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.)


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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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.


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.

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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.”

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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/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
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/


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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.


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?”

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/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
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/

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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/
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/

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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.

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LotR Reread: A Long-Expected Party

See? I said my LotR reread is still ongoing. Bitter despair will not stand in my way!

I’ve talked about Chapter One before, but … So what? I really intended not to spend any time on “A Long-Expected Party” here at all … and then I found myself writing about it. Because it’s so good.

First, though – even though the prologue is not included in the audiobook I’m listening to, I have to highlight one bit (emphasis mine).

… it has been supposed by some that ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not. It is an essential part of the plot, foreseen from the outset, though in the event modified by the character of Saruman as developed in the story without, need I say, any allegorical significance or contemporary political reference whatsoever.

*glares at Peter Jackson*

I mean, I know. I get it. People already complain about the fact that there seem to be multiple endings to the film, and by the end of however many hours that third hideous film was, people just wanted to get out of the theatre. But … now I’m trying to remember where the quote in my head comes from, and can’t: “Still – that don’t make it right!”

(Is it Bugs Bunny? Tweety Bird – ? Hm.)

But that’s the end of the story. Back to the beginning. And it’s a beautiful beginning. Have you met Bilbo Baggins? Whether or not you have, here he is in all his well-preserved glory – and if you have met him before, this is how long it’s been since then (for him). And right away the setting begins to take on color and shape, as we drop in on a gathering at the Ivy Bush – not the famous Green Dragon. Just for fun I checked: the Green Dragon shows up in the book five times, and the Ivy Bush only twice (once in conjunction with the Dragon). (The bypassed and lamented Golden Perch is – well, it’s irrelevant that it was mentioned three times, since we never get there. I don’t know that I ever pondered it before – that’s perch as in fish, I assume? I think as a kid I might have had an image of a parrot’s perch – perhaps in a gilded cage …And don’t tell me the Professor never thought of that.)

‘Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him.’ – The Gaffer.

I’m not sure if this connection ever leaped out at me before, but here the Gaffer sounds like Polonius. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be! Don’t go getting uppity or you’ll regret it! Don’t go messing around with royalty or they’ll get stabby!”

‘Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.’ Well, no harm does come of it as far as we know, and no good directly either – but what harm did the Gaffer think might come of learning to read and write? I hesitate to make another parallel, especially to current right-wing incumbents, but … in the past two years and change I have been shocked at the level of animosity there is out there to people who seek education. And it’s sad to see the same thing here. I find it surprising, I guess, that given his own way the Gaffer would never have had Sam learn to read. Maybe just because he expected Sam to follow in his footsteps and garden for the Bagginses forever; he’s been doing it for over sixty years, since he was a lad, and his uncle Holman before him, and to think that that continuity might be broken could be alarming. Hobbits not being particularly fond of change and innovation, as a rule.

I love that in that little scene the unnamed stranger who pipes up gets put in his place by the Gaffer. We can talk smack about our Mr. Bilbo, because he’s ours – just you pipe down, you Michel Delvingite.

Ted Sandyman, the miller, is introduced early on too, and while what he says doesn’t seem so awful, the Gaffer’s reactions to him indicate he kind of is. And he’ll be back, more’s the pity.

The Party is Much Anticipated, and happily the weather stays fine despite threatening clouds. There are “dwarves and other odd folk … quartered at Bag End” – who?? They’re mentioned in the same breath as the cooks drafted (draughted) from “every inn and eating-house for miles around”; are dwarves known for their cooking?

The party is one area where I can’t argue with Peter Jackson. Ian McKellen as Gandalf scuttling about with fireworks and chuckling – and dancing! – just makes me happy.

‘Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.’
Gandalf looked curiously and closely at him. ‘No, it does not seem right,’ he said thoughtfully.

Bilbo seems to just think this is a symptom of being a somewhat sedentary centenarian (!) – but it gets Gandalf’s attention. (“Sedentary” as in he hasn’t left the Shire in years, if not decades – not “sedentary” as in he sits in front of a computer and writes about the books he’s read all day. Maybe “stationary centenarian” would be better.) Gandalf has come here in part to probe a little deeper into the weird little mystery that is Bilbo’s pretty souvenir. “You are always badgering me about my ring,” Bilbo says; Gandalf replies, “I had to badger you … I wanted the truth”. So yes, he pestered Bilbo into telling him the truth back during the journey where it was found – but Bilbo’s accusation makes it sound like he has continued to ask about it through the decades. Because, after all – “Magic rings are—well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am.” Gandalf being who he is, he knows about what magic rings should and should not be out and about in the world. For all the reader knows, any traveler might stumble over a piece of magical jewelry at any time; until we learn more, they might well be thick on the ground. If you’ve read the book a couple dozen times, and then (FINALLY) read The Simarillion, then you start to get a better idea of what Gandalf is thinking here. Because magic jewelry is not thick on the ground, and feeling “stretched” is not a normal product of being eleventy-one and settled.

