I have talked in previous posts on this series about how in the movies, the events of The Lord of the Rings are a lot faster-paced right out of the gate than they are in the books. And Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Three is Company”, is a perfect example of this. We start the chapter with this getting explicitly called out, in fact:
“You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,” said Gandalf. Two or three weeks had passed, and still Frodo made no sign of getting ready to go.
In other words, Gandalf has just revealed to Frodo that he has possession of the official Worst Jewelry in the History of Middle-Earth, and that it really needs to be gotten out of the Shire pronto. And yet, neither of them appear to have a particularly urgent definition of “pronto”, given how long it actually takes Frodo to get his shit together and go. That said? I do at least appreciate the symmetry in Frodo wishing to leave on his fiftieth birthday, which is Bilbo’s one hundred and twenty-eighth. It creates a nice little parallel, not only in-universe for Frodo, but out-of-universe for the reader as well. Not that Gandalf actually has a plan yet, though. The best he’s able to advise is “go to Rivendell”.
Which, okay, yeah, not bad advice in the slightest. Given that Elrond is, after all, one of the other bearers of the Three, and getting to Rivendell is a lot more feasible than making it all the way to Lorien to see Galadriel. Still though, you’d think that Gandalf would have been a little bit more forthright about this. Maybe “okay, I’m going to Rivendell to warn Elrond we have a Thing that needs dealing with, come after me as you can, and for the love of Iluvatar KEEP IT UNDER WRAPS”. I would have thought that discovery of the One Ring would have been news that Gandalf might have wanted to, oh, I dunno, report to the White Council.
But as it stands, Gandalf is surprisingly blasé in this chapter! All we get is mysterious mutterings along the lines of “welp I gotta go do a thing, keep up with the plan, BBL”, and that he’s gotten news that disturbs him. I’m very curious as to what news he actually got there, and I say this as someone who has in fact just recently finished this re-read; this is a detail that eluded me as I was charging through, and I’ll be looking for it as I proceed through this posts.
Here’s something else I had totally forgotten: Frodo actually sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses! And he goes to the trouble to create a cover story about his going to settle in Buckland. Given the less urgent pacing of events as played out here, I really like this. Taking the time to lay down a proper story is very clever of Frodo.
Fredegar Bolger and Folco Boffin are side characters I’d totally forgotten as well. But it’s nice to see them participating in the plot, as it illustrates that Sam, Merry, and Pippin aren’t Frodo’s only allies in the Shire. Yay for hobbit community! Unfortunate about poor Fredegar being nicknamed ‘Fatty’; that’s not something a modern author would get away with, I feel, and I think I will eschew calling him that myself. (Slightly less unfortunate about Folco, which is only a hop away from Falco, and now I am totally imagining an all-hobbit cover of “Rock Me Amadeus”.)
Lothelia Sackville-Baggins is, I think, the first female character to get speaking lines anywhere in this entire trilogy. By this point she’s a hundred years old, and given that she’s not carrying around the Ring, one expects that she looks rather more aged than Bilbo did at eleventy-one. But she’s certainly not lacking for snark, and I do adore the pithy closing sentence of the paragraph where she appears: “Frodo did not offer her any tea.”
The conversation that the Gaffer has with an unseen other party is our first inkling that Frodo’s whereabouts are of interest. One expects that the unseen party is indeed one of the Nine–though here in the book, it’s played quite a bit more understated than the first appearance of the Nazgul in the films. It would be very easy to read the one-sided conversation that Frodo overhears as being innocuous, and I expect that it was read as just that in the days when the book was still new to its readers. All we get in the way of possible threat is an uneasy feeling on Frodo’s part!
It’s kind of amusing that Frodo calls himself a “poor old hobbit”–where he’s still barely into his adulthood, by hobbit standards!
Also amusing that as Frodo, Sam, and Pippin set out, Tolkien says: “In their dark cloaks they were as invisible as if they all had magic rings.” Let us all now take a moment to be grateful that this was not in fact the case, because otherwise I think the Shire would have been in even more trouble.
