Finally, another post in the Bilingual Lord of the Rings Reread series! This post provides my commentary on the French edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, and specifically on Chapter 1.
As I get into the bilingual commentary on these chapters, I’m going to be following a similar format to what I’m doing in the Harry Potter Reread posts. So I’ll be borrowing many of the same headers I’m using on that series!
Welcome back to my reread of The Lord of the Rings! As I’ve posted in my previous post, this reread is now bilingual, since I’ve been regretting not doing that properly for a while. And since I do have French editions of this trilogy, though not German editions yet, so it’s bilingual instead of trilingual.
To refresh your all’s memories, my commentary post on the Prologue of Fellowship is here. To this, I will now add some commentary about what it says in the French edition! I’m going to do this similarly to how I’ve been doing the Harry Potter reread posts, limiting the lingual commentary a bit so that I can keep the length of the posts down to something manageable.
So here we go! This is mostly going to be a bunch of commentary about various worldbuilding terms, given that they’ll be important once we get into the story proper. Once I’m past the prologue I’ll kick into the format I want to use for these posts.
Y’all may have noticed that I’ve been dragging my feet on doing the Lord of the Rings reread posts. This is because I’ve also got the trilogy in French, and I’ve been vexed at myself for not doing a proper bilingual reread since I’ve got the French versions available!
So I’m waking these posts up again, but I’m going to do it moving forward with covering what I can pick up out of the French editions as well. I’m going to format the posts similarly to what I’m doing in the Trilingual Harry Potter Reread–i.e., limiting the lingual discussion to “five general things noted in the French edition” and “five worldbuilding things noted”. This will be in the interests of trying to keep the post lengths down to as reasonable a length as possible, and also to help me actually try to do them in a reasonable time frame.
My next post is going to be a catchup to get to the point where I left off in the English edition, which is to say, the hobbits are about to meet Tom Bombadil.
For the interested, my French edition of The Fellowship of the Ring is this one, or at least has this cover; the ISBN on my copy doesn’t match this one on Goodreads:
Now that I’ve completed another rewatch of the movies, though, I am now totally in the mood for this. So let’s do this, shall we? Next post is about to drop!
(And the only reason this isn’t a full Trilingual Reread, by the way, is that I don’t own copies of the trilogy in German. YET.)
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: Seattle is a wonderful town to be a nerd. We’re such a bastion of glorious nerdery that even our symphony hall every so often celebrates hallowed icons of nerddom.
Like, say, doing a showing of Fellowship of the Ring while the Seattle Symphony and Chorale do a live performance of the entire musical score.
Dara and I went to this last night, and I’m here to tell you guys, it was glorious.
First, about their showing of the movie. They did the theatrical cut, not the extended, which I have to admit was odd to watch after so many of my viewings over the years since Fellowship‘s release have been of the extended edition. So I did miss a lot of things that I’d come to expect as part of this movie’s experience, such as Frodo and Sam seeing the elves on their way out of the Shire, Aragorn’s singing a bit of the Lay of Luthien, and a lot of the mileage in Lothlorien (notably, Galadriel revealing to Frodo her bearing Nenya, the Ring of Adamant). Ultimately, though, this was the right choice. The theatrical cut is already pretty long, and they did an intermission as well, which added extra time to the already lengthy amount of time required to be at Benaroya for the show.
Also, they ran the movie with subtitles on. This too was the correct choice, since through a good portion of the performance, the music actually came through louder than the dialogue. I initially found this odd and slightly vexing, but I quickly got over it. For one thing, the point of this show was after all to hear the score being performed live. For another thing, it ain’t like I didn’t already know the movie backwards and forwards.
And, as it happened, watching it with the subtitles on actually gave Dara and me a chance to catch stuff we’d never caught before! Because there are a few moments here and there throughout the movie where characters are throwing off incidental little bits of dialogue that are obscured by surrounding action, and it was delightful to be able to finally catch those.
