In the fifth chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, the group arrives at Frodo’s new “house” to discuss the creepy thing that’s following them, and in the process, Frodo is shocked to discover just how much his friends know about him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER FIVE: A CONSPIRACY UNMASKED
Okay, this is fantastic. This book is already so much better than The Hobbit, in execution and in the writing, in the story and the characters, and this chapter is a clear sign that I am completely and utterly unprepared for what this book is going to do to me.
What I can tell at this point is that there’s a pervasive darkness settled over this story, and the joy and loyalty of the hobbits is what allows them to break through it. I always sort of figured there’d be a “good” ending for The Hobbit; to be fair, I was surprised by how creepy some scenes were, and I definitely didn’t expect that much death. But The Fellowship of the Ring has a much more constant sense of dread than the last book, and I think this chapter is a good indication of that. This is not a there-and-back journey, as Frodo says later, and this is not just a simply adventure. This is fucked up.
I get the chance to truly meet Merry Brandybuck in chapter five, and during that process, Tolkien shares the history of Buckland. I haven’t been spoiled for this book on nearly 99% of what’s in it, but I know that many people over the years assured me this was a dense and difficult experience. As a reader, I’m fairly patient, and the same goes for watching films or television. I don’t need things to rush into action, and I generally enjoy when a work of fiction invests time in setting up the plot and the characters. Essentially, I love a well-executed slow burn.
In regards to The Lord of the Rings, I’d heard that’s not what this is. I’d heard it was so dense that it was akin to reading the fifth chapter of Genesis. AND THIS HOBBIT BEGAT THAT HOBBIT AND THEN ORCS BEGAT MORE ORCS AND THEN BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. So, if I can be completely honest, when I read, “Long ago Gorhendad Oldbuck, head of the Oldbuck family,” I braced myself. This is it, I thought. Cue forty pages about the history of Buckland. And then that doesn’t happen. Instead, it’s actually a concise history, it’s entertaining, and it greatly helped me picture the place in my head. I was shocked! I suppose I’m being premature about this, as there might be a seventy-page info dump coming up, but I am really satisfied with the way that Tolkien writes this. To me, it doesn’t seem dated nearly as much as I anticipated.
It helps, of course, that the plot of this book is a lot more thrilling in its execution. I love that once the Ferry reaches the other side of the river, Sam notices that the same black-hooded figure on the bank they came from. What the hell? Tolkien actually uses the appearance to frame the remainder of the chapter with tension: it’s only going to be a matter of time before they hear the hoof beats again, even if there’s a river in his way this time. It makes everything that follows this that much more intense because there’s not much time available to just sit around and do nothing.
Yet there are still so many small, emotional moments for the characters amidst the threat of capture. The first is when Frodo arrives at his new house in Buckland; the experience is surreal for him because it’s all his stuff that Bilbo gave him, so there’s an element of familiarity to it all, but it’s in this strange new environment. It causes him to almost…I don’t know…regret what he’s doing? Here’s this nice home in Buckland, and he’s going to have to abandon it for an unknown period of time; he may very well never return from this journey. (I sort of doubt that, personally.)
But the moment passes and I can’t help but laugh that Frodo’s doubt is alleviated by bath time. Bless my beard, this book is wonderful. There’s triple bath time, there’s a feast of mushrooms, which I very much want to partake in, and then the group, including Fatty Bolger, gets down to the real shit. It’s unavoidable at this point, but the group has a lot of questions for Frodo about what the hell is going on, and why some black rider is following them and constantly asking for BAGGINS.
The genius of this is that I totally fell for it. I saw Frodo dodge the questions he was asked, trying to shift the blame to “Bilbo’s old adventures,” and that’s when Merry is the first to knock me flat out of shock:
‘I can’t keep it dark any longer. I have got something to tell you all. But I don’t know quite how to begin.’
‘I think I could help you,’ said Merry quietly, ‘by telling you some of it myself.’