‘Now, now, my dear hobbit!’ said Gandalf. ‘All your long life we have been friends’. But … they didn’t know each other before that lovely morning when Bilbo awkwardly invited him to tea. Each knew of the other, but they’d never spoken before, as far as I recall.

Bilbo’s unexpectedly violent reaction to Gandalf’s gentle push begins to confirm all of Gandalf’s worst fears. What an extraordinary scene. “Precious”, indeed… It’s so like other sci-fi or fantasy scenes where a parasite of some kind reacts to attempts to separate it from its host. All of which it predates, may I add. But the moment he gives it up, Bilbo feels better. (This might be a point at which the analogy to addiction fails; if you give up smoking or heroin or what-have-you, you’re probably going to feel a lot worse before you feel better.) A little while later, when Frodo comes in and frets a bit after Bilbo, Gandalf tells him “Don’t be too troubled. He’ll be all right—now.” He’s not sure what he knows – but he knows enough to know that.

It was a fine night, and the black sky was dotted with stars. He looked up, sniffing the air. ‘What fun! What fun to be off again, off on the Road with dwarves! This is what I have really been longing for, for years! Good-bye!’ he said, looking at his old home and bowing to the door. ‘Good-bye, Gandalf!’

Why … yes, actually. That’s exactly what I’ve really longed for all these years.


Anyhow. Although he had planned to stay a while and help Frodo with Post-Party cleanup, now that Gandalf has seen Bilbo’s reaction to prodding about giving up the Ring, and his reaction to actually giving it up, he determines to take off immediately to go do research to see if he can check his hunch. He has a bad feeling about this.

‘…Look out for me, especially at unlikely times! …’

Frodo saw him to the door. He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he was carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.

So much happens in this one seemingly mild-mannered chapter! Absolutely all the necessary foundation is laid (in an extremely engaging manner), with just enough foreboding to make the reader worry a little in the next chapter, during the giveaway jocularity.

Sixty years it’s been since the adventures of The Hobbit took place. At the time, Gandalf’s interest was caught by the fact that Bilbo lied about where he found that odd little ring (which, as I think I noted in one of my other “hey I’m rereading LotR” posts, is still lower-case-r “ring”). As time has passed, he has not forgotten about it – but he’s had other things to worry about. Now, though – now he has seen Bilbo tested, in a way, and Gandalf’s gears really start turning. Oh, yes – he’ll be back.

(I confess – I couldn’t resist using Middle-earth travel posters found on Etsy to illustrate this post. I’ve linked back to the original listings – I’d buy them all if I could, but since I can’t, here’s a tiny bit of exposure. If any of the images are yours and you’d like me to take it out of the post, please let me know and I’ll do so immediately.)

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I don’t think I like this update of WordPress; I didn’t mean to upgrade, but it happened. It feels different, and I don’t like it.

Right about now, there’s a lot I don’t like…

Yes, the LotR reread is still going. I just need to sit down and, you know, write; there’s your problem, as they say. Excuses have I none, except – well, honestly, that trip to NYC kind of wrecked me, financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Example towards that last one: there I was in a room full of people who had, like me, sat in front of their computers and taken a test to try to get on Jeopardy, and had done well enough that they got a call. These were people who enjoyed knowledge and learning for its own sake. I … never have that, in everyday life. One girl, still in college, was talking about the study she was doing on Persephone. I got into a discussion with two gentlemen about what the Latin and Greek words for “word” were. This is not the kind of conversation I get to have, ever – well, maybe very occasionally online, but IRL? Never. It was great – but it made the rest of my life look … as bad, as hollow and shallow and empty, as it actually is.

That’s kind of been part of my problem all my life. It’s a thing with introverts, apparently, an impatience with small talk and pointless chatter. I can do it; I do do it when necessary; I hate it, more and more the older I get.

