‘He Determined to Face His Enemies’ – Tolkien’s Early Ford of Bruinen Drafts

As Glorfindel and other Elves escort Frodo to Rivendell after the attack of the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen, let’s take a look at some early drafts and see how Tolkien built this portion of his epic.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p215, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
As is typical of the early drafts, the story as Tolkien originally conceived it lacked quite a bit of detail. Overall, the basic idea was there from the start – including Glorfindel, the Black Riders and the Ford that must be crossed to get to the safety of Rivendell.

The tale was first jotted down as a note. At first, Tolkien wanted the trip from Bree to Rivendell to be quickly covered, though he still wanted them to visit the Stone-trolls. When they reached the Ford, seven (or perhaps three or four – Tolkien wasn’t sure) Black Riders came upon them from behind. “They have gold rings and crowns.” Bingo [proto-Frodo], or perhaps Gandalf “flings a stone an imitates Tom Bombadil. Go back and ride away! The riders halt as if astonished, and looking up at the hobbits on the bank the hobbits can see no faces in their hoods. Go back says Bingo, but he is not Tom Bombadil, and the riders ride into the ford. But just then a rumbling rush is heard and a great [?wall] of water bowling stones roars down the river from the mountains. Elves arrive. The Riders draw back just in time in dismay. The hobbits ride as hard as they can to Rivendell.”

As first envisioned, the Black Riders were not caught in the flood. And in the first written draft, few things had changed – though the rock throwing was gone, it’s nice to see Tom’s name remain until publication. Unlike the published version, none of the Black Riders were waiting in ambush at the Ford – all involved were only behind them. But how many? In the first draft it was “as many as twelve” (or “at least seven” – Tolkien still wasn’t quite sure).

As in the published version, Frodo/Bingo crossed the Ford and turned around to see the Riders. Quite a bit was added in later versions, but it happened about this quickly in the first draft. Bingo was in danger, but there seemed little threat of him actually becoming a wraith.

One thing in the published version that caught my eye was that Frodo understood that Glorfindel’s horse knew the way to Rivendell, yet didn’t allow him to race off. In the first draft, Tolkien addressed this: “Forgetting that the horse belonged to the folk of Rivendell and knew all that land, he determined to face his enemies, thinking it useless to -” Immediately after he wrote it, and without even finishing the sentence, Tolkien crossed it out. He then wrote what appeared in the published version.

When the leader of the Black Riders got to the edge of the water, his horse reared up, and he drew his sword. Bingo was originally to have said: “Ride back to the Dark Tower of your lord.” This was a call back to The Hobbit, where Gandalf mentions the “Dark Tower” of the Necromancer. For some reason or another, Tolkien didn’t care for this, and changed it to: “Go back to the Dark Lord and follow me no more.”

In response, the Riders reply as they do in the published version, laughing at Bingo and saying “To Mordor we will take you.” This was the first time that Tolkien used the word “Mordor.”

The next segment is nearly identical to the published text, but it’s interesting to note that rather than calling upon the names of “Elbereth and Luthien the fair,” Bingo shouted the names of Gil-galad, Elendil and Luthien. This was changed very early on.

In the first draft, written in August of 1938, the fate of the Riders was slightly different from either the original note or the published version. Three had entered the river and were swept away by the flood. The rest “drew back in dismay.” Two of those Riders “turned and rode wildly away to the left down the bank of the river; the others borne by their plunging horses were driven into the flood, and carried away.”

In the “Third Phase” of writing (which included the second draft of this chapter), started in the autumn of that same year (1938), very little was changed apart from the Black Riders. Now, there seem to be six. Three came from behind, and three more came “out of the trees and rocks away on the left.” The first three galloped directly for Frodo (he is called Frodo now), while the other three raced to cut him off at the ford. In the end, three were consumed by the flood, while the other three escaped. But before he was completely finished with this “Third Phase” manuscript, he made it so that none of the Black Riders escaped.

About a year later, Tolkien revised pretty much everything he had written up to that point (including the Rivendell chapters). This “Fourth Phase” version, which was really just a revision, was basically the same in every way to the published version.

Just by reading the first two volumes of the History of Lord of the Rings series, you can see that Tolkien revised and edited (and wrote) the crap out of Book One, which would later become the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring.

A Few Notes

  • If you’re wondering what happened to the “Second Phase,” that was mostly a quick rewriting of the story up through the Tom Bombadil bits.
  • I know I say this a lot, but I really love digging into the early drafts and seeing just how Tolkien crafted the stories. I’m a big fan of variation.
  • I really wish my copy of The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide – Chronology by Scull and Hammond would stop smelling like barf and/or microwave pop corn. Please?
Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP-3000B

Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP-3000B

About the Photo
I think this might be the last photo I have of the sculpture Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies. And here we say good-bye to the Black Riders (though not to the Nazgul, of course).


  • Day 92
  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 454
  • 4 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,324 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Four miles from Rivendell (map)

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