Apr. 10th, 2017

sartorias: (JRRT)
A few quick, scattered thoughts--my schedule is crowding up, but I mean to keep on with this reading, I am enjoying it so much.

As always, spoilers ahoy.

Parallels are so strong in storytelling and in poetry, and LOTR is full of them.

The meeting with Gildor is the first of them—the elves are kindly but treat the hobbits lightly, not seriously: he keeps back hard details lest the hobbits turn aside from their road, though he promises to spread the word. And does.

But what I’m getting at is the very end, when Frodo goes to the Gray Havens, Gildor is seen again in company with Galadriel and Elrond, rather than nameless Elves. Everything has changed, including the place of the hobbits: it’s clear that Bilbo and Frodo have an honored place among them.

That’s the longest of the parallels. Inside of that, rather like nesting parenthesis, through these early chapters, the four hobbits run out of the Shire, scared, and at the end, ride back fearless (three of them; Frodo is beyond fear), recognizing each point along the way before they scour the Shire of the last of evil.

So on to the next arc of chapters. Over the years, I’ve gathered that a lot of friends think the story begins with Bree, that is, when the hobbits meet Strider, the first man.

For me, the story begins with the first introduction of the weird, in chapter six. We got glimpses of it before—Gandalf’s amazing fireworks, the meeting with the elves.

But in chapter six, when the hobbits head into the old forest, the trees attack them, nearly smothering Merry until Tom Bombadil comes to the rescue. Many of my friends over the years have said that they hated the Tom Bombadil portion, or considered it unnecessary. That pains me, as I love this section so very much, and also consider it very important. Tom Bombadil is magic. Goldberry (who is no slouch in the magic department herself) says he “is.” That matches with references to magic later on, I think in Lothlorien, when the hobbits ask about magic and the elves say something to the effect, what’s that?

Tom Bombadil’s name is musical, dancing along. Goldberry is the river’s daughter—and considering English mythological figures in rivers (very scary and powerful they are) it’s clear that she’s a splendid match for Tom. When she says her farewell, she does it in such a way that the hobbits see the entire landscape before them, as if it’s eternal summer. It’s one of the loveliest passages in these early chapters.

The hobbits, and their ponies, are safe—and I don’t think it any accident that here, without at all understanding the meaning, Frodo has a dream:

Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him in a swift sunrise.

The first time I hit the very ending chapter and reflected back to that, it broke me down completely.

The hobbits take off, the ponies having had as good a time at Tom’s and Goldberry’s. Again, we get tiny glimpses of the hobbits, but the narrative voice hums with vigor in describing what the hobbits see:

Northward beyond the dwindling downs the land ran away in flats and swellings of gray and green and pale earth-colors, until it faded into a featureless and shadowy distance. Eastward the Barrow-Downs rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into a guess: it was no more than a guess of blue and a remote white glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them, out of memory and old tales, of the high distant mountains.

The weirdness of the barrow wights luring the hobbits into their twilight existence, then dressing them like princes and laying them out with weaponry takes us into the weird from a totally different direction.

The language changes: suddenly a song began: a cold murmur, rising and falling. The voice seemed far away and immeasurably dreary, sometimes high in the air and thin, sometimes like a low moan from the ground. Out of the formless stream of sad but horrible songs, strings of words would now and again shape themselves: grim, hard, cold words, heartless and miserable. The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered.

Who are the barrow wights? Do they take only living people? Or is there some weird magic lingering around the dead that craves company? That mystery is never solved, but its sinister magic fades before Tom’s return, and he sets them on the road to Bree.

May 2017

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