The first of these was when Gandalf shows up at Bag End, and Bilbo’s rambling on about what he can offer Gandalf to eat as he wanders through his pantry and kitchen. The second was also Bilbo, greeting attendees who show up for the birthday party–at which point I actually finally caught that he greeted Fatty Bolger! (Who, of course, is a notable side character at the very beginning of the book, and who is actively involved in the hobbit conspiracy to get Frodo and the Ring safely out of the Shire.) The third is when the hobbits have just fallen down the hill running away from Farmer Maggot, and the focus is on Frodo looking down the road at the imminent arriving Black Rider, while the other hobbits are nattering in the background about the mushrooms they’ve just discovered. The last is also with the hobbits–this time on Weathertop when Aragorn has had them stop to make camp, and Frodo catches the others cooking on a VERY obvious campfire. I finally caught that Pippin complained about Frodo kicking ash onto his tomato. Ha!
So even though this was the theatrical cut of the movie, it did actually give me a chance to find out new things about it. And that was delightful.
But all of this is of course secondary to the whole point of hearing the live performance of the score.
And oh. My. Gods. It was beautiful. Dara and I happened to be at the very back of the main floor–we had two seats immediately to the left of the sound engineer’s console, as it happened. So acoustically speaking, we weren’t in an optimal spot. But even given that, I was left breathless multiple times just by the added depth and dimension of the score. I own the full extended version of the soundtracks of all three of these movies, and I’ve listened to them multiple times. But listening to them on good headphones doesn’t have a patch on listening to a live symphony do it.
In a live setting, I had the distinct pleasure of catching a lot of little nuances and details of various themes, details that are often (like the aforementioned incidental dialogue) obscured by the action of scenes. A notable example of this is during the Council of Elrond, while everyone on screen is arguing about who should take the Ring to Mordor. The orchestra lays down this little storm of metallic, clanging accents that are very evocative of clashing weaponry, and which are an amazing accent to the visual of Frodo staring anxiously at the Ring and seeing a vision of fire playing along its shape. I could not actually see what they were doing to make those noises–they didn’t sound necessarily like just the horn section–but it sounded amazing.
We had not one but two choirs singing for this performance: the Seattle Symphony Chorale, but also the Northwest Boychoir. I am particularly partial to listening to what the Chorale does, given that two friends of mine and Dara’s are chorale members. And I am delighted to say that the chorales performed splendidly. All the women’s voices came through with a clear sweetness for themes during the scenes in Rivendell and Lothlorien, and there were multiple points where they sang where I thought, again, how wonderful it was to get extra depth and dimension to the score. Likewise, when the men all stood up in Moria, I got a lovely thrill of anticipation as I thought oh shit it’s Balrog time.
Specific props as well to these instrumentalists:
The chimes player. I intellectually knew that chimes were present in the score, but in this performance, the chimes were one of the details that stood out with crystalline clarity in the acoustics of the hall.
The brass section. They stood out for me in particular when Boromir makes his first appearance in Rivendell, and they kicked in with his theme at that point.
The contrabasses. I had an eye on them through many of the deeper themes, like the theme for Isengard/the orcs, and at assorted points in Moria. From my point at the very back of the hall I could barely catch what they were doing, but more than once I saw them doing interesting-looking strikes on their strings.
Whatever wind player was doing the Shire theme solos. I wasn’t entirely sure what instrument it was, whether it was a clarinet or an oboe, but it was lovely and reedy.
And speaking of solos, I have got to mention the solos by the vocalists. Alex Zuniga, boy soprano, had an achingly lovely high range. And soprano Kaitlyn Lusk took several solos–notably, during Rivendell for Arwen and Aragorn’s scenes together, and especially at the end over the credits, when she sang the hell out of “May It Be”. And don’t get me wrong, I love the take of that song as sung by Enya. But Lusk had some extra color to her voice that you don’t normally get out of Enya, and that added a whole new layer of nuance to that song for me.
And with Lusk and Zuniga together doing their solos over the credits, well. Let’s put it this way: usually when I watch this trilogy, it takes Return of the King to get me crying over the credits. This time, I cried for Fellowship. Because after hearing Lusk’s solos during the actual movie, I had a very strong suspicion of what she’d do with “May It Be”, and I even sat forward on my seat in anticipation. She did not disappoint in the slightest.
Also worth noting was the audience reactions to various bits of the performance. Laughter broke out for several of the lighter-hearted bits, such as Merry and Pippin raiding Gandalf’s fireworks. And applause broke out for Aragorn taking down the head Uruk-hai in the final battle, just after Boromir’s death. My favorite audience reaction moment, though, was at the very end when Frodo’s standing there by the water, flashing back to his conversation with Gandalf, and you see his indecision on his face. There was a palpable hush in the hall, just before Frodo determinedly closes his fingers around the Ring and continues forward, with the orchestra gliding in to underscore his resolution. Beautiful.
