In the third chapter of the second book of The Fellowship of the Ring, the group of Nine depart south and it takes all of five pages for everything to be an utter disaster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER THREE: THE RING GOES SOUTH
Oh, I’m in love. I am so in love. I love how real shit has gotten, and that’s admitting that shit has barely gotten real. I love the Nine, and I love that this suddenly feels like a fantasy road trip??? Please tell me I am not the only one! I love how hopeless this gets in very little time, and I love that we get to see another side to normally-brave and courageous characters. For instance, seeing Gandalf admit defeat is so much better than him telling us about it.
Well, I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. But I’m just so full of excite and I cannot help it.
Anyway, I immediately find out at the beginning of chapter three that Pippin and Merry weren’t being held prisoner by Barrow-wights or anything. They simply weren’t invited to the council. I’LL STICK TO MY CONSPIRACY THEORY. MY HEAD CANON. It is adorable to me that Pippin very quickly insults Elrond for not letting him and Merry come, and for “rewarding” Sam for spying on the whole thing.
‘Rewards!’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t imagine a more severe punishment. You are not thinking what you are saying: condemned to go on this hopeless journey, a reward?’
Touché, but I do understand that Pippin is not just going to abandon Frodo after all the traveling they’ve done together. He’s rather forceful about it, too, even when Gandalf and Bilbo show up. PIPPIN I LOVE YOU.
‘You were wrong,’ said Gandalf. ‘You were inattentive. I had already heard of it from Gwaihir. If you want to know, the only real eye-openers, as you put it, were you and Frodo; and I was the only one that was not surprised.’
Getting real sassy on us, are you Gandalf? Let Bilbo have his moment.
Unfortunately, no one really finds out anything for quite some time; Elrond smartly sends Elves out as scouts before anyone leaves for Mordor. So they wait. It’s not long, and I certainly didn’t expect there to be any wait at all, but it’s what was decided by Elrond. Dude has a lot of control, doesn’t he? Is it because they’re in Rivendell that he’s making most, if not all, of the decisions? Is there any sort of hierarchy in a social sense for creatures who are different species? I know now that there’s an order for wizards, since Saruman is “above” Gandalf, but…there’s really no government of any form in Middle-earth. And that’s kind of fascinating to me! There don’t seem to be any laws or anything. It’s all just based on some sort of unspoken social contract of personal morality.
oh god i love world building did you know that DID YOU KNOW THAT EVERYONE
As it turns out, though, the group is waiting to hear back from Elrond’s scouts and Aragorn about what happened to the Ringwraiths. Were they truly swept from their horses, or are they hiding? Again, I’m fascinated by the fact that the way Middle-earth was created made it so that this even has to be a thing that happens. I commented before about how communication works in this world, and this is another example of something that we would never understand in this context: it takes months for this information to get back to Elrond. (Well, technically just short of two months, but still.) The time that passes during this novel is just unheard of to me. I actually kind of like it, to be honest, because it gives this a much more epic scope to the story. This is not a quick, one week adventure. Like The Hobbit, an extremely long period of time passes not only between plot events, but in the book as a whole. (I’m guessing? I mean, I still haven’t even gotten to books two and three and I imagine that’s not going to cover the span of a mere month.)
This chapter starts off with a whole lot of excitement. I honestly think it’s intentional because of how much sheer awful distress comes after it. It’s like Tolkien is specifically teasing us with the brilliance of the group that’s assembled for Mordor, and then he drops some heavy realism on us. So, remember the awesomeness of this:
‘In the meantime you should try and forget your troubles, Frodo. I do not know if I can do anything to help you; but I will whisper this in your ears. Someone said that intelligence would be needed in the party. He was right. I think I shall come with you.’
So great was Frodo’s delight at this announcement that Gandalf left the window-sill, where he had been sitting, and took off his hat and bowed. ‘I only said I think I shall come. Do not count on anything yet.’
HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE GANDALF AFTER THIS. But keeping this in mind, it’s totally intriguing to me how much this is contrasted with what ends chapter three. The scouts and Aragorn return with what is, at least temporarily, good news: it seems that the Black Riders have disappeared, which probably means they had to return back to Sauron. Obviously, I don’t believe they’re gone or that they’ll be gone for long, but it provides the impetus for the group to leave Rivendell. God, I just love the scene where Elrond gathers the hobbits before him to assemble the group that will accompany Frodo to dispose of the Ring.
‘The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil. With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours.’
It’s so brilliantly poetic: nine to go against the Nine. It’s also far larger than I thought Frodo’s party would be! I only expected perhaps his three hobbit friends and Aragorn. Instead, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir come along as well and THIS ALL MAKES ME SO EXCITED. Oh god, I get to spend time with these characters and I’ll get to grow to love them forever and it’s just going to be so wonderful! Of course, I was most ecstatic that Pippin not only stood up to Elrond, but that Gandalf supported him, stressing the importance of friendship over sheer practicality. I love friends THIS IS WONDERFUL.
They don’t leave immediately and many preparations are made before they do, including a whole lot of forging of swords just in case. I do enjoy that this is specifically not a battle. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there will be one, but it’s something I didn’t anticipate at all. In a way, it’s an interesting parallel to The Hobbit. It’s a journey with an uncertain destination beyond a place, and it’s entirely possible that no one will return alive. But there’s no greater callback to The Hobbit than the fact that Bilbo gives away his mail and Sting to Frodo as a form of goodbye. I did find it incredibly touching, but not nearly as gutting as the song he sings to his nephew. I mean, can I just put this part here?
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.
I genuinely think this is one of the saddest things I have ever read. Bilbo is being left behind, and he’s certain that he is nearing the end of his life as well. But that last stanza references something else: he is still longing for one last adventure, and he’ll long for that until he dies. He wants to hear the stumbling dwarves at his doorstep, a huge wizard waiting to greet him with a smile and an idea.
Hold me. Just hold me.
Now I think we won’t see Bilbo again. I really should stop making predictions like this because I’m rarely right, but there is a distinct finality to his goodbye to Frodo. And it’s not just for Bilbo, either. Sam is well aware how the entire group isn’t joyously heading out into the wilderness. (Well, Bill the horse seems pretty content. Why can’t he talk?) It’s here and for the rest of the chapter that Tolkien chips away at any sense of hope or victory. It’s when I personally became aware of just how much I had left to read. It was like it all stretched out before me. This was not going to be an easy mission at all. In particular, I like that even the smallest detail for Sam (a bit of rope) causes him such despair. The idea of the walk to Mordor is just so inconceivable to him that he can only focus on what he knows. He can process rope. He can’t really cope with what he and his friends are walking into.
And so the group of Nine leave Rivendell with a somber attitude. So much for the joy we started off with. It’s essentially relentless at this point. I want to avoid doing any sort of play-by-play at this point because y’all know this way better than I do. It’s fascinating and depressing at the same time, but the journey from Rivendell is one horrible thing after another, and I kind of love Tolkien for this? It’s such a rad way to convey to us the difficulties these nine characters are going to face. There’s no respite, and there’s no simplicity, and this is right from the start.
There’s boredom and dreary weather. There are mountain ranges that loom in the distance, a constant reminder of what’s ahead of them. There is the eerie sensation of silence that Merry, Strider, and Gandalf experience, one that is so complete that it’s practically telling them all that something is wrong. Even worse, on a night where Sam and Aragorn are keeping watch over camp, the silence returns, and this time the two spot darkness. Something–it’s unexplained what it is at first–flies by in the South, like a black cloud. Aragorn then realizes it’s a gigantic flock of birds, and they soon come rushing over their heads. Are they messengers? Are they fleeing danger? ARE THEY CREEPY AS HELL?
