Barrow-wight interlude

I haven’t dropped out again – I’m just lazy. Writing is hard.  (Hence the novel I’ve been working on since the Reagan administration.) Workdays are ridiculous, so weekends I am prone to just lollop about.

However, this afternoon, while lolloping, I was also laughing my head off, because – as Shawn from the Prancing Pony Podcast had promised – the episode of the PPP released today featured not one but two of my silly song parodies. (Apparently Shawn forced Alan to sing “Fly Me to Mount Doom” – sorry, Alan! But then Shawn held up his side of the partnership and sang “Springle-Ring”.) It was delightful – I don’t think anyone ever sang any of my stuff before! (There was that evening of karaoke, but I had a bad case of jet lag and sheer cowardice, and never went through with it.)

If you’re not listening to the PPP, you should be – and especially episode 119! Thanks, gentlemen – I had fun, even if you didn’t!

https://theprancingponypodcast.com/2019/03/31/119-the-dark-side-of-the-tomb-2/#comment-1111

Advertisements
Posted in books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

LotR Reread, Chapter 3: Three Is Company (part two)

Look, I’m back! *pause for amazement*

SBs

So when last I left the lads, they were sleeping under a tree being marveled at by a fox. They were still in the Shire, so they didn’t feel any need to keep watch – that is probably the last outdoor night any of them will spend on this journey with that much peace of mind. (Mistaken as it actually was.)

I like the playfulness of everyone getting up, Pippin teasing Sam, Sam blearily falling for it, Frodo roughhousing with Pip. They’re still in the Shire; only Frodo is supposed to know the full extent of the adventure they’re starting out on; it’s still a walk for the pleasure of it, for a few more hours.

df2ng40u0aarduySee, all of this is why I was so totally on the “trust Peter” bandwagon in those glorious early days when the movies were still in the works, and after FotR came out,. There is Sam, looking wide-eyed at a landscape a step beyond the world he knows so well (“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”); and then of course:

‘ He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?” He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.’

In that moment in the theater, or at least in that moment that I realized that the quote was exact and perfectly used, I was positive we were in great hands. Betrayal is the worst.

*ahem*

‘I wonder if that is Gandalf coming after us,’ said Frodo; but even as he said it, he had a feeling that it was not so, and a sudden desire to hide from the view of the rider came over him.

– Interesting. That sudden desire certainly didn’t come from the Ring; quite the opposite, I would think. “There was more than one power at work, Frodo.” Or … wait. Given the next moment, when “A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring” – maybe it wasn’t that other Power after all. Hm. Tricksy.

Right here is one of my favorite songs in the book. I love everything about it – and I’ll make an admission: when I kept a diary in my teens, I very often ended entries like I did my last post, with “‘And now to bed! And now to bed!’ sang Pippin in a high voice.” This is how thoroughly woven LotR has always been in my life – and this is why it’s so strange to think about all these years I haven’t been able to read it. (For which read also: this is how big a geek I have always been.)

BR

And then comes another dark rider, or the same one again. The sniffing that Pippin is so obsessed with is definitely a creepy, creepy detail – and so is this: The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him. Bleurgh. Swaying and crawling – and if it hadn’t been for Elf ex machina (Elvis ex – no. Bother), they would have been in serious trouble.

But the Elves do approach, and the language is exquisite. I wonder why Frodo didn’t want to draw their attention; respect? Caution? But Gildor Inglorion notices them there, and calls Frodo by name. (I just typed that, and went back to correct myself, because one of my favorite Barbara Hambly characters’ names has got to be inspired by this chapter – but that wonderful wizard is Ingold Inglorion, so I was actually correct.) Pippin immediately seizes a chance to ask about the Black Riders, and news of them disturbs the Elves; they decide to break with custom and take the Hobbits along with them.

“Sam was speechless.” That will happen when you are suddenly granted a dear wish, or so I hear. “Sam walked along at Frodo’s side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy.” Yes. And that’s why I love Sam best.

Alan LeeAgain, the language used in these passages about the Elves is just beautiful. It struck me last night, listening to this chapter, that this is where Tolkien began to ruin me for reality. You see, while somewhere out there there might be a road through a wood down which I could safely walk at night and sleep beside when I tired without being a) robbed, b) raped, or c) arrested… But nowhere out there is there a road on which I might meet a band of Elves, High or otherwise, wending their way with a light about their feet and singing as they went. I think I said it last time – Tolkien desired dragons, and Sam and I desire Elves. Lucky Sam.

The Elves apologize for the “poor fare”, and Frodo replies “It seems to me good enough for a birthday-party.” Which, considering the birthday party described in the previous chapter, is high praise indeed. I think this is the first time Tolkien introduces one of those beverages which makes everything I can get my hands on bland and intolerably boring. …”A fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon” … Yes, please.

Interesting that they all sit around the fire either on the ground or “upon the sawn rings of old trunks” – it had just crossed my mind that they might use logs as benches or something, and then I thought “Nah – not Elves”. Well. Maybe the trees died naturally.

Gildor is surprisingly (to me, at least) vague. He does not specify where he has seen Bilbo since his farewell (which of course is intended to give Frodo and the reader a nice surprise in a little while). He would not give him details about the Black Riders – and in fact says the only thing which could possibly have made the situation worse: if I told you what I know, you’d be too terrified to go on. Hey, thanks. That’s helpful. Go not to the Elves for information, for they will say much and nothing at all. After one of my very favorite exchanges of adages (far better than mine), he finally warns Frodo to keep moving, with or without Gandalf – but I wonder if Frodo would have been able to get into Rivendell on his own. From The Hobbit and from something I seem to remember Gandalf saying it’s not as simple as crossing a bridge.

Samwise is so very me during this chapter. He refuses to go to bed like Pippin, choosing instead to sit at Frodo’s feet and hope to see and hear everything and not miss a moment of this amazing first meeting with Elves … and then he falls asleep. Or – *cue dramatic music* – – does he?? (Seriously, though, I can’t see S. Gamgee faking it.)

gildor-inglorionI wonder if Gildor’s lack of bedside manner, if you will, is due to an overestimation of Frodo’s heart. Or maybe it just seems to be that, given his bluntness (“No, seriously, dude, these Black Riders? So evil. You’re pretty much hosed, little dude”), but it’s actually just the right push Frodo needs to put his head down and go. (Go wrong, as the case may be, but in the end it’s right.) (That seems to happen a great deal – it’s the wrong way, or the wrong time, or otherwise not right – and it turns out better than if the “correct” path had been followed at the “correct” time.) (See the supplemental post…)

“‘But my heart forbodes that, ere all is ended, you, Frodo son of Drogo, will know more of these fell things than Gildor Inglorion. May Elbereth protect you!'”

In fact – yes, probably. Long-lived (forever-lived) as Gildor as one of the High Elves must be, he will probably have been wise enough (and lucky enough) to avoid going to some of the places and meeting some of the creatures Frodo will go and meet. Pippin especially of the three of them will get a crash course in Orcs. And yes, Frodo will before too many more days go by learn far more about the Black Riders than is generally advisable for one’s health.

I have a feeling that in a more current fantasy novel Elves met by chance like this would have a more major impact on Our Heroes. They would give valuable advice (instead of grudgingly little of anything), or leave them with a valuable artifact that would come in very handy later (instead of with breakfast), or one of the Elves would join the hobbits and be part of the proto-Company from then on. But Tolkien, being the creator of tropes and trends, doesn’t see any need for the Elves to be anything but a welcome rescue from the Black Rider, a beautiful half a chapter, and then gone.

Frodo finally begins to fall asleep – and as no mention of Samwise is made, this is probably where he has his moment of conversation with the Elves. Which doesn’t come up till Chapter 4. Which I might actually get to!

In the meantime, here’s a parody that would have gone well a chapter or so ago, but I forgot…

Cabbages and Taters
A parody of “Proud Mary”

Sam:
Left a good job in the Shire
Workin’ for the Baggins clan since I was a kid
Haven’t ever lost one minute of sleepin’
Worried ‘bout anything the Big Folk did

Been a lot of places through the Shire
Been to all the pubs, know the folks real well
Was settlin’ down like my Gaffer before me
Till I went and overheard what ol’ Gandalf did tell

The Road keeps on unfoldin’
Shoulda listened when my Gaffer told me
Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Thought I’d get turned into a lizard
Never saw the old wizard riled up like that
Instead he made me promise to stick with Mr. Frodo
I knew that there’d be trouble right off the bat

I said the Road keeps on unfoldin’
Shoulda listened when my Gaffer told me
Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters
………………………………………..
Lots of people have recorded this one – if you choose to put Tina Turner’s voice in Sam’s mouth, I won’t take responsibility. 