In short, most expensive movie I’ve ever attended–but worth every penny spent on the tickets. My fellow Tolkien fans, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a town where your symphony can put on a performance like this, go. You’ll be happy you did.
And I will absolutely be attending if the Seattle Symphony decides they’ll also do The Two Towers and Return of the King. Because after this performance, I will live in sweet piercing anticipation of hearing “Into the West” sung in Benaroya Hall.
It has been far too long since I’ve done a post in the LotR Reread, and it’s high time I did something about that. I’ll admit to some reluctance to slog through Tom Bombadil, mind you. But still, no particular excuse for letting it go this long! So let’s get to it, shall we?
Back at the end of Chapter 4, we’d finally gotten Merry to show up, bringing all four of the main hobbit characters on camera at last. And as Chapter 5 opens, the good Meriadoc takes charge of things and brings the others right into…
… an infodump about the history of Buckland. Mercifully, though, it’s a pretty short infodump even by Tolkien’s standards. And I rather do like the namecheck of Gorhendad Oldbuck. Which is a pretty magnificent name, I gotta say. It sounds exactly like the name a hobbit patriarch and founder of a family line should have. Though I also wonder what he got called when he was young. Gorry? Henny? Also curious as to why he renamed himself Brandybuck, unless it’s for the obvious reason of “little dude liked his brandy”, which would after all be very hobbit-like.
Then we cut back to actual action. Comparatively speaking. We briefly have Sam wishing that “Mr. Frodo could have gone on living quietly at Bag End”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: oh my dear Sam. You have no idea.
Worth also noting, particularly after the last couple years that I spent re-reading The Hobbit: it’s Sam here wishing that Mr. Frodo could have stayed at home, not Frodo himself. Which is a bit of a refreshing change of pace from Bilbo constantly wishing he was back in the Shire, innit?
And why hello there Gollum. I’d forgotten that Gollum, following Frodo and the Ring, shows up this early in the story–my last several visits to the tale being in movie form rather than with the actual text. Not that Frodo actually seems to know who or what is following; only that something is. Nor can I blame him for not cluing in, given that it has after all been some years since his last conversation with Gandalf. He can be excused for not immediately realizing that Gollum could still be at large. Especially since he’s had much more recent reason to be wary of Black Riders, enough so that he’s anxious about whether horses can cross the Brandywine.
Though ha, spoke too soon. As soon as the hobbits reach Frodo’s new digs at Crickhollow, Frodo does in fact wish he was really getting to stay there.
I cannot resist my inner MST3K voice putting in “no one will be admitted during the exciting bathing sequence”, ’cause that part of me’s all cripes, can we get on with the actual plot already? Still, it’s pretty charming thinking of Pippin singing at the top of his lungs while he’s taking a bath. Particularly now that Pippin’s voice will be forever provided by Billy Boyd in my head.
One big thing, though, saves this chapter from being useless to me–Merry and Pippin both being all “well duh of course we knew you were about to leave the Shire.” This is not something we get in the movies, which play Merry and Pippin as being way less on top of things at the start of the journey. Movie!Merry and Movie!Pippin pretty much stumble into the quest. Book!Merry and Book!Pippin, on the other hand, are very much on top of things. Merry even knows about the Ring. And to top it all off, Sam is totally in on the plotting, and the three of them together are no match for Frodo’s wobbly resolve to head off all by himself.
We get a second little song in this chapter, and this one’s explicitly a callback to the Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit, and explicitly set to the same tune. Which means that now of course I try to read it and set it to the tune that the Hobbit movies used. I’m not entirely sure that works for me, either. The lyrics don’t quite scan to that melody, and the melody itself is too somber to quite fit the mood of the scene as written.
There are links on YouTube for the soundtrack from the 1977 Hobbit movie, including one for the Misty Mountains song, and that one scans better to the lyrics Tolkien gives in this chapter. Still, that tune is also rather somber given the determined cheer of Merry and the others pledging their assistance to Frodo.
But then, you could also make an argument for a somber tune being appropriate, too–because it’s not like Frodo’s holding back on warning the others that dangerous shit is about to go down. Hell, we even get a dire hint that poor Fatty Bolger isn’t going to be immune from danger either, and he’s the one on tap to stay behind and keep up the pretense that Frodo is inhabiting his new house.
