Tolkien Re-read Part II: The Fellowship of the Ring (Chapter 11)


Welcome back! Last time in the Tolkien Re-read Strider’s true name was revealed to be Aragorn; Butterbur (belatedly) delivered a letter to Frodo from Gandalf, who has probably run into some sort of trouble; Merry encountered a Black Rider on the streets of Bree; and the hobbits decided to head for Rivendell with Aragorn first thing in the morning.

Previous posts for the Tolkien Re-read (including my re-read of The Hobbit) can be found here.

A quick note: I’m reading from the Houghton Mifflin movie tie-in hardcover from 2001, but the text should match Del Rey’s more recent tie-in edition (pictured right). Each post will cover one or two chapters and include footnotes of useless trivia that you can read or ignore at your discretion—they’re mostly there to contain the worst of my nerd-babble. Also, there might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Fellowship of the Ring, but I can’t guarantee I won’t geek out about related things from later in the trilogy or elsewhere in Tolkien lore. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem, but I shall do my best to avoid spoilery content for the sake of the uninitiated

The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
     Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
     One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
     One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
     One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie

Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

Back in the house at Crickhollow, it’s evening and Fatty Bolger is unable to sleep, haunted by a growing fear of…something. In a moment of bravery, he gets up and cracks the front door to peer out into the darkness. There he sees a “shadow [moving] under the trees” and watches as the gate seems to open and close on its own. He immediately closes and locks the door, then flees from the house.

It’s a good thing he leaves, too, because after he’s gone the narrator shows us what’s come to Crickhollow. (Spoiler: it’s Black Riders, guys.)

Favorite Quote Break!

Outside the gate they stopped, and three black figures entered, like shades of night creeping across the ground. One went to the door, one to the corner of the house on either side; and there they stood, as still as shadows of stones, while night went slowly on.

Then, just before dawn, the Rider standing at the door starts knocking.

Relevant Quote Break!

“Open, in the name of Mordor!” said a voice thin and menacing. At a second blow the door yielded and fell back, with timbers burst and lock broken. The black figures passed swiftly in.

(YAY! Finally! My favorite dark and nasties have come to play!)

Then, a horn rings out in the night, followed by shouts of “Awake! Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake!”

Turns out Fatty didn’t just flee, but ran to the nearest neighbor, where he collapsed crying and terrified on their doorstep babbling, “No, not me! I haven’t got it.” Eventually folks realized that some kind of danger had come and sounded the alarm. Soon, all of Buckland is ringing with the sound of horns and “Fear! Fire! Foes!”

The Black Riders flee from the house in Crickhollow, unconcerned by the battle cries of the hobbits because now they know that the Ring is no longer in the Shire. They ride down some poor guards at the gate and vanish.

Meanwhile in Bree, Frodo’s sleep is troubled by sounds of wind, galloping, and fierce horns.* When morning arrives, Strider gathers all the hobbits and leads them back to the bedrooms they rented but didn’t sleep in—a precaution against attackers who might be after the Ring.

Relevant Quote Break!

When they saw [their rooms] they were glad that they had taken [Strider’s] advice: the windows had been forced open and were swinging, and the curtains were flapping; the beds were tossed about, and the bolsters slashed and flung upon the floor; the brown mat was torn to pieces.

When Butterbur is brought to the scene, he is all horror and apologies. Strider ominously tells him they’ve come upon “dark times,” but that the innkeeper and Bree will be safer once he and the hobbits have gotten on the road. Strider orders breakfast to go, and their ponies saddled, but just as soon as Butterbur leaves to prepare everything, he comes back.  The ponies have vanished—not just the hobbits’ ponies, but all the horses stabled at the Prancing Pony.

Frodo & Friends are crushed by this news. How can they possibly get to Rivendell on foot while pursued by the Black Riders?

Relevant Quote Break!

Strider: Ponies would not help us to escape the horsemen. We should not go much slower on foot, not by the roads that I mean to take. I was going to walk in any case.

Typical Strider. He is, however, concerned about the food and stores now that they can’t count on the animals to carry what they need. Luckily, after a three hour delay, during which they all eat breakfast, Butterbur informs him that he’s found a pony. It’s the only one left in town, but it’s also a “poor old half-starved creature” that belongs to Bill Ferny, one of the suspicious onlookers who was in the common room the night before.

Butterbur is convinced Ferny won’t sell it to them for less than three-times its worth (he’s right) but he kindly pays for the animal from his own pocket. He even offers Merry money in compensation for the ponies the hobbits have lost.

(Butterbur is the bro-est. )

News of the attack at the inn draws a crowd to the streets of Bree, so Strider and the hobbits are unable to avoid an audience when they finally leave the village behind them. As they pass Bill Ferny’s house, he peeks over his hedge and warns the hobbits that they’ve found a nasty traveling companion in Strider, but Sam tells him off and chucks an apple at his face. With that, they leave Bree behind them and begin to—you guessed it—walk.

Walking, A List

? They walk along the Road east
? They turn north onto a narrow track
? They walk and walk
? They walk through the Midgewater Marshes, where there are more midges than water
? They trudge through the marshes
? They see a light in the east that flashes and fades like lightning
? They walk for days
? They see the hill of Weathertop in the distance, where they hope to find Gandalf
? They walk some more
? They leave the marshes
? They pass a stream
? And finally, they reach Weathertop

Sam and Pippin are left with the ponies while Frodo and Merry climb up Weathertop with Strider. There, within the crumbling walls of the ancient watchtower Amon Sûl,** they find signs that someone has recently been there—namely, a “cairn of broken stones” piled up and scorched by fire. At the top of the cairn, Strider finds a flat stone with cryptic markings scratched onto it. The markings baffle the hobbits, but Strider recognizes them as the runes Rangers use to communicate with each other:

runes left by Gandalf on Weathertop

Relevant Quote Break!

