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**A Knife in the Dark** 8. Weathertop

squire
Valinor


Jan 17 2008, 1:05pm

Post #1 of 13 (1084 views)
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**A Knife in the Dark** 8. Weathertop Can't Post

Our heroes have been ambling along the protected path on the west side of the hills, and reciting poetry as they go.

It was already mid-day when they drew near the southern end of the path, and saw before them, in the pale clear light of the October sun, a grey-green bank, leading up like a bridge on to the northward slope of the hill. They decided to make for the top at once, while the daylight was broad. Concealment was no longer possible, and they could only hope that no enemy or spy was observing them. Nothing was to be seen moving on the hill. If Gandalf was anywhere about, there was no sign of him.
On the western flank of Weathertop they found a sheltered hollow, at the bottom of which there was a bowl-shaped dell with grassy sides. There they left Sam and Pippin with the pony and their packs and luggage. The other three went on. After half an hour’s plodding climb Strider reached the crown of the hill; Frodo and Merry followed, tired and breathless. The last slope had been steep and rocky.

A. Wouldn’t there be a construction road from the days of the tower that allowed an easier ascent than “plodding tired and breathless” up a steep and rocky slope?

On the top they found, as Strider had said, a wide ring of ancient stonework, now crumbling or covered with age-long grass. But in the centre a cairn of broken stones had been piled. They were blackened as if with fire. About them the turf was burned to the roots and all within the ring the grass was scorched and shrivelled, as if flames had swept the hill-top; but there was no sign of any living thing.

B. Where are the rest of the stones from the tall tower that once was here?

C. At this point do you have to drive from your head by an act of will the image of some coin-operated binoculars and a colorful interpretive sign by the Eriador Park Service? I do.

Standing upon the rim of the ruined circle, they saw all round below them a wide prospect, for the most part of lands empty and featureless, except for patches of woodland away to the south, beyond which they caught here and there the glint of distant water. Beneath them on this southern side there ran like a ribbon the Old Road, coming out of the West and winding up and down, until it faded behind a ridge of dark land to the east. Nothing was moving on it. Following its line eastward with their eyes they saw the Mountains: the nearer foothills were brown and sombre; behind them stood taller shapes of grey, and behind those again were high white peaks glimmering among the clouds.

D. Why is it that I can see this entire prospect so clearly in my mind? What is his trick?

‘Well, here we are!’ said Merry. ‘And very cheerless and uninviting it looks! There is no water and no shelter. And no sign of Gandalf. But I don’t blame him for not waiting - if he ever came here.’

For some time now Strider has focused the hobbits on the need to get to Weathertop.
E. What was Merry expecting?

‘I wonder,’ said Strider, looking round thoughtfully. ‘Even if he was a day or two behind us at Bree, he could have arrived here first. He can ride very swiftly when need presses.’ Suddenly he stooped and looked at the stone on the top of the cairn; it was flatter than the others, and whiter, as if it had escaped the fire. He picked it up and examined it, turning it in his fingers. “This has been handled recently,’ he said. ‘What do you think of these marks?’
On the flat under-side Frodo saw some scratches: ‘There seems to be a stroke, a dot, and three more strokes,’ he said.
‘The stroke on the left might be a G-rune with thin branches,’ said Strider. ‘It might be a sign left by Gandalf, though one cannot be sure. The scratches are fine, and they certainly look fresh. But the marks might mean something quite different, and have nothing to do with us. Rangers use runes, and they come here sometimes.’
‘What could they mean, even if Gandalf made them?’ asked Merry
‘I should say,’ answered Strider, ‘that they stood for G3, and were a sign that Gandalf was here on October the third: that is three days ago now. It would also show that he was in a hurry and danger was at hand, so that he had no time or did not dare to write anything longer or plainer. If that is so, we must be wary.’
‘I wish we could feel sure that he made the marks, whatever they may mean,’ said Frodo ‘It would be a great comfort to know that he was on the way, in front of us or behind us.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Strider. ‘For myself, I believe that he was here, and was in danger. There have been scorching flames here; and now the light that we saw three nights ago in the eastern sky comes back to my mind. I guess that he was attacked on this hill-top, but with what result I cannot tell. He is here no longer, and we must now look after ourselves and make our own way to Rivendell, as best we can.’

