Three’s Company, but Four’s More!

Tolkien wrote the final draft of the first chapter of the sequel to The Hobbit, and after a few weeks, finally moved onto the next two chapters. The second was covered yesterday, and today we cover the untitled third.

In the published version of Lord of the Rings, this draft would pretty well cover the fourth and fifth chapters – “A Short Cut to Mushrooms” and “A Conspiracy Unmasked,” though even the origins behind both titles had not yet come into existence.

Since the basic outline is fairly well carried to he published version, I really want to focus upon the differences as well as the interesting similarities. As in the story we know well, the hobbits set off from their camp on the morning after they met Gildor and the Elves.

Curiously, for the most part, the rolls of the hobbit here named Frodo (proto-Sam) and the hobbit named Odo (proto-Pippin) were nearly reversed. This means that the lines given in this draft to Frodo later ended up being spoken by Pippin. Though this was not always the rule, as it’s Odo who says that “short cuts make long delays.”

As they trudge through the woods, it is Odo (Pippin) who looked back, clutched Bingo’s (proto-Frodo’s) arm and drew the rest of the party’s attention to the Black Rider on the hill behind.

They continue on, stopping for lunch and a song (“Ho! ho! ho! To my bottle I go”), but they were cut off right after the first verse.

“It will never be known whether the next verse was any better than the first; for just at the moment there was a noise like a sneeze or a sniff. Odo never finished his song. The noise came again: sniff, sniff, sniff; it seemed to be quite close. They sprang to their feet, and looked quickly about; but there was nothing to be seen anywhere near their tree.”

Tolkien had not yet invented the Nazguls’ “long-drawn wail,” which was, I’m sure you agree, much more frightening than a disembodied sneeze. Originally, he had even written that there was the sound of hoof beats not far off, but he crossed that out, killing whatever tension was then created.

And then, as in the published version, they come upon Farmer Maggot’s fields, though Tolkien had not yet given us mushrooms. Here, it’s Frodo (proto-Sam – not Pippin) who recognizes the fields, and Odo (proto-Pippin) who asks if Farmer Maggot lives in a hole or a house.

Tolkien then goes on to describe how hobbits live. This long paragraph would later be used as part of the prologue. But this also contains a very hobbit-like conversation between Odo and Frodo about the benefits and drawbacks of living in a three story house (even though Maggot’s was only a two story).

I’ll give it here because it really made me smile:

“Fancy climbing upstairs to bed!” said Odo. “That seems to me most inconvenient. Hobbits aren’t birds.”

“I don’t know,” said Bingo. “It isn’t as bad as it sounds; though personally I never like lookout out of upstairs windows, it makes me a bit giddy. There are some houses that have three stages, bedrooms above bedrooms. I slept in one once long ago on a holiday; the wind kept me up all night.”

“What a nuisance, if you want a handkerchief or something when you are downstairs, and find it is upstairs,” said Odo.

“You could keep handkerchiefs downstairs, if you wished,” said Frodo.

“You could, but I don’t believe anybody does.”

“That is not the houses’ fault,” said Bingo; “it is just the silliness of the hobbits that live in them.”

Bingo goes on to tell about the ancient towers of the Elves – he saw them once, and even saw the sea from one. “If I ever live in a house, I shall keep everything I want downstairs, and only go up when I don’t want anything.” The conversation turns to what types of plates and bowls he would use. Bingo chose wooden so he could simply throw them out of the top window.

After a while, they see Farmer Maggot, but since Bingo is supposed to have just vanished, he puts on the ring and becomes invisible. But Maggot’s small dog, Gip (yes, Gip), can sense him. There’s no back story about stealing mushrooms, and Maggot recognizes Frodo (proto-Sam, but here kind of Pippin) right away, since he (Frodo) used to live with Marmaduke (proto-Merry).

Even in this early draft, Farmer Maggot had been visited recently by “a funny customer” – the Black Rider. Frodo and Odo follow him into the house, while Bingo seems to wait outside. They recounted Bingo’s party, including the fireworks, which neither Mr. or Mrs. Maggot had seen before. When Farmer Maggot asked what happened to Bingo after the party, Frodo said “Well – er, well, he’s vanished, don’t you know.” And he thought he heard a chuckle.

