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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**A Knife in the Dark** 1. The House at Crickhollow stood silent
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Jan 17 2008, 1:44pm

Post #26 of 39 (2064 views)
Precisely. [In reply to] Can't Post

Like Sauron himself, I find the Nazgul much more fearsome and less cheesy when they leave the dirty work to others. And their "buzzing around" Minas Tirith does have a dramatic effect on the populous. If Gandalf had not been there to counteract it, the guards might have all abandoned their posts. The Nazgul also have the Black Breath working for them. And they are officers rather than footsoldiers. And the Witch-king is truly impressive in that role, I judge, until Providence, the West Wind, Rohan, Eowyn, Merry, and Merry's knife spoil his party.

The problem in FotR is that Tolkien doesn't really want to kill Fatty or Butterbur or Bob or Nob or anyone else, and so the Riders look like bumblers when they take direct action against people who really should be no match for them. I can barely rationalize their lack of success against Strider at Weathertop based on what I know about him, although Strider himself does not use my explanation for the Riders' retreat (i.e. that they were amazed that he was even able to stand up to them when everyone else cowers in fear). And at the Ford, of course, we have Glorfindel, although it still seems a little strange that Glorfindel would need the hobbits to help him by charging with torches.

But Tolkien glosses over all this pretty well, I judge. When we read his private explanations of the actions of the Nazgul it makes them look even more incompetent, I judge. But because Tolkien does not offer explanations in the text, their movements in FotR usually come across as mysterious, not ridiculous.

N.E. Brigand

Jan 17 2008, 3:42pm

Post #27 of 39 (2068 views)
Tolkien used your explanation, though Aragorn did not. [In reply to] Can't Post

In those lately-available "Hunt for the Ring" notes, he explains Weathertop along your lines.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 14-20 for "A Knife in the Dark".

N.E. Brigand

Jan 17 2008, 3:46pm

Post #28 of 39 (2072 views)
And here I thought you had deliberately... [In reply to] Can't Post

skipped the Hammond-Scull "Hunt for the Ring" notes so that the first person who dared mention them would get skewered! Wink
Yes, there are multiple references to the Riders sensing the recent presence of the Ring -- it also happens at the elves' glade in the Woody End, and at the Ferry.


We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 14-20 for "A Knife in the Dark".

N.E. Brigand

Jan 17 2008, 3:54pm

Post #29 of 39 (2050 views)
Ferny doesn't know the hobbits have taken up with Strider. [In reply to] Can't Post

At the time Ferny leaves the inn, even the hobbits don't know that.

And Strider says the Riders wouldn't attack a house with "lights and many people", particularly when they know their prey must venture into the lonely wilderness. The Crickhollow crew, acting separately, doesn't know the Ringbearer is many miles to the east in Bree, and is attacking a lonely house with no lights and few people, that sits more than a mile from its nearest neighbor.

Ferny is working for whoever hires him, and the Southerner was Saruman's agent, but has been co-opted by the Riders.

And you're right, Tolkien's ideas might have changed from these early drafts. But they didn't, as far as we can tell from the published drafts, until after FotR had gone to press.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 14-20 for "A Knife in the Dark".


Jan 17 2008, 3:57pm

Post #30 of 39 (2068 views)
Really? Cool! If you can give me a cite, [In reply to] Can't Post

I can look it up, now that I got those books for a Christmas present. Or maybe I should just crack them open and figure out how to look it up myself.

(This post was edited by Curious on Jan 17 2008, 3:57pm)

N.E. Brigand

Jan 17 2008, 4:08pm

Post #31 of 39 (2070 views)
"The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion", pp. 180-181. [In reply to] Can't Post

That is, the end of Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull's chapter on "A Knife in the Dark". Though as you mention "those books" I fear you are referring not to Hammond and Scull but to Scull and Hammond, that is, their two-volume The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, consisting of a Chronology and Reader's Guide.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 14-20 for "A Knife in the Dark".


Jan 17 2008, 4:38pm

Post #32 of 39 (2048 views)
I am referring to the 2-volume set. [In reply to] Can't Post

So should I buy another volume?


Jan 17 2008, 4:57pm

Post #33 of 39 (2040 views)
Yes! [In reply to] Can't Post

You have the indispensable two-volume Tolkien Companion and Guide, but you also want the equally indispensable Companion to The Lord of the Rings. Whereas the first two are essentially a chronology and topical encyclopedia, the latter is essentially a meticulously annotated guide just to LotR. Line by line. There's not much overlap between them.

