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

squire
Valinor


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?



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Beren IV
Gondor


Jan 20 2008, 5:38am

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This is the moment when an astute reader will realize what the Black Riders are: we know that the Ring makes its wearer invisible, and we know that the other Great Rings do the same. We may even remember the word twilight used to describe the world they walk under. The long grey robes and white hair, the swords, with their leader bearing a crown, will all point back to Gandalf's description in The Shadow of the Past, and suddenly everything falls into place. And, suddenly, the Riders become a whole lot scarier: we knew they were servants of the Enemy, but we had no idea which servants, or how powerful they are!

Aragorn's plan? Hope that Frodo can hold out, and stay near the fire. Fire is a source of light and heat, and the Nine are creatures of cold and darkness. They are less powerful with fire near, and can be repelled by fire. If Frodo had managed to keep the Ring off of his finger, then Aragorn might have been able to fend them off. Indeed, Frodo might have, if he had realized the value of what he was holding and not been so taken by their terror: the sword is a sword made to fight the Nine, and they recognize it, and it fills them with terror! That is why, of all of them, only the WK is not daunted, and indeed, his aura is powerful enough that Frodo cannot fight him effectively, even wielding a sword that can slay him!

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


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 20 2008, 6:17am

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A light from the shadows shall spring? [In reply to] Can't Post


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"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."
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?


I never noticed that before -- thanks!

The excuse is, I suppose, that the real world was in darkness while Frodo wore the Ring.

Would you say that Strider's flaming brands "rent the night like fire on a hill-top"? (And should we also be thinking about the Gondorian beacons?)

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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".


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 20 2008, 11:21pm

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A. My God, what is that thing?
A large stone or jutting rock, from the ruins on the hilltop. Strider was staring at the moon in order to figure out how long until dawn.

B. None of the hobbits want to say “Black Riders”, evidently, though it’s perfectly clear what’s going down. Why not?
No need to. But it was years before I realized that "for any money" was just an expression, and that Sam was not for some strange reason on his way to check on their cash supply, which they had inexplicably left outside the dell.

C. What time of night is it? Is the timing consistent with what we’ve seen of earlier Black Rider attacks?
The moon is a day shy of its first quarter, so it would be rising around 1 a.m.; by the time it peers over Weathertop, it could be around 3 a.m. It's not quite as close to sunrise as the attack on Crickhollow was. Maybe the Nazgûl thought they would catch Frodo during his REM sleep...

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?
A bit of instruction such as "Set the ends of the sticks on fire when I tell you" might have been nice. It also would have been a good idea, for him to have gotten another small fire going earlier, about 10 ft away from the first, and had them all sit between them.

E. Why does Strider say “Hush!” when Frodo is only thinking that he wants to shout out loud?
I've thought that was in response to Pippin's words, although the sentences are in reversed order.

F. Well, is it three or is it four? If three – what was the fourth dark shadow?
Yes. Three or four, depending on how nigh they are to a-spoilin' their pantaloons.

G. How can Frodo tell that the hiss is “venomous” by its sound?
Probably is snake-like, and when you're scared, all snakes are venomous.

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?
I let myself be hypnotized once, so I know that the power of hypnotic suggestion is capable of, in my case, raising one arm and not being able to bend it. I would assume that the Witch-King is putting forth something quite similar: raise hand, get Ring, put Ring on finger...

I. “Keen eyes”, “white faces”, “grey hairs”, “haggard hands”. Are the Riders “people”, or not?
Yes, spooky people! Ghouls! And reminds me of H. Rider Haggard!

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?
Wouldn't these make great posable figures for a Windows laptop? You could have two Riders looking over the lip of your Dell!
Yeah, they're wimps. "Uh...I thought you said that stuff was all in those barrow-mounds, Boss..."

K. Why does Frodo’s sword (from the Barrow, remember) flicker as if on fire?
Probably some holdover from the long years in the Barrow. It's itchin' for some Angmar-blood.

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?
The rest of the Riders don't need to glow: they're pale, and the night is dark with a bit of moonlight. There's enough light to see them. But the Witch-King's hand is picking up the glow of the blade, which has had some spell placed upon it. It's a bit like the sickly glow of Minas Morgul.

