Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 11

A Knife In The Dark
"At once Strider flung himself on the ground behind the ruined circle, pulling Frodo down beside him. Merry threw himself alongside.
'What is it?' he whispered.
'I don't know, but I fear the worst,' answered Strider."
When the hobbits departed from Buckland to face the dangers of the Old Forest back in Chapter VI, Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger was perfectly content to stay behind and hang out at Crickhollow, probably feeling that his part in Frodo's adventure was over and that the danger has passed him by.

He was wrong.

While Strider and the hobbits slept in the parlor of the Inn, Fatty looked out onto the mists that rolled across the lawn towards the house. Fear seeped in through the open window.
"As he stared out into the gloom, a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound. Terror seized him. He shrank back, and for a moment he stood trembling in the hall. Then he shut and locked the door."

Three Black Riders were approaching the house. Breaking down the door, they enter Crickhollow. But Fatty escapes through the back door, his cries alerting the other residents of Buckland. The Brandybucks sounded the Horn-call of Buckland, which hadn't been done since The Fell Winter of 2911 (T.A.) when white wolves crossed the frozen Brandywine River. Interestingly enough, it will be another Brandybuck, Meriadoc, who will once again sound the Horn-call to alert the hobbits at the Battle of Bywater at the end of "The Return of the King". The horn Merry uses, however, will be the Horn of Mark. The neighbors come running and the Black Riders flee. Temporarily foiled, they think "Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later." Indeed, this passage foreshadows the danger that will threaten all of Middle-Earth, including the tranquility of the Shire.

Meanwhile, in Bree, as the light of the day enters the parlor, Strider and the hobbits return to the room that they had abandoned for the night. The mess that they find is evidence that Black Riders had paid it a visit and they decide to leave at once. They are dismayed to find that their ponies have been stolen. Since they must try to obtain replacements, any hope they had of slipping out of the village quietly was now gone. In fact, by the time they get under way, what seems like the whole population of Bree had arrived to witness their departure. Bill Ferny sells them a single, scrawny, half-starved pony for a king's ransom. He gives the travelers some taunting but Sam hums an apple at Ferny's head and smacks him square on the nose. Once they leave town, Strider leads them off the road and through the wilderness to the North, towards the Weather Hills.

Whenever I think back to this point of the journey, for some reason I always think that it takes place over several chapters. But in reality the distance between Bree and Rivendell is covered completely in Chapters 11 and 12 - a period of about three weeks. Perhaps it's because these chapters are so much longer than the previous ten. The pace quickens significantly at this point. They make considerable progress early on, only slightly "bogged" down as they pass through the Midgewater Marshes - if you'll pardon the pun. The mosquitoes mercilessly eat them alive as Sam exclaims, "What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?". Though this line is ultimately included in the Extended Edition of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, it is given to Merry instead. I could never understand this. It could be that he and the other production people liked the way Dominic Monaghan delivered this line.

On a personal note, for many years now whenever I hear the familiar sound of katydids out the window on a hot summer evening, I refer to them as Neekerbreekers - the name Sam gave to the insects that harassed them throughout the night with their disturbing "neek-breek, breek-neek" noise.

That night as Frodo tries to sleep, he notices a flashing light off in the Eastern sky on one of the hilltops. Not even Strider knows what it is, but they will soon find out. At last they begin their approach to Weathertop. At the summit of the hill lay the ruined watchtower of Amon Sul, built by Elendil. Weathertop was the southernmost and tallest of the Weather Hills and it was where Elendil awaited Gil-galad and Cirdan, leading the Elves of Lindon, who would join with the men of Arnor and Gondor in a unified attack on Mordor at the end of the Second Age.

Amon Sul, which means "the Hill of Winds" in Sindarin (a form of Elvish), was claimed by two of the three kingdoms that resulted from the break-up of Arnor and was a source of dispute between them. Because of the commanding view of the East Road, it's location provided a strategic advantage to whomever controlled it. Amon Sul was also the repository of one of the seven Palantiri, or seeing stones. In 1409 of the Third Age, the Witch-King of Angmar attacked the stronghold and razed the tower to mostly rubble. The Palantir was moved to the city of Fornost but later lost in 1974 along with the last King of the Northern Realm, Arvedui, in the Ice Bay of Forochel. The site that remained was an ancient reminder of the time of the Numenoreans. As one of the Dunedain, Strider was quite familiar with it.

Strider leads them up a path that he knows so that they may make their ascent to the top without being seen from the East Road. When they reach the summit, it at first appears that their hope of finding evidence that Gandalf had been there would fade until Strider notices a small pile of stones with a flat white stone on top with the ruins for "G3" scratched into it. Strider interprets this to mean that Gandalf had indeed been there on October 3rd - which was three days prior. He guesses that the light they saw at that time was the result of Gandalf encountering some of the Black Riders and he notices that much of the surrounding rock is scorched.

Then their worst fears are confirmed, when they look over the lip of the hill and see several black dots at the foot of Weathertop. Danger was approaching. Strider explains to Merry why it is so difficult to evade the Nazgul. While their horses can certainly see:

"in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly."

He adds also that "the Ring draws them".

They dig in and Sam asks to hear Elvish tales and poems. Strider recites a part of the story of Beren and Luthien - a rather lengthy part, in fact. He later elaborates on the story of love between this couple, man and elf, which is told in full in Tolkien's "The Silmarillion". The story relates directly to Strider on a personal level as he, a mortal, is in love with Arwen, an elf-maiden who is descended from Beren and Luthien. Much more of the history of this relationship is told in the Appendices and Peter Jackson expands this storyline throughout the three films. One gets the feeling that Tolkien is just busting to include all of it here but that he understands to do so would pull the reader away from the story at hand. Actually, its inclusion here, even in such an abridged version, seems a little out of place as we anticipate an attack by the Black Riders.

Sure enough, with less than two pages left to the chapter, five of them quickly appear. In Frodo's fear, his resistance to the Ring becomes unbearable and he slips it on his finger. Suddenly, Frodo is able to see the true form of the Nazgul beneath their cloaks.

"In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown."

It was the Witch-King of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul. He bears down on Frodo with his Morgul blade, penetrating his left shoulder. With his last bit of strength, Frodo takes off the Ring and blacks out.

[Chronology: September 30th through October 6th 3018 T.A.]

Next: Flight To The Ford

(revised 8/26/06)


At 12:08 PM, Blogger Ben O. said...

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Nice - Ben O.

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