F. What do you think of the suggestions that the stone might not be Gandalf’s message (i.e. they “might have nothing to do with us”; “I wish we could feel sure”)? Is Strider’s mind really as slow as it seems here (“and now the light…comes back to my mind”)?

Here are some passages to ponder:

‘I must have something to work on. I cannot burn snow.’ (Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, pp.
And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. (The Two Towers, (The Two Towers, Book IV, Chapter 8, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”)
‘…there was a flash of searing lightning, and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground.’ (Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 4, “The Siege of Gondor”)
But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle: and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the fields a great “boom”. (Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 5, “The Ride of the Rohirrim”)

G. Did Gandalf make the lightning effects on Weathertop that Strider and Frodo saw? Or was it the Witch-king, the Morgul-Lord?

Now back to our regularly scheduled program:

‘How far is Rivendell?’ asked Merry, gazing round wearily. The world looked wild and wide from Weathertop.
‘I don’t know if the Road has ever been measured in miles beyond the “Forsaken Inn,” a day’s journey east of Bree,’ answered Strider. ‘Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise. It is a strange road, and folk are glad to reach their journey’s end, whether the time is long or short. But I know how long it would take me on my own feet, with fair weather and no ill fortune: twelve days from here to the Ford of Bruinen, where the Road crosses the Loudwater that runs out of Rivendell. We have at least a fortnight’s journey before us, for I do not think we shall be able to use the Road.’

H. Doesn’t Strider answer the question after first seeming not to? If Strider can walk, say, 20 miles a day, the distance is 240 miles, no?

I. Does ‘Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise' refer to the discrepancy between The Hobbit and this book regarding the length of the journey?

‘A fortnight!’ said Frodo. ‘A lot may happen in that time.’
‘Duh,’ said Strider.




squire online:
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Curious
Half-elven


Jan 17 2008, 4:33pm

Post #2 of 13 (356 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Wouldn’t there be a construction road from the days of the tower that allowed an easier ascent than “plodding tired and breathless” up a steep and rocky slope?

The tower was utterly destroyed. Perhaps the road is buried under tons of rubble and dirt. Or perhaps the path or road is on the other side, near the Road. Or perhaps there was a bridge which no longer exists. Or perhaps all those fortifications were built after the tower was destroyed. I can think of several explanations. And only the last slope was steep and rocky, and a steep road or path could also be steep and rocky.

B. Where are the rest of the stones from the tall tower that once was here?

Buried? Reused to make all those fortifications the hobbits passed? Carried away for some other purpose? Magically destroyed? (The last may seem the least likely, but if we think of how hard the stone of Orthanc and the Gates of Minas Tirith are, it seems as if heavy-duty magic would have to be involved in the tower's destruction.)

C. At this point do you have to drive from your head by an act of will the image of some coin-operated binoculars and a colorful interpretive sign by the Eriador Park Service? I do.

Not until you put the image there. Thanks.

D. Why is it that I can see this entire prospect so clearly in my mind? What is his trick?


Quote

Standing upon the rim of the ruined circle,
they saw all round below them a wide prospect,
for the most part of lands empty and featureless,
except for patches of woodland away to the south,
beyond which they caught here and there the glint of distant water.

Beneath them on this southern side there ran like a ribbon the Old Road,
coming out of the West and winding up and down,
until it faded behind a ridge of dark land to the east.

Nothing was moving on it.

Following its line eastward with their eyes they saw the Mountains:
the nearer foothills were brown and sombre;
behind them stood taller shapes of grey,
and behind those again were high white peaks glimmering among the clouds.


Tolkien was a good amateur draftsman of landscapes, and brought that same skill to his prose. He starts with the ruined circle. Then empty and featureless lands all around except for patches of woodland and far-off water to the south. Then the ribbon of the Old Road, south of the hill, running from west to east, with nothing on it. Then the Mountains, with brown foothills in front, taller shapes of grey behind, and high white peaks among the clouds.

Although many of the details are different, the scene reminds me of Tolkien's design for the cover of The Hobbit.



