October 4, 3018 – Seeing Weathertop and a Bit About Birds

Welcome to October 4, 3018 of the Third Age. This is the day after Frodo and Aragorn witnessed the Nazgûl’s attack on Gandalf at Weathertop. We’ll let Gandalf start it off:

“At sunrise I escaped and fled towards the north. I could not find hope to do more. It was impossible to find you, Frodo, in the wilderness, and it would have been folly to try with all the Nine at my heels.”

Gandalf here wished to do two things. First, he wanted to draw some of the Riders off the path he hoped Frodo and Aragorn were on. Second, he wanted to get to Rivendell as quickly as possible so that he could send help.

In notes, Tolkien related that Gandalf “follows the Hoarwell up towards the mountains. [Four Riders] are sent in pursuit (mainly because [the Witch-king] thinks it possible he [Gandalf] may know of the whereabouts or course of the Bearer). But [the Witch-king and Khamûl] remain watching Weathertop.”

At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf knows that he drew only four Riders away, but hoped that would come in useful. At some point (probably in a day or so), the four Riders will head back south.

As for Aragorn and the Hobbits, they continued their march east, and could see “a line of hills” in the distance. The one on the right with the conical top and slightly flattened summit was Weathertop.

Aragorn suspected that they might reach it by noon the following day.

He and Frodo both hoped that Gandalf would be waiting there, but Aragorn wasn’t exactly hopeful. He figured that the Nazgûl might also be waiting at Weathertop. “It commands a wide view all round. Indeed, there are many birds and beasts in this country that could see us, as we stand here, from that hill-top.”

He also warned that “Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are.” That’s sort of unsettling. Thanks.

Aragorn suggested that they continue straight east to the line of hills and approach Weathertop from the north. “Then we shall see what we shall see.”

That night they “made their camp under some stunted alder-trees by the shores of the stream.”

A Short Digression About Birds and Hobbits

At this point in their lives, the hobbits, having been schooled by Bilbo, understand that the birds are not what they seem. From his stories (related in The Hobbit, they are familiar with at least the Eagles, a raven and a thrush.

While the Eagles are obvious (and kind of neutral good), the ravens “are different” from crows as Balin the Dwarf explained. Crows are “nasty suspicious-looking creatures.” They’re rude and taunted the dwarves and Bilbo with “ugly names.” The ravens, however, were not like that.

Balin explained that ravens and dwarves used to be tight, “and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.” In Middle-earth, ravens are awesome. They’re long-lived and have amazing memories, which they pass along to their children!

In most cases, ravens cannot be understood, though they can perfectly understand what one is saying. In The Hobbit, the 153 year old Roac son of Carc could croak in almost perfect Common Speech.

Thrushes seem to have similar traits. To Bilbo, Thorin said that “The thrushes are good and friendly.” They too were long-lived, and they seemed to posses a certain kind of magic, at least by dwarf-interpretation. It was a thrush that told Bard of the “hollow of the left breast” of Smaug.

So apart from the crows, which just seem to be sort of dickish, the hobbits have grown up with the idea that birds are more or less good. Even in the Silmarillion, the Valar, especially Yavanna, had birds all around them. Manwe was known as the Valar to whome “all birds are dear.”

There was Beren (of Beren and Luthien fame) who was called “the friend of all birds and beasts.” And speaking of Beren, in his quest for the Silmaril, when all seemed lost, it was three “mighty birds” (eagles, of course) who rescued them.

In Numanor, atop the mountain Meneltarma was a “temple” to Illuvatar – the only place of such worship in all of Middle-earth. When people would walk to the top, “at once three eagles would appear and alight upon three rocks near to the western edge … They were called the Witnesses of Manwe, and they were believed to be sent by him from Aman too keep watch upon the Holy Mountain and upon all the land.”

Whether or not Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin knew all of these things hardly matters, they definitely would have had the idea that birds were at least to be trusted. And now here’s Strider telling them differently.