WHAT. WHAT. Merry???? What does he know???
Turns out he knows everything. No, that’s not correct. Everyone knows everything. Frodo is not exactly the most clever and clandestine hobbit in the world, and he certainly is unable to hide this entire plan of his to leave the Shire from the three hobbits who know him best. I laughed so hard when Pippin was like, “DUDE, WE HEAR YOU MUTTERING ABOUT LOOKING UPON THE SHIRE FOR THE LAST TIME.” Oh god, this is the very best plot twist in the world.
Wait, nope. That’s not correct. Obviously, Frodo’s fears and concerns about leaving the Shire are magnified by this new revelation, so he insists he must leave soon; he completely resists the idea that anyone should come with him, even regretting the fact that Sam is coming.
‘This is no treasure-hunt, no there-and-back journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.’
‘Of course we understand,’ said Merry firmly. ‘That is why we have decided to come. We know the Ring is no laughing-matter; but we are going to do our best to help you against the Enemy.’
WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!?!?!!? HOW DOES HE KNOW ABOUT THIS??????
In one GENIUS moment of plotting, Tolkien reveals that EVERYONE IN THE GODDAMN ROOM HAS KNOWN ABOUT THE RING THE WHOLE FUCKING TIME. Do you realize how much I love this???? That means no time further in this book will be devoted to the discovery of Frodo’s true “quest.” It means that these characters are all on the same page regarding the future. It means that Merry saw Frodo disappear in front of his eyes.
!!!!!!!! THERE IS SO MUCH EXCITEMENT COURSING THROUGH MY VEINS RIGHT NOW !!!!!!!!!!
‘I kept my knowledge to myself, till this spring when things got serious. Then we formed our conspiracy; and as we were serious, too, and meant business, we have not been too scrupulous. You are not a very easy nut to crack, and Gandalf is worse. But if you want to be introduced to our chief investigator, I can produce him.’
‘Where is he?’ said Frodo, looking round, as if he expected a masked and sinister figure to come out of a cupboard.
‘Step forward, Sam!’ said Merry; and Sam stood up with a face scarlet up to the ears.
BLESS MY BEARD, THIS BOOK JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER. It’s interesting how Tolkien treats this; first of all, he allows Frodo to (rightly) feel a bit betrayed, unsure of how to react to this. His friend has been spying on him? Technically, yes, he has, but his intent in doing so was part curiosity and part fear. The truth is that Sam, Pippin, and Merry fear losing their very best friend, and I really adore the way that Sam expresses this:
‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid–but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’
The sound I made at this was disgusting. In just five chapters, I already wanted to reach through the pages and just hug all of these characters. I thought this whole book was simply Frodo’s journey, and that he’d meet new characters along the way. Instead, these four hobbits will head out towards whatever unnamed, unknown peril awaits them, all of them unsure what it is they are going to do. That’s both exciting and kind of terrifying, and they all acknowledge it. It’s part of the risk.
It’s made all the better, of course, that Frodo decides to leave in the morning (and not any later) and to take the way out of Buckland through the Old Forest, leaving behind Fatty as a safeguard of sorts. Apparently he’ll essentially pretend to be Frodo in a way to buy the group more time. For me, though, I just can’t wait to get to the Old Forest because YOU KNOW IT’S GOING TO BE CREEPY AS HELL THERE. Oh, I am so excited.
But chapter five ends with a confusing bit of foreshadowing. I mean that in the sense of my own ignorance of this novel. I don’t know anything about the plot from here on out, so this is genuinely new to me. That night, Frodo has a dream that I can only imagine is prophetic in some way, and I think it’s tied to the fact that the Ring is hanging around his neck. Wherever he is in this dream, he can hear the sea and see a tall white tower. I can’t even guess what the tower is. A lookout point? Do they even have lighthouses in Middle-earth? I don’t even know.
Wow, I am so unprepared for this, y’all.