There are many differences, but what seems similar is the order and symmetry of the scene. On Weathertop we have distant water and trees to the south, bare land all around, a road running from west to east, and mountains rising like orderly steps from brown foothills to grey mountains to white peaks. What we don't have is anything cluttering up the scene, like people or settlements or a winding road or patches of forest or a mountain range that isn't quite so orderly. And note that he says nothing about the view to the west or north, which is more complicated because it includes the hills and ruins to the north, the marsh to the west, and distant views of the Forsaken Inn, Chetwood, and Bree and the other towns near Bree.

By the way, to the east shouldn't they see the bridge from here, and the woods in which Bilbo and the dwarves found the trolls? But that would complicate the picture. And in LotR the stone trolls are more distant than in The Hobbit.

E. What was Merry expecting?

Pretty much what he found -- nothing. What he wasn't expecting was what Strider found.

F. What do you think of the suggestions that the stone might not be Gandalf’s message (i.e. they “might have nothing to do with us”; “I wish we could feel sure”)? Is Strider’s mind really as slow as it seems here (“and now the light…comes back to my mind”)?

He has to work it out for the hobbits and, of course, for the readers. And he's more modest than, say, Sherlock Holmes, who would berate the hobbits for not having worked it out for themselves.

G. Did Gandalf make the lightning effects on Weathertop that Strider and Frodo saw? Or was it the Witch-king, the Morgul-Lord?

Excellent point! That might explain why Aragorn didn't instantly think of Gandalf when he saw lighting in the direction of Weathertop.

H. Doesn’t Strider answer the question after first seeming not to? If Strider can walk, say, 20 miles a day, the distance is 240 miles, no?

The distance to Fairie is not measured in miles, as Boromir can attest.

I. Does ‘Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise' refer to the discrepancy between The Hobbit and this book regarding the length of the journey?


As I recall Gandalf had a hard time finding Rivendell in The Hobbit as well. I think it has more to do with the nature of Fairie, and the defenses of Rivendell. Some will never find it, no matter how hard they look.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jan 17 2008, 4:35pm)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jan 17 2008, 5:12pm

Post #3 of 13 (341 views)
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Ruins with a view [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Wouldn’t there be a construction road from the days of the tower that allowed an easier ascent than “plodding tired and breathless” up a steep and rocky slope?

The construction road would have been much shorter-lived than the tower, I'm sure. And the construction road would have been destroyed by the occupants themselves if it would have given attackers any advantage. Not much point building on an inaccessible rock if you're going to make it accessible with your own construction road!

B. Where are the rest of the stones from the tall tower that once was here?

In the case of most ruins in England, at least, the stones were used as a handy quarry by anyone who came along. Barns and walls might have been built with the stones.

C. At this point do you have to drive from your head by an act of will the image of some coin-operated binoculars and a colorful interpretive sign by the Eriador Park Service? I do.

That's one of the things I like about the way things are done here in Ireland. You don't get that intrusively "helpful" and instructional Park Service approach that you often do in North America. There's one place here that has become Weathertop in my mind - the Rock of Dunamase, which bears the ruin of a medieval castle (although fortifications on this site go back much further than that). There's a little map of the site down in the car park, but there's a steep scramble up to the ruins (don't know what happened to that construction road....) and once you're up there, there's no tourist paraphernalia at all. Just you and the wind and the view.

D. Why is it that I can see this entire prospect so clearly in my mind? What is his trick?

It's probably because you have seen this prospect many times in the real world. It's an "ideal" prospect, with the generic names of all the obvious features (woodland, distant water, winding Road, ridge of dark land) all mentioned but not described in any unique detail. You can summon up an image of each of these things direct from your own experience. I believe it's the very fact that he doesn't get all specific about the landscape that allows us all see it so clearly (although we presumably each see our own "ideal" landscape, based on our own experiences).

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


weaver
Half-elven

Jan 17 2008, 5:36pm

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Uncertainty in LOTR... [In reply to] Can't Post

One thing your questions do for me, squire, is to make me realize that for all the things that seem so "certain" in Tolkien, there are plenty of times the characters have to deal with things that aren't.

By this I mean Tolkien was very definite about somethings -- there are clear forces for good and ill operating in Middle Earth, for example. There is not doubt, or gray area, in terms of Sauron being bad and other forces, like the name of Elbereth, being good. On the other hand, there are many incidents like this, where Strider has to decide which way to read the signs -- Gandalf may or may not have made it to Weathertop, and Strider has to struggle with that. In this case, as in others, there are signs that could be read either way, or more than one way of seeing things.