Sure, there were “carrion-birds,” like vultures, but they were simply doing what they were supposed to do by nature. But largely, birds were not something to be feared. Except for now.

The birds that Strider is talking about were probably Crebain, which was, not surprisingly, Sindarin for crow. But these were not crows, per se. As we’ll see after the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, flocks of crebain were sent out by Saruman. They’re natives of Fangorn and Dunland, but can clearly travel quite a distance.

From what is said, Strider seems to have a pretty good understanding of this, as well as the other spies more evil than the crebain (which make me think that the crebain are just mercenaries). The other spies are probably like our squint-eyed friend who we met back in Bree, though who can say what other things might be lurking out there.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c1950)
Film: Kodak Gold 100 (x-03/1996)


October 3, 3018 – Watching the Fireworks from Afar

Welcome to October 3, 3018 of the Third Age. Looks like stuff is about to happen. Let’s take a look!

Strider and the Hobbits woke up in Midgewater Swamp with midges pursuing them as they marched.

That night (seriously, nothing but bugs the whole day, I guess) Frodo saw a distant light. Strider saw it too – “It is too distant to make out. It is like lightning that leaps up form the hill-tops.”

That was, as we know, Gandalf battling the Nazgûl.

It should be noted that Strider and Frodo witnessing Gandalf’s battle was something added very late in the writing process, probably in the final draft. Prior to that, the whole Weathertop thing is an absolute mess. In fact, Tolkien wrote himself a note reminding that this “Weathertop business” must be “simplified.”

At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf talks a little about the battle. In other notes, Tolkien filled in portions of it from the Nazgûl’s perspective.

I galloped to Weathertop like a gale, and I reached it before sundown on my second day from Bree – and they were there before me.

In notes, Tolkien wrote that “Gandalf reaches Weathertop but does not overtake [Witch-king and other four Riders].”

They drew away from me, for they felt the coming of my anger and they dared not face it while the Sun was in the sky.

Tolkien’s notes continue: “for they become aware of his [Gandalf’s] approach as he overtakes them on Shadowfax, and withdraw into hiding beside the road. They close in behind. [The Witch-king] is both pleased and puzzled. For a while he had been in great fear, thinking that by some means Gandalf had got possession of the Ring and was now the Bearer; but as Gandalf passes he is aware that Gandalf has not got the Ring. What is he [Gandalf] pursuing? He himself must be after the escaping Bearer; and it must therefore somehow have gone on far ahead. But Gandalf is a great power and enemy. He must be dealt with, and yet that needs great force.”

So at this point, still in the daylight of October 3rd, the Witch-king knows that Gandalf does not have the Ring, and believes that the Ring Bearer (Frodo) has fled east toward Rivendell. In truth, of course, Frodo and company are nearly 50 miles behind them and a bit to the north.

“[The five Riders] follow Gandalf hotly to Weathertop. Since Gandalf halts there, [the Witch-king] suspects that that is a trysting place.”

But they closed round at night, and I was besieged on the hill-top, in the old ring of Amon Sûl. I was hard put to it indeed: such light and flame cannot have been seen on Weathertop since the war-beacons of old.

Tolken’s notes conclude: “Gandalf is attacked by [the five plus the rider who had stayed on Weathertop] on Weathertop on night 3-4. Frodo and Aragorn see the light of the battle in the sky from their camp.”

The other three Nazgûl are somewhere to the east, just poking around and not doing much of anything.

Tolkien does not in any way describe the actual battle. From what I can see, he never even attempted it. In the third(sh) draft of “The Council of Elrond,” he says, “I passed a very bad night besieged on the top of Weathertop.” (I’m not going to get into the idea that Gandalf was then riding with a hobbit named Hamilcar Bolger who would eventually morph/evolve/slip into Pippin. Sort of.) This seems to be the first time Tolkien wrote at all about it.