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?
It's as if they're "paralyzed" with fear, and go limp - or maybe, Hobbits have a natural tendency to "play possum"?

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?
This is from Frodo's viewpoint, where everything is "dim and dark". As soon as the WiKi rushed Frodo, Strider must have thrust his sticks into the fire; Frodo sees him in the glow as he pulls them out.

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?
I don't think it makes a difference which brand of wood it is. But certainly the thicker the wood, the less of a glowing fire you'll get on the end. Dry pine would burn nicely.

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?
At this point, he's been released from the WiKi's mental "suggestions". Now he can remove the thing from his finger; but he hasn't the strength to put it back in his pocket, only to clench it.

Q. Does this count as yet another chapter in FotR that ends with Frodo falling asleep?
It isn't until we read the opening line of the next chapter that we realize that Frodo has actually gone unconscious. With the number of chapters which end with a Hobbit either falling asleep, or falling unconscious, I wonder if Tolkien was implying that each chapter should be read as a bed-time story?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Jan 22 2008, 8:02pm

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I laughed out loud several times as I read through your very entertaining replies.

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"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 23 2008, 1:32am

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Smile

But it's fun to do an occasional imitation of the "Darkstonian" style!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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


Curious
Half-elven


Jan 26 2008, 2:50pm

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A. My God, what is that thing?

Maybe just a stone. Probably something more ominous.

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

They aren't on horses. They're just black shapes. Even the name Black Riders is ambiguous, and without the horses the hobbits don't know what to call them. At this point we don't know that they are human, or used to be human.

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


They didn't wait until dawn, did they. But they did wait until the waxing moon rose over the hill. Nice of them. Gives the hobbits a sporting chance.

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?

Earlier Strider had explained that the Black Riders did not like fire, which is why Strider chose to make a stand here, and to make a bonfire with the firewood. I think the hobbits understood that they were to use the long sticks as torches, although Strider could have stated that more clearly.

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


Frodo did not shout, but he did stir, and broke the silence.

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

It's hard to tell, that's the point. They're looking for shadow on shadow, and the shadows are ghostly. Later, when Frodo puts on the Ring, we learn it is not three or four figures, but five, although three were advancing.

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


"Venomous breath" is a simile. In other words, a hiss like a snake's. That doesn't mean the hiss is necessarily venomous.

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?

No, I don't think I have. I think this is beyond temptation, and into the realm of possession by another will. Frodo isn't tempted to use the Ring at all at this point. He just finds himself doing so against his will. This is very different from Frodo's temptation in the barrow mound, which may be why Gandalf does not consider Weathertop the most dangerous part of Frodo's trip to Rivendell. Frodo's body may be in danger, but his soul is not in peril here. He isn't in moral danger.

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

Yes. Like Gollum, they are people who have been turned into something unnatural. But they are farther gone than Gollum -- more like real ghosts, who can only be seen as people on the spirit plane.

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?

More likely overconfidence, although they might be startled that Frodo could stand up to them and draw his sword, and that his sword flickers like a flame.

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

It has a spirit in it. Remember, Frodo is wearing the Ring, and we see the sword through his eyes.

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?


I think they seem to glow all over when Frodo wears the Ring, which is why he sees them so plainly.

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?

Curling up seems like a protective reaction. Falling flat seems more like a reaction to overwhelming spiritual terror.

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?

It may seem dark to Frodo, who is still wearing the Ring when Strider leaps. In particular it may seem dark because Frodo has just been stabbed with a Morgul blade and is in the midst of a swoon. And Frodo is facing away from the fire, towards the darkness.

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?

It depends on the wood. Some wood will flare up in flame, at least at first. That may be why Aragorn had sticks ready to put into the fire, instead of pulling charred sticks out of the fire. He may have set aside long sticks that were likely to burst into flame when stuck into the blazing fire.

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?

A combination of factors. Frodo called on Elbereth, and she may have answered. Strider lept and disrupted the Nazgul. The Nazgul relaxed after they stabbed the ringbearer. And Frodo may simply have found an extra burst of will power before falling into darkness.