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


Jan 17 2008, 5:01pm

Post #34 of 39 (2038 views)
Maybe for my birthday. [In reply to] Can't Post

I'll update my Amazon wishlist.


Jan 17 2008, 9:20pm

Post #35 of 39 (2039 views)
Thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

Ferny is described as "presently leaving the inn" with the Southrener, before Frodo is described crawling under the table and having a word with Strider; but unless Frodo waited under the table for a long time, I would guess it was before, and Ferny noticed who he was talking to.
He was also likely to see them together before - but that's not really an argument.

I've thought of the difference between the Pony and Crickhollow myself, but I doubt Khamul really thought the Ringbearer was there. In "The Hunt for the Ring" he is said to be the most perceptive of the Ring's presence, isn't he? How could he make such a mistake?
Well, I can think at the moment for three answers: Tolkien changed his mind, the Ring's late presence cast a strong enough shadow in his mind which would confuse him after five days (although he was the one Ringwraith to be near the One in 3000 years, so this theory would be better for any other of the Nine), or that the raid on Crickhollow had a different purpose altogether - to kidnap Fatty for instance?
I like the third answer best, but is it legitimate? I mean, the description of what the Riders thought during the raid is pure conjecture, but can we assume the Red Book was wrong? As much as I dislike the discarding of Tolkien's letter, this might seem to be a worse crime against the book. Is it?

If I get your drift, Tolkien at first thought the Riders attacked the inn, changed his mind later, then changed a major character without thinking how this would alter the logic of the raid, wrote the chapter with this idea in mind (while leaving a false trail towards the Riders' attack theory), and then switched back to his original intention.
I admit I haven't read the published drafts; but it seems they have to support quite a bit.

As I've written before, I would prefer to believe Tolkien delibarately wrote this chapter so it could be interpreted both ways, leaving the reader to make his own guesses; but I have no idea if he used this mode of writing, or what he thought about it.

Thanks a lot again!

"The Wise may have good reason to believe.... unlikely though it seems to those who know less. But may we not hear the proofs?" - Galdor

N.E. Brigand

Jan 17 2008, 10:02pm

Post #36 of 39 (2028 views)
Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

you're welcome.

You may be right, that Tolkien meant for the identity of The Pony burglars to be ambiguous. Intended or not, that certainly seems to be the result of what I believe happened: that after early and briefly having written the Riders as breaking-in, Tolkien changed the story to have living men be the burglars, but forgot this when he returned to comment on the events more than a decade later.

Ferny is described as "presently leaving the inn" with the Southerner, before Frodo is described crawling under the table and having a word with Strider...

Yes, here's that passage:

But there was one swarthy Bree-lander, who stood looking at them with a knowing and half-mocking expression that made them feel very uncomfortable. Presently he slipped out of the door, followed by the squint-eyed southerner: the two had been whispering together a good deal during the evening.

That is odd: was Ferny looking for someone with an invisible ring? Or was he connecting the sought-after "Baggins" to Bilbo's famous disappearance, and thus realizing that Frodo's "Underhill" was an alias?

...but unless Frodo waited under the table for a long time, I would guess it was before, and Ferny noticed who he was talking to. He was also likely to see them together before - but that's not really an argument.

Ah, but Frodo talked to quite a few people that evening, and to turn again to the "Hunt for the Ring" notes of uncertainty reliability, Ferny and/or the Southerner report only to the Riders that a Ranger was in the Inn, and not that he had struck up a fellowship with their target. So if Tolkien decided that it had to be Riders who broke into the Inn, it wasn't because Trotter had become Strider.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 14-20 for "A Knife in the Dark".

N.E. Brigand

Jan 21 2008, 5:50pm

Post #37 of 39 (2051 views)
"Truly the light is sweet..." [In reply to] Can't Post

"...and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun". That's what Google yields for "Ecclesiastes 11:7" -- is that the mixed simile you were thinking of? Taste and sight, then. Another Biblical passage, from 1 Corinithians, is not so jumbled until Bottom gets hold of it in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 21-27 for "Flight to the Ford".