We close with Frodo deciding that he’s setting out at first light in the morning, and everyone retiring to bed. Frodo has a disquieting dream, one which includes a tall white tower. It’s an interesting question as to what that tower is supposed to represent; googling for it, I find multiple links wherein Tolkien fandom discusses this very question. One such is on the Forums at TheOneRing.net here.
Next up: Chapter 6, in which the Old Forest demonstrates that yeah, actually, it’s about as scary as Fatty Bolger was making it out to be.
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!
I have talked in previous posts on this series about how in the movies, the events of The Lord of the Rings are a lot faster-paced right out of the gate than they are in the books. And Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Three is Company”, is a perfect example of this. We start the chapter with this getting explicitly called out, in fact:
“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.
In other words, Gandalf has just revealed to Frodo that he has possession of the official Worst Jewelry in the History of Middle-Earth, and that it really needs to be gotten out of the Shire pronto. And yet, neither of them appear to have a particularly urgent definition of “pronto”, given how long it actually takes Frodo to get his shit together and go. That said? I do at least appreciate the symmetry in Frodo wishing to leave on his fiftieth birthday, which is Bilbo’s one hundred and twenty-eighth. It creates a nice little parallel, not only in-universe for Frodo, but out-of-universe for the reader as well. Not that Gandalf actually has a plan yet, though. The best he’s able to advise is “go to Rivendell”.
Which, okay, yeah, not bad advice in the slightest. Given that Elrond is, after all, one of the other bearers of the Three, and getting to Rivendell is a lot more feasible than making it all the way to Lorien to see Galadriel. Still though, you’d think that Gandalf would have been a little bit more forthright about this. Maybe “okay, I’m going to Rivendell to warn Elrond we have a Thing that needs dealing with, come after me as you can, and for the love of Iluvatar KEEP IT UNDER WRAPS”. I would have thought that discovery of the One Ring would have been news that Gandalf might have wanted to, oh, I dunno, report to the White Council.
But as it stands, Gandalf is surprisingly blasé in this chapter! All we get is mysterious mutterings along the lines of “welp I gotta go do a thing, keep up with the plan, BBL”, and that he’s gotten news that disturbs him. I’m very curious as to what news he actually got there, and I say this as someone who has in fact just recently finished this re-read; this is a detail that eluded me as I was charging through, and I’ll be looking for it as I proceed through this posts.
Here’s something else I had totally forgotten: Frodo actually sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses! And he goes to the trouble to create a cover story about his going to settle in Buckland. Given the less urgent pacing of events as played out here, I really like this. Taking the time to lay down a proper story is very clever of Frodo.
Fredegar Bolger and Folco Boffin are side characters I’d totally forgotten as well. But it’s nice to see them participating in the plot, as it illustrates that Sam, Merry, and Pippin aren’t Frodo’s only allies in the Shire. Yay for hobbit community! Unfortunate about poor Fredegar being nicknamed ‘Fatty’; that’s not something a modern author would get away with, I feel, and I think I will eschew calling him that myself. (Slightly less unfortunate about Folco, which is only a hop away from Falco, and now I am totally imagining an all-hobbit cover of “Rock Me Amadeus”.)
Lothelia Sackville-Baggins is, I think, the first female character to get speaking lines anywhere in this entire trilogy. By this point she’s a hundred years old, and given that she’s not carrying around the Ring, one expects that she looks rather more aged than Bilbo did at eleventy-one. But she’s certainly not lacking for snark, and I do adore the pithy closing sentence of the paragraph where she appears: “Frodo did not offer her any tea.”
The conversation that the Gaffer has with an unseen other party is our first inkling that Frodo’s whereabouts are of interest. One expects that the unseen party is indeed one of the Nine–though here in the book, it’s played quite a bit more understated than the first appearance of the Nazgul in the films. It would be very easy to read the one-sided conversation that Frodo overhears as being innocuous, and I expect that it was read as just that in the days when the book was still new to its readers. All we get in the way of possible threat is an uneasy feeling on Frodo’s part!
It’s kind of amusing that Frodo calls himself a “poor old hobbit”–where he’s still barely into his adulthood, by hobbit standards!
