September 23, 3018 – The Strange Customer Meets the Gaffer’s Guff; Frodo’s Departure

Greetings! The day has finally come! It’s September 23rd, 3018 of the Third Age and Frodo is leaving the Shire! Let’s go!

The Last Evening in the Shire


Frodo was packing up some carts for his move to Crickhollow. Merry and Fatty Bolger headed off with the cart, while Pippin remained behind.

Frodo spent most of the morning worrying about Gandalf, but knew that he couldn’t wait much longer. He had to leave.

To make matters worse, the Sackville-Bagginses showed up in the afternoon to cause more commotion than anyone needed.

That night, the S-Bs left and Frodo had tea with Pippin and Sam. It was decided that Sam would accompany Frodo at least to Buckland. Pippin went out for a walk, and Sam disappeared.

Bag End, now emptied of all Frodo and Bilbo’s possessions seemed “sad and gloomy and disheveled.” Frodo wandered around the empty place, like one does right before moving.

He stepped outside to the gate and heard the Gaffer talking to a “strange, and somehow unpleasant” voice.

As we now know, the Gaffer is talking to one of the Nazgûl – which we’ll get to in a moment.

The Nazgûlish Movements Upon Entering the Shire

In the previous post we learned that the Nazgûl entered the Shire after defeating the Rangers at Sarn Ford.

On the morning of this date, according to notes taken by Tolkien when trying to sort out of “Tale of Years,” he attempted to sort out which Nazgûl went where.

“[One] keeps to the east, passing northwards towards the Marish and Bridge. [One] takes the road leading northwest to Michel Delving, and [another] goes with him, but there ?fares on and traverses the North Farthing. [The other two] go through the central Shire, until they reach the East Road, probably near the Three-Farthing Stone. ([These] were probably Khamûl and his companion, form Dol Guldur; and [Khamûl] [is] the most ready of all (save [the Witch-king])to perceive the presence of the Ring, but also the one whose power was most confused and diminished by sunlight).

“Drawn to the Ring [Khamûl] goes to Hobbiton which he reaches at evening on Fri. Sep. 23rd. [his companion] keeps an eye on the East road and Stock Road lurking probably between the two, just south of Whitfurrows.

This is quite the story! It also gives us a lot of of an understanding at how the Nazgûl discovered Bag End – Khamûl sensed the Ring. Even so, the Gaffer gives him some guff.

Guff By Gaffer – The Strange Customer

In the story, at first we hear only the Gaffer’s end of the conversation. Soon after, however, Sam fills us in with a bit of the rest.

Khamûl first asked the Gaffer where Mr. Baggins was. The Gaffer told him that “Mr. Baggins has gone away. Went this morning, and my Same went with him: anyway all his stuff went. Yes, sold out and gone I tell’ee.”

The Nazgûl, “mighty put out,” as the Gaffer soon told Sam, then asked why Mr. Baggins had left. But the Gaffer slaps back: “Why? Why’s none of my business, or yours.”

When Khamûl asked where Mr. Baggins had moved to, the Gaffer gave him what was considered to be public knowledge: “That ain’t no secret. He’s moved to Bucklebury or some such place, away down yonder.”

The Black Rider then asked how far away it was. The Gaffer confessed that it was “a tidy way.” And one wonders if the Nazgûl had any idea how far a “tidy way” might be. He explains that he’s never been so far himself, “there’s queer folks in Buckland.”

Curiously, the Nazgûl seems to ask if he could leave a message for Mr. Baggins, in case he comes back. The Gaffer refuses and bids him a very short “Good night to you!” And with that, the Black Rider leaves.

Every bit of this is strange, but the strangest and most wonderful part is that the Gaffer seemed completely unaffected by the Nazgûl, who even “hissed at me, he did.” Sure, it gave him “quite a shutter,” but this was the same dreaded Rider that sent hundreds running away in fear by his very presence.

True, they were probably trying to keep a low profile, but how low of a profile can these guys actually keep? Especially at night!

Tolkien closed this day’s notes with:
“[Khamûl] just misses Frodo, and misled by the Gaffers starts out east again.”

Well, Now We’re Off At Last!

With the stranger gone, Frodo calls to both Sam and Pippin. It’s time to leave. “They shouldered their packs and took up their sticks, and walked round the corner to the west side of Bag End.”

Map taken from Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey (long out of print).

For the most part, they paralleled the road by walking in the fields, single file and silent. After about three hours, they rested and ate a bit of supper. It was then more walking. And more.

Finally, they find a patch of woods and set up camp, setting no watch. They were, after all, still in the Shire. What danger could there be?

Here is where Tolkien inserts the Fox. It was there in his very first draft of this chapter and somehow lasted through to the published version. It’s incredibly out of character, but it’s one of my favorite pieces that Tolkien ever wrote:

“A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.

“‘Hobbits!’, he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was right, but he never found out any more about it.”

The Hobbits walked about 18 miles before stopping for the night. That’s a hell of a start.

Gandalf Check!

The “Tale of Years” tells us only that “Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan.” In notes, Tolkien expanded only slightly:

“…not until the 23rd that he [Shadowfax] is tamed and will allow Gandalf to ride off. Gandalf sets off at 6pm 23rd September.”

A Quick Note About Future Posts

Things are really starting to get moving, and Tolkien is no slouch when it comes to writing voluminous passages. For instance, the passage for tomorrow’s entry takes us from page 72 to page 85 (in the 50th Anniversary one-volume edition). Forthcoming days are much longer.

Because of this, I won’t be able to dig into the details like I want to. I knew this going into it, and I’m okay with it. I just want everyone to understand that this is basically a Lord of the Rings Day-By-Day, not a Lord of the Rings Exploration of Minutia.

What’s Next?

Well, our journey has finally begun! We’re going to stick with Frodo and company as much as possible, detailing other stuff along the way as we find it. Tomorrow is next! Stay tuned!

Camera: Zorki 4 (1960)
Film: Mitsubishi MX-111; 200iso (expired)

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One thought on “September 23, 3018 – The Strange Customer Meets the Gaffer’s Guff; Frodo’s Departure

  1. Great post Eric. The Fox was always one of my favorite bits of Tolkien’s writings too. It certainly doesn’t have any bearing on the quest/journey, but it’s got a holistic feeling: it’s part of Middle Earth. It’s these small details, coupled with a massive background on Middle Earth’s history, that makes LOTRs the best novel of all time.
    Keep up the good work Eric.

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