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

I suppose it does. Since we see through Frodo's eyes, it makes for a nice break, and in this case a nice cliffhanger. I wonder if that trend continues in TT and RotK, where we see more of the story through the eyes of others. Half of those books take place away from Frodo, and IIRC Book IV ends with Sam, not Frodo, falling unconscious.



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 28 2008, 1:58am

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The moon is a day shy of its first quarter, so it would be rising around 1 a.m.; by the time it peers over Weathertop, it could be around 3 a.m.


According to the lunar chronology in Hammond & Scull, the moon reached first quarter on Oct. 3, and this is Oct. 6. And a first quarter moon would rise some six to seven hours before sunset (the moon rises roughly an hour later each day, and a full moon rises near sunset) so this one would have been over the horizon a few hours later, and might take some hours more to appear over the hilltop. But Frodo is stabbed on Oct. 6 not early the following morning, because that's when he feels the wound in later years.

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

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dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 28 2008, 1:30pm

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I'd been working from notes I'd pencilled into my hardcover LotR a long time ago, and had never checked them against the H&S chronology. (Along with my mixing up the rising times for waxing & waning moons.)

So the actual time of the attack would have been closer to, probably, 10 p.m.?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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


Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea


Jan 28 2008, 4:05pm

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"for any money" [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
B. None of the hobbits want to say “Black Riders”, evidently, though it’s perfectly clear what’s going down. Why not?
No need to. But it was years before I realized that "for any money" was just an expression, and that Sam was not for some strange reason on his way to check on their cash supply, which they had inexplicably left outside the dell.



LaughLaughLaughLaughLaugh (I wish I could make those smileys roll around!)


Where's Frodo?


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 10 2008, 1:07am

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A. My God, what is that thing?
Well, it’s not a Rider, because they approach the dell from the other side.

B. None of the hobbits want to say “Black Riders”, evidently, though it’s perfectly clear what’s going down. Why not?
No horses.

C. What time of night is it? Is the timing consistent with what we’ve seen of earlier Black Rider attacks?
It’s not yet midnight. The wait-almost-until-dawn approach didn’t work in Crickhollow, so they’re attacking now, as quickly as they could find the party. Remember that the Riders were several miles away when Frodo saw them from the hilltop, and they had no way of knowing where the hobbits would go.

E. Why does Strider say “Hush!” when Frodo is only thinking that he wants to shout out loud?
Frodo “stirred”, making some sound that Strider heard. Or Strider has telepathy.

F. Well, is it three or is it four? If three – what was the fourth dark shadow?
It’s actually five. The idea is that we don’t know how many there are.

G. How can Frodo tell that the hiss is “venomous” by its sound?
It sounds more like a snake than tea-kettle.

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?
This is a very curious moment. But yes, in real life, every time one strays from a diet, etc. one is acting against one’s best judgment.

I. “Keen eyes”, “white faces”, “grey hairs”, “haggard hands”. Are the Riders “people”, or not?
Well, the big surprise here is that they look very different when seen by one wearing the Ring. And that wearing the Ring doesn’t make Frodo invisible to them.

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?
I’m sure the Witch-king thought so. He learned his lesson on the Pelennor.
By the way, was Frodo holding a stick per Strider’s instructions? We’re not told that he dropped it in favor of his sword.

K. Why does Frodo’s sword (from the Barrow, remember) flicker as if on fire?
It’s made as a weapon against wraiths. (But when in the writing process did Tolkien decide that?) At the Ford the Witch-king comes prepared with a spell to destroy the sword, which he fears. He would have done the same on the Pelennor, if he had noticed Merry.

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?
Is there darkness in the wraith-world? Or is it always “light” there? The Riders do not glow; this glow indicates an enchanted object. (Not sure about the Witch-king’s hand.)

N. Aragorn’s “leaping out of the darkness”… How dark is it at this point, under the moonlight?
Hmm, so it is dark in the wraith world.

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?
If Frodo had not put on the Ring and seen the Wraiths clearly, could he have responded as effectively as he did, getting stabbed only in the shoulder and nearly stabbing the Witch-king’s foot?

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