Posted in Favorites, Geekery | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

LotR Re-read: supplemental

(I’ve been listening to too much of the Mission Log Star Trek podcast, I think – but this is a supplemental post.) (Spoilers if you’re not familiar with the rest of the book.)

‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf.

So – The question I asked before is: what would have been the difference if Frodo had indeed gone soon?

As it happened, Gandalf spoke to him in mid-April. Then “Two or three weeks had passed, and still Frodo made no sign of getting ready to go.” This brings us to the end of April or beginning of June. Frodo proposes going on the Birthday, and Gandalf, somewhat hesitantly, agrees – but no later, he insists.

“Gandalf stayed in the Shire for over two months” – which brings us to the end of June, upon which he leaves for parts unknown (for the moment).

Frodo finally goes on September 23, with Pippin and Samwise.

The boys find haven with Bombadil on 9/26, leave 9/28, finally get to Bree the evening of 9/29. Because of a Black Rider raid, they have to set off on foot the morning of 9/30.

Now, Gandalf gets there that same night, and leaves the next morning, probably less than 24 hours later. Best I can tell, he still has Shadowfax, so he makes really good time, reaching Weathertop on 10/3; the boys and Strider see what looks like lightning from where they are in the midst of the Neekerbreeker-filled Midgewater. Gandalf, not knowing where Frodo is exactly, makes for Rivendell. The proto-Fellowship camps and is attacked at Weathertop on 10/6. They then have a long, slow, painful ride toward Rivendell, and the mad rush across the Bruinen is on 10/20.

Now, all things being equal, what if Frodo had left at the end of April, or – call it June 1? Let a few key people hear him say “I’m off to find Bilbo”, or something, take the time to cover the furniture with dust sheets and lock up Bag End (don’t sell it to the S-B’s!), bring Sam in tow, and set off for Rivendell, as agreed with Gandalf. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merry and Pippin didn’t pop up with ponies and packs to intercept them on the path.

If they had gone then, Gandalf would certainly have accompanied them. They would have gone to Bree – there would be no stop in Crickhollow, probably – no Crickhollow at all, probably; they would not have gotten lost in the Old Forest; they would not have stopped in with Tom Bombadil, unless Gandalf thought it would be a good idea. So they would probably save a lot of time, and reach Bree on June 3 or 4; I have a feeling with Gandalf prodding them along they’d make it on the third. There would be no shenanigans involving cows and moons, and they would probably retain all of their ponies. (Bill would never get a decent master.) I don’t know where Aragorn is supposed to have been around this time; Gollum escaped from the elves on June 20. I’m not sure how long it took Gandalf to get from Weathertop to Rivendell – – oh, there it is: Gandalf reaches Rivendell, 10/18.

OK. Gandalf on (I believe) Shadowfax: Bag End to Bree: 1-1.5 days. Bree to Weathertop: two days. Weathertop to Rivendell: 15 days. Total Bag End to Rivendell: call it 19 days.
Accompanying the ponies, even if Gandalf had Shadowfax, they would have been restraining themselves.

But wait! Gandalf might never have met Shadowfax in this new timeline. So he’d be on an ordinary horse. But Gandalf was nervous, and would not have dithered or lollygagged or dawdled. I’ll need to find a map with the distances marked out in miles, and go back and find the average mph of a laden pony … but I would wildly surmise that Gandalf and the four hobbits might have gotten to Rivendell a month after leaving Bree, traveling throughout June and getting there on July 1.

From there, the timeline can realign itself to what actually happened, since Boromir was on his way because of the dreams and others were en route as well; the Council of Elrond was 10/25, and the official Fellowship left on Christmas Day. I don’t think that would have been moved up, necessarily, because there were messengers out. And Gandalf would have certainly wanted Aragorn there, wherever he’d be coming from. I never realized that Boromir only arrived the night before the CofE… But even if, given an earlier arrival by Frodo, the CofE was held earlier, I don’t think the Fellowship’s departure would have been held up… When did Legolas get there, and Gloin and Gimli? Hm. If the timeline did not realign, and the CofE was held before Legolas could show up and confess to the mislaying of Gollum – and if Frodo got there in July, that would be likely, wouldn’t it? – then … I can’t even conjecture on what the Fellowship of the Ring would have looked like.

It would have been wise to have left Bag End on June 1, in that the Black Riders didn’t get near the Shire until just about the Birthday; if their timeline was not altered, they would have to play catch-up. Frodo would not have been wounded. Fatty Bolger would have been spared a whopper of a scare.

If Frodo hadn’t been wounded, would he have been more or less likely to be successful in the journey to destroy the Ring?

But here’s the thing. If he was riding herd on the hobbits all through June, Gandalf might not have gotten the word that made him anxious and impelled him to leave Bag End. He might have done as he did with Bilbo and the dwarves and left them all on their own while he went off to check things out (and get captured at Orthanc) – but what if he made the decision to stay with them? What if he was worried enough about the Black Riders, and Gollum, and the idea that Frodo might find some way to drop anchor somewhere and dither, and decided to remain as the hobbits’ escort? He might not have proof that Saruman had gone dark (and what if then Saruman was invited to the COE? Yikes), which would have left a major threat at their margins. He might never have befriended Shadowfax, which would have hindered him at quite a few important moments.

My head is spinning a bit. That is a great deal of plot to hang on a few months’ waffling and inertia.

Back to Chapter 3 tomorrow.

Posted in books, Favorites, Geekery | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LotR Reread, Chapter 3: Three Is Company (part one)

So far, so good.

CHAPTER 3 – Three Is Company

One of my very favorite lines: “Frodo did not offer her any tea.”

Wow – I had this mostly written, sitting out there on my computer. Why on earth didn’t I just finish it? Well, ok then.

… Wait, what? Are you telling me that after reading this book literally dozens of times, after writing about it by the ream and reading about it endlessly, that I only just now learned how to correctly spell Pippin’s name? Lately at least I’ve been writing “Peregrine” – and … there is no “e” on the end.

Classic face-palm. Wow. I’m embarrassed. Though, to be fair, who ever calls him Peregrin? Besides Gandalf, I mean.

‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf.

Poor Gandalf must have grown very frustrated at the sheer number of times his advice was just ignored, by the dwarves and Bilbo long ago, and now over and over by Frodo. Seriously, if a bloody wizard tells you something, how do you not listen? I’m a master procrastinator, but if Gandalf tells me “soon”, I would make darn sure to do soon.

Anachronism alert:
I am not warning you against leaving an address at the post-office!

Well, but who’s to say hobbits don’t have a post office? Based on Bilbo’s mathoms, many are eager correspondents.

Very good: I will go east, and I will make for Rivendell. I will take Sam to visit the Elves; he will be delighted.’ He spoke lightly; but his heart was moved suddenly with a desire to see the house of Elrond Halfelven, and breathe the air of that deep valley where many of the Fair Folk still dwelt in peace.

And smell some Elves. I begin to wonder if one of the reasons I love Sam so much is that he’s a perfect stand-in for me. I would very much like to be taken to Rivendell to visit Elves … preferably without having the immediate worry of running the quest. I’d be the one in the background making lists and trying to remember everything everyone else forgot. (See below.)

The sale of Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses was rumored to be at a bargain price, or maybe for a nice bit – which was it really, I wonder? The book never says, I don’t think. Under most circumstances I can’t believe the S-B’s would pay “a nice bit”, but then again they wanted Bag End so badly they might. Why did they want it so badly? It’s a lovely home, but don’t they have their own? Was it just because they couldn’t have it?

