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**A Knife in the Dark** 14. “he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder”


Jan 20 2008, 4:27am

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**A Knife in the Dark** 14. “he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder” Can't Post

Strider is musing about the heirs of the line of Lúthien, and the moon has just appeared over the summit of Weathertop to the east of the dell.

The story ended. The hobbits moved and stretched. ‘Look!’ said Merry. ‘The Moon is rising: it must be getting late.’
The others looked up. Even as they did so, they saw on the top of the hill something small and dark against the glimmer of the moonrise. It was perhaps only a large stone or jutting rock shown up by the pale light.

A. My God, what is that thing?

Sam and Merry got up and walked away from the fire. Frodo and Pippin remained seated in silence. Strider was watching the moonlight on the hill intently. All seemed quiet and still, but Frodo felt a cold dread creeping over his heart, now that Strider was no longer speaking. He huddled closer to the fire. At that moment Sam came running back from the edge of the dell.
‘I don’t know what it is,’ he said, ‘but I suddenly felt afraid. I durstn’t go outside this dell for any money; I felt that something was creeping up the slope.’
‘Did you see anything?’ asked Frodo, springing to his feet.
‘No, sir. I saw nothing, but I didn’t stop to look.’
‘I saw something,’ said Merry; ‘or I thought I did - away westwards where the moonlight was falling on the flats beyond the shadow of the hill-tops, I thought there were two or three black shapes. They seemed to be moving this way.’

B. None of the hobbits want to say “Black Riders”, evidently, though it’s perfectly clear what’s going down. Why not?

C. What time of night is it? Is the timing consistent with what we’ve seen of earlier Black Rider attacks?

‘Keep close to the fire, with your faces outward!’ cried Strider. ‘Get some of the longer sticks ready in your hands!’
For a breathless time they sat there, silent and alert, with their backs turned to the wood-fire, each gazing into the shadows that encircled them. Nothing happened. There was no sound or movement in the night. Frodo stirred, feeling that he must break the silence: he longed to shout out aloud.
‘Hush!’ whispered Strider. ‘What’s that?’ gasped Pippin at the same moment.

D. What is Strider’s defensive strategy? Could he be clearer in directing the hobbits what to expect, and what to do when the time comes? Does Strider know what to expect and what to do? The hobbits have swords – what the heck are “long sticks” supposed to do for them?

E. Why does Strider say “Hush!” when Frodo is only thinking that he wants to shout out loud?

Over the lip of the little dell, on the side away from the hill, they felt, rather than saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. They strained their eyes, and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt:
Three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them. So black were they that they seemed like black holes in the deep shade behind them. Frodo thought that he heard a faint hiss as of venomous breath and felt a thin piercing chill. Then the shapes slowly advanced.

F. Well, is it three or is it four? If three – what was the fourth dark shadow?

G. How can Frodo tell that the hiss is “venomous” by its sound?

Terror overcame Pippin and Merry, and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo’s side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger. He could not speak. He felt Sam looking at him, as if he knew that his master was in some great trouble, but he could not turn towards him. He shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand.

H. Have you ever felt the kind of compulsion to act, against your own will or “better judgement”, that Frodo feels? Where does that kind of behavior come from?

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.

I. “Keen eyes”, “white faces”, “grey hairs”, “haggard hands”. Are the Riders “people”, or not?

J. Why do two of the Riders hang back at the lip of the dell – and then why do two more stop when Frodo draws his sword? Wimps?

K. Why does Frodo’s sword (from the Barrow, remember) flicker as if on fire?

L. If the knife and the hand of the final Rider (the Morgul King, we later learn) “glows with a pale light”, does that imply that the rest of him, and the other Riders, do not in fact glow? If not, by what light did Frodo see their features so plainly?

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.

M. Throwing oneself flat out on the ground seems to be the natural reaction to a confrontation with the Riders, judging by Merry, Pippin and Frodo’s actions. Why not curling up?

N. Aragorn’s “leaping out of the darkness” with two torches in his hands seems like a contradiction in terms, unless the torches have quite suddenly ignited. How dark is it at this point, under the moonlight?

O. Does a “brand” of wood flame like a torch (which usually uses wax or tallow as a fuel to retard the combustion of the wood substrate), or does it stop burning and glow like hot charcoal once you remove it from the campfire?

P. Given that he just put it on against his own desire, how or why does Frodo have the will and self-possession to take off the Ring at this point – much less clench it in his fist afterwards?

Q. Does this count as yet another chapter in FotR that ends with Frodo falling asleep?

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

Subject User Time
**A Knife in the Dark** 14. “he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder” squire Send a private message to squire Jan 20 2008, 4:27am
    The Nazgul revealed! Beren IV Send a private message to Beren IV Jan 20 2008, 5:38am
    A light from the shadows shall spring? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jan 20 2008, 6:17am
    Once upon a midnight dreary dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Jan 20 2008, 11:21pm
        Why, you'll be beating Darkstone next. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Jan 22 2008, 8:02pm
            No, he is still the Master dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Jan 23 2008, 1:32am
        The moon is three days past first quarter. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jan 28 2008, 1:58am
            Ah! Thanks! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Jan 28 2008, 1:30pm
        "for any money" Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Jan 28 2008, 4:05pm
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Jan 26 2008, 2:50pm
    “One for the Shire!” N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 10 2008, 1:07am


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