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Book I, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”: Are Black Riders Wimps?

Curious
Half-elven


Aug 23 2010, 2:02am


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Book I, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”: Are Black Riders Wimps? Can't Post

Summary
As the hobbits prepare for bed in Bree, Tolkien takes us back to Buckland, where Fatty Bolger is unable to rest in the cottage in Crickhollow because of “a brooding threat in the breathless night-air.” A shadow moves and the gate outside opens and closes of its own accord; Fatty, seized by terror, shuts and locks the door. Three black figures lead their horses stealthily along the lane, then enter – one goes to the front door, and the other two to the corners of the house on either side. They wait there until a cock crows, and then the figure by the door draws a blade and bangs on the door: “'Open, in the name of Mordor!' said a voice thin and menacing.” A second blow breaks the door down and the black figures enter, but at that point a horn rings out: “awake! fear! fire! foes! awake!” Fatty had run out the back door when he first saw the dark shapes, ran a mile to the nearest house, and babbled: “'No, no, no!' he was crying. 'No, not me! I haven't got it!'” His neighbors “got the idea that enemies were in Buckland, some strange invasion from the Old Forest,” and raised the alarm, “the Horn-call of Buckland, that had not been sounded for a hundred years, not since the white wolves came in the Fell Winter, when the Brandywine was frozen over.” The Black Riders fled the house, rode to the North Gate, rode down the guards at the gate and “vanished from the Shire.”

Back in Bree, Frodo wakes as if disturbed, sees Strider awake by the fire, then goes back to sleep and dreams of wind, galloping hoofs, and a horn blowing wildly. He wakes to the sound of a cock crowing in the inn-yard. Strider is awake and pushed back the shutters as the first light of day enters the room. Strider rouses them all and they followed him to their bedrooms. The windows were forced open and the bolsters slashed. Strider fetched Butterbur, who claims he was awake most of the night but never heard a sound. Strider said they would leave, but Butterbur returns with the news that every beast in the stables had vanished when the stable doors were opened in the night. After some discussion, they sit down to breakfast while Bob looks for a pony. Three hours later, they learn that the only pony available is owned by Bill Ferny. Butterbur paid twelve silver pennies for the pony (three times its value) and eighteen pennies to Merry for the lost animals. The narrator tells us that only one horse had been stolen, and the others were found wandering in Bree-land or, in the case of Merry’s ponies, were sent back to Bree by Bombadil after they found Fatty Lumpkin and Bombadil heard what had happened.

The party from the South blamed Butterbur loudly for the loss of their horses until they learned that one of their number, Ferny’s squint-eyed companion, had disappeared. Nobody knew him or could recall when he joined their party.

The hobbits repacked with new supplies then left town among a crowd of spectators. At the last house in the village, dark and ill-kept, Frodo glimpsed a “sallow face with sly, slanting eyes.” Frodo thinks to himself that the southerner “looks more than half like a goblin.” Ferny calls Strider names (Longshanks, Stick-at-naught Strider), and warns Sam not to ill-treat his pony. Sam throws an apple at Ferny and hits him square on the nose. After several miles they leave the road. Strider takes them on a wandering path to lose any pursuit. They headed east and ran into marshes, where flies and tiny midges tormented them with bites, and thousands of cricket-like creatures went neek-breek, breek-neek, unceasingly all night. The fourth day out they left the Neekerbreekers behind but were still pursued by midges.

That night Frodo saw a light flashing and fading many times to the east. Strider said, “‘It is like lightning that leaps up from the hill-tops.’” Frodo eventually fell asleep as Strider stood and watched. On the fifth day they left the marshes as the land steadily rose towards a line of hills. To the right and a little separated they saw the highest of the hills, conical with a slightly-flattened summit. Strider says it is Weathertop, says the Road runs just south of it, and debates whether to head toward it. He notes that it is unlikely they will find Gandalf there, and just as likely that they will find the Riders or their spies, looking for them from the top of the hill. He finally decides they should head to the hills and approach Weathertop from the north, less openly.

The next night they set a watch, and “Strider, it seemed, did not sleep at all.” Nevertheless, the next day the “hobbits felt refreshed, as if they had had a night of unbroken sleep.” As he tightens his belt Frodo says,


Quote
‘I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.'

'Do not speak of such things!' said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness.



They see a ridge often rising to near a thousand feet. Along the crest they see “remains of green-grown walls and dikes” and in the clefts “ruins of old works of stone.” They follow a path running south along the westward slopes which cunningly screens the travellers from view, in some cases by following “lines of large boulders and hewn stones.” Merry says the path reminds him of the barrows and asks if there is a barrow on Weathertop. Strider says no, the Men of the West did not live here, although they did defend the hills against Angmar for a while. The path, he says, was made to serve the forts along the walls. But there was a watch tower on Weathertop or Amon Sûl long before that. Now all that remains of the tower is a tumbled ring, “like a rough crown on the old hill’s head.” Strider says it is told that Elendil watched from the tower for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West in the days of the Last Alliance.

Merry asks who is Gil-galad and Strider does not answer, but Sam does:


Quote
Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.
His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.
But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.