I’m a little surprised that at no point does Frodo ever express or be described as feeling any emotion at all about selling “his beautiful hole” to the dread S-B’s. It could be argued that the happiest time of his life was spent there, first with Bilbo and then independent and carefree – his whole adult life, at least, was at Bag End. Also, he had to know what Bilbo would think about it, if he didn’t much mind himself. Maybe regret over giving up this home is drowned in the anxiety and excitement over the adventure he’s about to embark on.

Hey, I believe I’ve gotten an answer to one question I kicked around a couple of times, that of where Gandalf stays when he’s in town. I wondered simply because of ceiling height; I can’t imagine the cozy rooms of Bag End featured much headroom for someone taller than a hobbit. (I’ve been trying to pay more attention, between The Hobbit and Fellowship, to descriptions of Gandalf, but I haven’t caught a mention of his height yet. Still, he rides a horse when the dwarves and Bilbo ride ponies, so that seems to answer it. I don’t get the feeling he’s tall – altogether much less significant looking than Saruman, let’s say – but he is man-sized, and so probably about two feet taller than the hobbits. But whether it’s entirely comfortable or not, Bag End is where he stays: “Though he kept himself very quiet and did not go about by day, it was well known that he was ‘hiding up in the Bag End’.” Aha!

Towards the end of June, Gandalf receives word that worries him, though he tries to pass it off to Frodo as nothing major. Naturally, I pulled up the Tale of Years, and – oh, it’s major, all right:

JUNE: 20 – Sauron attacks Osgiliath. About the same time Thranduil is attacked, and Gollum escapes.

Yikes. That is excellent reason for Gandalf to look “rather worried”. I suppose he didn’t want to tell Frodo so as not to terrify him further – and, in a broader scope, so as not to distract the reader from the immediate plot. Right now the entire focus of the book is tight on hobbits, on this one particular hobbit, and it will be a few chapters before it broadens to include more of the world; if Gandalf sat Frodo down right now and explained what had just happened and how, and what it meant, it would be a huge brake on the story and would throw it wide open too soon. Frodo and the reader both need to concentrate on the sale of Bag End and starting off on a journey.

Fatty Bolger, apparently

Frodo’s good friends come to stay and help him sort and pack up: there was Fredegar Bolger and Folco Boffin, and of course his special friends Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck. Of Pippin and Merry there will be plenty to say; Fredegar has a surprisingly important role to play, although brief. But I wonder if the Professor ever intended a bigger part for Folco Boffin. He’s only ever mentioned three times in the whole book, once in passing in (I think) Chapter One, and twice here in “Three Is Company”, and then *poof* – he’s gone. I just checked; at least Fredegar Bolger (Fatty) gets an update before the end, but Folco? Never does anything (except partake in a good meal), never says anything, and vanishes without comment.

There’s no mention of Sam up there, and he was not included in the farewell feast. I suppose he wouldn’t be – no more would Bunter be included in a dinner held by Lord Peter Wimsey. But he’s not even counted as one of Frodo’s helpers in packing and storing and moving, and I would absolutely assume he was the one hefting furniture into carts, tying things up securely, and tsking quietly to himself as he undid and redid some of the packing done by the other five.

Something I’m a little secretly (till now) pleased about: “Between them they turned the whole place upside-down.” I’ve always felt a little word-nerd qualm about using “between” in a situation involving more than two people (or places or things), because I once came across a very persnickety explanation that the proper word to use for more than two is “among”. Pfft. If the Professor could do it, so can I.

Fatty and Merry head off to Crickhollow; Folco goes home and vanishes like Richie Cunningham’s brother in “Happy Days”, and Pippin stays behind to walk with Frodo (and Sam). I was going to wonder about what reason Frodo might have given his friends for walking, since he couldn’t really tell them it was to start conditioning himself for the longer trek to come – but it makes sense: the S-B’s were taking possession of Bag End at midnight on September 23-4, and Frodo had to be there to hand over the keys, I suppose. (ETA: Well, no, because he didn’t, did he?)

It’s funny; there don’t seem to be all that many High Fantasy novels out there where characters have nicknames, at least not that I can think of offhand – even the ones that follow in LotR’s footsteps. I’m making a connection in my own mind with Tolkien and Oxford – Tolkien was “Tollers”, etc.; nicknames were just natural. Of course a Meriadoc would be called Merry by his familiars, and Peregrin would become in casual address Pippin, and Samwise would shorten to Sam. It’s another way in which the hobbits are familiar and like us, moreso than even the Men in the book – they’re approachable. Although, of course, no one has more nicknames than Aragorn, unless it’s Gandalf; the latter, though, we only really hear about once, I think, and they’re all the names by which he is known among the various peoples. Aragorn has simply accrued names as he’s gone along, and they’re not the kind of nicknames that make him more approachable, not simplifications or abbreviations of his given name. They’re symbols. It’s all another reason LotR is simply superior to most everything else out there – because you know not a single name was ever arrived at lightly. A great deal of thought was put into every single name, and epithet, used throughout.

It would make me happy if Fatty Bolger wasn’t really fat. (Peter Jackson, of course, saw him as fat, judging by the picture above.)

Lobelia

The narrator actually extends a little sympathy to Lobelia: she had what she saw as her proper due taken away from her when dratted Bilbo turned up alive and well and wealthy smack in the middle of the auction of his possessions, and she has had to wait … and wait … and wait … and Bilbo just kept refusing to die and let her inherit. And of course she hates Frodo for stepping in front of her in line of inheritance, after all that. She was apparently just 23, only in her tweens, when Bilbo came Back Again from going There, because she’s a hundred years old now, and … that truly is a long time to wait. It’s understandable, I suppose. Not attractive, but understandable. “Frodo did not offer her any tea” – – One of my favorite lines, along with “They left the washing up for Lobelia.”

Bag End has a porch? Does that mean something different in mid twentieth century British English? The packs of the three walkers are piled up “in the porch”, which is not something that seems to show up in even the Professor’s drawings of Bag End, or in plans of the hole. Huh.

That night of the 23rd, Gandalf has not come; Sam goes to the basement to lessen the amount of beer being left for the S-B’s; Pippin goes for a stroll in the garden one last time; and Frodo steps out to take a breath of air, look at the stars, and say goodbye to Bag End (though even here there doesn’t seem to be any deep emotion to it). At long last, Frodo becomes decisive – since he has little choice in the matter, his home being his no longer and all of his friends working to further his putative plans – and it’s almost a shame that he chooses now to stop procrastinating – otherwise, he might have gone down to ask the Gaffer who on earth that was asking about him. That will have to wait; off they go at last, about six months after Gandalf told him to leave soon.

Here is the context for this part of the story, from the Tale of Years, September of 3018:

18 – Gandalf escapes from Orthanc in the early hours. The Black Riders cross the Fords of Isen.
19 – Gandalf comes to Edoras as a beggar, and is refused admittance.
20 – Gandalf gains entrance to Edoras. Théoden commands him to go: ‘Take any horse, only be gone ere tomorrow is old!’
21 – Gandalf meets Shadowfax, but the horse will not allow him to come near. He follows Shadowfax far over the fields.
22 – The Black Riders reach Sarn Ford at evening; they drive off the guard of Rangers. Gandalf overtakes Shadowfax.
23 – Four Riders enter the Shire before dawn. The others pursue the Rangers eastward, and then return to watch the Greenway. A Black Rider comes to Hobbiton at nightfall. Frodo leaves Bag End. Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan.

Much of this will be recounted later – Gandalf’s imprisonment, how he acquired Shadowfax (in which Théoden learns the hard way to be much more specific in his wording). What we don’t hear much more about, though, is those Rangers. I know somewhere there’s something about Gandalf asking Aragorn to post Rangers about the Shire to look after the unwitting hobbits (I think Strider says something about it in something of a huff, in Bree). Sarn Ford is a ways south of Hobbiton, off the map given at the beginning of the book – obviously, a night’s ride from the Shire, and perhaps a day from Bag End. All nine Riders are there at Sarn Ford, and overwhelm the “guard”. Somewhere there’s fan art of the Rangers watching over the green, fat, and peaceful lands of the Shire… As I said last time out, I love that image. It’s frightening to think of a bit of carnage on the borders of the Shire.

The characters of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin all begin to emerge immediately here in Chapter 3.

