am
                It's not the failure to catch Frodo, Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 11:02am
                    Yes, dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Jun 8 2010, 1:02pm
                        yes Twit Send a private message to Twit Jun 8 2010, 1:31pm
                            I quite agree that the land helps Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 11:49pm
                                Water PhantomS Send a private message to PhantomS Jun 9 2010, 7:57am
                                    Yes, poisoned or polluted water Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 11:18am
                                        Perhaps this explains the Nazgul's allergy to running water... NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 9 2010, 11:35am
                                            Quite true. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 11:57am
                                            crossing the water. PhantomS Send a private message to PhantomS Jun 10 2010, 4:39pm
                                                Crossing the ocean is Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 10 2010, 5:07pm
                                You could also say Twit Send a private message to Twit Jun 9 2010, 6:34pm
                                    I'll buy the waterfall. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 6:56pm
                                        hmm Twit Send a private message to Twit Jun 9 2010, 8:08pm
            I can actually buy Tolkien's explanation NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 8 2010, 12:15pm
                Me too. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 9 2010, 5:55am
                    Oooh, nice! sador Send a private message to sador Jun 9 2010, 6:57am
                    Good try. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 11:06am
                        Are there three sides to this plane? NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 9 2010, 12:32pm
                            Glorfindel couldn't take on all the Nine at once CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 9 2010, 1:32pm
                                Good question NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 9 2010, 1:44pm
                            Again, nice try. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 3:25pm
                            what I want to know is..does it have wings? weaver Send a private message to weaver Jun 11 2010, 12:17am
                                In honor of the professor, "it seems to have wings"...// NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 11 2010, 11:24am
                                Yes, but Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 11 2010, 2:19pm
                        My point would be FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 9 2010, 1:44pm
                            Regarding Aragorn, Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 3:44pm
                                Aragorn as immortal or as elf? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 9 2010, 4:51pm
                                    Where there's one exception Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 9 2010, 5:00pm
                                        The doom on Elrond's children CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 10 2010, 3:38pm
                                            I thought Legolas and Gimli left Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 10 2010, 4:59pm
                                                Yeah, I checked the Tale of Years this morning before work CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 10 2010, 5:16pm
                                                    My attempt at an answer FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 11 2010, 12:10am
                                                    Galadriel's grace PhantomS Send a private message to PhantomS Jun 11 2010, 2:57am
                                                    The other thing dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Jun 11 2010, 3:10pm
                                                        not so much about representatives, PhantomS Send a private message to PhantomS Jun 11 2010, 4:00pm
                                Well yes. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 9 2010, 10:59pm
                                    Rules and ambiguity CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 10 2010, 3:12pm
                                        We do know that Beowulf was superhuman. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 10 2010, 4:49pm
                                            Did the Index really go back that far? FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 10 2010, 11:46pm
                                                I don't know much about it. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 11 2010, 1:41am
                    Nazul as physical warriors, not just ghosts CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 9 2010, 12:42pm
                        A few quick answers NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Jun 9 2010, 12:59pm
                        Well FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Jun 9 2010, 1:19pm
        The nearest escape came later sador Send a private message to sador Jun 8 2010, 7:33am
            Yes, although Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 8 2010, 11:41am
    Late comments sador Send a private message to sador Jun 13 2010, 7:26am
        the quote PhantomS Send a private message to PhantomS Jun 13 2010, 9:26am
            Of course he did. sador Send a private message to sador Jun 13 2010, 9:29am
        I think Gandalf's greatest mistake Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 13 2010, 11:59am
            Building tension CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 14 2010, 2:30pm
                Regarding WW II, I wouldn't say Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 14 2010, 3:59pm
                    OK, lousy example about world wars CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jun 14 2010, 5:35pm
                        Tolkien wants to funnel them Curious Send a private message to Curious Jun 14 2010, 6:16pm

 
 
 

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