After crossing the East Road, our Hobbits and Strider, the proto-Fellowship, make their way across a wild and pathless slope full of bushes and stunted trees. “It was a cheerless land, and their journey was slow and gloomy.”
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
For the next week or so, as the hobbits tramp uneasily across a barren land, let’s continue to take a look at the happenings at Weathertop from the night before. When I read the passage of the attack, something about the Ring struck me. Tolkien mentions that three parties had very different reactions to it.
When the Nazgul attacked, Merry and Pippin threw themselves on the ground out of fear and weren’t part of the picture. Sam, who “shrank to Frodo’s side,” was just as scared. Frodo’s fear, which was as great as the other hobbits’, was overtaken by the urge to put on the Ring. His fear was enough to make him shake and to freeze him, but the Ring’s call was even stronger.
In the first draft (as given in The Return of the Shadow), which is strikingly similar, Tolkien goes on to explain a bit more of what was going on in Frodo’s mind:
“It [the temptation to put on the Ring] seized him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf, but he felt a desperate desire to disregard all warnings. Something seemed to be compelling him; he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escaping, or of doing anything, good or bad. He simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger. He could not speak. He struggled for a while, but resistance became unbearable; and at last he slowly drew out the chain, unfastened the Ring, and put it on the forefinger of his left hand.”
Just as Frodo was about to slip on the Ring, Sam looked at him “as if he knew that his master was in some great trouble.” Frodo was in trouble, and it probably didn’t take a genius to figure this out. And then Frodo vanished.
Sam “to his horror” saw it happen. One second, Frodo was there, petrified before him, and the next, he was gone. This had happened once before at Tom Bombadil’s house, but this was incredibly different. Just as Frodo disappeared, a black shadow (one of the Nazgul) rushed past him. He heard Frodo’s voice, seemingly from far away, saying strange words (like “O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!”), but then it was quiet and he saw nothing more.
When Frodo slipped on the Ring, everything around him – the land, the sky, the rocks, the whole of the scenery, remained the same. The Ringwraiths, once seen only as shadows “became terribly clear.” He was even able to see beneath their black wrappings. The Nazgul were clothed in real cloaks made of real fabric. This was because otherwise they were not perceptible by anyone.
Under these cloaks, Frodo saw that they actually wore long gray robes. They had gray hair and “helms of silver.” Their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, actually wore a crown and came at Frodo armed with a long sword and a knife. Both the knife and the hand glowed.
When Frodo wore the Ring, and as soon as he became “invisible,” he was visible to the Nazgul. Immediately, “Their eyes fell upon him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him.” Later, Gandalf will explain to Frodo that he was half in the wraith-world and half in the real world. With the Ring upon his finger, they could not only see him, but could also have seized him. “You could see them, and they could see you.”
In an early manuscript of “The Hunt for the Ring,” as given in A Reader’s Companion, written after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien personifies the Witch-king’s reaction after noticing it was Frodo who bore the Ring: “[The Witch-king] now knows who is the Bearer, and is greatly puzzled that it should be a small creature, and not Aragorn, who seems to be a great power though apparently ‘only a Ranger.'”
There’s much more to this manuscript, which I’ll get into at another time. Same goes for Gandalf’s words about the Nazgul. Stay tuned, true believers!
A Few Notes:
- Do you have any idea how difficult it is not to just ramble on about theories and stray from this topic to others? I do my best to keep things orderly here.
- I started writing about the Nazgul’s horses, but figured I’d save that until later, after we meet Glorfindel. Seriously, it’s interesting.
- Lastly, is anyone else reading Grumpy Elrond? I love it.
About the Photo
I’m not exactly in love with this one. It was taken on a dark and gloomy day atop a rise near Baker City, Oregon. It’s actually overlooking the Oregon Trail. Apart from the bits of houses below, this is a fine match for the “cheerless land” dotted with bushes and stunted trees. The mountains in the background could very well be the Misty Mountains (why not?). Is that the East Road etched into the side of the hill? Of course it is, what else would it be?
- Day 52
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 251
- 209 miles to Rivendell
- 1,528 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Just across the East Road, south of Weathertop (map)