There’s Merry, the level-headed one, the planner, the thoughtful; Frodo trusts him to buy a house for him at Crickhollow, and I would too – he’s reliable. He organizes everything, and he thinks of everything (including three bathtubs at Crickhollow, not that we’ve gotten there yet), and he sees it done. He definitely has a sense of fun, but he’s more Frodo’s equal in many ways. He has the confidence of his house and family behind him. He’s still a young fellow (36), but mature and sensible.

Say what you will about the films – and I have a LOT to say – most of the casting was impeccable.

Pippin isn’t the twit from the films. Don’t get me wrong – it’s character alteration I never minded much, mostly because I adore Billy Boyd. But he is young. He’s still in his tweens, for heaven’s sake – he’s 28, not even close to his coming of age. He’s not stupid; he’s young. He’s heedless. He’s uncomplicated. He’s irrepressible but respectful to the Elves (though they seem to have a soporific effect on him – he keeps drowsing off and being carried by them), and while he does retain some memory of bread and fruit and a fragrant draught given him by the Elves, his main memory of the night above Woodhall is of the light upon the elf-faces, and the sound of voices so various and so beautiful that he felt in a waking dream. The Tooks are the by-word for adventurous and unpredictable – all through The Hobbit Bilbo fluctuates between his Baggins side and his Took side. Like Merry, he’s influenced by his house and his family – they have almost the standing of the Brandybucks.

It’s a beautiful moment when Frodo sits there the morning after the night with the elves, and he watches Pippin running around like a little kid – you can almost picture Pip buzzing by with his arms spread out, making airplane noises. And Frodo’s heart smites him, and he firmly decides that there’s no earthly – er, Middle-earthly way he’s taking this kid into any greater danger than he already has.

This has got to be one of those moments people point to and say “See? Here’s where WWI seeps into Tolkien’s writing”: all those fresh-faced young men who were fed into the buzz saw of mechanized battle, including a fresh-faced young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien himself, must have contributed to Frodo’s flinching away from marring Pip’s youth. I started reading the Letters yesterday, and one of those early ones is to one of his fellow Barrovians about the death of another in the War. And by the end of the War, the Professor would be the only one left – which is eerily conjectured on in that letter, by the way. And of course those experiences had an impact on every part of Tolkien’s life. But there’s also the little fact that he was a truly great writer; he understood his characters and knew how they thought, and he’s absolutely correct that this is how Frodo would react to watching Pippin run about like a child the night after the greatest fear of their lives – so far.

Frodo … Frodo is … I’m definitely not going to say “whiny”, but I’m on the verge of it. The moment he hears the truth about his situation, he wishes it was someone else who had to deal with it all and flails about for a bit – why didn’t Bilbo kill Gollum, why didn’t you /why don’t you destroy the thing, why didn’t you just take it away from me or from Bilbo, what do you expect me to do?? Which of course is the way anyone would react, I think. We’re none of us noble Númenoreans who would respond to such a challenge by strapping on a sword and packing some lembas and setting out for Mount Doom the next morning at dawn (much as we’d all probably like to be); nope. I think most of us are hobbits, and would freak the hell out. I’m certainly not blaming him for not being the warrior hero. It’s just … then a few pages later he’s complaining about his heavy pack, and then the next morning about sleeping on the ground. And he snaps Sam’s head off for not psychically knowing to tell him about the strange person who spoke to the Gaffer the night before – though he sort of apologizes for that. So … not “whiny”. Just … sorry, Frodo – human. (And actually all of this is a kind of a good argument for the casting of a young actor in the films. The behavior suits a frightened youngster better than a staid old mature bachelor.) And a moment after he makes the remark about his so-heavy pack, he snaps out of it and recognizes that Sam’s probably carrying the same as he and Pippin have, together, and plans to see to it.

I never met a Sam I didn’t like. But since my late niece was Sam, I … might have to refer to this one as Samwise a lot.

Samwise is immediately shown to be solid, stolid, staunch, utterly faithful, and almost heedlessly fearless – he doesn’t really realize what he has to fear, yet, but even if he did he would make sure he had Master Frodo’s back. (Now would probably be a good time to warn the faithful reader that Samwise Gamgee is my favorite character in the whole Legendarium, and there is no question in my mind but that he is The Hero of the story. So there’ll be a definite Samwise bias in this blog. You Have Been Warned.) Where Merry is the one to organize things, Sam is the one who does them. He’s primary espionage agent (primarily because he’s on the scene); his is the brunt of the work of the move and when packs are distributed:

‘I am sure you have given me all the heaviest stuff,’ said Frodo. ‘I pity snails, and all that carry their homes on their backs.’
‘I could take a lot more yet, sir. My packet is quite light,’ said Sam stoutly and untruthfully.
‘No, you don’t, Sam!’ said Pippin. ‘It is good for him. He’s got nothing except what he ordered us to pack. He’s been slack lately, and he’ll feel the weight less when he’s walked off some of his own.’
‘Be kind to a poor old hobbit!’ laughed Frodo. ‘I shall be as thin as a willow-wand, I’m sure, before I get to Buckland. But I was talking nonsense. I suspect you have taken more than your share, Sam, and I shall look into it at our next packing.’

I love his absolute authority on the Shire. He knew about a possible walking tree on the North Moors, where there ain’t no elm trees up there. Now, on the beginning of the hike, he knows exactly where they should settle for the night, given the weather and the direction of the wind. He’s wonderful.

They ate a very frugal supper (for hobbits)

 

Oh, and there’s the Fox.

A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.
‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

The Fox was a star on the BWSNBN (which, as a reminder, is the Board Which Shall Not Be Named (Lest I Be Sued for Defamation), which was a message board I belonged to long ago where I had a sometimes wonderful time, until it blew up like an IED), but I still love him anyhow. And I like the way Rob Inglis reads his thoughts, as though he had a cold in the head. I just named my Tolkien Tumblr after the Fox: https://fox-of-the-shire.tumblr.com/. I can’t believe I only just started a Tolkien blog…

And I believe that’s enough for one post. Being me, I blather on a good bit more about the chapter – I haven’t even gotten to the Elves yet! – and it will post tomorrow. Like I said, so far, so good…

“‘And now to bed! And now to bed!’ sang Pippin in a high voice.”

Posted in books, Favorites, Geekery | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LotR Re-read – Stop laughing!

OK. Seriously. It’s been that long? *sigh* Well, anyone-who’s-still-out-there (hi, and thank you!), yesterday was Tolkien Reading Day. And I had just finished what I had been reading. And despite this being what I’ve often seen called “the bad timeline” (I mean, really, Mr. Mueller, would it have been so very hard to keep digging until you found something?) (and also, my job is more stressful than it has any right to be for the paycheck – thanks, coworkers), I am pretty settled into my new apartment (things that happened since last I wrote: I moved! From a 440-odd square foot cubbyhole to a two-bedroom flat which feels four times bigger and can become a real home, in which I can set up a library AND a workroom, though I haven’t done it yet: and so, a place to write. Soon.), and what better time to pick up FotR again than Tolkien Reading Day? Soooooooooo…

Really, though? 9/11? My new apartment wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye yet – I heard about it a month later, and moved in on December 31.

My oldest niece was still alive then. I’d really like to go back and live in that time before December 3.

ANYWAY.

One night (probably not long after December 3) I couldn’t sleep, was having a terrible night – so I turned on the audiobook for FotR. I remember having all kinds of inspirations and ideas from that listen … but I was half asleep and even if I’d had paper and pencil nearby I wouldn’t have had the oomph to write things down. I don’t think any of those brilliant realizations have returned this time, but c’est la guerre.

Have I really never gotten past “Shadow of the Past”? Oh dear. Wow. That’s sad, and worse than I thought. OK. *rolls up sleeves* Here are a few bits and bobs about the first two chapters – AGAIN – and then I plunge onward into unmarked territory.

Honestly. Stop laughing. I mean it. I KNOW I’ve said that before, but it’s different this time. All right, I’ve said that before too…

Here’s something else I said, years ago: “[Frodo]’s intelligent, sensitive, curious, a wee bit finer than most hobbits. Does this gain him respect from the rest? Absolutely not. Intelligence is a bit suspect; hobbits don’t go in much for sensitivity; curiosity is definitely weird. He’s a cardinal among sparrows. Not that it bothers Frodo, or Bilbo before him.”