In the next draft, Gandalf tells Frodo that two Nazgul (already waiting at Weathertop), “drew off before my [?wrath]. But that night… gathered, and I was besieged on the top, but I perceived they had not got you.” The draft written after this one is basically the same as the published version: “such light and flame cannot have been seen on Weathertop since the war-beacons of old.”

And that’s about all for today! Cheers!

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914)
Film: Ilford HP4 (x-10/1979)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

October 2, 3018 – Everybody’s Still On the Move East of Bree

Welcome back! It’s October 2, 3018 of the Third Age, and we’re still walking.

More Midges Than Water!

Today marks the third day out of Bree for Strider, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They leave the Chetwood, heading east, as the land slopes down.

Before the was “a wide flat expanse of country, much more difficult to manage. They were far beyond the borders of the Bree-land, out in the pathless wilderness, and drawing near to the Midgewater Marshes.”

Wide flat expanses should be easier to manage than the tangled paths of the Chetwood forest. But then, Strider knows all the best paths. In this wide flat expanse, there’s nothing at all but undergrowth. It’s a “pathless wilderness” out there. To make it worse, they’re closing in on the Midgwater Marshes and the ground is getting soggier.

Strider wisely had them leave the road about twenty miles back, but took them far to the north. This was probably to get around (to the north of) the marsh. Smart move, plus it kept the Nazgûl off their back.

This, however, led them into the Midgewater Marshes. Tolkien borrowed the named from Mývatn in Iceland, which apparently has the same meaning. Both Midgewater and Mývatn are eutrophic bodies of water – water that sustains a great deal of insect life.

We learn that “The flies began to torment them, and the air was full of clouds of tiny midges that crept up their sleeves and breeches and into their hair.”

“Midgewater! There are more Midges than water!” We’re told that “they spent a miserable day in this lonely and unpleasant country.” And while we can all imagine a marsh with bugs drinking your blood – “What do they live on when they can’t get hobbit?” – it’s sometimes hard to picture exactly where our heroes are tramping.

That night, the Neekerbreekers (named by Sam) kept them up with their incessant “neek-breek, breek-neek”.

Tolkien, of course, named the Neekerbreekers, and wrote that their sound (and name) were “supposed to be like that of a cricket.”

Gandalf is Where?

As for Gandalf, he’s still riding along the East Road. At the Council of Elrond, he claims to have reached Weathertop “before sundown on my second day from Bree.” That would be today, but every other source – Tolkien’s notes and the “Tale of Years” puts it on tomorrow. Also, the story itself (as we’ll see tomorrow) has it take place tomorrow.

Tolkien seems to have been a little confused as to his own timeline when it came to Gandalf. This is an issue from here until Weathertop, and we’ll do our best to deal with it.

And the Nazgûl?

By this point, they should be reaching Weathertop right about now. In his notes, Tolkien wrote that the four of the Riders “assemble near Weathertop.” That night “[one] remains [while three] go on eastwards on or near Road.”

He doesn’t say where the other five are, however. This is a little strange, as Tolkien was pretty meticulous concerning the whereabouts of the Nazgûl.

From what I can gather, four Nazgûl made it to Weathertop. One stayed there while the three others continued east. The Witch-king and four others were behind them, and by the end of this day had not yet made it to Weathertop.

And that’s it for today. Tomorrow, things heat up a bit.

Camera: Argus C3 (1953)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-06/1974); 6iso

October 1, 3018 – Everybody’s on the Move East of Bree

Welcome to October 1st, 3018 of the Third Age! The Hobbits, now with Strider, are making their way from Bree toward Weathertop. Let’s go check in on them.

We don’t know much about the Hobbits travels on this day. Having walked north through the Chetwood to avoid the East Road, they now turned east on a “steady course” and “all was quiet and peaceful.” That’s about it, really.

Gandalf, for his part, left Bree in the morning. Following the East Road, he rode in pursuit of the Nazgûl. And that’s all we know about Gandalf’s travels for this day.