We also get a brief passing fox, who actually has a bit of thought dialogue. Given what’s to come, this strikes my eye as out of place, more appropriate to The Hobbit than to this story. But it’s possible, I suppose, that this was Tolkien’s way of maintaining a bit of lighter atmosphere before the stakes start rising and the plot gets more serious.
Frodo wakes up on their trip and thinks, “Walking for pleasure! Why didn’t I drive?” Which also leaps out to my eye as kind of giggle-worthy. Obviously he means something along the lines of a horse and cart, but I still can’t help but imagine Frodo in an actual car. A very small car.
And then, of course, we get the first actual on-camera appearance of one of the Nine. This is, again, played more understatedly than what we get in the movie–there’s no sign of anything supernatural about the description of the horse and rider, just a black-clad man on a black horse. Only the description of his sniffing at the air, and Frodo’s returned unease, hint that something is quite wrong here.
There’s also a bit of unfortunate description, though, as Sam recounts to Frodo what his father had said about his encounter with the stranger: “And the Gaffer said he was a black chap.” This is one of those moments when I have to admit that love Tolkien as much as I do, yes, there were some problematic bits in this trilogy. And that’s one of them. There’s no justification I can come up with that makes that particular word choice work.
On a better note, though, we get a nice walking song. One that I’d honestly like to hear set to music. I’d be curious as to what Howard Shore could do with that song; I hear it as upbeat in tempo, but maybe as a mixolydian mode. Something about the phrases “Tree and flower and leaf and grass, / Let them pass! Let them pass! / Hill and water under sky, / Pass them by! Pass them by!” strikes me as appropriate for a mixolydian mode. Plus, that sequence ends on Pippin singing in a high voice. Which of course leads me to thinking about Billy Boyd singing these lyrics. I think it’d be lovely.
Then we get the encounter with the elves. And I’ve got to admit, I’m of two minds about this whole sequence. On the one hand, it does give us the immortal lines “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger” and “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes”. And Gildor’s line to Frodo “I name you Elf-friend” has resonated with me all throughout my life, as has “a star shines on the hour of our meeting”. “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo”, as well as other little snippets of Quenya or Sindarin scattered throughout the text, are certainly influences on my dropping similar snippets into my own work. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t!
And I have to admit to liking the naming of certain stars and constellations, particularly “Menelvagor with his shining belt”. Indicative of Orion, of course, a subtle suggestion that these are stars that people of our modern age would still know.
On the other hand, looking at this with older eyes, both as a reader and as a writer, I have to admit that this sequence serves… pretty much no purpose, except to underscore that the elves are awesome, and we get plenty of that later. We never see Gildor Inglorion again, and we haven’t seen him before, so there’s little to really make us invested in this guy other than “he’s an elf so clearly he’s awesome”. And there’s some echoes of The Hobbit in style here, too, where Tolkien has lines of dialogue that are attributed to the group of elves rather than any particular individual. To my modern eyes this reads as a bit cutesy, but also a bit creepy when you stop to think about it–all the characters in a group uttering the same dialogue? Yeah no.
Though, I also have to take issue with Gildor shrugging off handing Frodo any clue about what the Black Riders are. “Lest terror should keep you from your journey” is a poor excuse, and underestimating Frodo and what he’s capable of. It reads oddly as well now that I’m familiar with the greater urgency of the pace in the movies.
And Frodo calls him out on it, even: “I cannot imagine what information could be more terrifying than your hints and warnings.” In other words: you’re not being helpful, Gildor. Even the hobbit thinks so. And given that we just saw one of the Black Riders earlier in the chapter, it reads to me now as just an excuse to put off finding out what they are.
So I have to admit, I like how the extended cut of the Fellowship movie handled this–just a brief snippet of Frodo and Sam seeing the elves singing as they pass through the woods. There are gems of Tolkien’s prose here. Yet the pacing of this whole chapter is weird to me now, and I’m pleased to be moving on, even if the next few chapters don’t quite pick up the pace yet either.
Next time in Chapter 4: we discover that more hobbits know about Frodo’s plans than he’d thought!