And, too, I’ve never found my “tribe”, my IRL group of nerds and geeks, readers and writers and gamers, who love the same things I do, who can drop a Princess Bride quote one minute and a Star Trek line the next, who take their swear words from Battlestar Galactica and Farscape and the Klingon, who don’t bat an eyelash at the admission that I used to read LotR every year, who understand buying two of the same action figure even though yes I am an adult.

I’ve never found these people – but I know they exist, partly because of Chris Hardwick.

Yes, it’s going to be one of those sorts of posts. It could probably be considered whiny, or self-indulgent, or simply silly. Sorry. I’ll delete it later.


In case you don’t know, Chris Hardwick is a guy who, he says, was like a lot of us as a kid – nerdy, bullied, largely alone in his love of the geeky things. And he grew up and started a podcast, which became an industry, which led to a tv show, which led to another tv show, along with convention panels and commercials and pretty much the perfect job for a less-introverted nerd. As of, say, two weeks ago, he pretty much had it all.

And right now I don’t think there’s much left, because sometime almost two weeks ago an ex-girlfriend posted something somewhere talking about an ex-boyfriend’s abuse of her. And it quickly became clear she meant him, and … within no time at all Nerdist, Hardwick’s former empire (which he sold a couple of years ago), had scrubbed all mention of him from their site; and AMC yanked the second show he hosts (hosted?) until further notice; and the upcoming conventions cut him from their programming.

“We have had a positive working relationship with Chris Hardwick for many years,” the network said. “We take the troubling allegations that surfaced yesterday very seriously. While we assess the situation, ‘Talking With Chris Hardwick’ will not air on AMC.”

He’s denying allegations.

My initial reaction was – there’s no way. It’s not true. She’s lying. Not because I think all women who make this kind of accusation are lying. Not because I’m a misogynist (although there are days). Not because I know a thing about her. No – it was a reflex reaction, because I know Chris Hardwick.

No, not really, of course. I have never met the man. I’ve possibly never been in the same state with him. I’m likely never to meet him (or to have met him?) unless it was for a millisecond at a convention, if I ever go to one of those again. (If he ever goes to one of those again.) I’ve never even read his book (books?) or seen his standup or listened to more than a few of his Nerdist podcasts. But I’ve been watching him be a big giant lovable apparently genuine nerd and nice guy on his show for … what, six years?

Last year sometime Wil Wheaton did an AMA on Tumblr. Hang on: a moment for Mr. Wheaton. I hated Wesley Crusher when the show was on. So much. I was only a couple of years older than he was, and it got old watching this derpy kid save the ship week after week – when he wasn’t putting it in imminent danger (and then saving it). I hated his genius guts. (One word: envy. I was, as I said, only a little older – and I would have sacrificed a village to be where he was, on the bridge of the Enterprise with Captain Picard. Flying the damn ship.) He’s grown up, I’ve grown up, and as of the past quite-a-few years, I like and respect Wil Wheaton a great deal. He’s not Wesley; he’s made me realize that both he and Wesley were badly handled by the show; he’s a tremendous spokesman for geeks and nerds and folks with mental illness, because he suffers from depression and panic attacks, and he’s not afraid to talk about it online. He has probably saved lives.

And his best friend is Chris Hardwick. And during that AMA on Tumblr, he made a rather rightfully irked comment about someone who had sent him, WW, a message telling him something like “tell your friend (meaning Hardwick) to stop being so enthusiastic about everything.” WW gave that about the response it deserved. And, feeling brave, I wrote him …Oh, I found it –

Can you please tell Hardwick … that his genuine enthusiasm and smarts and unabashed geekery – sorry, nerdery – is wonderful to behold and helps to validate my whole life and he should never change? Which of course goes for you too. Thanks.
I tell him this all the time, because assholes on the Internet have made a sport out of attacking him for his kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness.

Kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness. I believed it. I believed in him as a sort of avatar for … everything I’ve always been and never had the chance to inhabit as he has – much less make a living at it. I think I’ve been known to refer to him as my spirit animal. I loved to watch him be kind and enthusiastic and genuinely happy. He knew how lucky he was, and it was great to watch him be lucky – great to watch one of “my people”, the few, the newly proud, the nerds, showing that – hey, look, it can be done.