Little did I know then that this would become, or be revealed to be, the prevailing attitude of about half the United States towards the other half. Seriously, I couldn’t have described it better if I had known.

I also described the Hobbits as “firmly ethnocentric, xenophobic, almost fiercely unfierce, almost aggressively unarmed.” Switch that last one to “aggressively armed” (and maybe get rid of the bit about fierceness), and you’ve got a Trump voter. How horrifying. No, I don’t think I want to live in the Shire. I wish I hadn’t made these connections …

Moving on. A favorite quote from the Professor is “I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighborhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fáfnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril.” Sam has the same yen for Elves – and isn’t it a beautiful thing that he gets his heart’s desire. I’ll come back to this in a post or two, because I’m with both of them. (And isn’t it odd that with his craving for dragons, both the dragons I can think of in his Middle-earth are pretty horrific?)

Regarding Bilbo’s agelessness: “‘It will have to be paid for,’ they said.” I love that line reading.

I also love the reference Gandalf makes to the Shire having been constantly guarded. If it is explicitly explained in the text, I missed it for years, because I remember it coming up in discussion on the Board Which Shall Not Be Named (Lest I Be Sued for Defamation) (henceforth the BWSNBN), and I remember being moved by the idea of Aragorn’s Rangers being deployed to protect Bilbo and his folk. I love the idea of Aragorn having a team; he’s so solitary throughout the whole story, so isolated among strange folk, that it’s nice to think of him surrounded by other Men of like blood and bone and belief. I wish we’d seen more of the Rangers.

(And of course now, having re-watched much of Babylon 5, Marcus and company are creeping in around the edges of that thought.)

Let’s see, what else; Ted Sandyman is awful … What alphabet do the Hobbits use, since the children recognized the Tengwar “G”? … Why are so many Dwarves on the move through the Shire? … In one of my old posts I said “I wonder if Gandalf just didn’t have the heart to tell him ‘Oh, those Ringwraiths I mentioned? Yeah, you’ll want to keep an eye out for them. They’re probably on their way in some form or other.'” Having just gotten finished rocking poor Frodo’s world with the news that – yeah, you know that wonderfully independent, comfortable life you’ve had for fifty years? That’s over. I can kind of see Gandalf thinking he’ll save the tidbit about “By the way, those nine rings I mentioned? There’re these people attached to them …” After all, he’ll be back before long, and it’s not like Frodo will be going anywhere without him, right? Right? It’s interesting that in a minute Gildor will try to take the same way out.

Of course, Gandalf may have just thought he was being pretty clear about the relationship between the Ringwraiths, the Nine, and the One, without beating poor already-beat-up Frodo over the head with it.

I love this thought that came out of one of the earlier Re-read attempts: “[Frodo]’s been carrying this thing close to him for years, and Bilbo for decades before him – it would be like being told your cell phone had agency.” Sure, it’s a magic ring. Sure, that’s unusual. And sure, Gandalf did sort of kind of … ok, explicitly … warn Bilbo and later Frodo against using it. But from Frodo’s point of view it’s always been there, part and parcel with Bilbo. Literally – Bilbo came back with it before Frodo was born. It never did Bilbo any harm, right? And it’s so useful! I mean, really – think about it. You see the S-B’s, singly or in force, coming up the road – what *do* you do? Keep going with the knowledge that you’ll meet them in a minute and they’ll be nasty as usual? Or … just slip on this handy-dandy magic ring and vanish and let them walk on by in their permanent state of high dudgeon, and then go about your day with a chuckle? No contest.

OK, I think that’ll about do it for an umpteenth starter post. I’ve already got “Three’s Company” half-written, at least in my head, so honestly – I’ll at least get there this time.

I shall return.

Posted in books, Favorites, Geekery | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

9/11

The radio ambushed me first thing this morning by featuring Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A”. I will always remember sitting in my car sobbing sometime in the week after the attacks – because that song, simple and earnest and unabashedly, fervently nationalistic, perfectly captured what most of the country was feeling right at that moment. It’s not a song normally played on the stations I was listening to seventeen years ago; naked emotion, especially overt patriotism, wasn’t fashionable. Until we were attacked. And then, for the first time in my memory (and pretty much the last, sadly), all of the inhibitions against declaring loyalty to this turbulent country were swept away.

For me it’s that one lyric, especially in the last verse: “I’d proudly stand up (beat) next to you, and defend her still today” That’s what we all wanted to right at that moment: stand up. Do something. Anything.

“And I won’t forget the men who died”…

Nowadays, the song plays pretty much only at Republican rallies. The person who was elected president loves it, I’m sure. There’s a schism in how people demonstrate their patriotism, and the ones who blare it loud and strong (and often country-flavored) don’t really understand the ones who are just as strong in their loyalties, but quieter about it. Nowadays, if you play this song, you’re red, red, red.

But then? I had a flag on my car. I painted the stars and stripes on a pillowcase and hung it in our front window. (I tore it down a while later when the government devolved into its usual childishness. Had I only known what things would be like today, I would have been less impatient with those administrations.) And I cried every time I heard this song. Just like I did this morning. “There ain’t no doubt, I love this land – God bless the U.S.A.”

Posted in memorial | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

LotR Reread – rabbit hole

From the film

This was going to be just another paragraph in my second (or was it third?) post about Chapter Two … and then I dug a little deeper, and it became more than that. I don’t know quite what it is, but I like it.

Gandalf twisted the truth out of Gollum, and now tells Frodo what he needs to hear. Once upon a time, two friends went fishing, and one friend was pulled from the boat by a huge fish, and being towed along underwater caught sight of something in the sand. Once on shore with his find, he stood admiring it. Briefly. The first reaction of the other friend:

‘ “Give us that, Déagol, my love,” said Sméagol, over his friend’s shoulder.’

Going back to when Bilbo stumbled on it … well, let me see.

He … crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.

He never saw it.

And he forgets about it immediately, too caught up in thoughts of what he longs for, cooking bacon and eggs on his own stove at home, and on his immediate fear and discomfort. He never gives it another thought until his desperate moment in the Riddle Game.

Quite a difference! It sounds almost silly to say it – but it seems like part of its power is visual. Somewhat ironically, this dark, dark artifact needs light in order to ensnare someone – like eye contact. Déagol saw it “shining in the river-bed”, and when the mud was cleaned away he found it was a “beautiful golden ring; and it shone and glittered in the sun, so that his heart was glad.” That makes it sound like a positive thing; how could something evil make his heart glad? He didn’t have to take it from anyone, just found it, much like Bilbo – maybe he won’t take much more harm from it than Bilbo. But a moment later he’s described as gloating over the thing. Not positive.

But Sméagol had been watching from hiding, and he sees it too. And in a moment he kills his best friend, apparently without another thought, “because the gold looked so bright and beautiful”.

Seriously, I’m finding this interesting. Not to take anything away from Bilbo and his good heart and good intentions, but – well, come on. Bilbo forgot about it. I don’t think anyone else does that! He finds it in the pitch dark – it got itself under his hand – and kind of shrugs and sticks it in his pocketses – I mean pocket, and moves on to thinking about light and food and what in the name of the Shire is he going to do now. I just clicked through all uses of the word “gold” in The Hobbit (there are a lot of them), and it’s never as far as I can see used for the ring. (I think it’s also kind of interesting that except for once the word “ring” is only used to refer to sound or smoke up till Bilbo happens upon that “tiny ring of cold metal”.) Oops – there’s “golden” – but it’s from Gollum’s point of view. “He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.” (Beautiful phrasing. It’s not just a ring, nor even just a golden ring, but a precious ring. THE precious ring, even.) In fact, as far as I can see, there is never any sort of description of the ring from Bilbo’s viewpoint. It’s called Bilbo’s magic ring, and – kind of hilariously – his invisible ring, but that’s it.

So … yes, of course Bilbo’s mercy to Gollum had everything to do with the comparatively benign effect the Ring had on him – but that also might be in part due to the fact that for those first weeks and months of Bilbo’s possession of it, he barely gave it a thought except for how to make use of it to help his friends and himself, and also he never had the time or leisure or comfort to sit about and admire it. He found it in the black darkness, and never seemed to even look at it when putting it on or taking it off. It was a wondrous, useful tool – and that’s it.