The others were amazed that Sam knew this lore. Sam blushes and says he learned it from Mr. Bilbo, who wrote it. Strider says Bilbo did not make it up, but must have translated it. Strider adds “‘I never knew that.’”

Sam says there is much more about going to Mordor, and adds “‘I never thought I should be going that way myself!’” Pippin cries “‘Going to Mordor! I hope it won't come to that!’” Strider says “‘Do not speak that name so loudly!’”

Finally they reach Weathertop and decide to “make for the top at once” although “[c]oncealment was not longer possible” and “there was no sign of [Gandalf].” Sam and Pippin remain below with the pony and packs. The hill-top, a ring of crumbled stone with a cairn of rocks in the middle, appears “swept by flame.”

Merry says there is no sign of Gandalf, but Strider finds a stone at the top of the cairn which appears to have escaped the fire and has scratches which might be a G-rune and three strokes, which might mean Gandalf was there on October third, or three days ago, and was in a hurry and in danger, since he couldn’t leave a better message. Rangers also use runes, but Strider recalls the light they saw three days ago, and guesses that Gandalf was attacked.

Frodo asks how far it is to Rivendell and Strider cannot say. He can only say that it would at best take him twelve days to reach the Ford of Bruinen, but that it will take them at least a fortnight since they cannot use the Road.

Frodo becomes aware of two black specks approaching from the west and three others approaching from the east. Following Strider’s lead, they all lay flat, and now they peer out through a cleft in the ring of stones. Strider confirms that “‘The enemy is here!’”

They walk back down the hill to rejoin Sam and “Peregrin,” who had found a spring and traces of a fire and camp and a neat stack of firewood. They had also found recent footprints, “not more than a day or two old.” Strider examines the mud and says Sam and Pippin have spoilt or confused the tracks. Rangers left the wood but more recent tracks seem to have been made by many booted feet. The hobbits all think of booted Riders, and Sam suggests leaving. Strider cannot think of a better place to go before nightfall. The Road is watched, and the north side of the Road beyond the hills is bare and open for miles. Heading north along the hills will not improve their position.

Merry asks if the Riders can see, and Strider says:


Quote
… the black horses can see, and the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies … our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys … in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us … at all times they smell the blood of living things … [w]e can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts … they feel ours more keenly … the Ring draws them.'



Frodo asks if there is any escape, and Strider says there is hope. He suggests building a fire since the Riders fear those who wield it. Sam mutters that “‘It is also as good a way of saying "here we are" as I can think of, bar shouting.’”

So they light a fire and prepare a frugal supper. Frodo worries about food, and Strider says he can find or hunt it, but that takes time, so they need to ration what they have.

As it grew colder the hobbits “huddled round the fire, wrapped in every garment and blanket they possessed; but Strider was content with a single cloak, and sat a little apart, drawing thoughtfully at his pipe.” Strider began to tell tales to keep their minds from fear. Merry asks about Gil-galad, and at Strider’s prompting Frodo begins to tell what he knows of the Last Alliance, but Strider says the tale should wait. Sam asks for something about elves and Strider tells “‘the tale of Tinúviel,’” chanting softly:


Quote
The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.
There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wander flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.
Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She tightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.
He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beechen leaves
In the wintry woodland wavering.
He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering.
When winter passed, she came again,
And her song released the sudden spring,
Like rising lark, and falling rain,
And melting water bubbling.
He saw the elven-flowers spring
About her feet, and healed again
He longed by her to dance and sing
Upon the grass untroubling.
Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
That in his arms lay glistening.
As Beren looked into her eyes
Within the shadows of her hair,
The trembling starlight of the skies
He saw there mirrored shimmering.
Tinúviel the elven-fair,
Immortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.
Long was the way that fate them bore,
O'er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.



Strider says the translation is a rough echo of the original song “‘in the mode that is called ann-thennath among the Elves.’”:


Quote
‘It tells of the meeting of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel. Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was the daughter of Thingol, a King of Elves upon Middle-earth when the world was young; and she was the fairest maiden that has ever been among all the children of this world. As the stars above the mists of the Northern lands was her loveliness, and in her face was a shining light. In those days the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant, dwelt in Angband in the North, and the Elves of the West coming back to Middle-earth made war upon him to regain the Silmarils which he had stolen; and the fathers of Men aided the Elves. But the Enemy was victorious and Barahir was slain, and Beren escaping through great peril came over the Mountains of Terror into the hidden Kingdom of Thingol in the forest of Neldoreth. There he beheld Lúthien singing and dancing in a glade beside the enchanted river Esgalduin; and he named her Tinúviel, that is Nightingale in the language of old. Many sorrows befell them afterwards, and they were parted long. Tinúviel rescued Beren from the dungeons of Sauron, and together they passed through great dangers, and cast down even the Great Enemy from his throne, and took from his iron crown one of the three Silmarils, brightest of all jewels, to be the bride-price of Lúthien to Thingol her father. Yet at the last Beren was slain by the Wolf that came from the gates of Angband, and he died in the arms of Tinúviel. But she chose mortality, and to die from the world, so that she might follow him; and it is sung that they met again beyond the Sundering Seas, and after a brief time walking alive once more in the green woods, together they passed, long ago, beyond the confines of this world. So it is that Lúthien Tinúviel alone of the Elf-kindred has died indeed and left the world, and they have lost her whom they most loved. But from her the lineage of the Elf-lords of old descended among Men. There live still those of whom Lúthien was the foremother, and it is said that her line shall never fail. Elrond of Rivendell is of that Kin. For of Beren and Lúthien was born Dior Thingol's heir; and of him Elwing the White whom Eärendil wedded, he that sailed his ship out of the mists of the world into the seas of heaven with the Silmaril upon his brow. And of Eärendil came the Kings of Númenor, that is Westernesse.’