It just seems like, one after another (and sometimes in groups) everyone in my life, both directly and indirectly (everyone who isn’t my mother), has revealed himself to be, in some way, awful. And now this. I know, with so much else wrong with the world (sheer hatred and sociopathy in the White House, volcanoes, wild fires, floods, global warming, war, famine, pestilence, death), there are plenty of other things I could obsess about, which I could blame for my inability to … move. Do. Pull it together. But I keep going back to this one. Hardwick was possibly the last person I would have expected to go down like this. The last thing he said on every show was “don’t text and drive” (because his mother asked him to) – and “be nice to each other”. (A gentler version of Wheaton’s Law, “Don’t be a dick”.) He was such a good spokesman for nerds everywhere, and seemed to be just what he showed onscreen. Despite my advanced and increasingly jaded years, and all my experience in being let down – still, I’m hurt. Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, and on, and on, and ON – they were hard because I grew up with Cosby, respected the others, enjoyed their performances … this is personal. I feel personally let down, taken in, duped. (And my heart goes out to Wheaton, because whatever I’m feeling must have hit him a thousand-fold.) And so in addition to the hurt, I’m angry.

If it’s true.

And it seems like it is.

And if it’s not true, I’m angry because of the unnecessary hurt, and because it’s not likely he’ll ever get it all back.

But it seems like it is true.

Anyway. This is all part of why I haven’t been able to turn my mind to writing about something I love (in a deeply nerdy and geeky way). I will. It’s just sad. Damn it, Hardwick.

Sad enough that I turned to powerful medicine which I haven’t gone to in years. Enjoy – the video below is one of my favorite things on the planet. (And if you know of anything terrible about Nigel Lythgoe, Adam Shankman, or Bryan Gaynor – don’t, for the love of God, tell me. I don’t want to know.)

And … don’t text and drive. Be nice to each other. Please.

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LotR Reread – no, seriously

There are lots of other things I should be writing right now. I never posted anything about my Jeopardy audition (it went well, I think; I might hear back between now and November 2019, or never). I have approximately eleventy-one book reviews I should be writing and posting. But … instead, I’m kind of excited about The Lord of the Rings, and so that’s what I’m writing about.

It seems that about every two years or so I decide to try and read The Lord of the Rings, and to write about it. I’ll be honest – that latter part is one of the reasons I’ve failed previously; the need to sit and listen or read it when I can also sit and take notes and write up my comments, and then put everything together in an at least semi-coherent blog post, has made it all the harder. That, and past associations I’ve discussed in past posts; I’ve always failed.


Last year I started listening to The Silmarillion. In all my many years as a massive Tolkien geek, I never once made it very far into The Silm. But somewhere (and I honestly can’t remember where) I got my hands on a multi-part mp3 version, read by the rather wonderful (if apparently Aztec-influenced, going by his pronunciation of Taniquetil) Martin Shaw. (Seriously, I’ve tried to track down where it came from – I have no idea.) I also discovered The Prancing Pony Podcast, and with the two gentlemen of the PPP at my back I got about a third of the way through The Silm before I ran out of steam. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago, and lo! I finished! I’m no expert, by any means – but it feels like an accomplishment, having read it. (If anyone would like access to the audiobook, which doesn’t seem to be available at all anywhere, email me at talavera1809 at hotmail etc, and I promise not to bring you down with me if the anti-piracy people confiscate my computer. Hey, it can’t be found legitimately. Can’t stop the signal.)

After The Silm, I listened to a series of lectures by Michael C. Drout, collectively called Tolkien and the West, and it was wonderful. Between listening to him speak – and I really need to talk more about that one day – and to The PPPodcast, I began to remember what it was like to discuss these beloved books with other people who loved them every bit as much as I do. And then … I threw caution – and my tentative reading list for the summer – to the winds, and started listening to FotR.

And there’s no pain this time. I’m able to rather fondly remember that first movie, and the things it did right – and there were a lot of those, in the first movie. I’m not haunted by the terrible things that happened on The Messageboard Which Shall Remain Nameless.

I’m enjoying it.

A lot.

I might make it this time.

I’ve said that before, of course…

In 2013, I wrote this:
Chapter 1 – https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
Chapter 2 – https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

The second go-round, in 2015, is here:

Ha! In the latter, I said “And if I fail again … well, then, I’ll see you back here in 2019, perhaps.” I’m early!

I forgot there was a third try just a couple of months later:

As I said, the baggage seems to have fallen away, and I’m having a wonderful time in Middle-earth (wish I were there). If I can finish The Silm, I can do this.

I’ll be back.

No, really – I will!

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