Also amusing that as Frodo, Sam, and Pippin set out, Tolkien says: “In their dark cloaks they were as invisible as if they all had magic rings.” Let us all now take a moment to be grateful that this was not in fact the case, because otherwise I think the Shire would have been in even more trouble.
We also get a brief passing fox, who actually has a bit of thought dialogue. Given what’s to come, this strikes my eye as out of place, more appropriate to The Hobbit than to this story. But it’s possible, I suppose, that this was Tolkien’s way of maintaining a bit of lighter atmosphere before the stakes start rising and the plot gets more serious.
Frodo wakes up on their trip and thinks, “Walking for pleasure! Why didn’t I drive?” Which also leaps out to my eye as kind of giggle-worthy. Obviously he means something along the lines of a horse and cart, but I still can’t help but imagine Frodo in an actual car. A very small car.
And then, of course, we get the first actual on-camera appearance of one of the Nine. This is, again, played more understatedly than what we get in the movie–there’s no sign of anything supernatural about the description of the horse and rider, just a black-clad man on a black horse. Only the description of his sniffing at the air, and Frodo’s returned unease, hint that something is quite wrong here.
There’s also a bit of unfortunate description, though, as Sam recounts to Frodo what his father had said about his encounter with the stranger: “And the Gaffer said he was a black chap.” This is one of those moments when I have to admit that love Tolkien as much as I do, yes, there were some problematic bits in this trilogy. And that’s one of them. There’s no justification I can come up with that makes that particular word choice work.
On a better note, though, we get a nice walking song. One that I’d honestly like to hear set to music. I’d be curious as to what Howard Shore could do with that song; I hear it as upbeat in tempo, but maybe as a mixolydian mode. Something about the phrases “Tree and flower and leaf and grass, / Let them pass! Let them pass! / Hill and water under sky, / Pass them by! Pass them by!” strikes me as appropriate for a mixolydian mode. Plus, that sequence ends on Pippin singing in a high voice. Which of course leads me to thinking about Billy Boyd singing these lyrics. I think it’d be lovely.
Then we get the encounter with the elves. And I’ve got to admit, I’m of two minds about this whole sequence. On the one hand, it does give us the immortal lines “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger” and “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes”. And Gildor’s line to Frodo “I name you Elf-friend” has resonated with me all throughout my life, as has “a star shines on the hour of our meeting”. “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo”, as well as other little snippets of Quenya or Sindarin scattered throughout the text, are certainly influences on my dropping similar snippets into my own work. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t!
And I have to admit to liking the naming of certain stars and constellations, particularly “Menelvagor with his shining belt”. Indicative of Orion, of course, a subtle suggestion that these are stars that people of our modern age would still know.
On the other hand, looking at this with older eyes, both as a reader and as a writer, I have to admit that this sequence serves… pretty much no purpose, except to underscore that the elves are awesome, and we get plenty of that later. We never see Gildor Inglorion again, and we haven’t seen him before, so there’s little to really make us invested in this guy other than “he’s an elf so clearly he’s awesome”. And there’s some echoes of The Hobbit in style here, too, where Tolkien has lines of dialogue that are attributed to the group of elves rather than any particular individual. To my modern eyes this reads as a bit cutesy, but also a bit creepy when you stop to think about it–all the characters in a group uttering the same dialogue? Yeah no.
Though, I also have to take issue with Gildor shrugging off handing Frodo any clue about what the Black Riders are. “Lest terror should keep you from your journey” is a poor excuse, and underestimating Frodo and what he’s capable of. It reads oddly as well now that I’m familiar with the greater urgency of the pace in the movies.
And Frodo calls him out on it, even: “I cannot imagine what information could be more terrifying than your hints and warnings.” In other words: you’re not being helpful, Gildor. Even the hobbit thinks so. And given that we just saw one of the Black Riders earlier in the chapter, it reads to me now as just an excuse to put off finding out what they are.
So I have to admit, I like how the extended cut of the Fellowship movie handled this–just a brief snippet of Frodo and Sam seeing the elves singing as they pass through the woods. There are gems of Tolkien’s prose here. Yet the pacing of this whole chapter is weird to me now, and I’m pleased to be moving on, even if the next few chapters don’t quite pick up the pace yet either.
Next time in Chapter 4: we discover that more hobbits know about Frodo’s plans than he’d thought!
