In the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins arranges the most spectacular party imaginable in order to pass his wealth on to his nephew and heir, Frodo Baggins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
Oh, I am truly, truly excited to finally start this project. I had a lot of fun with The Hobbit, so I have less of an expectation to dislike this book. Instead, I’m actually super excited to get a chance to learn why so many millions of people (and all my close personal friends, who are flabbergasted I’ve avoided this for so long) are in love with J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. The only thing I’ve allowed people to spoil me on is the opinion that this book is better-written and darker than The Hobbit, and I’m perfectly okay knowing this. You know why? Because this is what I’ve managed to retain from pop culture regarding The Lord of the Rings.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT LORD OF THE RINGS
- You can’t walk into Mordor.
- There are twins?
- One of them likes potatoes a lot? I honestly am so stumped as to why this is a thing at all and what the fuck have you done fandom.
- Gandalf is in it
- There’s a hobbit named Frodo, and Elijah Wood plays him.
- I’ve heard that John Noble, who plays the brilliant Walter Bishop on Fringe, is in one or some of the movies! I don’t know who he plays.
- There’s a character named Legolas and Orlando Bloom plays him and his name was always distracting because I’m a huge LEGO fan and I’m like IS HE MADE OF LEGOS. He’s not and that upsets me.
- You know, I spent time intellectualizing LEGOS a couple weeks ago, especially since I’ve had a resurgence in my obsession (AKA I can actually afford like one set a month), and I realized that because my brain is spatially-challenged, LEGOs allow me to feel like I can build and construct things with my hands. I’ve always had a problem with arranging things in physical space, and I think that’s where my clumsiness comes from. I always feel so accomplished when I complete a model.
- WELL OKAY THAT WAS FUN. Um…Gollum is in this? I think?
- There’s a Shire.
- There’s a ring? And someone is lord of it? Is it the same ring that Bilbo took from Gollum?
It’s weird that I’m starting two HUGE fandom-heavy properties (LotR here, and Buffy over on Mark Watches) and I can’t seem to recall learning anything about either of them. I’ve tried to think about why that is. Why don’t I know jack shit about The Lord of the Rings? The book was already huge in the group of friends I hung out with in junior high and high school, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I avoided it. I was already a nerd; teachers loved me, I was a straight-A student (except for one damn semester in AP Physics GODDAMN IT), I was in nerdy-as-hell clubs, and that’s just what I was known as. Did I want to get into high fantasy and make myself look like more than the nerd I already was? I had to struggle with this bizarre identity of mine, because I was a hardcore kid who was also a gigantic loser to the social population of my school. And I had to straddle those two worlds, as someone who grew up listening to hardcore, punk, and metal and wanting to be accepted by those people, and desiring to be a good student and succeed.
It involved me making conscious decisions to avoid certain things because I was so concerned about how I was perceived by others. Which is what a lot of people do in high school, isn’t it? Hell, lots of us (myself included) do care how we portray ourselves to the world in different ways, but I cared in ways back then to avoid getting beat up between classes. I think that’s a pretty reasonable justification. Plus, if I’d read this before, I COULDN’T DO THIS NOW I WIN IN THE END.
But I’m glad to take the chance to read The Lord of the Rings in one go. There will be no breaks between “books.” (Yes, I know this is one single book, but I won’t do anything but this until it’s done.) I’m committing to doing this for at least a third of 2012. On top of that, I will hold liveblogs on the weekend after each of the “books” that we finish so that I can finally see those monstrosities. AREN’T THEY LIKE 324 HOURS EACH. oh god i am so excited.
Shall we? SHALL WE GET ON WITH THIS???
CHAPTER ONE: A LONG-EXPECTED PARTY
The first thing I picked up after reading this chapter is that the writing has improved; it’s leagues above The Hobbit, though I’ll miss the weird first-person interjections from Tolkien. (Don’t you dare expect me not to find a way to force one of those father-son reviews in again, though. I’LL DO IT AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME.) But I was completely impressed by the improved pacing, a lot of fantastically-written passes, and the immediate change in the tone.