N.E. Brigand

Jan 22 2008, 2:16am

Post #38 of 39 (2075 views)
Shut and locked. [In reply to] Can't Post

Whose point of view is this passage being told from? What effects are achieved by the writing?
All of the book is third-person, though there are many instances in which the narrator reveals a character’s thoughts, almost always that of one of the four principal hobbits. We briefly shared Fatty’s p.o.v. when Frodo and the other three hobbits disappeared from his sight into the Old Forest. But as sador and FarFromHome, respectively, have noted, this scene is one of those rare passages where we are shown the mind of Enemies, and where the story can’t be squared cleanly with the Red Book conceit (Curious previously has emphasized that what Tolkien called the book’s most “tragic” scene, Gollum’s near-repentance on the stairs, likewise can only be speculation by the hobbit authors).

Tolkien worried about the Zimmerman film-treatment of LotR that audiences would be confused by cutting between two separate but simultaneous events. Having jumped back to Buckland from Bree here, for less than two pages, does that mean that he intended to confuse his readership?

As to atmosphere, there’s a lot of alliteration, but I don’t know what effect it creates. Examples:
-“a feeling of fear had been growing”
-“brooding threat in the breathless night air”
-“to open of its own accord”
-“the soft sound of horses led with stealth”

The word “breathless” appears twice in two paragraphs, contributing to a feeling of anticipation.

There is an odd reminder of an earlier scene. Previously we’ve noted Frodo’s last look around Bag End before he sets out: “Frodo wandered round the familiar rooms, and saw the light of the sunset fade on the walls, and shadows creep out of the corners.” Then, after overhearing he conversation between the Gaffer and a stranger, “Frodo shut and locked the round door”. Here, Fatty sees a shadow in the yard, and then “he shut and locked the door.”

We’re affected by the “Silmarillion” material (and Curious), and on guard to see the gods in the weather machine, but this mist seems to be just moody atmosphere.

I first read LotR in about 1982, at the same time I first saw E.T.–The Extra-Terrestrial, and in my mind conflate this scene with E.T., as yet unidentified, creeping through Elliot’s back yard, and this gate with the playground equipment in the film.

What do we learn about the Black Riders, their equipment, and their methods, from this passage?
There does seem to be something magical about the pair of “soft but heavy” blows that make the door shudder than burst open. I think “Open, in the name of Mordor!” could be a spell, like those uttered by Gandalf at the Moria-gate.

The description of the light of the Riders’ knife as “chill” rather than “cold” is curious.

For most of the day, there is only one Rider, who watches from the front. When his two companions return, they enter the grounds by the front gate, and Fatty has run well before they reach the house, so while it was a mistake for the Riders not to move to the back, they lost nothing by not doing so.

“There they stood, as still as the shadows of stones” – comments?
At the end of the chapter, our heroes see “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.”

How does fire on a hill-top rend the night?
Ask an astronomer about light pollution.

How likely is it that everyone in the district immediately… act like the Home Guard when the Luftwaffe is spotted?
Good call on the WWII aspect. We know Tolkien did air raid duty; was this written first?

I wonder what real horn calls Tolkien had in mind. There are at least two different calls: a two-note “Awake”, and a three-note “Fear! Fire! Foes!” If they knew the trouble to be a house on fire, would they omit “Fear!” and “Foes!”? And what exactly is “Fear!” meant to convey?

I wonder what action they took to fight off the wolves.

Note that the first horn call comes from “the trees nearby”, not from the nearest house more than a mile away. So the Hobbits have come investigating. Why approach the house, and then blow?

The landscaping around Crickhollow and the timing of Fatty’s flight are confusing. From Ch. 5:

At last they came to a narrow gate in a thick hedge. Nothing could be seen of the house in the dark: it stood back from the lane in the middle of a wide circle of lawn surrounded by a belt of low trees inside the outer hedge.

So Frodo couldn’t see the house from the gate, but Fatty can see the gate from the house? Or does he hear not see the gate open and close? When exactly does Fatty run? Where is the garden? The “dark shapes creep from” it, but then Fatty runs “through” it.

How does Fatty’s behavior compare with Merry’s at Bree that same evening?
I wonder if Fatty experiences a mild case of the Black Breath. Is it significant that neither Fatty nor Merry had encountered the Riders yet? His fear suggests the unnerved Men that Aragorn dismisses south of the Morannon, and Bilbo, collapsing in terror of dragon-fire in in the first chapter of The Hobbit. And his frantic cries remind me of Pippin after using the palantír.

Frodo’s dropped cloak misleads Gandalf, rather as the Mouth of Sauron hopes later to do with Frodo’s mail coat.

We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Jan. 21-27 for "Flight to the Ford".

