Three is Company
In The Shadow of the Past, Gandalf identifies the One Ring. Frodo decides he must leave The Shire:
“‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf. Two or three weeks had passed, and still Frodo made no sign of getting ready to go.
“‘I know. But it is difficult to do both,’ he objected. ‘If I just vanish like Bilbo, the tale will be all over the Shire in no time.’
“‘Of course you mustn’t vanish!’ said Gandalf. ‘That wouldn’t do at all! I said soon, not instantly. If you can think of any way of slipping out of the Shire without its being generally known, it will be worth a short delay. But you must not delay too long.’”
Gandalf advises him to go to Rivendell. He makes no mention of Bilbo being there, though you’d have thought Gandalf would know. Appendix B tells us that this is the year 3018 of the Third Age: Bilbo departed in 3001 and has been a guest of Elrond since 3002.
Frodo plans a leisurely departure, with Gandalf accepting this. He does however once again warn Frodo against using or wearing the Ring. And he leaves it open what comes next:
“It may be your task to find the Cracks of Doom; but that quest may be for others: I do not know”.
After two months, with Frodo still dawdling, Gandalf departs to go south and get more news. He says:
“If I think it necessary after all for you to get off at once, I shall come back immediately, or at least send word”.
He then vanishes, as far as Frodo is concerned. (For a summary of why he’s not there, see Gandalf, Rings and Ringwraiths.)
Frodo sells Bag-End to the Sackville-Bagginses and tells people he is moving to Buckland. He had lived there as a child and it is in the east of the Shire. This is clever planning, but is soon overtaken by events.
With Gandalf still absent, Frodo decided to leave Bag-End on Bilbo’s birthday, September 22nd. And he is almost too late. He overhears an unpleasant-sounding stranger asking after him. Sibley in the BBC radio version makes this a Nazgul, and is correct. Gandalf at the Council of Elrond reports that a man seen by Gaffer Gamgee was a black horseman.
The hobbits set out: Frodo with Sam and Pippin. Merry will join them later. They also choose to sleep out in the open. You then have the interesting case of a fox noticing them sleeping out of doors and thinking it very odd. I think this is the only true animal viewpoint we get, apart from the eagles who are indirectly reported later, and directly in The Hobbit.
Frodo mentions in passing that “down in the Southfarthing they have had trouble with the Big People” – this foreshadows the later take-over.
Next, there is the first direct encounter with a Black Rider – much less dramatic than Sibley, Bakshi and Jackson make it. Frodo chooses to hide, though hoping this is Gandalf. The strange man comes close and Frodo is suddenly tempted to put on his ring, but only touches the chain. He seems to be smelling for him, and Frodo is definite this is someone hostile.
In a very early draft, it was Gandalf. But then the incident somehow got caught up with Tolkien’s memories of mounted German scouts. He tells how he felt the horses were real, but the riders were not. And the Black Rider – later revealed as one of several – gives colour and interest to the narrative. After the warnings in The Shadow of the Past, we now have closer and more tangible shadows. Shadows later revealed as very much part of that past.
The Nazgul fails to find them. But the ghostly creature seems sensitive to the ring. Perhaps also able to influence the current possessor to wish to be found.
After this – and a bit late in the day, as the Harvard Lampoon parody Bored of the Rings points out – Sam reports what his father told him of the Black Rider: the man “was tall and black-like, and he stooped over me. I reckon it was one of the Big Folk from foreign parts. He spoke funny.”
They carry on, but encounter either the same Black Rider or another. The danger is great. But the creature is scared off by elves.
“Once more the desire to slip on the Ring came over Frodo; but this time it was stronger than before. So strong that, almost before he realized what he was doing, his hand was groping in his pocket. But at that moment there came a sound like mingled song and laughter. Clear voices rose and fell in the starlit air. The black shadow straightened up and retreated. It climbed on to the shadowy horse and seemed to vanish across the lane into the darkness on the other side. Frodo breathed again.
“’Elves!’ exclaimed Sam in a hoarse whisper. ‘Elves, sir!’ He would have burst out of the trees and dashed off towards the voices, if they had not pulled him back.
“’Yes, it is Elves,’ said Frodo. ‘One can meet them sometimes in the Woody End. They don’t live in the Shire, but they wander into it in Spring and Autumn, out of their own lands away beyond the Tower Hills. I am thankful that they do! You did not see, but that Black Rider stopped just here and was actually crawling towards us when the song began. As soon as he heard the voices he slipped away.’”
But these are not just any elves. It is possible that these are the first High Elves that Frodo has met. They sing a song which lets Frodo identify them, concluding with:
- “O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
- “We still remember, we who dwell
- “In this far land beneath the trees,
- “Thy starlight on the Western Seas.
“‘These are High Elves! They spoke the name of Elbereth!’ said Frodo in amazement, ‘Few of that fairest folk are ever seen in the Shire. Not many now remain in Middle-earth, east of the Great Sea. This is indeed a strange chance!’
“The hobbits sat in shadow by the wayside. Before long the Elves came down the lane towards the valley. They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes. They bore no lights, yet as they walked a shimmer, like the light of the moon above the rim of the hills before it rises, seemed to fall about their feet. They were now silent, and as the last Elf passed he turned and looked towards the hobbits and laughed.”
They have seen Frodo with Bilbo, but he had not seen them. They see hobbits as very dull, but feel obliged to protect someone the Enemy threatens.
Their leader explains that he is “Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod”. That makes him a Noldor, both more powerful and less sympathetic than Sindar like Legolas. He explains:
“We are Exiles, and most of our kindred have long ago departed and we too are now only tarrying here a while, ere we return over the Great Sea. But some of our kinsfolk dwell still in peace in Rivendell.”
They know about the Black Riders but will not say:
“I do not know for what reason the Enemy is pursuing you… but I perceive that he is – strange indeed though that seems to me”.
Gildor hails Frodo as an Elf-friend. He then makes the famous remark “do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” Whether he has different attitudes to the various wizards is not mentioned. But Noldor elves other than the half-human Elrond are usually not fond of mortals.
Note that only High Elves, Noldor or Sindar, can cross the sea to Valinor. Most elves either refused the summons or had ancestors who refused, which defines them as lesser. This would include most of the subjects of Thanduil’s woodland realm, including Jackson’s invented she-elf Tauriel. But Jackson also and very understandably ignores the matter of inherited class distinctions among elves.
The whole meeting with Gildor and company would be wonderful to be dramatized, when enough time has passed for some media giant to think it sensible to fund it. A television series might following on from the gap-filling one planned by Amazon, , this time re-telling the main books. They could make the whole thing much slower and win an audience by letting it be known the extras are there. Such series can survive with a few million keen fans, whereas a major drama that needs an up-front budget of 100 million or more. To succeed, it has to pull in a large audience from regular cinema-goers.
It will depend on the success of the Amazon streaming series that is planned, which will cover only the time between the two books. [https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/nov/13/lord-of-the-rings-amazon-tv-show-confirmed]. Of course, since Gildor was there before Bilbo left, he could be included. So could Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and other characters not so far dramatized professionally.
Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.