The earliest chapters of Fellowship of the Ring are a stretch of the book that diverge the most from the movie. I remember to this day being surprised by the movie version of the tale, and how quickly it has Frodo setting off at Gandalf’s urging; there’s very little sense in the movie of time passing. In the book, though, Frodo does not in fact set out on the great quest for several years.
It’s an interesting pacing decision, and yet another example of things that I don’t think a lot of modern authors could get away with. Many years are covered in Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”, years in which everyone in the Shire has plenty of time to gossip about Bilbo’s disappearance and to form opinions on what it means for Frodo as well. Frodo, too, has time to develop his own reputation for oddity. After Chapter 1’s description of how Bilbo looked amazingly well preserved for a hobbit of eleventy-one, it leaps right out to the reader’s eye that Frodo, too, shows no apparent sign of aging. I can only imagine the Ring going .oO (La la la), biding its time, since we see in this chapter that Frodo has in fact been carrying it around.
We get another community gossip scene, this time led by Sam Gamgee, and giving him fuel to go pay rather closer attention to what’s going on with Mr. Frodo. Pertinent as well that that scene takes place at the Green Dragon!
Most of this chapter, though, is given over to Gandalf’s eventual return to the Shire and his cluing in Frodo about what exactly that shiny golden bauble in his pocket is. And it’s a bit of a weird reading experience, given how heavily the movies are imprinted into my brain now–because every time I read a bit of dialogue that made it into the movie version of Fellowship, the character voices in kick in. But it’s not complete, because the movie script did trim things down considerably. So it’s like I’ve got the movie stopping and starting again in my brain as I read.
Moreover, bits of it keep skipping forward in the movie script. There are things here that actually crop up later in the movies, including the account of how Gollum got the Ring–which we don’t see in the movies until the flashback scene at the beginning of Return of the King. That’s one of the editing decisions on the movie I agree with, on the grounds that it does admittedly strike me as a little weird that Gandalf managed to wring the story out of Gollum in such detail. And it’s more effective to me to see it actually play out in action as opposed to hearing about it after the fact, as one character tells the story to another.
One other bit I recognized as occurring later in the movies is this exchange between Gandalf and Frodo:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Also this quote of Gandalf’s:
“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”
And this exchange as well, re: why Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum:
“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”
“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand.”
Which just goes to tell me that when the scripts were written by the Lord of the Rings movie team, they recognized so much of the value of Tolkien’s actual dialogue and were prepared to use gems like these elsewhere even as they edited scenes. Editor Anna appreciates the craft of the decisions they had to make there!
When Frodo finally comes to his decision about heading out with the Ring, I must say that I also approve of how the movie tweaked that, too: having Frodo simply say “What must I do?” It focuses his resolve in a way that’s more appropriate to the tighter, more urgent portrayal of the situation in the movie.
And, of course, we have Sam revealing himself as he’s listening in from outside, and Gandalf drafting him for the quest. There’s more of an exchange here too than there is in the film, and a bit more emphasis on Sam wanting to go see elves.
All in all this whole chapter is an exercise in my having an increased appreciation for the editing decisions that went into writing the scripts for the movies–and how aspects of Tolkien’s writing that modern authors would not IMHO get away with got tightened up to better suit the tastes of a modern movie-viewing audience. Still great fun to go back and revisit Tolkien’s original version of these events, though. Particularly the revelation of the writing in the fire!
Next post: Frodo finally gets his hobbit butt in gear and sets out. There are Black Riders! And Elves!
It is a testament to the power of Peter Jackson’s movies that, when I dig into the very first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, I cannot help but imagine how it played out in the movie. The music kicks in in my head, and of course, there are the beautiful visuals involved with Gandalf’s fireworks. Although the movie didn’t lay everything out exactly as the book did–and, see my previous post for why I don’t consider that a problem–it’s still very close to it in spirit.
Because yeah. After the Prologue reminds us of what went down in The Hobbit, this chapter also blatantly ties into those events. The very title of the chapter is a callback. And the first few paragraphs tell us about the reputation Bilbo’s had in the Shire ever since his adventure. Right out of the gate, though, we get something that the movie had not really called out: i.e., that the grand party Bilbo’s throwing is in fact a celebration of his birthday and Frodo’s. Bilbo is turning 111, but Frodo is turning 33, the year a hobbit is considered to come of age.