As the story ends the hobbits see the waxing moon rise over Weathertop. They also see something dark on top of the hill. Sam walks away from the fire then comes running back saying he could feel something creeping up the slope. Merry says he thought he saw two or three black shapes moving this way. Strider instructs them to keep close to the fire with faces outward, and to get some of the longer sticks ready in their hands.

After a tense wait, they see three or four tall black figures looking down on them, slowly advancing. Pippin and Merry fall flat in terror. Sam shrinks close to Frodo. Frodo is equally terrified, but “his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring.” He does so not with the hope of escape but simply because he must.


Quote
Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. A shrill cry rang out in the night; and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder. Even as he swooned he caught, as through a swirling mist, a glimpse of Strider leaping out of the darkness with a flaming brand of wood in either hand. With a last effort Frodo, dropping his sword, slipped the Ring from his finger and closed his right hand tight upon it.



Analysis

The chapter opens with activity in Buckland which apparently takes place the same night as the activity in Bree. But the timing is tricky. We leave Bree as the hobbits prepare for bed, but the attack in Crickhollow takes place around dawn, as the first cock crows. Apparently Fatty sees the Riders and flees early in the evening, yet the alarm does not sound until after dawn. Then we return to Bree, where Frodo wakes up well before dawn, and has troubled dreams until he wakes again at dawn. Apparently Frodo dreams of the attack before it happens.

The timing is even trickier because Tolkien narrates the action out of chronological order: hobbits in Bree preparing for bed, Fatty in Crickhollow can’t sleep, Riders attack at dawn, flashback to Fatty fleeing, jump forward to the Riders leaving Buckland, then jump back as we return to Frodo in Bree well before dawn. By jumbling the chronology, Tolkien first makes us think Fatty is in danger by not revealing that he has fled, then finishes with the action in Buckland before moving on to the action in Bree, even if that means he has to jump back in time when we return to Frodo in Bree.

What is the strategy of the Black Riders? Why wait for days to attack in Crickhollow? Why move in and out of Fatty’s front yard invisibly, yet visibly open and close the gate? Why don’t they cover the back door? Why stand there all night waiting until dawn to attack when they are best at night? Why yell “‘Open, in the name of Mordor,’” when it takes two blows to knock down the door? Maybe Tolkien answers these questions in Unfinished Tales, “The Hunt for the Ring,” but I doubt it. I find that it’s best not to examine the actions of the Black Riders too closely.

Also, if the Horn-call of Buckland hasn’t been sounded for a hundred years, how did anyone recognize it? Do they have regular drills?

Strider goes without sleep at least three times in this chapter, by my count – once in Bree, and again the fourth and fifth nights out of Bree. It’s quite possible that he goes without sleep the other nights as well, since the narrator never mentions him sleeping. The seventh night out, if I calculate it correctly, they fight the Black Riders. How can Strider operate without sleep?

Back to Bree, how did Ferny and Harry and the Southerner enter the hobbits’ bedrooms and stab the bolsters and enter the stables and let loose the horses and ponies without waking anyone, including Strider and Butterbur and Bob and Nob, who were all alert for attack? Magic seems like the only explanation.

Butterbur pays twelve silver pennies for Bill Ferny’s pony and eighteen pennies to Merry for the lost animals. Any significance to the thirty pieces of silver, the price Judas was paid to betray Jesus? I like to look for subtle Christian allusions as much as anyone, but this one I find a stretch.

But as far as I recall, this is the last time anyone refers to money at all. Why is that? Do the elves use money? Is Rohan a barter-based society? Would money feel out of place? Surely Gondor uses money, right? Were there references to money I haven’t recalled?

Or are the Shire and Bree more commercial, capitalistic, money-based societies than the rest of Middle-earth? Is this part of the time-travel aspect of LotR, where, as we leave the Shire and Bree, we move backwards in time to less commercial societies? I don’t mean that the characters are moving backwards in time, I mean that the reader feels like he or she is moving backwards in time.

We can either attribute this to Tolkien’s various historical inspirations, or go with Tolkien’s explanation in the appendices that as a translator he has chosen to modernize the Shire and Bree. Either way, the societies of Bree and the Shire feel more familiar than those of Rohan and Gondor, including the free exchange of money.

However, the specific reference to silver pennies, and to 12 pennies as a high price for a pony, makes the penny in Bree sound as valuable as it might have been far back in history. Even between the Shire and Bree I detect a shift in historical inspirations, with Bree reminiscent of an earlier time period than the Shire, before post offices and umbrellas and mantle clocks.

