While the Fellowship continues their march southeast along the western slopes of the Misty Mountains, we’ll finally be moving on to dinner in Rivendell!
It had been thirty-one days since he left Hobbiton. He had walked and ridden 458 miles. “Looking at the mirror he was startled to see a much thinner reflection of himself than he remembered it: it looked remarkably like the young nephew of Bilbo who used to go tramping with his uncle in the Shire; but the eyes looked out at him thoughtfully.”
Through the narrative, Frodo’s condition is often described in relation to his friends. When he was under the influence of the Ringwraith’s Morgul-wound, Tolkien would describe it as how well Frodo could or could not see his friends. And now, when there’s a knock at the door and Sam enters, Frodo greets him with:
This is wonderful! It’s incredibly rare for Tolkien to dip into a Mark Twain-esque dialect. He really only does it with The Gaffer and Sam (when it comes to native Common Speakers). Frodo’s social status in Hobbit culture is a step or two above Sam’s. While Frodo and Bilbo were both sort of “Deranged Millionaires,” Sam was from a line of gardeners who tended the yards at Bag End.
Tolkien writes both Sam and The Gaffer with a touch of bumpkin (which actually emphasises their wisdom and sincerity – is there anyone more sincere in Tolkien’s writings than Sam and his Gaffer?). Frodo sort of mimics the way that Sam might greet an equal. Sam certainly wouldn’t greet Frodo in this way – in the next line, he addresses him as “Mr. Frodo” and as “sir” not long after.
Bilbo, and Frodo to a large extent, was almost playing the roll of a respectable gentleman. He was very much a big fish in a small pond. Few in Hobbiton actually respected either and almost none saw themselves as equals to their social order.
But the name Baggins might not have always been so highly regarded. According to “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings,” the word “Baggins” was derived from Westron (Numenorean) word “labang,” which meant “bag,” or in this case, “one who bags.” Meaning (probably) groceries. When Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit were translated into other languages for publication, Tolkien wrote that it “should contain an element meaning ‘sack, bag’.”
Hobbits enjoyed history to an extent, though their own records dated no earlier than when they arrived in the Shire. Still, that was over 1,400 years of history. The Baggins clan has only been traced back to Bilbo’s great-grandfather, Balbo Baggins – a mere 234 years. What is was before that is only hinted at by the name – Baggins. It’s not too lofty of a title.
I don’t often dip into speculation, but maybe the Baggins didn’t start out as a sort of bourgeois line of hobbits. Maybe this ascent through the social order rankled some of the neighbors who might be on the “lower” end of things. Maybe Bilbo wasn’t just a “very rich and very peculiar” hobbit, but a very rich and very peculiar hobbit from a short line of very rich and very peculiar hobbits. Most of Hobbiton seemed to think that Bilbo was putting on airs.
There were other reasons, of course. Frodo’s mother and father Primula and Drogo, drowned in a boating accident. Hobbits are incredibly not keen of water or boating, so this was a scandal in and of itself, spinning rumors that Primula pushed Drogo in and “he pulled her in after him.” But it’s hard to believe that these rumors would have started or mattered if Bilbo wasn’t of a higher class.
Baggins wasn’t the only such bourgeois name. There were the Tooks, who, while eccentric, were often the Thains of the Shire, a sort of sheriff/militia commander. Also, there were Brandybucks, whose legacy was the immense Brandy Hall in Buckland. Interestingly, this would place all of the Fellowship’s hobbits but Sam in the higher social classes of the Shire.
So, when Frodo greets him with “Hullo, Sam,” he’s so ridiculously happy to see his old friend that he forgets and foregos rigid social custom – at least for a moment.
A Few Notes
- Fun fact: About Bag End, Tolkien wrote: “It was the local name from my aunt’s farm in Worcestershire, which was at the end of a lane leading to it and no further.”
- I just wrote 800 words about a greeting.
- “Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings” can be found in Hammond & Scull’s wonderfully essential Reader’s Companion. Get this. Buy it used if you must.
About the Photo
Maybe one of Bilbo’s long-lost ancestors bagged your groceries at the Hobbit-equivalent of the City Meat Market in Erick, Oklahoma.
- Day 105
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 525 (72 from Rivendell)
- 395 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,253 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Moving southeast along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Fifth night out from Rivendell. December 28-29, 3018TA. (map)