Maggot then tells the two hobbits what the “funny customer” was asking. Their conversation is basically the same. Turning back to Frodo and Odo, he says, “This Mr. Bingo has got himself mixed up in some trouble, and disappeared a purpose.” He invites them to stay for “a bite and a sup,” but they decline.

And just as Maggot was about to pick up his mug of beer to toast them, the invisible Bingo inexplicably decided to play a trick on him. “But at that moment the mug left the table, rose, tilted in the air, and then returned empty to its place.” This, naturally, freaked Farmer Maggot right out, but he bade them good-bye.

Once they were out of range, Bingo removed the ring and was chastised. “The old man had done you a good turn with that Rider, or so it seemed to me.” As they walked the lane toward the ferry, they came across hoof prints, but continued on, singing a song about a hot bath. It was soon replied to with a song about three hobbits walking. It was Marmaduke Brandybuck (proto-Merry)! “We have been having adventures,” said Bingo.

As they made their way to the ferry, Tolkien wrote a paragraph about the history of the Shire and when the Brandybucks first crossed the river. Finally on board the ferry, as in the published version, they look back and see a Black Rider.

In this draft, Marmaduke had apparently been at Bingo’s party, leaving just before supper with Gandalf (who was also apparently there for a bit before leaving with a few dwarves and even some elves from Rivendell). They met more Elves along the way – Gildor’s party, probably after Bingo, Odo and Frodo had met them.

There is no Fatty Bolger and no conspiracy, so this early draft seems empty. But the outline is there. Bingo tells Marmaduke of their adventures and Marmaduke. He has no idea why the Black Riders are after him in this version. “I should have expected the Elves to tell me, if the Riders had anything to do with Bilbo’s adventures.”

Like in the published version, Bingo tells Marmaduke that he doesn’t have to journey on with them. And like it the published version, Marmaduke ignores it. “I joined the party just for fun, and I am certainly not going to leave it now. Besides, you will need me. Three’s company, but four’s more.”

They agree to start early the next morning and through the Old Forest. Odo (proto-Pippin) did not like the idea of going through the Old Forest because he thought that the “Black Riders will be very much more at home there than we shall.”

At this point in his writing, Tolkien had already invented and explored the Old Forest in the poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” There was, however, no real hint that Bombadil, Goldberry, Old Man Willow or the Barrow-wights, which had all existed since 1934 (he wrote this draft in 1938), were to appear.

He ended this chapter with Bingo falling asleep and into a vague dream “in which he seemed to be lying under a window that looked out into a sea of tangled trees: outside there was a snuffling.”

A Few Notes

  • After finishing this chapter in March 1938, Tolkien would not write another until August. Just as he was after the first chapter, he was stuck.
  • Tolkien entitled the second chapter “Three’s Company and Four’s More,” but nobody said that until the third chapter, which was untitled. Go figure.
  • The first three chapters were sent to the son of Tolkien’s publisher around the 26th of April. On May 3rd, he receives the early review: “I like the first chapter, the second and third have I think a little too much conversation and ‘hobbit talk’ which tends to make it lag a little. Otherwise it seems very good, although it does not start as quickly as The Hobbit. But the black riders seem all right! What will it be called?”
  • Sometime while writing either the second or third chapter, Tolkien began another draft of the conversation between Gildor and Bingo. This was part of the origin of the published Chapter Two, especially the conversation between Gandalf and Frodo. Tune in tomorrow to learn about Gollum, the first rumblings of Isildur, and The Ring (yes, The Ring!).
Camera: Polaroid 250 Land Camera || Film: Fuji FP-100c (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid 250 Land Camera || Film: Fuji FP-100c (reclaimed negative)

About the Photo
Okay, so Farmer Maggot didn’t have a community hall, per se. But this is much better than a photo of a maggot, right?


  • Day 70
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 341
  • 119 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,438 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.) Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)

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14 thoughts on “Three’s Company, but Four’s More!

  1. Wait, wait, wait. I used to go mushroom hunting in Montana all the time.

    Really, you just need to find someone with cows. Where there are cows, there are mushrooms. Trust me on this, friend.

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