But what I liked the most was that we start things off with a familiar character.
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
I swear to you, I had no idea he was going to be in this book! THIS IS SO TERRIBLY EXCITING TO ME. I just expected to be thrust into a brand new situation with new characters. I don’t know why I thought The Lord of the Rings took place hundreds of years after the events in The Hobbit, but I must admit to smiling every time there was a reference to that book. The idea that Bilbo has just been this weird, odd character in the Shire for sixty years straight just fills me with so much joy. It’s easy to think back to his characterization at the beginning of The Hobbit and see all the changes since then, but I mostly latch on to the fact that he’s happy. He is perfectly joyous to be different, to have gone on that adventure with Bilbo and the dwarves, and to have lived a life full of discovery and thrills.
Honestly, though, it’s Bilbo’s eccentricities that make me feel so wonderful. I get the sense that hobbit society has a very well-defined rules; some of those are spelled out in The Hobbit, and even more are given to us in this first chapter. But Tolkien is a lot more subtle than he was before, and we’re left to figure out how hobbits react to one another and what we can expect from them. They enjoy extravagance, that’s for sure. They have an entire culture built around the concept of wealth, but it’s not at all similar to what we have in our world. (On that note, are there poor hobbits? Can hobbits be homeless? THESE ARE PRESSING QUESTIONS I MUST HAVE ANSWERED.) They love gifts; they love fireworks more than fans of Larry the Cable Guy. (Which is not an insult to fireworks, for the record, because sweet summer child do I love fireworks, but they were the only social group who might base a fanaticism around them that I could think of.) And they love eating.
Oh, how they love eating. And now I’m hungry again.
But let’s back up a bit. Very quickly, we’re introduced to Frodo Baggins, a young hobbit that Bilbo adopted as his heir, which made me shriek with delight because that meant the Sackville-Bagginses were forever doomed to never inherit anything that belonged to Bilbo. And look, I don’t care if I’m falling right into where Tolkien wants me: they are gross hobbits because THEY WANTED TO KEEP BILBO’S STUFF AFTER HE WAS CLEARLY NOT DEAD. Oh, no joy over his non-death? Then no inheritance for you. That’s how it works!
Anyway, even right from the very start, Tolkien introduces a small plot that is fascinating and entertaining, even if there are only hints towards what The Fellowship of the Ring is actually about. This epic get-together and birthday party that Bilbo plans on holding suddenly grasps me as well, and I start wanting to know if the rumors associated with it are true. Is he going to throw a spectacle of a party for himself and for Frodo’s coming-of-age? (OMG you are not an adult until you’re thirty-three in hobbit society? THAT IS BRILLIANT.) How is it going to affect the other hobbits? Tolkien gives us bits and pieces of the reaction from other citizens of this part of town, and I love how it manifests in the form of gossip. Plus, then I get introduced to Ham Gamgee, who is rather lovely in his own way. Of course, I’m biased because he defends Bilbo against the ridiculous notions others try to put forth, making sure it’s clear that he doesn’t care how queer the hobbit is: he’s a fantastic friend and neighbor to have. Do you know how much I enjoyed reading that? Because it’s true! Who cares how strange a person is? If they’re a good friend, that’s all that should matter.
The Day (I adore that it’s capitalized by Tolkien, as if it’s some sort of national holiday) approaches rapidly, and it only gets stranger. I felt a burst of happiness when a wagon rolls up and it’s clearly the dwarves who survived the adventures of The Hobbit. (Possibly more?) AND THEN GANDALF IS WITH THEM oh god THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING.
And we finally get a hint at what’s going on, and it is not at all what I expected.
‘You mean to go on with your plan then?’
‘I do. I made up my mind months ago, and I haven’t changed it.’
‘Very well. It is no good saying any more. Stick to your plan–your whole plan, mind–and I hope it will turn out for the best, for you, and for all of us.’
‘I hope so. Anyway I mean to enjoy myself on Thursday, and have my little joke.’
‘Who will laugh, I wonder?’ said Gandalf, shaking his head.
‘We shall see,’ said Bilbo.
He’s holding the party as a joke??? Or at least some aspect of it will be a joke??? Oh, Bilbo, you lovable troll. Now I’m obsessed and it’s only like page six. THIS IS SO AWESOME.
And so the spectacle continues. I really adore the pace at which this unfolds. So many people have told me that The Lord of the Rings is fairly dense for a novel, and I certainly am anticipating it to be. But if this is the way in which he describes things, I’m kind of okay with it. I mean, Tolkien isn’t even addressing the main plot yet, and I’m entirely stricken by this story, eager to know how this is going to unfold. The man’s narration here is a bit coy, as if he’s holding back a huge smile because he know Bilbo’s grand secret. When the party arrives, the tension becomes unbearable. (That’s a compliment.) And what a party it is! The writing is incredibly energetic at this point as Tolkien jumps from one event to another. There’s gift-giving for the children in the neighborhood. There are songs. (I mean this wouldn’t be a story involving hobbits if there weren’t any songs, right?) There’s food for lunch, then there’s tea, then there are FIREWORKS. Also can we discuss how Gandalf is the best friend ever:
The lights went out. A great smoke went up. It shaped itself like a mountain seen in the distance, and began to glow at the summit. It spouted green and scarlet flames. Out flew a red-golden dragon–not life-size, but terribly life-like: fire came from his jaws, his eyes glared down; there was a roar, and he whizzed three times over the heads of the crowd. They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.
This is just so touching to me, okay? It’s a celebration of the wonderful life of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit from Bag End who may have lived a life of mediocrity if he’d not gone on that adventure with Gandalf. (Well….he was tricked/manipulated to go on that adventure, to be fair. STILL.) It’s beautiful, okay? WILL SOMEONE DO THIS FOR ME ONE DAY. Wait, what would that entail? Fireworks that explode into….me discovering Hagrid? Or maybe falling onto the stage at LeakyCon. That’s a wonderful way to commemorate someone’s life, isn’t it?
So, the time arrives when Bilbo’s private party of just one hundred forty-four guests gets to hear his post-dinner speech. Of course, I just wanted to know whyBilbo was doing this and what his little “joke” was that he’d been planning for quite some time.
Why was it important that a Gross of hobbits be present? What did Gandalf have to do with this? As Bilbo got into the meat of his speech, he says the best thing ever:
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. This was unexpected and rather difficult. There was some scattered clapping, but most of them were trying to work it out and see if it came to a compliment.
HAHAHAHAHA HOLY SHIT, THAT IS SPECTACULAR. Insult people by confusing them about whether they just were insulted or not. But it continues! He states that inviting a Gross of hobbits was merely a number, offending guests who think it’s rude just to meet some sort of bizarre quota. So at this point, he’s pretty much loss the entire crowd, and it certainly doesn’t help that he makes references to Esgaroth and a barrel and the Long Lake and all these things most hobbits have never seen or experienced. But it was becoming clear to me that this entire affair wasn’t for any of the hobbits at all. This was Bilbo’s day, and he was going to end it exactly as he desired.
He spoke this last word so loudly and suddenly that everyone sat up who still could. I regret to announce that–though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you–this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!
He stepped down and vanished. There was a blinding flash of light, and the guests all blinked. When they opened their eyes Bilbo was nowhere to be seen. One hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits sat back speechless.
WHAT THE HOLY HELL IS GOING ON. His joke was to DISAPPEAR. First of all, HOW CAN HE EVEN DO THAT. Where did he go? WHAT THE. Predictably, it sends the hobbits into a furor; most of them are upset and think whatever “joke” Bilbo just pulled is in bad taste. Some believe he’s gone out of his mind, and others believe it’s just Bilbo being weird for the sake of it. Tolkien briefly switches over to the perspective of Frodo Baggins, who’s left behind and faced with an endless stream of questions about his uncle, all of which he either ignores or defers.
Of course, I somehow forgot that Bilbo had a ring that made him invisible. WOOPS. That was an easy one. IT’S RIGHT THERE. But there’s still a joke here, and one that does have a purpose beyond simply doing it for the hell of it: he really is leaving forever. Gandalf arrives to see him off, and their entire conversation is one of the more confusing things I’ve read. I feel like there’s something unspoken or assumed here that I’m missing out on, as if this is a continuation of a conversation I wasn’t around to have. Plus, both of them just say weird shit. I’m not surprised that Bilbo wants a long holiday, and who could blame him? The chance to escape life in the Shire and the hope of finding some new (albeit not that dangerous) adventure to have is intriguing, especially for someone like Bilbo.
But why does Bilbo frame this as if he feels something wrong about his life? Does he regret staying in the Shire the last sixty years? What does he mean by saying he feels “all thin, sort of stretched“? He hadn’t been doing much of anything in his home. I mean, I understand his desire to see the mountains again. It makes a whole lot of sense.
And then comes the issue of the ring. Lord, Bilbo really doesn’t want to give it up, and Gandalf really insists that he should give it to Frodo. Um….why are mom and dad fighting again? Look, maybe I’m reading too much into this (LOL WHEN HAVE I NOT DONE THAT), but I seriously feel like I’m not being told something about this argument they have. I get that the ring is amazing and anyone would be reluctant to give it up, but Bilbo at one point calls it MY PRECIOUS. um what are you doing Bilbo. Also, I call bullshit on Gandalf’s “professionally interested” line. lol dude you cannot bluff worth anything. But seriously, this situation escalates extremely fast, doesn’t it? Suddenly Gandalf is threatening to uncloak himself, which frankly sounds like he’s going to flash Bilbo, but that makes no sense. And as Gandalf gets more persistent and serious, Bilbo becomes more and more defensive. WHAT IS GOING ON EVERYONE? (That’s rhetorical, obviously.) It takes some well-placed guilt-tripping from Gandalf for Bilbo to leave the ring behind:
‘I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.’ He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled.
WELL PLAYED, GANDALF. WELL PLAYED. Though that only partially works, as Gandalf eventually has to snatch it off the ground after Biblo drops it. There’s a weird sense of sadness when Bilbo does finally leave, and now I sort of think we won’t ever see him again. But why was Gandalf so upset about the ring? AHHH I KNOW NOTHING NOTHING AT ALL.
Frodo concerns himself in the days that follow with handling Bilbo’s inheritance, doling out the proper items to the right hobbits. Again, Bilbo is a trolling genius, since he gives Lobelia Sackville-Baggins the very silver spoon set she was stealing from while he was on his journey. GOD I LOVE HIM FOREVER. Especially since just a few pages later, the Sackville-Bagginses prove to be some of the worst, unthankful hobbits in the entirety of existence, insisting that Frodo is now to blame for their poor inheritance. You know, it might be because you stole from a man you thought was dead but he was alive and you still stole from him. And I bet y’all smell, too. HOW’S THAT. Seriously, they are so rude!
‘Why didn’t you go too? You don’t belong here; you’re no Baggins–you–you’re a Brandybuck!’
‘Did you hear that, Merry? That was an insult, if you like,’ said Frodo as he shut the door on her.
‘It was a compliment,’ said Merry Brandybuck, ‘and so, of course, not true.’
Oh, bless. I already love Merry Brandybuck and I know nothing about him.
Before this chapter ends (as does this exhausting day), Gandalf shows up once again being all *~mysterious~* about the ring that Frodo has now inherited. Not only does he warn him to be careful, but he cuts his stay a week short to go…well, I imagine he’s off to find out more about where it came from. And the ending doesn’t make me feel too great about whatever it is that’s happening either:
He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he was carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.
Okay, I’m hooked. What the hell is going on?