That’s my head canon, and I’m sticking by it. You need to see the Ring in order to be ensnared by it. I wonder what kind of immunity a blind guardian would have (if any). I guess the lesson is … if you happen to come upon the One Ring, do as Gandalf says and don’t use it – and maybe try to keep your eyes off it.

(When a wizard tells you not to do something … Seriously, don’t do that thing. But … well, not to insult the hobbits, but that’s human nature, isn’t it? Every day that goes by makes me wonder how humanity has made it this far without self-immolation – it’s a marvel and a mystery. People are idiots. And after all, Bilbo used it for decades any time he wanted to slip past the S-B’s, so why not? So Frodo keeps it on a chain on his belt, like a biker gang member’s wallet, and you know he does just as Bilbo always did. If nothing else, his changelessness seems to give him away. Also, when Gandalf mentions markings on the gold, he is able to answer immediately, “‘It is quite plain, and it never shows a scratch or sign of wear.’” Yes, he’s handled it quite a bit, has Frodo.)

I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this, especially when Boromir has his moment of weakness.

One more loop back to The Hobbit: Gollum stole the Ring and retreated underground into the tunnels and caves in the hills. Bilbo found the Ring (unknowingly stealing it) and retreated out into the sunlight, out of the tunnels and the caves and the hills. The symmetry is beautiful.

This go-round:
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/chapter-one-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past-prologue/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past-again/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go-again/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/lotr-reread-no-seriously/
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lotr-reread-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

 

Posted in books, fantasy, Favorites | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

LotR Reread: The Shadow of the Past (again)

So – now it’s April, 3018, and Gandalf returns.

Which, by the way, is a sure sign that this time the Great Reread is meant to be: change the 3 to a 2, and in a couple of months I could start following the events of the book in real time. Breaking News: Hobbiton.

After the Party, up till a few years ago, Gandalf checked in on Frodo periodically, “taking a good look at him”, “interested in small news about Frodo’s health and doings”. He has many irons in the fire, but he hasn’t forgotten this particular iron. He knows his hobbits, and he knows his Bagginses, and he wants to try to make sure his advice is being heeded. (Spoiler: it’s not, really.) Now, after nine years’ absence, he’s back at Bag End.

‘All well eh?’ said Gandalf. ‘You look the same as ever, Frodo!’
‘So do you,’ Frodo replied; but secretly he thought that Gandalf looked older and more careworn.

There’s a lot in there. Frodo is fifty – and looks the same to Gandalf as he did when he was 41, and perhaps even when he was 33. That’s … not all well, all things considered. That’s not all well at all. And Gandalf has had a rough decade. I turned to Appendix B: some eight years after Bilbo left, Gandalf and Aragorn began hunting for Gollum, and continued “at intervals” over the next eight years. Looking for information, I assume, and to have him under their eyes, nasty as he is. Interesting that there’s no further detail in the tale of the years here about Gandalf’s doings between 3010 and 3018, when “The Great Years” begin, to explain the older and more careworn look about him.

In previous attempts on the book, I wondered right about here where Gandalf stays when he’s in Hobbiton. I’d assume he stays there at Bag End, but this is one thing I think Peter Jackson did well (there were a few): I sincerely doubt the ceilings were very high in the hole. Hobbits like snug. But Gandalf and Frodo talk late into the night, and then is sitting with Frodo after a late breakfast. Maybe Bag End is like a reversed Prancing Pony, with one room tailor-made for Big Folk. (Which doesn’t really make sense.) Then again, I don’t think Gandalf’s height is ever really addressed, is it? He has the appearance of an elderly man, but not necessarily a tall man.

Tolkien slips something in here to which I don’t think I ever paid the least bit of attention, since after the first time I’ve always known who and what Gandalf was, but – “Gandalf was thinking of a spring, nearly eighty years before” when Bilbo accidentally set off on his adventure. Eighty years ago, for heaven’s sake – and he appeared to be an old man then. Well, he is a wizard, and has been around a lot longer than that – but even before I knew more about what Gandalf is I never really processed the fact that he should be even less likely than Bilbo to go on an adventure, in terms of age.

Frodo is sitting (as Gandalf sits by him blowing smoke rings, thank you very much!) thinking about dark tidings the wizard has brought, and about the things he wouldn’t talk about in the night. Upon Frodo’s question, Gandalf launches into Exposition. (And outside Sam Gamgee is cutting the grass.)

Hey, hold on a second: “‘A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness.'” So even one of the Three, clean and unsullied and never used for ill, would do that sort of thing to a mortal? Huh.

‘[The ring] shrank or expanded in an odd way, and might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight.’
‘Yes, he warned me of that in his last letter,’ said Frodo, ‘so I have always kept it on its chain.’

The autonomy of the ring (still lower-case “R”) begins to become clear. Bilbo’s buttery feeling was “a sign that the ring was getting control” – oh dear. Can you imagine living for over sixty years fighting – or not fighting – this object that kept trying to direct you and control you? At the very time Bilbo found the thing, “a shadow fell on [Gandalf’s] heart”. Through the years, there was Bilbo, not changing, and worrying Gandalf – but then there’s Saruman, Saruman the Wise, saying comforting things. He had lots of other things to worry about in all that time, did Gandalf, so he let himself be comforted. Can’t blame him.

Hobbits: “Soft as butter they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots.” Same here.

How utterly and completely horrific: throughout all the years of time, Sauron has been completely oblivious to the existence of hobbits (in however many of those years they actually have existed – and who made them, anyway? Where did they come from?) But now … he knows. And his attention is never beneficial.

I should use two acronyms: INNB, “I Never Noticed Before”, and also “INOTMB” – “It Never Occurred To Me Before”. INOTMB that the Ring script we see in the book … is Tolkien’s writing. That’s kind of wonderful.

I wish, I dearly wish, that Frodo’s line had survived in the movie: “I cannot read the fiery letters.” But – credit where it’s due – the rest of this bit did make it:

‘No,’ said Gandalf, ‘but I can. The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor, which I will not utter here. [Not here in the Shire – just wait till I get to Rivendell.] But this in the Common Tongue is what is said, close enough…’

And there it is: Gandalf takes the ring from the fire and hands it to Frodo, and it’s still “the ring”. Gandalf reads the Ring verse, and ‘This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago…’ Once identified, it becomes a proper noun, an entity. Capitalized. (When the story is told of how poor old Déagol found it (and lost it), the capital goes away again. I love this.)

“…The Nine he has gathered to himself; the Seven also, or else they are destroyed”. I still want to know about the Seven Rings. I can’t recall how much comes out in the Council of Elrond, and I’m not going to page ahead.

How did Gandalf know Isildur’s ending? It doesn’t seem as though there were many survivors … Well, though, there were some: “almost all his folk were slain” (emphasis mine). In earlier rereads I half planned to start making a list of all the fan-fiction plot bunnies I started out of the weeds; there’s another one, I think. That would be kind of a fascinating thing to explore, the story of one of the only survivors of that attack, watching Isildur disappear, knowing he had put on the Ring (for it is capitalized now), and then suddenly seeing him reappear … and die. His people must have known the properties of the Ring. I can just picture one of his lieutenants suggesting a scout borrow it to go assess the lay of the land, and what his reaction would be to that…

Poor Frodo. He’s lived all his fifty years as much peace and contentment as any person can possibly expect to find, in a green and peaceful place, with money to spend and all the time in the world, all the lovely Shire to walk through, field and forest, with friends and a faithful servant, and even occasional elves and dwarves to enliven and elevate things. And now, like a bolt out of the blue, comes … doom and gloom, not just for him but for his whole world. THE whole world. His life just changed. Even though he’ll take no action for months yet, he won’t have peace … ever again, really.

I wonder if Gandalf just didn’t have the heart to tell him “Oh, those Ringwraiths I mentioned? Yeah, you’ll want to keep an eye out for them. They’re probably on their way in some form or other.”

