As Strider leads our hobbits off the East Road, they begin to deduce his plan on how to get them to Rivendell without running into the Nazgul. He describes the Midgewater Marches, through which they’ll soon have to pass. But for now, it’s a great day, the sun is shining and all seems peachy.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p181-2, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Over the next few days, the Book gives very little description of the travels. This will happen from time to time (and does for the next week or so). Instead of writing about nothing, I’m going to hang out in Bree for a bit. You know, check the place out. Today, let’s talk about the squinty eyed guy, the ill-favored fellow from the Prancing Pony and Bill Ferny’s window. What a creepster, huh? Tolkien had a bit more to say about him than we can actually know from the story.
Our first introduction to this icky chap was just as Frodo, Sam and Pippin entered the Prancing Pony. He says loudly, to nobody in particular that more people will be coming north, adding: “If room isn’t found for them, they’ll find it for themselves. They’ve got a right to live, same as other folk.” True enough, but he was clearly being an obnoxious prick.
The next time we notice him is right after the Ring slipped on Frodo’s finger at the end of the Cow Jumped Over the Moon poem. He, with Bill Ferny (Bree’s own Archie Bunker), slipped out of the Inn under some clearly nefarious reasons. But who was he and what did he have to do with that nasty old Bill Ferny?
The early part of his tale is told in “The Hunt for the Ring” from Unfinished Tales. This is the “full” story as given by Gandalf to Frodo, the edited version appearing in Return of the King. The tale, while mostly describing the antics of the Nazgul, takes us back to the good ol’ days when Saruman the White was smuggling pipeweed in from the Shire.
Saruman had taken to smoking the halfling’s leaf and was secretly importing it, hoping that Gandalf wouldn’t notice. Saruman had before given Gandalf some rather bad-natured ribbing about the stuff. Through this (or at least during it), Saruman began to suspect that the Shire had something to do with the Ring, which he badly wanted. He was right, of course, but only accidentally so. He thought Gandalf was spending so much time in the Shire because of the Ring, when in reality, he just liked to hang out there.
And so Saruman hired agents, the most trusted of whom was “yet a ruffianly fellow, an outlaw driven from Dunland, where many said that he had Orc-blood.” This was our squint-eyed friend. Just as he returned to Saruman with a pile of leaf, he was ordered back to the Shire to see if anyone had left under suspicious circumstances. This was, then, probably a month or so before Frodo actually left. He was given a map, a list of names (including Baggins and Hobbiton) and various notes that Saruman had collected about the Shire.
So was he then just an agent of Saruman sent to Bree to suss out the hobbits? Not at all. While on the way to the Shire, and while crossing the Tharbad he was cornered by several Nazguls. They had just come from Saruman’s place, where he promised them Gandalf, but couldn’t deliver (Gandalf had just escaped – which happened on September 18, the Book is now in September 30). To stall them, assured them that he and Sauron were tight and told the Nazgul to go to the “Shire,” but purposely gave them some incredibly inaccurate directions.
Fortunately for the Nazgul, they met our Southerner. The Witch-king questioned him, and out of extreme terror, he betrayed Saruman, telling him where the Shire actually was located. This revealed to the Nazgul that Saruman wasn’t in league with Sauron, but in it for himself. This is how the Nazgul received the name “Baggins” as well as Hobbiton.
Rather than gut the wretched fellow, the Witch-king gave him a mission – go to Bree, which he knew would be an important stopover for the Ring. “He put therefore the Shadow of Fear on the Dunlending, and sent him on to Bree as an agent. He was the squint-eyed southerner at the Inn.” He had come into town with a set of Southerners.
We last see him after all in Bree think he had fled after stealing all of their horses. Butterbur insisted that since the group of Southerners brought him along, they should pay for the stolen horses. As it turned out, nobody in the group really knew who he was, but Butterbur pegged him as Bill Ferny’s friend. It’s never stated how Ferny and the squint-eyed fellow came to be friends, but it was probably just through his travels to and from the Shire – birds of a feather, etc.
Anyway, the very last we see of him is in Ferny’s house. Frodo saw him as they were leaving town: ‘So that’s where that southerner is hiding!’ he thought. ‘He looks more than half like a goblin.’
A Few Notes:
- Could Orcs and Men interbreed? One of Tolkien’s ideas for the origins of Orcs is that they were tortured Elves. And since Elves and Men can interbreed, I suppose I don’t see why Orcs and Men couldn’t, though I don’t think it’s ever actually addressed.
- Did you know that the definition for “squint” is different in American vs. British English? In American, it means to nearly close ones eyes. In England it indicates some sort of malady of the eye. Christopher Tolkien doesn’t know which his father meant.
- In the original manuscripts, at first, Bill Ferny and our squinty friend are one in the same. Tolkien later made them separate people, describing the fellow in question as “a southerner with a sallow face, and a sly and almost goblinish look in his slanting eyes.” In yet another, the Nazgul get Bill Ferny and the Southerner to break into the Inn. This whole series of chapters turned into what his son called a “spiderweb of arguments.” Thankfully, he toned it down and kept the ball rolling.
About the Photo
You can almost see this ill-favored fellow peeking out that window, huh?
Thoughts on the Exercising
Fastest time ever. I’m still panting. Holy crap. This is because we have a date to get to Pizza Pi – Seattle’s vegan pizza place. Since moving here over five years ago, we’ve only been to it twice. No idea why (actually, it’s because Sarah makes better pizza). Still, here we go. Think of it as… aww to hell with it, I just like to eat.
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 145
- 69 miles to Weathertop
- 315 miles to Rivendell
- 1,634 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Not quite to Archet. (map)