Tolkien Geek

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


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 3

Three is Company
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept of to."
Thus begins the actual journey for Frodo and company. Leaving Bag End behind - to the Sackville-Bagginses - the hobbits set out Southward past the East Road, down through the Green Hill Country towards passage through Woody End. Merry Brandybuck has been sent ahead with Frodo's belongings to be unloaded at Crickhollow, Frodo's new house in Buckland. Frodo, Sam and Pippin follow a leisurely trail and indeed there doesn't seem to be much urgency to their pace.

There is an odd passage at this point that most readers will recognize and one that I find kind of silly. The party had not set a watch as they slept that first night and let the fire die out, for "even Frodo feared no danger yet". At that moment a fox passes by and waxes philosophical.
"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 right, but he never found out any more about it.

Now this whole business of a sentient animal mulling over the peculiar behavior of these hobbits seems really out of place. It's almost as if Tolkien was reprising the lighter narrative tone he used in The Hobbit. And there are certainly no other incidents of animals expressing their thoughts to the reader. You don't get inside the head of a horse of the Riddermark thinking, "Gee, isn't this odd that I should be mounted by a shield maiden of Rohan and a hobbit dressed as the king's esquire? Quite strange, indeed! Oh well, off to the battle now." Personally, in the arduous process of editing and rewriting his various drafts, I think this is something that could have stood to be left out. But I suppose it at least suggests how unconcerned Frodo was at this point in his journey. Interestingly enough, when Gildor and the Noldor Elves come upon Frodo and his companions later on, they say something similar: "Three hobbits in a wood at night! We have not seen such a thing since Bilbo went away. What is the meaning of this?" It kind of makes the interlude with the fox sort of redundant.

It's only upon the first sighting of a Black Rider that the hobbits realize they might be in some danger. Up until that moment, Frodo's only concern was that Gandalf had not met with them prior to their departure. The first description of the Nazgul sniffing around for them always gives me the creeps no matter how many times I read it. But the second encounter, just prior to the arrival of the Elves, is especially chilling:

"The sound of hoofs stopped. As Frodo watched he saw something dark pass across the lighter space between two trees, and then halt. It looked like a black shade of a horse led by a smaller black shadow. The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards them."

Another interesting passage I noticed was one in which Tolkien uses a view of the night sky as a means of establishing a connection between Middle-Earth and our world. He includes a description of some of the constellations in the sky above the camp of the elves and hobbits. His specific identification of Menelvagor, the Swordsman of the Sky with his shining belt is an obvious reference to the Orion constellation with the three star line that forms Orion's belt. Thanks goes out to the anonymous commenter who pointed out that "the Netted Stars" are likely the Pleiades and the "red star Borgil" probably refers to Aldebaran, noting that all three very distinctive bodies are so close together.

When we are introduced to Gildor Inglorion, he identifies himself as being of the House of Finrod (Felagund). Family trees are given in more detail in The Silmarillion. But readers might be interested to know that Finrod is one of the sons of Finarfin, which makes him Galadriel's brother. While I don't believe Gildor's specific relationship to Galadriel is ever given in any of Tolkien's works, this would indicate that he is possibly a blood relation to her, perhaps a second cousin.

The chapter ends with a conversation between Frodo and the Elf. Frodo begins to feel a greater fear of the dark forces that are seeking him out. And we - the reader - begin to understand that this is not going to be an uneventful journey. Gildor warns the hobbit that the Enemy is pursuing him, though he does not know himself exactly why (for he does not yet know of the Ring). He is reluctant to explain everything he knows of the Black Riders "lest terror should keep you from your journey".

Frodo expresses to Gildor that he had not expected to encounter such danger within the boundaries of his own Shire. To which the Elf replies "The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot ever fence it out." But he also advises Frodo that "courage is found in unlikely places". This perhaps foreshadows the perils that will befall Frodo and Sam in Mordor.