‘All the “great secrets” under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering.’ Here’s something I don’t often say – poor Gollum. I genuinely have far less pity for him than Bilbo (one word: cradles), but … how awful. He may have been less gregarious than others of his kind, but he did have a good friend, and he had family, and he lost them. He killed his friend, and he killed all the other relationships in his home, and he fled off alone. The one thought that might have kept his head high in the beginning was that he would go and plumb the heart of mysteries none of his kinsfolk would ever dream of, and even if he had to do it alone, still, he would become bigger and greater and wiser. And in the end he diminished and wasted and degraded, all alone in the dark, and there were no mysteries or wonders to be found. Just hunger, and dark, and the Ring. And then ‘The Ring left him.’

‘What, just in time to meet Bilbo?’ said Frodo. ‘Wouldn’t an Orc have suited it better?’
‘It is no laughing matter,’ said Gandalf. ‘Not for you.’

I wonder if Frodo was supposed to be trying to push the darkness away from him a bit by questioning what he’s being told and maybe essaying a feeble joke – or if this was an honest question. On first glance, after all, an Orc would be a much better option, evil taking to evil. Either way, he must have given a sort of shocked laugh, disbelieving (or wanting to disbelieve) that the Ring could take control of its own situation and get itself picked up by Bilbo. He’s been carrying this thing close to him for years, and Bilbo for decades before him – it would be like being told your cell phone had agency.
Ah, there it is – the reason I’ll never feel much pity for Gollum.

The wood was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among beasts and birds. The Woodmen said that there was some new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.

Like I said: cradles. I get it – I do. The creature was starving, and hunted, and a shred of whatever he once was. But … CRADLES.

The story might not be in the Tale of Years, but here is a little of why Gandalf looks older and more care-worn. Gollum led him – and Aragorn! – a weary and miserable hunt, and catching him was just as weary and miserable. I covered the amazing “Pity and Mercy” passages last time I did this, so I won’t go over it again, but … I think Frodo’s real education begins here, at age fifty with a long and bookish life already behind him. Now Gandalf is schooling him in what he really needs to keep in mind.
It’s a little scary that when Gandalf tells Frodo to go ahead and try destroying the thing, Frodo gets lost in gazing at it … and thinks of it as “an admirable thing and altogether precious”. That word … Did the Professor realize he was ruining it for his entire audience forever? I’ve said this before, but it was a while ago, so I’ll say it again: I wonder if everyone calls the Ring “my precious” because that’s how Sauron thinks of it?

This is one of my favorite parts of this early part of the book:

‘No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great, for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.’

Would Gandalf become invisible if he put it on? I doubt it. Discussion on the Prancing Pony Podcast (the PPP) pretty much concluded that the Ring’s effect on a person depends on their stature. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, even someone “higher” but still very much mortal like Isildur vanishes. But then there’s Tom Bombadil. If Gandalf is younger than he is, it’s not by very much, and my impression is that their power might not be not so very different in scale. But the Ring has no hold over Tom: he doesn’t need it. Gandalf does. Badly. He knows what’s to come.

“I hope that you may find some other better keeper soon.” Poor Frodo.

I don’t know if I did this previously, but I’m going to do it now.

1) Gandalf explains to Frodo the consequences to a mortal of keeping a Great Ring. They both stop to ponder this, with a “long silence”, during which “The sound of Sam Gamgee cutting the lawn came in from the garden.”

2) Gandalf puts the ring in the fire, and while it heats up goes to close the shutters and curtains. Again there is a long silence, except “the clack of Sam’s shears, now nearer to the windows, could still be heard faintly from the garden”

A great deal of exposition happens. They speak a great deal of Sauron – and INNB how often he refers to him as simply “the Enemy”. I’ll have to ry and note if that’s used much more; I think there’s a strong element of “He Who Must Not Be Named” about Sauron. He also mentions that dragons have “consumed” some of the Rings. I assume he means “destroyed in fire”, not “ate”, because why would a dragon eat a precious jewel? (Good thing none of them ever slipped onto the tip of a claw – imagine a dragon with a Ring’s power… I doubt me they’re quite mortal.) Then Gandalf talks of the hunt for Gollum, and of what they got out of him when they caught him; it’s a long conversation, and for fun I should clock it in the audiobook.

3) No sound of Sam’s shears could now be heard.

Hmmm.

The whole story comes out, and the consequences thereof. Gandalf mentions the Enemy again, a couple of times; counters Frodo’s protests by telling him that no dragon left on earth has the oomph to destroy such an object as this is; it would have to go into Orodruin, the Fire-mountain. Frodo panics and tries to give Gandalf the Ring (or at least offers to; you can just picture the Ring in Frodo’s pocket thinking NOPE. The wizard foes back to the window and opens up the shutters and curtains again – and-

4) Sam passed along the path outside whistling.

There is another long silence, and then Gandalf prods Frodo a little. And Frodo starts to talk himself into what he already knows he needs to do, giving another of my favorite lines, about how maybe an invasion of dragons might be good for the dull and stupid parts of the Shire. He mentions his longing to go on an adventure like Bilbo’s “or better”. They both use the word “Enemy” again. Oh, and Gandalf brings up Bilbo and the Ring as well, before stating that “‘The enemy has many spies and many ways of hearing'”.

I would love to copy and paste the whole last Sam moment in this chapter, because I love it, but it’s long, and so is this, so I won’t. Suffice to say that Gandalf hears Sam react to Frodo speaking of leaving, and “‘I heard a deal that I didn’t rightly understand, about an enemy, and rings, and Mr. Bilbo, sir, and dragons, and a fiery mountain, and—and Elves, sir.'”

Okay. That line about Sam going along whistling is just a cover, I’m sure of it. I suspect Sam was listening hard starting at #3, when Sam’s shears go silent. It’s when Gandalf gets up and opens the shutters again that Sam leaps into “not me, I’ve been working the whole time” mode, and feigns innocence by moving and whistling. But he had to have heard that part of the dialogue, because it was between #3 and #4 that the dragons were most discussed, and the only time the fiery mountain was mentioned. But he was definitely keeping at least one ear cocked for much of the conversation, because Elves were mostly discussed when Gandalf was telling Frodo about Gollum in the present. Someone might want to take a look at Sam’s work on the edging. He was a bit distracted.

‘Me, sir!’ cried Sam, springing up like a dog invited for a walk. ‘Me go and see Elves and all! Hooray!’ he shouted, and then burst into tears.

Throughout this post I’ve said (and thought) “poor so&so” … Now all I can think is “lucky Sam”.


Here’s one of my more lame song parodies to finally end the chapter.
When Will I Be Wrong?
based on The Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved?”

Gandalf:
I’ve been worried
In a hurry
When will I be wrong?
I suspected
I inspected
When will I be wrong?
Threw the Ring into the fire –
Sure enough we see
Elvish writing round the band;
It’s not easy being me.
Paths converging
Runes emerging
When will I be wrong?
Just once I’d like to get
The wrong end of the staff
Each time I think I know the worst
Seems I don’t know the half
Oh, I’ve been worried
In a hurry
When will I be wrong?
When will I be wrong?
Tell me, when will I be wrong?


This go-round:
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/chapter-one-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past-prologue/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go-again/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/lotr-reread-no-seriously/
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lotr-reread-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

Posted in books, fantasy, Favorites | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

LotR Reread: The Shadow of the Past

The talk did not die down in nine or even ninety-nine days.

Tolkien really did write wonderful first lines, didn’t he?

The second disappearance of Mr. Bilbo Baggins was discussed in Hobbiton, and indeed all over the Shire, for a year and a day, and was remembered much longer than that. It became a fireside-story for young hobbits; and eventually Mad Baggins, who used to vanish with a bang and a flash and reappear with bags of jewels and gold, became a favourite character of legend and lived on long after all the true events were forgotten.

It occurs to me that this is … is there a word for an echo that happens before the fact? I’ll make something up: it’s an ante-echo of Sam in Return of the King: “Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales.” Frodo and Sam will be, of course – besides the Red Book of Westmarch, even – but here is a smaller-scale glimpse of that process. Bilbo would certainly have joined Bullroarer Took among the legends of the Shire even if the Party had never happened – but given the Party, and given his flash-bang disappearance from it, the process probably happened a lot faster.

… The general opinion in the neighbourhood was that Bilbo, who had always been rather cracked, had at last gone quite mad, and had run off into the Blue. There he had undoubtedly fallen into a pool or a river and come to a tragic, but hardly an untimely, end. The blame was mostly laid on Gandalf.