(And that little tidbit, combined with how Frodo doesn’t actually set out on his adventure until he’s pushing fifty, has contributed to why I’ve never really fretted much about heading into my forties and closing in on fifty myself. By hobbit standards, I’m barely adult! Never mind elf standards!)
It’s kind of hysterical, too, that hobbits call the twenties tweens, since that term means something different to a modern eye: i.e., a pre-teen. But then, it’s kind of the same idea, since the hobbits are still giving the word the connotation of “this is somebody too young and irresponsible to be a grownup”.
It’s fun to see the Gaffer on camera, since we don’t get to see him in the movies, and the conversation he has with other hobbits is a nice way to cover the community gossip about the Bagginses, as well as a bit of Frodo’s backstory (the drowning of his parents) and the ill repute of the Sackville-Bagginses. And I do have to giggle at the miller’s assertion that, quote, “Bag End’s a queer place, and its folk are queerer,” unquote.
(Insert obligatory mental picture of a rainbow flag flying over Bilbo’s door here.)
Something else we don’t see in the movies: a note that the dwarves visit Bilbo. In fact, it’s called out in this chapter that dwarves are in fact on hand for the party, even though they do not actually appear in any of the action! And since I have just recently re-watched the tail end of The Battle of the Five Armies, including Bilbo’s sentimental farewell to the surviving dwarves, I cannot help but wonder which dwarves were the ones that visited him here.
I’m sure Bombur would have been VERY apparent indulging in the party supplies, and I like to think that Bofur would have leapt up to sing and play something for the party attendees. We know from the actual book version of The Hobbit, as well, that many of the dwarves did in fact play instruments. I’m a little sad that Tolkien didn’t think to at least include them more obviously in the merrymaking and music-making here!
Doublechecking the Third Age timeline, it’s at least certain that Balin would not have been among the visiting dwarves–he died in Moria before this party was held. Sniff. But I can totally imagine Balin sharing a companionable table with Bilbo. Is there fan art of that? There should be fan art of that.
I also like that among the party presents being handed out, there’s description of wonderful toys that came from the Lonely Mountain and from Dale, toys that are specifically of dwarf-make. Another reason I’m a little sad that the dwarves don’t actually get to participate more obviously in the action! And according to Bofur’s page on the LotR wiki, he was in fact a toymaker. One therefore presumes a lot of the toys being handed out were his work!
Tolkien’s description of the fireworks is magic all on its own, even if I do rather miss the mischief from movie!Pippin and movie!Merry, stealing fireworks to launch themselves.
It’s interesting to me that Bilbo’s speech is given in italics rather than in quoted dialogue lines. I didn’t remember this, and I’m wondering if it was because Tolkien intended to have the speech be more from the point of view of the party attendees in general, rather than Bilbo himself.
And in the middle of the speech, we get more references to shinies from Dale: the crackers that contain musical instruments, “small, but of perfect make and enchanting tones.” I must wonder how small! Pretty tiny, if they were in crackers meant to be pulled apart, and yet they couldn’t have been too tiny, if hobbit-sized hands were still able to get music out of them.
Gandalf is shown here to be in active collusion with Bilbo, another thing that wasn’t quite as apparent in the movie–since here, Gandalf throws in a bit of a magical “boom” to obscure Bilbo disappearing before their eyes. Which leads nicely into Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf, which is of course one of my other favorite things about the very beginning of this story. “Two eyes, as often as I can spare them,” indeed. Yep, I won’t ever be able to read a word of Gandalf’s without hearing Sir Ian in my head, and this is entirely as it should be. <3
I do love Bilbo’s parting gifts for a lot of different hobbits, and the snarky subtext on the labels. Which I am totally reading in Martin Freeman’s voice, which is also entirely as it should be. And we see yet more of the Sackville-Bagginses, being generally odious, as well as a passle of other hobbits that need to be bodily thrown out of Bag-End after the party is over.
And, of course, we get Gandalf’s final word of warning to Frodo about the Ring–less urgent than it plays out in the film, but still, enough here to leave a frisson of worry. Something’s off about that ring, and Gandalf urges our little hero to keep it secret, and keep it safe.
Raise your hand if you’re now hearing the Ring theme playing in the back of your head.