They also can’t light a fire, despite the cold and lack of warm meals, because the risk of being spotted is far too high. Oh, and then shadows start passing over them, and they can feel them, and then WHY IS THIS HAPPENING I DON’T LIKE IT. Of course this isn’t enough for Tolkien! He must torture these characters even further than this. He adds the onset of winter. Yeah, they all have to walk up the Redhorn Gate in the winter. It’s interesting to me because Tolkien only gives his characters poor decisions. They can try to brave the winter through the Redhorn Gate, or they could turn back, or they could try a pass none of them really knows about, and it leaves them all with a buffet of terrible. At one point, Gandalf suggests a “secret” way that avoids the pass of Caradhras, and it frightens Aragorn. WHAT THE FUCK CAN FRIGHTEN ARAGORN??? Is there something up that pass that will force him to bathe?
I AM KIDDING I LOVE YOU ARAGORN. Whatever frightens the dude, we don’t find out. But before they try to ascend the mountain pass, Boromir is quick to remind them just how terrible this is going to be:
‘I was born under the shadow of the White Mountains and know something of journeys in the high places. We shall meet bitter cold, if no worse, before we come down on the other side. It will not help us to keep so secret that we are frozen to death.’
Good point. What should they do, Boromir?
‘When we leave here, where there are still a few trees and bushes, each of us should carry a faggot of wood, as large as he can bear.’
Good thing Gandalf’s with you. OH SICK BURN. Also, I just need to point out that both the words “faggot” and “bear” are in that sentence. GAY PROPGANDA, I SWEAR.
Okay, I’m back to being an adult again. I personally love snow, but I must admit that this chapter makes me….well, I still like it a whole bunch, but this makes me wary. I can’t imagine hiking up a mountain pass as the snow falls harder and harder, as the cold starts to permeate everything, and they all start to wonder aloud if this is the work of the Enemy. Shit, Sauron can control snow? Why doesn’t he just start an avalanche? Oh, right, there’s still hundreds of pages left.
The Company halted suddenly, as if they had come to an agreement without any words being spoken. They heard eerie noises in the darkness round them. It may have been only a trick of the wind in the cracks and gullies of the rocky wall, but the sounds were those of shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter. Stones began to fall from the mountain-side, whistling over their heads, or crashing on the path beside them.
!!!!!!!! WHAT IS GOING ON !!!!!!!!! Gimli thinks this is the work of Caradhras, and it’s never explained who this is??? Unless I missed it, which I fully admit may have happened. Are they some sort of demon who lives in the pass or something? A lesser god? Not really sure, but it’s possible it’s Sauron, Caradhras, both, or neither of them dropping so much snow and cold on the Company.
Seriously, this so quickly becomes an act of desperation, and I swear that I don’t survive off of evil feelings and depression, but I really do like that the first thing these characters do away from Rivendell is ultimately a failure. Gandalf’s flask of miruvor doesn’t keep them warm enough for long. The fire they build eventually fades away. Gimli finally suggests that they retreat, and they all agree. AND EVEN THAT IS A DISASTER! They try to organize a method for someone to create a path down in the snow, but that doesn’t work very well either. Well, that is until this:
Legolas watched them for a while with a smile upon his lips, and then he turned to the others. ‘The strongest must seek a way, say you? But I say: let a ploughman plough, but choose an otter for swimming, and for running light over grass and leaf, or over snow–an Elf.’
AND THEN THE DUDE JUST GLIDES OVER THE SNOW BY RUNNING SUPER FAST. Oh my god I NEED TO SEE THIS RE-CREATED ON FILM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It’s both the most amazing and the most hilarious thing in my own head. But it works! And Legolas’s surprise revelation about his skill as an Elf brings about the only truly good news in chapter three: he’s found a way back down, and the snow finally thins out below them. With some help of Boromir and Aragorn, WHO CARRY THE HOBBITS ON THEIR BACK AND THIS IS SO GODDAMN ADORABLE TO ME, the Company dejectedly makes their way back down the mountain.
Look, it blows my mind that this is how chapter three ends:
A cold wind flowed down behind them, as they turned their backs on the Redhorn Gate, and stumbled wearily down the slope. Caradhras had defeated them.
THEY. LOST. At the very beginning!!!! Oh god, if this can happen now, what the hell is going to happen afterwards??? I don’t think I’ve ever felt such sheer glee over being so goddamn unprepared, everyone. This is the best.