He had run off into the Blue, capital B. Into the Wild Blue Yonder. That phrase first makes me think of the Air Force Song (“Off we go, into the WBY”), but one website just defines it as “…a location far away that is appealingly unknown and mysterious.” Far-off mountains are blue; the sky is blue; the ocean is blue; blue is a good color for exploration and the unknown. Had I world enough and time I would go down that rabbit-hole with a vengeance.

Bag End Pantry – illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

And how utterly hobbit that the tragic ends the Shire folk envision for Bilbo involved falling into one body of water or another. You know, no one in Middle-earth goes in much for water, really, except for select groups of elves (Cirdan and Earendil spring to mind, the latter being a mariner and the former a shipwright. Oh, and the Teleri, of course. Poor Teleri with their light bows) – but the hobbits (except for those weirdos the Brandybucks) are actively, vehemently anti-water. I say this with “I cordially dislike allegory” firmly in mind: did the Professor dislike water? Something to keep in mind when I finally read the Carpenter biography.

Poor Gandalf. Here he is, slogging the length and breadth of Middle-earth trying to keep everyone – including these foolish halflings – safe to live their little lives … and he finds himself vilified by the whole raft of them. Well, it was all his fault, from Bilbo’s Unexpected Party on.

Here’s another example of Tolkien’s mastery: the book begins with random village folk, talking about what’s going on, including the Party, which leads them to talking about Bilbo (and Frodo). This leads to the entrance of Gandalf on the scene, and, a little like The Hobbit, he joins Bilbo at Bag End for the commencement of everything. And after Bilbo exits with the dwarves, Frodo enters. (I never noticed before that Frodo and Bilbo don’t share a scene, so to speak, until they meet again; their relationship is beautifully delineated without the two of them ever being shown together.) One character leads to the introduction of the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a master class in exposition.

Frodo and Merry were brought in in Chapter One, but both are reintroduced here in Chapter Two. Frodo basically picks up where Bilbo left off, living a lovely bachelor existence, hanging out with his friends and “tramping all over the Shire”. Frodo doesn’t seem to be aging – why? Gandalf told him specifically not to use the Ring – did Frodo ignore the warning? He walks “under the starlight” and enjoys his life to the hilt, and time passes until he’s fifty. But he’s begun to feel twinges of unhappiness that, nice as his life is, there’s a whole world out there with Bilbo wandering in it.

And how amazing is that, when you think about it: Bilbo, at eleventy-one, off walking to Rivendell and beyond like it was a jaunt to the market. Here’s another example of INNB (“I never noticed before”): I’ve always known that Bilbo celebrated his 111st birthday and then left on a journey, but I never thought about it. My mother is 92; she was quite hale until she broke her hip, so maybe six or seven years ago, or if she hadn’t broken that hip, she might have been able to get into hiking shape, but not as easily or eagerly as Bilbo. Maybe hobbits just age better, as well as more slowly. Their twenties are their “tweens”, so comparable to human teens; fifty is more like somewhere in your thirties. Still, ring or no ring, 111 should be ripe old age; you go, Bilbo.

Here’s another ante-echo or two: “[Frodo] found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” So it has always been in the autumn that he becomes restless and distracted, not just a result of Weathertop and the rest of his adventures. And he has strange dreams, even before the Quest begins. Is this the hand of Iluvatar? (Random note: Microsoft would like to correct “Iluvatar” to “Elevator”.)

The Professor reels the camera back to a broader view of the Shire, and then zooms in on The Green Dragon in Bywater, where Sam is having a pint.

illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

‘And I’ve heard tell that Elves are moving west. They do say they are going to the harbours, out away beyond the White Towers.’ Sam waved his arm vaguely: neither he nor any of them knew how far it was to the Sea, past the old towers beyond the western borders of the Shire…

This is something that started two trains of thought going. On one track is how much I’d love to be a Middle-earth archaeologist. It would be tremendous to go do a nice scientific dig around about those old towers – who built them? I’m sure there’s an answer out in the Ardaverse somewhere. Who used to live in what is now the Shire? How long ago? What happened to them? Having read The Silmarillion didn’t do much for my knowledge of Tolkien lore (especially Middle-earth geography). I feel like I’m getting there, though.

The other train chugging along is about these lads of the Shire. Frodo’s explored a bit with Bilbo, but if he ever left the Shire it was a) as I said, with Bilbo, who knew where he was going, and b) for fun, and c) not going very far away, with home warm and comfortable at the end of the journey. I never had the impression that they slept out; I would guess that they always went there and back again within a day, rather like Tolkien and Lewis in their own rambles. They never went to Bree, for example. (Frodo and Bilbo, I mean, though Tolkien and Lewis probably never did either.) Merry has a bit of experience in the Old Forest, and in fact seems rather worldly-wise in comparison to the others – but he has never been as far as Bree either. Frodo knows the maps, and Merry starts paying attention once they’re relevant to him, but Pippin and Sam get nothing from them – none of them have any real concept of the scale of this adventure they’re setting out on. (I’ll come back to that in a later chapter.)

As I mentioned in an earlier Chapter Two post, hobbits aren’t very nice folk going by the depictions here. They’re positively brutal regarding Bilbo, and Frodo as well. But – it’s interesting that the one thing that does not seem to contribute to the neighbors’ opinion of Bilbo and Frodo as odd ducks is the fact that they’re both single. Not once does anyone ever remark that either of them should find, or should have found, a nice hobbit lass to settle down with.

The Green Dragon – illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

Ted Sandyman really is a pill. Everything Sam says, he feels he needs to, as a co-worker says, clap-back. ‘Take dragons now.’ ‘No thank ‘ee…. I won’t.’ Jerk. And you’ll want to remember that jerk – he’ll show up again before all’s said and done. Sam’s good-humored about it, though, “laughing with the rest” and giving as good as he gets. I should take a page from his book; he doesn’t let the jerk bother him. He lets Sandyman have the last word, and then just pulls back into himself and ponders the work ahead of him, and wider matters. It doesn’t seem to me that very many hobbits really appreciate the stars, but I get the impression Sam does.

Aaaaand I’m still not finished with the second chapter. Not even counting all the stuff I’ve already talked about in earlier posts.

This go-round:
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/chapter-one-a-long-expected-party/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go-again/
https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/lotr-reread-no-seriously/
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lotr-reread-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

Posted in books, fantasy, Favorites | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

LotR Reread: The Shadow of the Past (Prologue)

From the Foreword:

As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, ‘The Shadow of the Past’, is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

48215865bdda39a409286f69d2dfb574-d6213mzI feel for Professor Tolkien. He was accustomed to being published, as an academic, but now abruptly his world was cracked open and exposed to the world at large – the great unwashed. These stories which he’d told only to his children, which he had only shown certain trusted friends, were now public property, and … Let’s put it this way. I’m deeply proud of being what I’ve always called a geek, what others call a nerd. So many of the others I’ve known who love the same things I love have been wonderful people – funny, smart (sometimes brilliant), creative … but I’ve also been to Star Trek conventions and seen the skin-tight uniforms worn by people who really should avoid skin-tight, and I’ve heard the ridiculous questions people feel compelled to ask the actors. (“In episode ( ) the Enterprise traveled 1,701 light years in six days at warp 6, but then in episode ( ) it took only three days to travel 1,861 light years at warp five; did the density of the space-time continuum have an adverse affect on dilithium crystal output?” Which is not an actual example, but not too far off, from what I remember.) I never have been able to figure whether the questions come from a (deeply mistaken) belief that the actor would know everything his character would know and remember every detail of every episode they were in decades previous … or if it they come from a desire to show off. Probably both, depending.

And, of course, fans – and critics – will insist on finding, or attributing, meaning where the author intended none. Fans (and critics) can be a right pain.

Tolkien’s WWI experience was horrific, of course. He was at the Somme. It would be impossible for that not to color every part of his life, including his writing – but it didn’t inform it. The story is the story, not a cordially-disliked allegory.

But I’d bet money that someone has gone line by line through LotR and tried to dig out the WWI influence. “But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” (I use that quote a lot, myself.)

I shall return, to talk about the actual book.

Posted in books, fantasy, Favorites | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments