FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 1
"'Hullo, Frodo my lad!', said Bilbo. 'So you have got here at last. I hoped you would manage it.'"Starting Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring is really a milestone. I've known lots of people who've started reading it for the first time - swearing that they would make it all the way through the end of the story - only to abandon it. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, it's difficult for some people to "get into it" when the first half of the first book moves at such a slow pace and is dedicated mostly to exposition and character development. Second, since the beginning of the book contains so much material that never made it into the films, many first-time readers are confused by what seems like a very different story. Third, the sheer complexity of this whole new world with all it's strange sounding names, places and extensive history can be intimidating to some. And lastly...the poems! All those dang poems!
Now we've reached a point in the story where all the present and most of the future characters will converge on Rivendell and many long-anticipated explanations can be given. In fact, once everyone catches up over the next two chapters, it is the last time everyone will have the same information at the same time until the end. This chapter really is designed to lay the groundwork for all the plot points to be covered in the next one. And because of this, "many meetings" must take place. The first of these is between Gandalf and Frodo. Frodo awakens not sure where he his or exactly when. He has been mostly unconscious for four nights and three days since the excitement at the Ford of Bruinen. He is in the House of Elrond, and it is 10am on October the 24th.
Frodo learns of the source of the "magic" at the Ford, which was Elrond and Gandalf. It was Glorfindel and Aragorn (note: I will refer to this character exclusively as Aragorn going forward) who induced the remaining horses to charge into the flood of the river and all of the Nazgul were washed away - no longer a threat at present but sure to be returning to full strength in short order. We learn more about the nature of the wound Frodo received. The power of the Morgul blade was turning Frodo into a wraith under the ultimate control of Sauron. At the chase to the river, he was in fact partly in the wraith world, so much so that the nine Ringwraiths could actually see him without having to rely on their horses. Luckily, the blade had not touched his heart - as was intended - and Frodo's strength and fortitude were key in resisting its effects. But he would not have lasted much longer and was cured by the powers of Elrond with little time to spare.
The life has returned to Frodo's left arm and it no longer feels cold. However, Gandalf notices a change in the hobbit - one that will prove to be irreversible: "[Frodo] was smiling, and there seemed to be little wrong with him. But to the wizard's eye there was a faint change, just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand that lay outside upon the coverlet." And later that evening, Frodo himself will feel that he is not 100% right:
Looking in a mirror he was startled to see a much thinner reflection of himself than he remembered: it looked remarkably like the young nephew of Bilbo who used to go tramping with this uncle in the Shire; but the eyes looked out on him thoughtfully. "Yes, you have seen a thing or two since you last peeped out of a looking glass" he said to his reflection.Many readers do not fully understand Frodo's state by the end of the story and question his desire to leave Middle-Earth. They should take note that it all starts with Weathertop and goes down hill from there. Frodo will never be able to go back to being the simple, carefree hobbit he was back in chapter 1.
Gandalf reveals little to Frodo of what became of him, preferring to wait until the Council of Elrond, but tells him he was held captive. Incredulous, Frodo has a hard time getting his head around the idea that Gandalf could be held by anyone or anything. But Gandalf assures Frodo that there are many evil powers in the world, "against some I have not yet been measured". Already he believes that his part in this tale will put him face to face with a danger he may not be able to overcome. This foreshadows the events at the Bridge of Khazad-dum.
Later that day, Sam comes running in to see that his master is recovering. He takes Frodo's left hand, unable to believe that it is warm again. In his wonder he begins to stroke Frodo's hand, then hastily steps back, blushing. Now I'm going to go off on a tangent here on a topic of much controversy. In a scene such as this, many a reader has suggested that this is indicative of a homosexual relationship - or at least attraction - between Sam and Frodo. There are many readers who are gay that infer this particular subtext to Sam and Frodo's relationship on a personal level, and that is not surprising as many aspects of The Lord of the Rings mean many things to many readers. What really irritates me, however, is people who project homophobic attitudes by pointing to this scene and others as "proof" of some kind of thinly disguised endorsement of homosexuality by Tolkien.
I personally don't believe that it was Tolkien's intention to imply such a relationship existed between the two hobbits. For one thing, Tolkien was not gay. So what would be the motivation? Also, Tolkien was a devout Catholic so it is highly unlikely that he would purposely include this kind of theme in the book. Some would argue that Tolkien could have been a "closeted" homosexual using this as an outlet for his repressed feelings, but I don't buy that. Those who knew him well can attest to his deep love for and life-long devotion to his wife, Edith. However, the most compelling rationale I have for debunking this myth is that what happens to each of them at the end. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and goes on to father thirteen children, living "happily ever after" so to speak while Frodo sets off into the West. If there was indeed a homosexual bond between Sam and Frodo wouldn't it have made more sense to have Frodo stay with Sam in Middle-Earth or to have Sam take the ship to Valinor with Frodo instead of waiting some fifty-five or so years afterwards?
So why the blush, Gary? Huh? Well, let's put Sam and Frodo's relationship into the proper context. There is an excellent essay by one of the contributors to the website TheOneRing.net on this subject. Although it is no longer available online, it is included as part of the compilation book The People's Guide To J.R.R. Tolkien. The author makes this point:
"Consider for a moment the class system of England in the early 1900's (and as it still exists today) and you'll see another valid reason why Sam is so awkward during this tactile moment. Sam is a gardener. He's a servant, not on the same social rung as Frodo and the other Bagginses. It is made abundantly clear that the socioeconomic structure of the Shire bear itself a mirror image of Tolkien's rural England. Servants aren't supposed to go touching their Masters, it's just not acceptable. Sam was just elated that Frodo survived and his recovery was complete. The fact that he visited Frodo often and held his hand is endearing, showing true depth of concern. However, at the same time he was inappropriately crossing class lines."Not to mention the fact that trying to reconcile cultural norms of early twentieth century Europe to certain cultural sensitivities of modern America is like comparing apples to oranges. In any event, I don't want to belabor the topic. Readers will believe what they want to believe and it's not my place to judge. I just wanted to get my two cents in on it.
Anyway, shortly after this meeting, a number of others take place over dinner. Tolkien uses this scene to introduce a whole host of new characters (and re-introduce a couple of familiar ones). It is here that Arwen is described for the first time, as seen through Frodo's eyes. Elrond (first introduced in The Hobbit) is discussed. At the table, Frodo meets an elderly dwarf who turns out to be Gloin, who was one of the thirteen dwarves that traveled with Bilbo to the Lonely Mountain.
Although neither he nor Frodo are keen on discussing issues related to the Ring or their presence at Rivendell at that particular moment, Gloin gives Frodo - and the reader - the quick lowdown and what has happened in that neck of the woods since the Battle of the Five Armies. Dain is still King under the Mountain and King Brand, Bard the Bowman's grandson, now rules the land of Dale, stretching down to the Lake-town of Esgaroth. Gloin lives a prosperous life at the Lonely Mountain with most of the other dwarves who participated in that quest, although the current fate of Balin, Oin, and Ori are unknown. The Dwarf encourages Frodo to come visit one day to see the glory of Dale. And Frodo promises him that he will. Unfortunately, he never will be able to.
Frodo goes with Gandalf to the "Hall of Fire", a large hall with no tables but with a great burning hearth at either end of the room - fireplaces are fed 24/7 in this room. It is a place for peace, thought and contemplation. As the guests enter, Frodo sees a strange sight:
"Suddenly he noticed, not far from the further end of the fire, a small dark figure seated on a stool with his back propped against a pillar. Beside him on the ground was a drinking-cup and some bread. Frodo wondered whether he was ill (if people were ever ill in Rivendell), and had been unable to come to the feast. His head seemed sunk in sleep on his breast, and a fold of his dark cloak was drawn over his face."Of course, it is Bilbo.
Frodo is thrilled to see dear Bilbo but he seems to have aged quite a bit since they he departed the Shire. Remember that not only does Bilbo no longer have the Ring to keep him "well-preserved" but it has also been 17 years since the famous birthday party when he "disappeared". It seems he wandered Eastward and though he strayed from the road at times both North and South, he always found himself continuing toward Rivendell. He continued on to Dale with the Dwarves but soon returned to the House of Elrond. He was weary and he didn't expect that he would be going on any more journeys. As Bilbo explains to Frodo, "Time doesn't seem to pass here: it just is." The theme of "timelessness" in realms under the influence of rings of power will return when we enter Lothlorien.
Frodo and Bilbo catch up with news of the Shire and at one point, Bilbo thinks of his old Ring. The desire to return to the Shire gnawed at Bilbo from time to time. He says "but I am getting old, and they would not let me" - "they" being Elrond, Gandalf and (most likely) Aragorn. Eager to see the Ring again, he asks Frodo to show it to him. The scene that follows was reproduced in Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, though at a point after the Council of Elrond:
"Slowly he drew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him."No doubt for a brief moment, Bilbo appeared to Frodo to be very "Gollum-like". Bilbo puts his hands over his face, realizing how difficult the burden is that Frodo now would bear instead of him.
The next section of this chapter focuses on Bilbo's writing of a poem (with the assistance of Aragorn, the Dunadan) about the legend of Earendil. This particular poem is rather lenghty and is difficult to follow as written. Earendil was a man born of the noble house of Tuor from the hidden elvish city of Gondolin who was wedded to Elwing, grandaughter of Luthien (the elf-maiden of the song Aragorn sang on Weathertop).
At the end of the First Age, Morgoth (the renamed evil Vala originally known as Melkor) so threatened the peoples of Middle-Earth that Earendil set sail for Valinor in the ship Vingolot to seek the aid of the other Valar in defeating him. Though the land of Valinor was forbidden to mortals, he was received by the Valar. For he bore with him a Silmaril, one of the jewels wrought by the elf-lord Feanor and later stolen by Morgoth. The Silmaril contained the light of Valinor. The Valar were persuaded to intervene and went on to Middle-Earth, defeating Morgoth in the War of Wrath, banishing him forever from the boundaries of the world. The price that Earendil paid for his entrance to Valinor was that he could never again return to Middle-Earth. The inclusion of this tale is not merely incidental as it serves as foreshadowing for the future of Frodo, who will make a similar sacrifice upon completion of the quest he pursues.
The story is told in full in Tolkien's The Silmarillion. Earendil's two sons, Elrond and Elros - both half-man and half-elf were given a choice. Either they could be of Elven kind or chose mortality. The Elves are immortal unless they die in battle or of grief, at which point there souls remain in Valinor in the halls of Mandos until the end of time. For men, they are all destined to die and it is believed that their souls left this world and joined with Eru for eternity.
So the choice to be mortal can be viewed as either a doom to be fated to death or as a gift to be freed from the weariness of an immortal life and become one with the "god" of Middle-Earth. Elrond chose to be of Elven-kind whereas Elros chose mortality. The descendents of Elros became the Numenoreans, which include Aragorn. These noble men have the blood of Elves running through them and are considered superior to other men. Though mortal, their lifespans are far longer than those of lesser men.
After Bilbo recites his newly composed poem, the guests at the Hall of Fire retire for the evening. For early the next morning there is to be a great council to discuss the history of the Ring and decide what must be done with it.
Next: The Council Of Elrond
[Chronology: October 24th through October 25th 3018 T.A.]