So I’ve started re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to do a multi-lingual read of it, not quite yet–mostly because I’m still doing Harry Potter and I’m not going to do two multi-lingual rereads at once. But I think I will document thoughts as I have them. Mostly because I always did love the LoTR reread posts on Tor.com, and because as y’all know, I am a massive Tolkien geek. And my thoughts on Tolkien, they are plentiful!
And I’ve got quite a few thoughts right out of the gate, already. For purposes of this read, I’m using a single-volume ebook edition–basically, the ebook release of the single-volume print edition I have. Because that thing is a great big honking brick of a book, far too large for me to comfortably carry on my regular work commutes. It’s therefore much more amenable to me to do this read-through in electronic form.
Also notably, for anyone who might be considering grabbing digital versions of the trilogy: buying the single-volume ebook edition is significantly cheaper than buying the three individual ebooks. On Kobo’s site, that amounted to paying sixteen bucks for the single omnibus edition, vs. paying twelve each for Fellowship, Two Towers, and Return of the King. I normally don’t care for omnibus ebooks, and would in fact prefer to have the individual books as separate files. But in this case, the price difference was significant enough that it actually mattered.
And now, into the prologue itself. Right out of the gate, my first thought is: wow, modern authors would have this prologue totally shot down by their editors. I say this as an author who in fact had the original prologue for what later became Valor of the Healer shot down (and which interested parties can read here)–a prologue which in fact was a pretty decent amount of action, as opposed to what Tolkien gives us here. I.e., a ginormous infodump of the history of the hobbits, and a recap of how Bilbo got the Ring.
If you’re the sort of reader who expects instant action in the very first paragraph, you won’t like this prologue. But for me, as a lifelong Tolkien geek, it starts setting the stage by introducing us to the hobbits and stressing the importance of the Ring.
Modern writers would, I feel, be encouraged to work this data into the actual flow of the action, seamlessly. There’s a strong argument to be made for that, since certainly, modern tastes slant away from hitting your readers in the face with an infodump first thing. Which is in fact the important point here. There’s a difference between hitting your readers in the face with your infodump, and presenting it to them in such a way that it feels like a natural way to set the stage. For me, Tolkien pulls this off. It’d take a writer in solid command of his or her craft to do something similar in today’s publishing environment, and achieving that level of mastery is not easy. So I can’t exactly fault modern editors from encouraging their writers to not do this.
All that said, there’s such a wealth of detail here that as long as you know what to expect, it’s still delightful. I’d forgotten the description of the original three strains of Hobbits, and how they migrated into what eventually became the Shire. I’d also forgotten that they were in fact the inventors of smoking pipeweed, and that Merry’s on record as documenting a lot of that.
But what really just made me LOL as I re-read this prologue is this description of the discrepancy between the original release of The Hobbit, and later editions that Tolkien retconned to tie in better to The Lord of the Rings:
Now it is a curious fact that this is not the story as Bilbo first told it to his companions. […] This account Bilbo set down in his memoirs, and he seems never to have altered it himself, not even after the Council of Elrond. Evidently it still appeared in the original Red Book, as it did in several of the copies and abstracts. But many copies contain the true account (as an alternative), derived no doubt from notes by Frodo or Samwise, both of whom learned the truth, though they seem to have been unwilling to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself.
That, right there, is Tolkien himself handing Peter Jackson, on a silver platter, an in-universe excuse for why the Hobbit movies tell so much more than what the actual book does. Dara and I had decided ages ago that the book was very clearly Bilbo’s version of the story, and that the movies were aiming more for “what actually happened”. But I’d honestly forgotten that Tolkien himself laid this down in his own words.
It’s also highly interesting to me that this prologue calls out how Gandalf was having none of Bilbo’s bullshit in this regard:
Gandalf, however, disbelieved Bilbo’s first story, as soon as he heard it, and he continued to be very curious about the ring. Eventually he got the true tale out of Bilbo after much questioning, which for a while strained their friendship; but the wizard seemed to think the truth important.
Speaking as someone who has just re-watched the end of The Battle of the Five Armies, I think it’s very clear that we see Gandalf not buying Bilbo’s bullshit right there on camera.
If I were to change anything at all about this Prologue, it would be to move the final section, “Note on the Shire Records”, somewhere earlier. The final sentence of the “Of the Finding of the Ring” section is this: “At this point this History begins.”
Which would have been an awesome segue right into Chapter 1. And I think I’ll let that be the segue to my next post!