How did Bombadil hear what happened in Bree? How did he send the ponies back to Butterbur? Through a Ranger, perhaps?

There’s some foreshadowing, as Frodo glimpses a “sallow face with sly, slanting eyes” and thinks to himself that the southerner “looks more than half like a goblin.” This description makes me uncomfortable, since it sounds like a stereotype of an Asian race, but it also contradicts other discomforting descriptions of orcs as dark-skinned or apish. Some have theorized that there are different races of orcs and goblins, with the “maggots” of the Misty Mountains being pale, while the Mordor races are darker. As usual, Tolkien does not give detailed physical descriptions, and those he gives are not consistent. But in the rare situations where he does describe goblins and orcs and half-orcs, he has an unfortunate tendency to use the language found in ugly racial stereotypes.

Ferny clearly means “Strider” and the similar name “Longshanks” as insults, and Butterbur did not use the names as terms of affection. It’s significant, then, that Strider will later adopt a translation of Strider, “Telcontar,” as his house name. It may be a tribute to the four hobbits who first came to know him as Strider, and for whom it did become a term of affection. Or it may be King Elessar’s way of reminding Gondor of his northern origins, and showing that he was not in any way ashamed of his past.

Tolkien writes about hiking, including the less pleasant parts, like one who lived it. I would imagine he liked walking in the countryside, just like Bilbo and Frodo did. And from time to time he ran into annoying insects. He may also have drawn on his experience in World War I. I doubt, however, that Tolkien ever hiked for months at a time, and that may account for the lack of detail regarding provisions.

There’s some more foreshadowing, as Frodo tightens his belt and jokes about becoming a wraith, and Strider rebukes him sharply.

Note that the wall along the ridge incorporates dikes along the crests and stonework in the clefts. This is not the Great Wall of China. The ruins in the North Kingdom, with the exception of the Elven towers, are not nearly as impressive as the ruins in Gondor. And if Angmar was capable of destroying the Elven watchtower on Weathertop, it seems unlikely that ruder walls would do much good.

Strider lets slip a comment about Elendil watching for Gil-galad on the watchtower of Amon Sûl, which naturally prompts Merry to ask who is Gil-galad. Surprisingly, not Strider or Frodo but Sam answers with a poem he learned from Bilbo.

Tolkien’s poem about Gil-galad has a simple beat and rhyme scheme, four beats to a line and six couplets. If we ignore the subject matter, I don’t find the beat or rhyme interesting. In fact, if I read an epic made up of four beat lines and rhyming couplets, I think it would quickly get annoying. Compare this to the complexity of a sonnet, or to the complexity of Tolkien’s own poem about Earendil the Mariner, and the difference becomes obvious. This is a ditty, written without much noticeable effort, I judge, but excused as a translation from a far more beautiful Elven original.

The subject matter, however, is intriguing, particularly because we learn so little, and when Frodo is on the verge of explaining more Strider stops him. Some may turn back to Frodo’s prior conversations with Gandalf for more information, but the real story of the Last Alliance will come from Elrond, who was there. So this is more foreshadowing.

Tolkien drops a couple of more hints here. First, Strider says he never knew that Bilbo translated this poem, indicating that he knows Bilbo and his other translations. Few will catch that hint on first reading. Second, Sam speaks of going to Mordor, even though the supposed goal is just Rivendell. In hindsight it appears quite possible that Sam perceives what Frodo must do, and has already determined that he will go where Frodo goes, to the Cracks of Doom in Mordor. Pippin, on the other hand, does not perceive this at all, and does not understand why Sam is talking this way.

Strider is nervous about the hobbits saying the word “Mordor” so loudly. Is he worried that it will summon the servants of Mordor? He doesn’t say “be quiet” in general – he specifically asks that they stop saying the word “Mordor” so loudly. Maybe he just doesn’t like the reminder.

Strider later admits that he makes a mistake on Weathertop, but it’s a huge mistake that I find hard to excuse. Maybe it’s worth it to look for a sign from Gandalf, especially after they see the light in the sky three days earlier. But they could be much more subtle about it. Once they reach the top of the hill they could set a watch, and stand as little as possible. Maybe they still would have been discovered, but they could have been less obvious.

Furthermore, I find it strange that Strider blames Sam and Pippin for messing up tracks before he could take a closer look. Maybe he should have looked before climbing the hill, or maybe he should have warned the hobbits not to mess up any tracks.

Then there’s the puzzling decision to start a bonfire so that the Black Riders would be certain to find them. Is a fire really the best solution to the problem?

To me it feels like Tolkien is determined to set up a confrontation between the Riders and the hobbits, and therefore artificially restricts what Strider can do. Ironically, the hobbits carry blades that would be very effective against the Riders, but no one knows that, except perhaps the Riders.

This is a small point, but it bugs me. If it takes Strider twelve days to travel from Weathertop to the Ford of Bruinen on the Road, why would it take the hobbits only a fortnight (fourteen days) to do the same trip off of the Road? Wouldn’t Strider need fourteen days cross country if he were alone? Don’t the hobbits slow Strider down significantly? This is one of many places Tolkien seems to ignore the difference between short-strided hobbits and long-strided men.

