Chapter 4 of The Fellowship of the Ring, I’ll say straight up, doesn’t actually accomplish much for me in the bigger picture of the story. And it’s not a chapter I’m sad to see edited down into near non-existence in the movie.
We have Frodo, Sam, and Pippin having a rather roundabout discussion after the elves, and then several paragraphs of them setting out cross-country. There’s some discussion of the Black Riders, again rather roundabout. And when they reach Farmer Maggot’s farm, we get the backstory of why exactly Frodo’s wary of crossing that particular hobbit’s land. They stay over with Farmer Maggot for a bit, eat dinner with his family, and have a bit more discussion about the Black Riders before finally setting off for the Bucklebury Ferry.
The conversation the hobbits have at the beginning of the chapter is mostly useful for establishing that Frodo is already feeling very ambivalent about bringing anybody with him on this trip–which, okay, yeah, fair call on his part. And it does lead to a bit of early nice character development on Sam’s part, where he gets to process his own reactions to meeting the elves. In particular, we see Sam being surprisingly insightful about what’s to come for him:
“I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want–I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire.”
Oh Sam, dear Sam, you have no idea.
This is really the only interesting bit of character development for me in this part of the chapter, though. Frodo’s ambivalent and Pippin is young and frivolous, but both of these things are things we knew already.
Likewise, we already had the idea that the Riders were looking for Frodo, so the whole stop at Farmer Maggot’s house seems less than useful to me as well. There’s a reference to the Rider Farmer Maggot saw as a “black fellow”, which, while perhaps literally true, is still nonetheless a highly unfortunate word choice when it comes to describing one of your villains. At least to my modern eyes, as opposed to the eyes of readers in Tolkien’s day. And maybe even then.
And we have the second female character who gets any lines in the story: Farmer Maggot’s wife, who has exactly one line of dialogue, and who doesn’t get a name. Farmer Maggot also has sons and daughters, as actually seems perfectly appropriate for a farming family–lots of young hobbits to work the land. None of the Maggot offspring get any lines, though.
I do at least like the backstory of why Frodo is nervous about crossing Maggot’s land, anyway. I.e., his history of having stolen mushrooms from Maggot as a lad, and how the farmer threatened him with his dogs. It only occurs to me now, as I write this, that there’s no indication that hobbits keep small dogs. So if you assume that Farmer Maggot’s dogs are the big, healthy sort of working dog you’d expect to be on a farm in real life, that size of dog would be rather more intimidating to somebody the size of a hobbit.
And it is, admittedly, a bit of a giggle that Farmer Maggot does in fact give them mushrooms for the road.
What’s more important to me at the end of this chapter, though, is that Merry finally shows up. Which means we’ll finally have all four of the plot-relevant hobbits on camera! But, frustratingly, we still won’t pick up the pace quite yet. More on that in the next post, for Chapter 5!