N.E. Brigand

Jan 27 2008, 9:46pm

Post #39 of 39 (2329 views)
No! [In reply to] Can't Post

Just kidding. Visualweasel is quite right that The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion & Guide and The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion overlap very little, but while the latter is easier to use (and shorter), it also contains much less new information. Regular participants on this board are probably already familiar with at least 75% of its contents. I think the LotR Reader's Guide is aimed at people who have read only LotR and want to know more about it; most people here will not need the book's references to the "Silmarillion" backstory, nor its defintions of uncommon words or even many of its historica/literary source identification. That said, the book does include probably several thousand words of previously unpublished Tolkien writings, including notes from "Hunt for the Ring" papers that were not used in Unfinished Tales; details from a "Time Scheme" that Tolkien used to keep track of his heroes and their enemies, definitions from an unfinished Index, and some pages from Letter #131 that were cut from Letters. A lot could be made of that material, by the careful reader.

But judge for yourself. Here's what Hammond and Scull provide for this chapter.

1. Textual history:
-- a. Page citations to the chapter’s drafts in The History of Middle-earth.
-- b. In 2004, “Far-away answering horns” changed to “Far away answering horns”.
-- c. Note on capitalization policy for “Elvish”.
-- d. Draft version of Strider’s remarks at Weathertop, more explicit on the distance to Rivendell.
-- e. Some editions print “bride-piece” for “bride-price”.
-- f. Frodo didn’t drop his sword in the first edition.

2. Previously unpublished material from the “Hunt for the Ring” MSS.:
--a. 500 words on the attack at Crickhollow.
--b. 260 words on attack at Prancing Pony.
--c. 250 words on Gandalf at Weathertop.
--d. 390 words on Frodo at Weathertop.

3. Literary models and sources:
--a. The hour before dawn and Hamlet.
--b. Eärendil and Old English earendel.

4. Middle-earth and story-internal history:
--a. Talking birds (The Hobbit).
--b. The history of Arnor (LotR Appendices).
--c. Gil-galad, Elendil and the Last Alliance (The Silmarillion and The Peoples of Middle-earth).
--d. Strider’s interpretation of the signs at Weathertop is correct (“The Council of Elrond”).
--e. The fading of the elves (“The Tale of Years” and Letter #131).
--f. Beren and Lúthien (The Silmarillion). Lots of details from the poem and synopsis explained.
--g. Morgoth, Feanor and the silmarils (The Silmarillion).
--h. The importance of Beren and Lúthien to Aragorn.
--i. Eärendil (The Silmarillion).
--j. Why Frodo sees the wraiths when he puts on the Ring (“Many Meetings”).
--k. Frodo’s invocation of Elbereth (The Road Goes Ever On).

5. Speculation about the story:
--a. Darkness at Crickhollow suggests skies had clouded over.
--b. Frodo’s dream of wind and hoofs may be of Crickhollow attack.
--c. Elves may use birds as messengers.
--d. Strider apparently didn’t set a watch before Oct. 4th.
--e. The cairn on Weathertop may have been piled by Gandalf.
--f. The Forkaken Inn may be deserted.
--g. The glint of water seen from Weathertop is probably the Hoarwell.
--g. The “elven-flowers” in the Tinúviel poem may be niphredil.

6. Other Tolkiena:
--a. The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection includes Tolkien performing songs of Gil-galad and Tinúviel.
--b. Tolkien drew Gil-galad’s emblems.
--c. The story and name “Lúthien” had personal significance for Tolkien.
--d. The probable meaning of ann-thennath, by C. Hostetter and P. Wynne.
--e. P. Kocher on effect of “Silmarillion” history on first-time readers.

7. Historical analogues:
--a. Wolves crossing frozen Brandwyine (Rhine in A.D. 406).
--b. The name “Longshanks” (Edward I).
--c. The Weather Hills fortifications (Hadrian’s Wall).
--d. The term “bride-price” (Anglo-Saxon customs).

8. Running chronology, e.g. “He opened his eyes – it is now 30 September”. Also moon phases.

9. Terms defined from Tolkien’s “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings” and unfinished Index:
--a. Nomenclature: Midgewater, Neekerbreekers
--b. Index: Midgewater Marshes, Old Road, Forsaken Inn, Ford of Bruinen, Northern lands

10. Elvish and uncommon English words defined: longshanks, stick-at-naught, short commons, Amon Sûl, helm, cairn, Bruinen, umbels, Lúthien, Tinúviel, raiment, Beren, mantle, linden, darkling, Barahir, Thingol, Angband, Dior, Elwing, Eärendil.

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