FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 5
"A bath! cried Pippin. "O Blessed Meriadoc!""Which order shall we go in?" said Frodo. "Eldest first, or quickest first? You'll be the last either way, Master Peregrin."
Here we are entering the part of the story that was most cut away by Peter Jackson when he translated it to film. In fact, if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to get bogged down in details and plotlines that can be sacrificed for pacing purposes, I suggest you skip Chapters Five through Eight and replace them with the following:
"Continuing to avoid the pursuit of the Black Riders, Frodo and his group of companions - which now included Merry - pressed on with their journey towards the village of Bree."
Then skip ahead to Chapter Nine. If you're not - and you probably wouldn't be here if you were - then let's continue.
At this point, the hobbits are very close to Buckland and the chapter opens with their crossing of the Brandywine River on the ferry. Sam, who is the only one of the four who has never crossed the river before, begins to feel a sense of dread. Tolkien writes:
"He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front."
In a symbolic way, the crossing of the river represents the point of no return for the travelers. With only the narrow strip of territory known as Buckland between them and the boundary of the Shire, Frodo and his friends have reached the point where everything that happens next will ensure that upon their return they will be quite changed from the simple hobbits they were when they started out. In the film, Peter Jackson represents this moment in a slightly different way. In that scene, Sam stands at the very spot that he recognizes as the farthest he's ever been from his home. With encouragement from Frodo, Sam takes the next step on the journey as well as the next step in his character development.
Danger, however, still follows them closely as they look to the other side of the river and see a Black Rider:
"On the far stage, under the distant lamps, they could just make out a figure: it looked like a dark black bundle left behind. But as they looked it seemed to move and sway this way and that, as if searching the ground. It then crawled, or went crouching, back into the gloom beyond the lamps."
In the volume titled "Unfinished Tales", Tolkien actually makes a reference to the identity of this particular Nazgul, the only instance in which he does so outside of the Witch-King of Angmar, who is the Lord of the Nine Nazgul. This Rider is Khamul, also know as The Shadow of the East. Khamul was an Easterling king who served as the first lieutenant to Angmar. He was likely the Black Rider who inquired about "Baggins" to Gaffer Gamgee and Farmer Maggot. It was also said that he was the ranking Nazgul who occupied Dol Guldur in Mirkwood as a stronghold of Sauron.
Having crossed the river, the hobbits finally arrive at Crickhollow. Frodo allows himself a brief enjoyment of the pleasant welcoming into his new home, despite the regret that he must leave it soon. Frodo, Pippin and Sam are delighted to find three hot baths prepared for them by Merry and Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger. In the past, as a sort of tradition, I have usually read this particular chapter while sitting in the bath. While I'm usually more of a shower person, I can appreciate soaking in a hot bath especially after a long and busy day. I've found this kind of puts me in the same frame of mind as the weary hobbits who finally have an opportunity to not only freshen up but also to "wash away" the film of fear and gloom that has covered them for the last two days.
After dinner (their second, including the one they had at Farmer Maggot's), the hobbits begin to press Frodo over all this business of secrecy and Black Riders. As Frodo reluctantly begins, Merry reveals that they've been "in the know" about everything from the start. Frodo of course is dumbfounded, especially to discover that a major source of information for Merry and Pippin has been Sam. They did, however, already suspect much knowing Frodo as well as they did. It turns out that Merry already knew of the magical properties of Bilbo's Ring as he explains how he once witnessed firsthand Bilbo's use of it to avoid an encounter with the Sackville-Bagginses many years earlier. He also admits to having read some of Bilbo's book.
Though Merry and Pippin are close in age and alike in many ways, it becomes clear that Merry is the more mature and responsible of the duo. This is demonstrated by his taking the leadership role in this "conspiracy". He has even taken the initiative to make preparations for an immediate departure from Crickhollow. I've heard and read many fans' complaints about Jackson's portrayal of these two hobbits as compared to the books. But in Jackson's defense, he does take care to show significant character development for each as the films progress. Pippin in particular is able to redeem his early "fool of a Took" behavior with his heroic actions during the siege of Minas Tirith.
Ultimately, Frodo is too touched by the loyalty of his friends to be angry with them and - agreeing to let them accompany him - he decides they must leave just before sunrise (this recalls the song of the dwarves in The Hobbit: "We must away ere break of day..."). They will sneak out the back and depart secretly through the Old Forest. Fatty Bolger is to stay behind and keep up appearances by fielding any inquiries about his whereabouts. The plan is also for him to be there should Gandalf show up so he can let him know they have gone. His warnings about the Old Forest prime the reader for peril that is yet to come. As it turns out, Fatty will face his own peril by staying behind.
The very end of the Chapter focuses on the dreams that Frodo has during his few hours of sleep that night. These dreams - or visions - represent a major foreshadowing of events in the future and this will happen a few more times on the journey. Frodo sees himself looking through a window down at a tangle of trees with creatures "crawling and snuffling" underneath. I believe this represents when the Fellowship is atop the flets in the mallorn trees of Lothlorien, with orcs pursuing them below. Also, Frodo hears the sound of the sea - something he has never personally heard in his life - and sees a White Tower. While this could represent the White Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith, I think it more likely represents Elostirion in the Emyn Beraid, just East of the Grey Havens. It is said that one could view the Sea from the top of that tower. Frodo is probably foreseeing the time when he will seek the last boat to sail over the Sea.
[Chronology: September 25th 3018 T.A.]
Next: The Old Forest(revised 8/19/06)