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.”

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