Introducing elements of uncertainty, I suppose is similar in some ways, to the way Tolkien uses "seeming" moments in the tale, when he gives you a glimpse of something, but does it in a context that still keeps you guessing or wondering.

Partly, this makes for good storytelling -- things not being "certain" keeps our interest. The drama in the story comes not from trying to figure out what's good and what's evil, but in how the characters decide to act, especially in times where the path isn't always clear. Will they read the signs right, or find the right way to allow the forces for good to act? There's no doubt that good "can" act, but the drama comes from whether or not it will be able to,

Perhaps it's also just part of how Tolkien's mind works -- there are some critics, I know, who see the divided characters in Tolkien -- Gollum, Bilbo with his Took and Baggins side, etc. -- as representative of the author, who in his own life, had to find a way to reconcile his Suffield and Tolkien heritage, or his interest in literature from pre-Christian times with his strong Catholic beliefs.

For whatever reason, Tolkien does have a tendency to balance out things in LOTR -- the certain with the uncertain, the seeming and the real, or in his reflections through his characters of how the high and low keep each other in check, how the great and small each have a part to play, or of the importance of recognizing that the world is made up of more than just you and your interests -- with characters like Denethor, who think only about their "own" realms being most definitely wrong.

I guess I don't have a clear answer to all of this, other than to feel that each "uncertain" moment in Tolkien is there for a reason...and all of them are part of a bigger picture.

**goes off to take Advil after typing this, as all this thinking about certainty and uncertainty certainly makes my brain hurt**

Weaver



Beren IV
Gondor


Jan 18 2008, 3:03am

Post #5 of 13 (301 views)
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Rangers versus Hobbits [In reply to] Can't Post

H. Doesn’t Strider answer the question after first seeming not to? If Strider can walk, say, 20 miles a day, the distance is 240 miles, no?

I would guess that Strider could go at least 30 miles in a day, perhaps 40...

People can move at varying speeds depending on how good shape they are in and how much they are carrying. If he did not have to carry food, water, weapons, or heavy clothing, I imagine that Strider might well be able to run all day long for days on end. Hunter-gatherer tribesmen can go 100 miles in a day if they need to, and 50 is something they do routinely. Aragorn has to carry rations and weapons and whatnot, so he will not go that fast, but he could go a whole lot faster on his own than with four hobbits in tow, some of whom aren't accustomed to walking long distances at all.


A. Wouldn’t there be a construction road from the days of the tower that allowed an easier ascent than “plodding tired and breathless” up a steep and rocky slope?

I'm guessing that it was ruined in the wars with Angmar, and then ruined again when the Trollshaws took over the land to the east.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 18 2008, 5:02am

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Stoned [In reply to] Can't Post

The Rock of Dunamase is a good example of a castle-ruin on a hill!

The Weathertop stones make me think of the Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis. Constructed about 4,000 years ago, by modern times peat had grown up around them, to at least a meter in height, and in the mid-1800s the circle was excavated.

The tower on Weathertop was destroyed in 1409, or 1600 years before this story. That could be enough time for the local vegetation to die, decay, and cover many of the smaller stones.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915


Elizabeth
Valinor


Jan 18 2008, 8:52am

Post #7 of 13 (282 views)
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Strider only added 2 days [In reply to] Can't Post

to adjust for having the hobbits along. So I'd guess his estimate of 12 days is for himself walking briskly but not in a tearing hurry, and stopping for meals and sleep. Of course, he can go a lot faster when necessary, as when he's tearing across Rohan.

But I think Curious has the best answer, that to go to Rivendell is something only the favored few can do at all, and times may vary.




Whew, that was fun.


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Elizabeth
Valinor


Jan 18 2008, 9:13am

Post #8 of 13 (280 views)
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Ruins [In reply to] Can't Post

A few threads ago you mentioned Hadrian's Wall. A few years ago I walked the length of Hadrian's wall -- it was a great adventure, and I highly recommend it. But the relevance here is that nowhere along its 70+ miles is it more than about half what it was. For example, this "milecastle" was once a 2-story building with a platform on top, and housed several dozen troops. There are other places where a main road once passed through. .In some places you can see the stones scattered about, but for the most part they were taken over the years and used for other purposes: homes, barns, churches, pubs, even roads. This is true even in rugged, almost inaccessible areas, where one would think stealing a stone would be more trouble than it's worth.

As for the road, there's no surprise that it's gone. How many centuries of wind, rain, overgrown plants, etc. would it take? There have been more than that.

Tolkien's descriptions of geography are incredibly visual. I only wish he had taken the trouble to describe his characters as well. I suspect that was deliberate: he really didn't want to impinge more than necessary (tall, grey-eyed, ...) on our own visualizations.

As for the ambiguity about whether it was Gandalf who fought the fiery battle and left a marker, I think that's mostly storytelling on Tolkien's part. The greatest huntsman and tracker of the age must be pretty sure of what happened, even if he doesn't want to pass all the evidence on to the hobbits. Why wouldn't he say so? Maybe he's just sandbagging. I'm not convinced he handled what's next optimally, either.




Whew, that was fun.


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


squire
Valinor


Jan 18 2008, 12:57pm

Post #9 of 13 (304 views)
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Shh! Don't tell anyone on Main! [In reply to] Can't Post

Re: your last two answers. http://home.insightbb.com/...lenge/Walk/walk.html



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


Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea


Jan 18 2008, 4:57pm

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LOL!// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Where's Frodo?


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 27 2008, 7:25am

Post #11 of 13 (258 views)
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The hill is too low. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
The Rock stands 150 feet (46m) tall in the heart of what is otherwise a flat plain, and was ideal as a defensive position with its view right up to the Slieve Bloom Mountains.


Tolkien describes Weathertop as rising to almost 1,000 feet, though it's not clear if that's its height above sea level, or above the surrounding countryside.

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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 28 2008, 2:18am

Post #12 of 13 (353 views)
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“G for Grand!” [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Wouldn’t there be a construction road from the days of the tower that allowed an easier ascent than “plodding tired and breathless” up a steep and rocky slope?
Probably this path is less exposed to view. The moment when “concealment was no longer possible” is a motif that crops up a few more times in the story.

B. Where are the rest of the stones from the tall tower that once was here?
Early Beowulf scholars carted them off, to examine for historical clues.

C. At this point do you have to drive from your head by an act of will the image of some coin-operated binoculars and a colorful interpretive sign by the Eriador Park Service? I do.
Too many visits to Bear Mountain? Not every hilltop has road access.

D. Why is it that I can see this entire prospect so clearly in my mind? What is his trick?
But what do you picture? “Empty and featureless” landscape with a few details. If every reader could draw what this passage inspires, no two images would agree on most of the particulars.

F. What do you think of the suggestions that the stone might not be Gandalf’s message? Is Strider’s mind really as slow as it seems here (“and now the light…comes back to my mind”)?
Although Weathertop is a likely meeting spot, these are a few nearly illegible scratches on one little rock in the middle of thousands of square miles of wilderness. Gandalf hasn’t been seen for months: why should a sign from him appear now?
That G-rune sure gets a lot of play in the first book, appearing in three different chapters.

G. Did Gandalf make the lightning effects … or was it the Witch-king, the Morgul-Lord?
Very nice!

H. Doesn’t Strider answer the question after first seeming not to? If Strider can walk, say, 20 miles a day, the distance is 240 miles, no?
I. Does ‘Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise' refer to the discrepancy between The Hobbit and this book regarding the length of the journey?

Yes, and it’s also a trial run for Lothlórien. “Anyone would think that time did not ocunt in there!”
According to Hammond and Scull, Tolkien did give more detail on the distance in out in drafts, but found it “too cut-and-dried”.

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


sador
Half-elven


Mar 16 2011, 8:14am

Post #13 of 13 (416 views)
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I never noticed this riddle before! [In reply to] Can't Post

At first I thought you meant The Fellowship of the Ring, in which there are four - but then I read it again carefully. Cool
(You might argue that Galadriel used the Feanorean letter - but I think not; the runes were ususally used for carving)


In Reply To

That G-rune sure gets a lot of play in the first book, appearing in three different chapters.


"Let me think!" - Aragorn.

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