When Strider confirms that the enemy is here and they head back down the hill, for some reason Tolkien refers to Sam and “Peregrin.” Why “Peregrin”? Granted, that’s his name, but we almost never hear it, and I don’t understand why we hear it here. And it’s not Samwise and Peregrin, it’s Sam and Peregrin.

Strider describes the perceptions of the Riders in the most frightening terms. Let me list the ways:

The black horses can see.

The Riders can use men and other creatures as spies.

Our shapes cast shadows in their minds.

In the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us.

At all times they smell the blood of living things.

They feel our presence keenly.

The Ring draws them.

No wonder Frodo reacts with fright! And, perhaps, no wonder Strider decides against trying to flee. At least confronting the Riders has the advantage of novelty. Perhaps Strider suspected how infrequently they were confronted.

Strider does not seem as cold as the hobbits. Perhaps it is due to large body mass, or perhaps the hobbits are cold with fear, or perhaps Strider is simply used to the cold.

Now we get an interesting interlude in which Strider tells the entire tale of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel, albeit in abbreviated form. It starts with a poem which boasts a much more complex rhyme scheme than the ditty about Gil-galad, although it still incorporates a simple four beats per line. I’ve attempted to show the complex rhyme scheme below:


Quote
The leaves were long, the grass was green, A
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair, B
And in the glade a light was seen A
Of stars in shadow shimmering. CA
Tinúviel was dancing there B
To music of a pipe unseen, A
And light of stars was in her hair, B
And in her raiment glimmering. CA

There Beren came from mountains cold, D
And lost he wandered under leaves, E
And where the Elven-river rolled D
He walked alone and sorrowing. CB
He peered between the hemlock-leaves E
And saw in wander flowers of gold D
Upon her mantle and her sleeves, E
And her hair like shadow following. CB

Enchantment healed his weary feet F
That over hills were doomed to roam; G
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet, F
And grasped at moonbeams glistening. CD
Through woven woods in Elvenhome G
She tightly fled on dancing feet, F
And left him lonely still to roam G
In the silent forest listening. CD

He heard there oft the flying sound H
Of feet as light as linden-leaves, E
Or music welling underground, H
In hidden hollows quavering. CE
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves, E
And one by one with sighing sound H
Whispering fell the beechen leaves E
In the wintry woodland wavering. CE

He sought her ever, wandering far I
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn, J
By light of moon and ray of star I
In frosty heavens shivering. CF
Her mantle glinted in the moon, J
As on a hill-top high and far I
She danced, and at her feet was strewn J
A mist of silver quivering. CF

When winter passed, she came again, K
And her song released the sudden spring, C
Like rising lark, and falling rain, K
And melting water bubbling. CG
He saw the elven-flowers spring C
About her feet, and healed again K
He longed by her to dance and sing C
Upon the grass untroubling. CG

Again she fled, but swift he came. L
Tinúviel! Tinúviel! M
He called her by her elvish name; L
And there she halted listening. CD
One moment stood she, and a spell M
His voice laid on her: Beren came, L
And doom fell on Tinúviel M
That in his arms lay glistening. CD

As Beren looked into her eyes N
Within the shadows of her hair, B
The trembling starlight of the skies N
He saw there mirrored shimmering. CA
Tinúviel the elven-fair, B
Immortal maiden elven-wise, N
About him cast her shadowy hair B
And arms like silver glimmering. CA

Long was the way that fate them bore, O
O'er stony mountains cold and grey, P
Through halls of iron and darkling door, O
And woods of nightshade morrowless. QA
The Sundering Seas between them lay, P
And yet at last they met once more, O
And long ago they passed away P
In the forest singing sorrowless. QA



Again Strider says that the translation is but a “rough echo” of the original. Strider has been subtly introducing Elvish names into the conversation, and here he adds another Elvish word, noting that the original song was “‘in the mode that is called ann-thennath among the Elves.’” Then Strider summarizes the entire story of Beren and Lúthien in one long paragraph. Let me try rephrasing it as free verse:


Quote
‘It tells of the meeting of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel.

Beren was a mortal man,
but Lúthien was the daughter of Thingol,
a King of Elves upon Middle-earth when the world was young;
and she was the fairest maiden that has ever been among all the children of this world.

As the stars above the mists of the Northern lands was her loveliness,
and in her face was a shining light.

In those days the Great Enemy,
of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant,
dwelt in Angband in the North,
and the Elves of the West coming back to Middle-earth made war upon him to regain the Silmarils which he had stolen;
and the fathers of Men aided the Elves.

But the Enemy was victorious and Barahir was slain,
and Beren escaping through great peril came over the Mountains of Terror into the hidden Kingdom of Thingol in the forest of Neldoreth.

There he beheld Lúthien singing and dancing in a glade beside the enchanted river Esgalduin;
and he named her Tinúviel,
that is Nightingale in the language of old.

Many sorrows befell them afterwards,
and they were parted long.

Tinúviel rescued Beren from the dungeons of Sauron,
and together they passed through great dangers,
and cast down even the Great Enemy from his throne,
and took from his iron crown one of the three Silmarils,
brightest of all jewels,
to be the bride-price of Lúthien to Thingol her father.