The development of this particular chapter, as described in The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part 1, took several revisions with regard to the make-up of the traveling party. Remember, at first Frodo was named Bingo. In the first drafts, he is traveling with Odo Took and Odo's cousin, Frodo Took. Merry, who had gone ahead to Buckland was first called Marmaduke Brandybuck. Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger had not yet been stationed at Crickhollow to ready the new house. And the character of Sam Gamgee was not a part of the story at this point.

The first title of this chapter was to be "Three's Company, and Four's More" - the fourth being Marmaduke (Merry) who Tolkien had intended to meet up with at the end of a much longer chapter. While the structure and dialogue remained mostly intact, the character names got switched around quite a bit. When Bingo finally became Frodo, Frodo Took became Folco Took. Odo Took would eventually become Peregrin (Pippin) Took.

At some point between the second and third drafts, Tolkien began to form in his mind the character of Samwise Gamgee. By the third draft, Sam replaced Frodo/Folco Took and Tolkien went back and revised Chapters One and Two for Sam's scenes at the Green Dragon and where Gandalf appoints him to be Frodo's companion. If you go through the early drafts of this chapter, you can read the dialogue of Odo Took and Frodo/Folco Took and simply replace their names with Pippin and Sam to get what is close to the final version.

Christopher Tolkien, the author's eldest son who compiled the material for The History of The Lord of the Rings, includes a section of his father's notes in this volume that he titled "Queries and Alterations". The second item clearly recognizes the confusing configuration of characters to that point and it was here that Tolkien wrote in the margins "too many hobbits". Incidentally, if you look over the Baggins family tree in Appendix "C", you find that a lot of the discarded names eventually found a home.

One last item I'd like to comment on. When I first read the books, I would skip over most of the poems and songs because I didn't have any patience for them. Hey, I was young and I wanted to get to the "exciting" stuff. Not to mention the fact that I was always at a loss for a proper tune to set the words to. In "Three Is Company", there is a song that the hobbits sing as they walk late at night, looking for a place to camp. Part of this verse was used by Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens in a scene in Peter Jackson's Return of the King.

In Minas Tirith, Denethor commands Pippin to sing a song for him as the Steward gorges himself on his dinner. What actor Billy Boyd sings (in a tune that he wrote himself) comes from the third verse of the walking song.

"Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadows, cloud and shade,
All shall fade, all shall fade."

The text as written in the book contains a few lines that were removed for Pippin's song in the film, but the basic melody sticks in my head and can be applied to the whole song.

Now, when I read this part, I usually "sing" it aloud (though very softly) with that tune at a slightly faster tempo - one that would compliment the pace of a brisk walk. These days, after so many readings, I see the poems and songs as a testament to Tolkien's genius for language and I believe they should be read (or sung) as an important part of the books.

[Chronology: April 14th 3018 through September 24th 3018 T.A.]

Next: A Short Cut To Mushrooms

(revised 8/8/06)


At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've often thought the same thing about the fox.

I think it's too bad that so much of this material got axed in the movie, as these chapters are among my favorites.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Menelvagor is Orion, the The Netted Stars are the Pleiades and Borgil the Red Star is Aldebaran.

All three are close together in the sky, and very distinctive.

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. I like the fox thoughts for the following reasons:

1) The soft, lighthearted approach punctuates, quite clearly, the end of the "left alone" lifestyle that Hobbits have enjoyed so much.

2) These are thoughts that no one knows, save the reader, that have no impact, and are irrelevant. The fox is a stand in for all those slumber hobbits back home, who will not confront evil until it visits them directly.

3) Because of this, the fox is, indeed unimportant, but seals the oblivious to their fate. Tolkien could have set the thoughts in the mind of a random person passing by, or in a conversation of onlookers. Instead, all those who ignore evil in hopes of finding luxury and personal peace cast their lots with a mindless, shallow, earthbound animal: the fox.

Tolkien, in effect is asking here: is it better to be a foolish Hobbit, naively placing himself in peril against an unknown evil, or a dumb, irrelevant bit of ridiculous vermin?

Fools of the former sort are far preferable to the safe phantoms of the latter.

Tolkien's right to keep the fox. No question about it.


At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Robert said...

Christopher is the youngest son.


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