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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Synopsis Spoiler?

The Shire

Jan 21, 2:41pm

Post #1 of 5 (756 views)
Synopsis Spoiler? Can't Post

The Fellowship of the Ring concludes with Frodo on Amon Hen. As he leaves the hill, "He thought he could hear cries and calls from the woods near the shore below." Frodo logically interprets this to mean that his companions are hunting for him. The narrative then returns to the rest of the fellowship. With the return of Boromir and his revelations, everyone takes off in various directions and, most notably, Merry and Pippin shout Frodo's name. This is the first time any cries are mentioned, and I believe we are meant, rightly or wrongly, to think that these are the cries that Frodo hears. In the few remaining pages of the first volume, nothing more is mentioned of any shouting, calls or cries.

In the synopsis that opens The Two Towers, we find a very different description of these events. Specifically, it is noted that the first part ends with "the scattering of the remainder of the Fellowship by a sudden attack of orc-soldiers, some in the service of the Dark Lord of Mordor, some of the traitor Saruman of Isengard".

I do not recall noticing this on my first read. That was many years and many re-readings ago, and I'm sure that, at the time, I was in too much of a hurry to get on with the story and simply missed it. Another possibility is that I had already seen the bizarrely truncated Bakshi version of The Lord of the Rings, knew about the attack from the movie, and so read right past it. We often see what we expect to see, after all. Whether by viewing the new movies, which transferred the scene in question to the first film, or through multiple re-readings of the books, that expectation has only been reinforced over time.

So my questions for the group are these:

Though I'm not sure the term was in use at the time, did Tolkien give us a true spoiler here? If so, was it intentional, or was it the result of so many edits and re-writes and just forgotten? I can see the author wanting to trick his readers into thinking, as did Frodo, the cries were nothing more than the product of Merry and Pippin's search, but why would he then spoil the Big Reveal? The history of the book's writing not being as familiar to me as it is to some of you, can anyone tell me whether the synopses were original to the story, or were they the after-effects of splitting the tale into three volumes?

For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the threshold of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.

N.E. Brigand

Jan 21, 9:29pm

Post #2 of 5 (699 views)
Tolkien in 1951: FOTR "ends with the death of Boromor fighting the orcs". [In reply to] Can't Post

Those are good questions! As I recall, somewhere in their massive J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (lately expanded to three volumes), Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond note the approximate date that Tolkien wrote the synopses. It was after Allen & Unwin informed him that The Lord of the Rings would need to be published in three volumes. Obviously it would have been early 1954 at the latest. By that time, he would have done substantial work on the appendices, which I think were barely begun when the book was accepted for publication.

There was some inconclusive discussion of this subject previously here. See also perhaps here, where it is noted, as per my subject line above, that the synopsis was not the first time Tolkien issued this spoiler -- although I don't think he had the notion of calling the first volume The Fellowship of the Ring at that point.

It's interesting that Peter Jackson's films decide to follow the synopsis rather than the text by moving the orc attack into the first installment of the trilogy.

Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.

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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jan 22, 8:22am

Post #3 of 5 (640 views)
I don't see there is much of a contradiction here [In reply to] Can't Post

Frodo hear's his fellow Hobbits call for him before two are captured. And I can imagine that young Hobbits can yell very loud. Legolas and Gimli slay many Orcs whilst Boromir dies defending Merry and Pippin. Aragorn finds Boromir and is for a while almost paralyzed with grief. This does fit in my opinion with both versions of events.


Jan 22, 3:46pm

Post #4 of 5 (625 views)
And yet [In reply to] Can't Post

Aside from the hobbit cries, all of those events occur offscreen or in the first chapter of TTT, not the last chapter of FOTR, as the synopsis falsely notes.


Jan 22, 5:03pm

Post #5 of 5 (621 views)
yes [In reply to] Can't Post

As I see it, it isn't that the synopsis is inconsistent with what we read in FOTR - it's that it reveals the meaning of events that we didn't get in FOTR, and are about to get in TTT.

But then again it seems reasonable to focus the synopsis on very briefly describing what a new reader needs to start reading part-way through the story. An account containing what Frodo knows or suspects - as opposed to what has actually happened - would necessarily be longer and more complicated. So maybe Tolkien chose brevity and clarity over making it clear that book-Frodo at the end of FOTR does not know that the Fellowship is under attack (just that one of them has attacked him).

This (as has already been said) is in contrast to the movies: movie-Frodo does know the orcs have found them and movie-Aragorn, movie-Merry and movie -Pippin react by deliberately making a diversion to allow Frodo to escape. (Moreover movie-Frodo accepts their potential sacrifice rather than let the quest fail). The breaking of the Fellowship is thus a deliberate and brave act to end Jackson's film, and one in which movie-Aragorn has demonstrated that - unlike Isildur- he's able to renounce the Ring (which is what we see him doubting in his Rivendell conversation with Arwen).

The book, by contrast, has the Breaking as a whole lot of chaotic confusion unintended by anybody present, and has Aragorn spending Book II recovering from a (reasonable) idea that he's made a mess of everything.

"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Jan 22, 5:09pm)


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