Yet at the last Beren was slain by the Wolf that came from the gates of Angband,
and he died in the arms of Tinúviel.

But she chose mortality,
and to die from the world,
so that she might follow him;
and it is sung that they met again beyond the Sundering Seas,
and after a brief time walking alive once more in the green woods,
together they passed,
long ago,
beyond the confines of this world.

So it is that Lúthien Tinúviel alone of the Elf-kindred has died indeed and left the world,
and they have lost her whom they most loved.

But from her the lineage of the Elf-lords of old descended among Men.

There live still those of whom Lúthien was the foremother,
and it is said that her line shall never fail.

Elrond of Rivendell is of that Kin.

For of Beren and Lúthien was born Dior Thingol's heir;
and of him Elwing the White whom Eärendil wedded,
he that sailed his ship out of the mists of the world into the seas of heaven with the Silmaril upon his brow.

And of Eärendil came the Kings of Númenor, that is Westernesse.’



What Strider of course does not reveal is that he also comes of that lineage, and that he is attempting to recreate the feat of Beren, winning the hand of a later-day Lúthien. But this poem means something to Frodo and Sam, as well, for just as Beren and Lúthien entered Angband and took a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, a Silmaril which later proved significant in Morgoth’s defeat, so Frodo and Sam will enter Mordor and defeat Sauron. Yes, Beren and Lúthien were far more powerful than Frodo and Sam, but their success was perhaps just as unlikely. It is perhaps the only story from The Silmarillion which is full of hope, and a story to which Tolkien will return many times during LotR. In contrast, in LotR he rarely mentions Turin or Feanor, and then only in contexts which do not reveal their tragedies.

The Riders kindly wait for Strider to finish his story before attacking. The waxing moon shines brightly on the attack – that’s a good omen, and may have something to do with Frodo’s narrow escape. Other than Frodo, the hobbits are all paralyzed by terror. Frodo would be paralyzed too, except for the strong temptation to put on the Ring, which sends him into motion. The temptation to put on the Ring actually seems to counteract the terror inspired by the Riders and therefore, ironically, may help Frodo in some way, for he is able to act in ways the other hobbits are not.

Frodo no longer thinks the Ring will hide him, but still cannot resist putting it on. Although Tolkien calls it a temptation, it’s hard to see what is tempting about it. It seems more like a command or a possession. I will again reformat what happens next as free verse:


Quote
Immediately,
though everything else remained as before,
dim and dark,
the shapes became terribly clear.

He was able to see beneath their black wrappings.

There were five tall figures:
two standing on the lip of the dell,
three advancing.

In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes;
under their mantles were long grey robes;
upon their grey hairs were helms of silver;
in their haggard hands were swords of steel.

Their eyes fell on him and pierced him,
as they rushed towards him.

Desperate,
he drew his own sword,
and it seemed to him that it flickered red,
as if it was a firebrand.

Two of the figures halted.

The third was taller than the others:
his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown.

In one hand he held a long sword,
and in the other a knife;
both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light.

He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.



At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground,
and he heard himself crying aloud:
O Elbereth!
Gilthoniel!


At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy.

A shrill cry rang out in the night;
and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder.

Even as he swooned he caught,
as through a swirling mist,
a glimpse of Strider leaping out of the darkness with a flaming brand of wood in either hand.

With a last effort Frodo,
dropping his sword,
slipped the Ring from his finger and closed his right hand tight upon it.



There are some possible explanations for the retreat of the Riders in these two paragraphs. First, when he drew his Barrow Blade it flickered red, and two of the three advancing Riders halted. Why did Frodo ignore Strider and draw his blade? Probably out of ignorance and disbelief that they were immune to blades, but as it happens Frodo’s Barrow Blade may well scare the Riders.

Second, he “heard himself crying aloud: ‘O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!’” As Strider later comments, it is good to call upon Elbereth in such a moment. We don’t get many details about Elbereth in LotR, but we do gradually learn that she is a Powerful Lady and may listen to those who call on her for help. We learn more, of course, in The Silmarillion.

Third, Frodo stabs at the Rider (presumably the Witchking, with the crown on his head) and misses, but may throw off his opponent’s aim. Fourth, Strider attacks with firebrands (what took him so long?), and fifth, Frodo finds the strength to take off the Ring.

All this being said, I still find it disconcerting that the Riders retreat from four prostrate hobbits and a man armed with nothing but burning sticks. Okay, maybe they aren’t used to anyone like Strider, but this is their best chance to take the Ring. I would love to be a fly on the wall hearing them explain to Sauron why they retreated. Even if Frodo had turned into a wraith, why would they think his companions would allow him to bring them the Ring? They just drove off Gandalf, they know Rivendell is not far, they must realize that if they give the hobbits a chance they may find more help – and indeed that is what happens. And as hinted here and confirmed later, just three nights ago the Nine drove off Gandalf in his full lightning-bolt/fireball-throwing mode. So why couldn’t they drive off Strider and take the Ring?

