Our hobbits and Strider are still sloshing their way through the Midgewater Marshes, being bitten by bugs and generally having a miserable go at it.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p183 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Since today’s reading is nill – we’re now in a swamp montage – I thought I’d take a look at this Strider fellow. Just who is he?
Of course, we all know that he’s Aragorn, son of Arathorn, leader of the Dunedain and future King Elessar of Gondor, and that’s great and all, but who was Strider before he was Strider?
We’re first introduced to him by Butterbur at the Prancing Pony. He was one of the “wandering folk – Rangers we call them.” Strider rarely spoke, but would sometimes tell stories. He was also known for disappearing for long stretches of time. He apparently got the name “Strider,” because he “goes about at a great pace on his long shanks; though he don’t tell nobody what cause he has to hurry.”
Through the movies and book, we know pretty much everything we’re supposed to know about Strider at this point in the story. As Aragorn, he’s got a history, of course, but we’ll get to that another day. Today, I wanted to dip back into the earlier manuscripts (via Return of the Shadow) and see how Tolkien got to the final draft, as well as see how Trotter became Aragorn.
As I’ve mentioned before, Strider was at first a hobbit named Trotter. Tolkien wrote about him in the First Phase of manuscripts. First he wrote it in pencil, which he then went over in ink, making changes where he could. Mostly, this text was about Bree. He slid into the Prancing Pony scene and we meet Trotter through Butterbur, who uses nearly the same words as in the final text.
The explanation of his name is different, though: “…but he’s known round here as Trotter. You can hear him coming along the road in those shoes: clitter-clap – when he walks on a path, which isn’t often. Why does he wear’em? Well, that I can’t say.” Butterbur does on to mention the “Rangers,” making these lines the only significant different between Trotter and Strider.
That and the fact that he, and Butterbur (and Bill Furny) were all hobbits. Most of the conversation between Frodo (named Bingo at this point) and Trotter is identical to the final draft. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine such a hobbit as this Trotter, yet here he is – more Tookish than any we’ve seen before.
The backstory with Gandalf is a bit different at this point in the telling. Trotter overheard Gandalf talking to a couple of Elves about some hobbits traveling with ponies (Frodo and company) and deduced his plan – “A bit incautious of Gandalf, I must say.” Trotter then followed Gandalf into the Prancing Pony, keeping an eye on him until he left the next day.
Unlike in the final version, Gandalf and Trotter were not at first in cahoots. He also saw the Nazgul following Gandalf, but managed to stay out of their way, as well. At this point, nobody seemed to know that Trotter was, as he called it, “putting two and two together.”
And then, in a very Strider-like way, this hobbit, Trotter, offered (in the third person) to take them some distance: “Tomorrow you will have to go swiftly and secretly (if possible). But Trotter can take you by ways that are little trod. Will you have him?”
In the final version, it’s Butterbur that gives Frodo Gandalf’s letter – much too late. In the first version, it’s Trotter, who now admits that he “gave old Gandalf quite a start when I popped up from behind the hedge.” They apparently talked of many things, including Bilbo and Frodo and the Bilbo’s ring (Tolkien had not yet figured out that Bilbo’s ring was all that important). The note, of course, is less urgent. Gandalf warns Frodo not to use the Ring, and not to stop in Bree. He wasn’t to move through fog or mist or travel at night. Gandalf was going to Weathertop, and hoped to meet up with them there. It also contains a bit of a description of Trotter.
“I am giving this [letter] to a ranger (wild hobbit) known as Trotter: he is dark, long-haired, has wooden shoes! You can trust him. He is an old friend of mine and knows a great deal. He will guide you to Weathertop and further if necessary. Push along!”
In the next draft (not the next writing phase), Tolkien changed the letter-bearer to Butterbur, and things fell more in line with the final version. Trotter then becomes a mere guide, not a cohort of Gandalf’s (probably).
During the Second Phase of the writing, there were many changes, “but not at all in the direction of the final story,” as Christopher Tolkien put it. There’s really no way to cover that here as I’ve droned on so long about this already. So I’ll save the Second and Third Phases concerning Trotter for another day (not tomorrow).
About the Photo
For some reason, Trotter strikes me as a Texas cowboy – he even heads up the Rangers. With Strider, there’s the knowledge that he’s part of something royal and bigger, but with Trotter the hobbit, he’s just one of the wild men. Maybe Tolkien would have seen him as more of a Robin Hood sort of figure, but I see him as a Texas Ranger from the old West. And absolutely nothing says Old West Texas like Monument Valley, Utah! Check out any John Ford film about Texas and it’ll be set in Utah. That’s just how it works. This shot was taken from John Ford Point
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 190
- 24 miles to Weathertop
- 270 miles to Rivendell
- 1,589 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Marshes! Marshes! Marshes! (map)