Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So, you're sitting around in a tavern...

Current book: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Pages read: 124 - 230

After the elves leave, Frodo and his friends try to get to Buckland, where Frodo's new house is, as quickly as possible. They get a bit of help from Farmer Maggot (Seriously, Tolkien? Maggot? Who does that?), who warns them that the Black Riders have been asking for Frodo by name, and then gives them a ride to a nearby ferry. They make it to the house, where they meet up with Peregine (Pippin) Took. (I think. I might have gotten Merry and Pippin switched around in this bit. Honestly, it really doesn't matter at this point, since neither of them have achieved any character development.) Sam, Merry, and Pippin get together and tell Frodo that they've known his plans to take the ring to the elves all along, and that they all intend to accompany him on his dangerous journey. He is appropriately grateful, and they all agree to spend one night at the house and leave the next morning for Rivendell.

Frodo and his friends decide to take the cross-country route to Bree, their first stop along the way, so as to avoid the Black Riders on the road. Unfortunately, their path takes them through a dangerous forest in which the trees are hostile, and they end up being attacked. Tom Bombadil, some sort of immortal forest overseer, rescues them, and, after feeding them and letting them rest, gets them out of the forest and sends them on their way. They run into trouble soon after, however, when they're enthralled by wights (which are undead guys of some kind, though it's unclear) and trapped underground by magic. Luckily, Frodo keeps his wits and calls Tom Bombadil for help. He saves them once again and, once again, sends them on their way. This time they make it to town and find lodgings at an inn, The Prancing Pony. There they meet a man called Strider, who has a reputation for being a wanderer and at first seems threatening. Soon it becomes clear that though he is ominous, he means well, and he offers to be their guide and to try to protect them from the Black Riders. At the inn, they also discover that Gandalf left a message for Frodo three months since, and that is why he has not met them as promised.

That's where I stopped, so I don't know the contents of the message yet, though I'd predict dire warnings, most likely. You know, I'm struck at how serious everything is right from the get-go. I mean, I know it's the One Ring, and it could lead to the destruction of all Middle-Earth and everything, but at the beginning of a journey, it seems as though it would be hard to foretell all the dangers and hardships that it's going to entail. Yet there's all this rather clumsy foreshadowing, in which Tolkien has the characters say that they feel that there's great evil and darkness ahead, and that kind of stuff. It would create a better contrast to what's going to happen later if the hobbits were more happy-go-lucky in this part, more excited by the prospect of travel and adventure. Instead, we're set up for the great conflict and drama, and the poignancy of what could have been is lost.

Also, Tom Bombadil annoys the hell out of me. He shouldn't even be in the book. Bascially, Tolkien creates not one, but two dangerous situations that the hobbits cannot extract themselves from and then uses Tom Bombadil as deus ex machina in each of them. Why? I only assume it's because he created the character and he couldn't bear not to include him in the story, regardless of the fact that he is not only completely unnecessary, but results in the use of an extremely clumsy literary device. (Deus ex machina is poor form, in my opinion.) Also, he talks largely in rhyming couplets, and it's obnoxious.


  1. I had forgotten (repressed?) Tom Bombadil, but he and his nineteen-sixties rhyming couplet came right back to me when I saw his name.

    Smoke a lid, toke a lid.
    Pop a mescalino.
    Stash the hash, I'm gonna crash.
    Said Tom Benzedrino.

    The silliness of this would be insulting to MOST literature. Also, I can't remember where I read/heard that verse, possibly MAD magazine?

  2. I sort of disagree with your third paragraph.

    1. I see The Hobbit as a very extensive and contrasting "Yay, an exciting journey!" part of the LotR story.

    2. Within LotR proper, I think that the details of the party and the annoying asides about hobbits' normal lives, though brief compared to the rest of the story, do create poignancy that these happy, contented folksy-folks have to make this dark journey to save the world. (Also, all those commas were for you.)

    3. I guess I also just like the overall darkness of the story, which isn't an argument.

    That being said, you could argue that
    1. a novel shouldn't depend on a prequel for a "proper" story arc,
    2. more contrast in tone would have been better, and
    3. I'm wrong.

    And my only retort would be "Well, I still like it a lot." :)

  3. I'd say 1 and 2 are correct. You don't get a whole novel for a prologue, and it's just that everything gets SO dire SO quickly that there's no time to reflect on the situation that's being left behind. But you're still allowed to like it a lot. :)



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