I can try to explain it to myself, but when I do so I feel like I’m venturing into fan fiction. I just think this is a rare situation where Tolkien did not ever really explain what happened, or offer enough hints that what happened feels right. This probably does not puzzle the first-time reader, but only those who read the text more than once and try to piece together all the puzzles in the text. Most of them hold together superbly, as we see foreshadowing and hints throughout. But this puzzle I have never been able to figure out just based on the text. I always find myself having to add something not in the text.

Also note that we are on Chapter Eleven, and finally we see a brief confrontation with the Enemy. And I do mean brief – just one stab in the last two paragraphs. Before this we had Frodo cutting the arm off the Wight, and Tom rescuing the hobbits from the Willow and the Wight. So far, there’s not much fighting. The first-time reader may wonder if this will be the pace throughout. It won’t – the pace will pick up considerably at times – but Tolkien never emphasizes the actual fighting. Instead he focuses on the build-up and the aftermath of each confrontation, and when there is mass fighting he focuses on one or two melees in the crowd.

Subject User Time
Book I, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”: Are Black Riders Wimps? Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 2:02am
    My own thoughts Lord of Magic Send a private message to Lord of Magic Aug 23 2010, 2:20pm
        Good point about Bombadil talking to ponies! Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 4:03pm
        Let me know if you find Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 4:17pm
    Horn calls, commerce, and Wimpy Black Riders Jerene Send a private message to Jerene Aug 23 2010, 2:51pm
        Thanks for acknowledging Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 4:14pm
            Unanswerable Questions Jerene Send a private message to Jerene Aug 23 2010, 9:26pm
        Not 3.6, but 6 pennies sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 2:28pm
    Great summary and analysis, Curious FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 23 2010, 5:27pm
        Okay, here's a closer analysis of the timing in Buckland. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 6:13pm
            Nazgul as cowards Arwen Skywalker Send a private message to Arwen Skywalker Aug 23 2010, 7:27pm
                There is an element of ghosts afraid of the light. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 8:32pm
                    Gandalf and the High Elves FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 23 2010, 10:40pm
                        Taking the ring from Frodo CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 11:56am
                            It wouldn't take long Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 12:07pm
                Nazgul and fear of fire CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 12:17pm
                    I can explain Minas Tirith. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 12:43pm
                        I'm guessing element of surprise xy Aug 24 2010, 3:31pm
                            Good point about the Riders being tired, Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 4:33pm
                                On the other hand; and, Bombadil and the Siege of Imladris CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 5:06pm
                                    Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 5:27pm
                                        Bombadil and the war... Evernight Send a private message to Evernight Aug 24 2010, 6:25pm
                                            Could be. Interesting. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 7:00pm
                                            Excellent point CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 7:28pm
                                Another point xy Aug 24 2010, 6:39pm
                                    It's also tricky Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 7:06pm
                                        It's frustrating Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 7:23pm
                                            At the very least CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 7:34pm
                                                And maybe Tolkien Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 7:55pm
                                            I think there are hints FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 25 2010, 10:35am
                                                The definitive essay! CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 25 2010, 2:13pm
                                                    That's not what bothers me sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 2:26pm
                                                        Wasn't there a prophecy? FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 26 2010, 11:37am
                                                            Who issued this prophesy? Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 27 2010, 7:18am
                                                                Good question. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 27 2010, 8:21am
                                                    The Riders seemed to open Fatty's gate Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 4:32pm
                                                    Thanks, CuriousG! FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 26 2010, 11:58am
                                                        A wooden shield Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 26 2010, 2:58pm
                                                The narrator does exactly what you suggest Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 3:37pm
                                        well xy Aug 26 2010, 5:41pm
            Timelines FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 23 2010, 10:18pm
                I agree about the horn Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 11:26pm
                    Maybe you're right FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 24 2010, 9:04am
        Oh, how to explain those Nazgul CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 23 2010, 7:54pm
            It's also revealing Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 10:14pm
    Who were the culprits in the attack in the inn? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 23 2010, 7:30pm
        Here's what Strider said: Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 23 2010, 8:25pm
            Nazgul or Ferny CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 12:05pm
                There's also the question Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 12:38pm
                    Good point CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 12:48pm
                    However, that very night sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 2:51pm
                        Good point. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 4:49pm
            Not Bakshi. sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 2:47pm
                Your second link doesn't work. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 4:47pm
                    Does this one? sador Send a private message to sador Aug 27 2010, 11:52am
                        If your point is that we can't be sure, Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 12:34pm
                        Bolsters and other thoughts Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 27 2010, 10:08pm
    Comments on the Summary sador Send a private message to sador Aug 24 2010, 9:41am
    Frodo: the exceptional hobbit and hero CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 24 2010, 12:40pm
        Frodo is an exceptional hobbit. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 24 2010, 1:11pm
    Comments on your Analysis sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 10:53am
        A thought about "Peregrin." Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 4:21pm
    Comments on your Analysis - part II sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 2:15pm
        There are hints Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 4:43pm
            Did the Riders know that Frodo would take off the Ring? sador Send a private message to sador Aug 25 2010, 7:15pm
                Not nonexistent. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 8:10pm
    "...with timbers burst and lock broken" squire Send a private message to squire Aug 25 2010, 6:00pm
