The Lord of the Rings • The Fellowship of the Ring | Book One

Nothing elaborate or fancy, just some storytelling thoughts on my re-read:

The plot proper — explicit conflict and character makes a choice that changes their situation — doesn’t begin until “Three Is Company” when Frodo, knowing about the Ring (“The Shadow of the Past”), chooses to travel to Rivendell. This is when the Black Riders first appear. 

On that note, the Black Riders serve as the connecting conflict or anatagonism of this part. They exist as a constant source of fear and anxiety which builds into Frodo’s wounding near Weathertop and eventual onslaught at the Ford of Bruinen.

I found it interesting how much set up there was: Bilbo leaving, Frodo inheriting Bag End, even the time between Frodo officially setting out and his decision to leave with Sam. There’s a seventeen years between “A Long-Expected Party” and “The Shadow of the Past” and that fascinates me. It fits the reader into the doings of Hobbiton and, to a lesser extent the Shire, through their gossip and interactions through the lens of Bilbo and his party. 

Additionally, there’s throughline of the Ring, which Bilbo had and passed to Frodo and which serves as the cause of the plot: Frodo’s leaving the Shire seventeen years later. Even more fascinating, is how the rumors about Bilbo are linked to the Ring — he gained both after he returned from his adventures (There and Back Again, if you will.)

While I can still see how Tom Bombadil is something of a detour, I like what his presence (and later mention) show. Namely, that the hobbits are NOT capable of dealing with malevolent forces which bear no influence of Sauron. If not for Tom, the hobbits would not have escaped the Old Forest or the Barrowdowns. It shows how safe(ly guarded) the Shire is. This is emphasized in Bree; the hobbits seem to attract trouble. 

Additionally, at the very end of this part, Frodo tells the Black Riders to go back to Mordor and leave him alone. But “Frodo had not the power of Bombadil” (209). What strikes me here is the contrast. Tom has the ability to command with his words; Frodo does not, but the parallel to Tom reminds of just that, the ability to use words to dismantle and dispel danger. Even though he’s wounded, Frodo resists in a way that he’s seen used before. It isn’t enough. But I thought it was an interesting detail that wouldn’t have been so striking if Tom had been cut from the story. Heck, even Strider and Glorfindel use words to ease Frodo’s wound. (Well, Strider uses words and athelas, but the point still stands, I think.) 

There was a diversity of poem formats, lots of songs and such. A few have struck with me, but it was enlightening to pay attention to them stylistically.

There were a lot of good quotes. I’d also like to (maybe) type up out when each character is introduced and the first time they speak. Just because I found the order and who and when interesting.

On that note, I’m struck with how direct and precise Tolkien’s language is. I like it. 

More to the point, the way that, while characters have reactions to situations and each other, there’s not a lot of character immersion. I know Sam doesn’t trust Strider because of how Sam talks and what the text tells me: “Sam frowned” (162) and “Sam was not daunted, and he still eyed Strider dubiously” (168). What I mean is, the reader doesn’t experience the story from any particular POV (though the feelings of the hobbits are definitely the viewpoint) and especially not from an immersed-in-said-characters’ experience of the story. That’s not to say the text doesn’t give the reader a sense of what the hobbits feel, because it does. Only it’s not, as I learned on a writing cruise, written in a way for the character to serve as an avatar for the reader in the world. But what’s really fascinating to me about this, is how it reminds me of fairy tales and epics and the Arabian Nights — characters are afraid, delighted, terrified, sorrowful, but it’s conveyed strongest in speech and action. 

On the note of speech, that ties back into Tom Bombadil—words and language are powerful business in Tolkien’s writing. Which, with him being a linguist, makes sense.

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    Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth

    or The Debate of Finrod and Andreth

    by J. R. R. Tolkien

    from The History of Middle-Earth: Vol. X Morgoth’s Ring

    So, I finally got around to reading this. I had heard about it – a human woman and male elf discuss the differences between human and elven nature. It was definitely a very heavy read, since most of the text is concerned with esoteric questions of what distinguishes a human soul from an elven one, and more specifically, how do the traditions of humans differ from elves.

    Even more specially, it is strongly concerned with death and how each race interacts with death. Elves accept death as a shadow in their future, that will cause them to end when Eä ends. Their body and soul (or hröar and fëa, the specific in-world terms) cannot exist without the physical world existing, which will not be forever.

    In contrast, Andreth alludes to the assertion that humans were meant to be eternal – both hröar and fëa – even beyond the existence of the physical world. But they did something wrong and were cursed with death, changing it into that which stalks them. They live in constant fear of it. As she tells Finrod even if they are good and fair and righteous, they will still die. Even if they are cautious and healthy, they will still die. Death is the one inescapable quality of human existence.

    What fascinated me about that, as I’m almost done in a re-reading of The Silmarillion (as of this posting, I am done), is that Elvish understanding perceived human death as part of their gift. They’re ability to die was their gift from Eru. Andreth, a human, contradicts this.

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    The Lord of the Rings

    The Fellowship of the Ring

    by J. R. R. Tolkien

    Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party

    Pg.41-45: “‘But my lad Sam will know more about that. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about stories of the old days he is, and he listens to all of Mr. Bilbo’s tales'” (44).

    He does everything wrong as a writer – he introduces characters that are not major characters, he shows and tells, his description is sparse, and he uses “being” verbs. And yet…it works.

    For one, he does introduced three vital characters: Frodo and Bilbo Baggins and, to a lesser extent, Samwise Gamgee. What’s striking to me is that he introduces them and explains them through dialogue. And it’s dialogue that tells a lot about hobbits and their history and how they think.

    Namely, that they’re very focused on themselves and their own lives. The world at large doesn’t concern them. But the history of the peculiar Bilbo Baggins is definitely worth talking about. Not because any of the characters say so, but because that is literally what they’re talking about.

    We learn that hobbits like family history. Which their dialogue makes clear through their questions and the flow of the conversation, but Tolkien adds that “hobbits have a passion for family history, and they were ready to hear it again” (43).  It’s fascinating that he just tells the reader that, even as the action ensures it’s confirmed.

    What’s also striking is how little description is included. At least in the conventional sense I’ve always thought of it. For example, I couldn’t quite say what The Ivy Bush looks like other than its “a small inn on the Bywater road” nor what Gaffer or Sandyman or Daddy Twofoot look like, other than generic hobbit (42). But I definitely have a sense of place.

    And what’s most compelling is that these first two scenes import a fair amount of backstory – the hobbits view on Bilbo and his adventure, Frodo’s parents and how he came to live in Bag End, and that Sam is on friendly terms with the Bagginses, like his father Gaffer.

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