Tolkien Geek

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


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 9

The Great River
"Sam looked from bank to bank uneasily. The trees had seemed hostile before, as if they harboured secret eyes and lurking dangers; now he wished that the trees were still there. He felt that the Company was too naked, afloat in little open boats in the midst of shelterless lands, and on a river that was the frontier of war."
As Tolkien began to plan the story from this point forward, there were many unanswered questions in his mind as to some of the specific things that would happen to each character, but Christopher Tolkien wrote that his father never seems to have doubted that, after the breaking of the company, the plot would separate into the "eastern" story of Frodo and Sam and the "western" stories of the remainder of the Fellowship. And that each would be moving away from Anduin, in opposite directions. As we wrap up the first installment of The Lord of the Rings, the Great River of Anduin represents the common path that continues to keep the company together before the break finally takes place.

Stopping each night to break camp, the Fellowship continue to ride the boats almost passively at the whim of Anduin, for "they let the River bear them on at its own pace, having no desire to hasten towards the perils that lay beyond, whichever course they took in the end." They travel through lands that Frodo describes as "wide and empty and mournful" that are still touched by winter. And the threat of Orcs who "can shoot their arrows far across the stream" looms about them. A feeling of insecurity is growing among them.

After several nights, they camp on a small eyot close to the western bank. Sam confides in Frodo that, although he is unsure whether or not it was a dream, he thought he saw a log with eyes that one moment was there behind them and in another moment was gone. Frodo thinks back to the eyes he thought he had seen looking up at him through the trees of Lothlorien. He shares with Sam that he suspects it is Gollum following them. And, of course, he is correct. They decide not to trouble Aragorn about it but that they should be more watchful. Later as Frodo sleeps, Gollum comes within yards of him. Frodo awakens, drawing Sting from its sheath which frightens the intruder away. When Aragorn sees this he tells Frodo that he has been aware of the "little footpad" since Moria.

Many readers miss the significance of what happens next. Legolas, with his keen Elven eyes, spots an eagle in the northern sky. He is flying southwards. Legolas says that it is "a hunting eagle. I wonder what that forebodes. It is far from the mountains." Actually, as we shall find out later, the eagle is in fact Gwaihir. He is bearing on his back a certain wizard - "reborn" as it were - who is searching for them.

The next night, as they approach the rapids of Sarn Gebir, Orcs suddenly begin to fire arrows at them from the eastern bank. Struggling to avoid both the arrows and the rapids, they thrust the boats toward the western shore. They disembark quickly and, as a dread fall upon them, Legolas looks up to the dark skies.
"Even as he did so, a dark shape, like a cloud and yet not a cloud, for it moved far more swiftly, came out of the blackness in the South, and sped towards the Company, blotting out all light as it approached. Soon it appeared as a great winded creature, blacker than the pits in the night. Fierce voices rose up to greet it from across the water. Frodo felt a sudden chill running through him and clutching at his heart; there was a deadly cold, like the memory of an old wound, in his shoulder. He crouched down, as if to hide."
The black shape is a Ringwraith, who like Gandalf was also searching from the air for them on the back of a Fell Beast. Legolas' arrow finds its mark in the winged steed and the beast swerves away and down towards the gloom of the eastern shore. They do not, however, know yet what it was. While Frodo suspects it was a Black Rider, he does not share this fear with the Company.

Boromir informs Aragorn that the farthest he can go with them before turning west to Minas Tirith is at the Falls of Rauros. They carry the boats along a track that gets them past the rapids. This distance is only a couple of miles. Though the task is hard, the boats are lighter than ordinary ones and Aragorn and Boromir carry them each, one by one, to the spot where they can once again return to the River. They decide to rest and continue in the morning.

As they follow the last leg of their River journey, Frodo sees two great rocks approaching on either side of Anduin, which turns into a narrow gap between them. It is the Argonath, or the Pillars of Kings. The website known as "The Thain's Book" writes that Argonath means "stones of the kings" from ar meaning "royal, king" and gonath meaning "stones." I also observed that, in deriving the name, Tolkien very well may have intended that the AR should represent Arnor and the GO is for Gondor (ARnorGOndorNATH). Frodo is awestruck as the carved figures of either side of him loom before him.
"Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two great kings of stone: still with blurred eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon the North. The Left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning; in each right hand there was an axe; upon each head there was a crumbling helm and crown. Great power and majesty they still wore, the silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom. Awe and fear fell upon Frodo, and he cowered down, shutting his eyes and not daring to look up as the boat drew near. Even Boromir bowed his head as the boasts whirled by, frail and fleeting as little leaves, under the enduring shadow of the sentinels of Numenor. So they passed into the dark chasm of the Gates."
The crossing of this threshold at the stone feet of the sons of Elendil, Isildur and Anarion, is symbolic in that it represents the stage of the quest when the Fellowship will soon break and the War of the Ring will shortly begin.

As the boats flow into Nen Hithoel, the long oval lake that stands above the Falls of Rauros, the party steers towards the western bank. In front of them lay three peaks. There is Amon Lhaw, the hill of hearing, to the east. Amon Hen, the seat of seeing, lay to the West. And in the middle, rising out of the falls like a cone, was Tol Brandir also called the "Tindrock". It was said that no man or beast had ever been known to set foot upon its precipitous sides.

They could go no further without going east or west. The time for deciding which path to follow was now upon them.

Next: The Breaking Of The Fellowship

[Chronology: February 16th through February 26th 3019 T.A.]

(revised 9/7/06)


At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that has bugged me about Middle Earth is how empty the lands of the West were. Granted plague and war decimated Gondor and Arnor, but why were the gaps not filled after 2,000 years by the Southrons or Easterners or such.

So sue me for injecting realism into fantasy, but that has always struck me as strange that Bree could be so isolated amidst all that fallow land and that the Rohirrim, having come from the north, did not infill back along the banks of the largest river of the continent.

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, let's look at just how empty the lands of the West were...

Living trees that aren't Ents (ya know, the one that Tom Bombadil saved the hobbits from?)

You get the picture.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Kevin said...

Thaanks for this


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