        Great point about the Nazgul as police. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 25 2010, 8:01pm
            Inside information FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 25 2010, 9:57pm
        There's no fist... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 25 2010, 9:35pm
            Right, no fist mentioned, but how far can you take that? squire Send a private message to squire Aug 25 2010, 9:43pm
                Well, I did wonder about the horse... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 25 2010, 10:00pm
    Response the money question Hyarmendacil Send a private message to Hyarmendacil Aug 27 2010, 12:54am
        So you think there was money Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 2:26am
            Money Hyarmendacil Send a private message to Hyarmendacil Aug 27 2010, 3:03am
                It's still a choice Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 12:39pm
                    "Fact"? squire Send a private message to squire Aug 27 2010, 2:49pm
                        I'm sorry, the Shire and Bree are not feudal. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 3:17pm
                            Stick to your guns! squire Send a private message to squire Aug 27 2010, 10:24pm
                                Dirty pool! Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 11:07pm
                            Agreeing with Curious... Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 27 2010, 11:55pm
                                Disagreeing with Curious ... Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 28 2010, 12:17am
                                    If nuttin' can be known, what are we talking fer? LOL! Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 28 2010, 2:08am
                                        Arguably, Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 28 2010, 3:10am
                                            The Muster of Rohan Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 28 2010, 3:33am
                                                They didn't spend three days on it Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 28 2010, 4:04am
                                        The Shire and Breeland were not Feudal Hyarmendacil Send a private message to Hyarmendacil Aug 29 2010, 9:22pm
                                More on Middle Earth economics Hyarmendacil Send a private message to Hyarmendacil Aug 29 2010, 8:52pm
                                    "Don't go there." Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 29 2010, 10:24pm
                                    How One Thing Leads to Another... Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 30 2010, 1:54pm
                                        Dangerous indeed sador Send a private message to sador Aug 30 2010, 3:01pm
                                            Curious gender... Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 30 2010, 5:35pm
                                                No problem. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 30 2010, 11:47pm
                                        If I may suggest a roadmap squire Send a private message to squire Aug 30 2010, 3:35pm
                                            Precising definitions; and valid "speculations." Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 30 2010, 7:28pm
                                            Hmmmm Tim Send a private message to Tim Aug 30 2010, 8:28pm
                                            I wonder if Mordor and its slave colonies Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 30 2010, 11:45pm
                                                The Aztecs were a stretch squire Send a private message to squire Aug 31 2010, 12:45am
                                                    I feel quite sure Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 31 2010, 1:27am
                                                    Points of view FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 2 2010, 9:22am
                                                        Now there's a bit of fan fiction for you. Curious Send a private message to Curious Sep 2 2010, 12:19pm
                                                            Only Sam FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 2 2010, 1:28pm
                                                                Wait... squire Send a private message to squire Sep 2 2010, 2:08pm
                                                                    It can be depended on FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 2 2010, 2:43pm
                                                                I think maybe Squire is concerned with fan fic history revisionism Tim Send a private message to Tim Sep 2 2010, 2:58pm
                                                        Texts giving Mordor's side of the question squire Send a private message to squire Sep 2 2010, 2:03pm
                                                            And Sauron speaking to Pippin in the Palantir CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Sep 2 2010, 4:23pm
                                                                Yes, for what it's worth. squire Send a private message to squire Sep 2 2010, 5:05pm
                                                                    Sauron's diction vs. his boss's; who is more menacing? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Sep 3 2010, 12:15am
                                                                        Sauron speaks like a hobbit! Curious Send a private message to Curious Sep 3 2010, 12:26am
                                                                            It's a function of who's translating. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Sep 3 2010, 12:52am
                                                                            Sauron is the only bad guy who speaks Hobbit CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Sep 4 2010, 9:34pm
                                                                                The difference may be... Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Sep 4 2010, 9:40pm
                                                            Yes well FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 2 2010, 5:43pm
                                                                I think you've hit on it Tim Send a private message to Tim Sep 2 2010, 5:59pm
                                                                The Ring Spell is Sauron's composition squire Send a private message to squire Sep 2 2010, 6:39pm
                                                                    I know! ;-) FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 2 2010, 8:49pm
                                                                        It's possible, I guess squire Send a private message to squire Sep 2 2010, 11:35pm
                                                                            Ha! And you say you don't like fan fiction! Curious Send a private message to Curious Sep 2 2010, 11:52pm
                                                                            I am Tim Send a private message to Tim Sep 3 2010, 12:44am
                                                                            That's it! FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Sep 3 2010, 9:05am
                                                                Celebrimbor heard those lines, didn't he? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Sep 2 2010, 7:24pm
                                                            In 'Mount Doom' sador Send a private message to sador Sep 2 2010, 7:43pm
                                        Did Tolkien ever think LOTR economics could be recovered? Desicon9 Send a private message to Desicon9 Aug 31 2010, 1:38am
                                            Tolkien talks quite a bit about economics in The Hobbit. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 31 2010, 4:19am
                                                Weak feudalism; more on money; Shire princes CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Aug 31 2010, 1:34pm
                                    That's a great insight! Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 30 2010, 9:58pm
                    Cultures in The Hobbit Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 27 2010, 11:24pm
                        It's not a matter of inconsistency. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 27 2010, 11:56pm

 
 
 

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