Strider: The stroke on the left might be a G-rune with thin branches. It might be a sign left by Gandalf, though one cannot be sure. [But] I should say that they stood for G3, and were a sign that Gandalf was here on October the third: that is three days ago now. It would also show that he was in a hurry and danger was at hand, so that he had no time or did not dare to write anything longer or plainer. If that is so, we must be wary.

Considering the scorched state of Weathertop, and the flashes of light they saw a few nights ago, Strider guesses that Gandalf fought a battle here, but he cannot say what the result was.

Then, while discussing their upcoming journey to Rivendell, Strider suddenly throws himself to the ground, pulling Frodo and Merry with him. They crawl to the edge of the fallen walls and peer out. The hobbits can only make out black shapes in the distance, but Strider’s preternaturally keen sight reveals that the Enemy is tracking them—Black Riders are on the road only a few miles away.

Meanwhile, Sam and Pippin are exploring the area around the base of Weathertop and find signs of a hasty camp. When Strider and the other hobbits rejoin them, the Ranger discovers the recent footprints of “many booted feet.” (Whatever happened here with Maybe-Gandalf doesn’t appear to be good.)

Strider decides that, despite the nearness of the approaching Black Riders, it’s best for them to stay the night where they are, in a hidden place. This concerns Merry, who asks whether the Riders can actually see because they seem to use their noses more than their eyes.

Quick Facts about Black Riders aka Ringwraiths aka The Nazgûl aka The Nine

? They use their horses (and various other creatures, including men) as their spies
? They do not see as the living do, but in shapes and shadows
? Their shadowy sight is blocked only by the noon sun, and is strengthened in darkness
? They smell the blood and feel the presence of living things
? They are drawn to the power of the Ring
? They fear fire

Strider (you guys, I’m having a really hard time not typing Strideragorn) and the hobbits set up camp in a low, sheltered place at the base of Weathertop and pass the night listening to Strider tell stories. Specifically, Strider tells them the story of Beren and Lúthien.***

Favorite Quote Break!

[Strideragorn] knew many histories and legends of long ago, of Elves and Men and the good and evil deeds of the Elder Days. They wondered how old he was, and where he had learned this lore.

(Okay. Got it out of my system. Moving on!)

Later during the night, Merry spots something dark up on the hill above them. The group falls silent and strains to see through the dark.

Favorite Quote Break!

[They] felt, rather than saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. They strained their eyes and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt: three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them. So black were they that they seemed like black holes in the deep shade behind them. Frodo thought that he heard a faint hiss as of venomous breath and felt a thin piercing chill. Then the shapes slowly advanced.

(Anyone else need some popcorn?)

The hobbits throw themselves to the ground in terror, and Frodo is overcome with an urge to put on the Ring (typical). After a brief internal struggle, Frodo loses the battle and slips the Ring on his finger (stupid).

Relevant Quote Break!

Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. [Frodo] was able to see beneath [the Riders’] black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel.

(That is some serious word porn. I love me some semi-colons!)

Frodo draws his sword in a panic, which halts two of the approaching Ringwraiths, but the third is unperturbed. Taller than the others and wearing a crown, it advances with sword and knife in hand. Frodo swings at the Ringwraith, but uselessly, and is quickly stabbed in the shoulder by its knife. (This scene in the movie has the best sountrack of all the movies combined. Fact.)

Swooning from the pain, Frodo catches a glimpse of Strider as the Ranger, wielding flaming torches in each hand, jumps between him and the Ringwraith. Then, with the last of his strength, Frodo removes the Ring.

*Frodo’s Dream: It’s strange, but I really don’t remember Frodo having dreaming premonitions the first time I read the books. This one is more immediate than the last few, though, and is obviously in reference to the commotion back in Crickhollow.
**Amon Sûl was built by the Men of the North Kingdom, aka the Dúnedain, and is now known as Weathertop Hill. Before it fell into ruin, it’s said that Elendil, a king of Men and father of Isildur, watched from the tower for the coming of Gil-galad, the last High King of the Elves, during the Last Alliance between Men and Elves. Oh so much more on Gil-galad, son of Fingon, grandson of Fingolfin, who was the brother of Finarfin, the father of Galadriel, later.
***Beren and Lúthien: The tale of Beren and Lúthien is told in full in The Silmarillion, but the fact that it’s the story Strider chooses to tell the hobbits is significant [SPOILER in white] because he himself, a mortal man, is in love with an Elven maiden (Arwen, daughter of Elrond, a descendant of Lúthien). The short version of the story is that Beren, a mortal man, fell in love with Lúthien, the daughter of Thingol, an Elven king during the time of Morgoth (the Great Enemy, whom Sauron was once but a servant of), but their love was forbidden. Sorrow and the death of both soon follow, but it is said that they met again after death, beyond the Sundering Seas. Fun Fact: The names Beren and Lúthien appear on the gravestone of Tolkien and his wife.


That’s it for Chapter 11! The hobbits and Strider have left Bree and arrived at Weathertop, more signs point to trouble for Gandalf, five Ringwraiths have caught up with our travelers, and Frodo has managed to get himself stabbed. Things are getting pretty intense!

In a bit of movie news: have you seen the latest trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? I just saw it in IMAX 3D before the movie Gravity and had a total nerdgasm. Check out the trailer here and stay tuned for Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford!

Logan Balestrino is the Publishing Assistant for Del Rey/Spectra and Digital Content at the Random House Publishing Group. She is prone to Doctor Who rants, anime marathons, and extensive ramblings on Elven lineage and the creation of language in Middle-earth. When Logan isn’t working or hanging upside down at her aerials class, she can usually be found saving Hyrule or talking herself out of buying another pair of shoes.