How about the Nazgûl? Well, they were apparently about a day’s ride ahead of him chasing Frodo and the Ring.

And that’s that! October 1st is a travel day. We’ll get those from time to time.

Camera: Mamiya RB67 (1974)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor 4.5/180mm
Film: Kodak Vericolor III (x-02/1989)

September 30, 3018 – Leaving Bree with a New Friend

Is it me or has September just flown by? Welcome to the final Septembery day of 3018 of the Third Age! Following the attack on Bree by two no-name Nazgûl, Strider and the Hobbits make it a point to get the hell out.

We Will Leave At Once

Aragorn, however, was a cup-half-full sort of guy, and reminded them that “ponies would not help us to escape horsemen.” See? You didn’t need them anyway!

The road to Rivendell, still 300 miles east, was desolate. Whatever food and supplies they would require would have to be toted upon their backs. The ponies were their pack animals, and now that they were gone, it would take time to round up even a single pony in Bree.

Butterbur asks around to see if anyone else had horses. Nobody does – they’ve all been let loose, except one. Bill Ferny’s pony, “a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal,” was all that remained. He would sell it to them, but at three times what he was worth.

But why? What was in it for Bill Ferny? What did he get out of any of this? He must have known that the Nazgul were from Mordor (or were at least evil). And if he was truly in league with them, why would he help (well, “help”) Frodo’s party? In the end, Ferny was in it for himself. He was the man who would sell you the rope with which to hang him.

The pony was “a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal; but it did not look like dying just yet.” Butterbur, feeling a little guilty about the pony theft and late night attack, pays for the pony and give Merry a bit of compensation.

The last we see of Ferny, he’s by the road as Strider and the hobbits are leaving. After he makes a few quips at the party, Sam tell him to put his “ugly face out of sight, or it will get hurt.” With that, he chucks one of his apples at the man, hitting him “square on the nose.” But in Sam’s assessment, it was a “waste of a good apple.”

They left Bree on the main road for fear of the locals growing suspicious if they had tried to sneak off unseen. After clearing Bree, they left the road, aiming toward the small village of Archet hidden in the trees northeast of Bree, and hoping to pass a bit east of it.

By night, they were well within the Chetwood – a small forest spreading out to the north of Bree, bordered no the east by the swampy Midgewater.

Gandalf in Bree on the Trail of the Riders

The day previous, Gandalf had been with the Gaffer in the Shire (where else?), and rode through the night to Crickhollow. Probably because of the Gaffer, he knew where Frodo’s newly-purchased home was located. When he arrived, he found it “broken open and empty.”

Three Nazgûl had attacked it at the same time two others assailed Bree. Both attacks failed, as we learned, but Gandalf had no way to know of either. When he saw Frodo’s cloak in the threshold, all hope left him. He admitted later (during the Council of Elrond) that he “did not wait to gather news, or I might have been comforted; but I rode on the trail of the Riders.”

Following the Nazgûl was no easy task. Gandalf explained that their trails “went many ways.” With the Riders searching for any sign of Frodo as well as looking for each other, it’s no wonder. It was clear, however, that at least one of them went to Bree, so Gandalf headed there as well.

He arrive in Bree in the evening, and immediately buttonholed Butterbur. As soon as Butterbur saw him, he knew that Gandalf knew that he had royally screwed up. The Wizard “barked a little,” but “did not bite.” More than anything, he was thrilled to learn that Frodo and the Hobbits had met and left town with Aragorn. What’s more is that he was less than a day’s ride behind!

With that good news, Gandalf retired to his room for he night.

The Nazgûl Through Bree Like a Storm

Though Gandalf was in pursuit of the Nazgûl, he had not actually seen any of them yet. In notes ultimately published in Hammon & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, Tolkien described the movements of the Riders.

The night before, all nine Riders met in Andreth, thirty or so miles south of Bree. They split up to learn more information. By today, they know for sure that the “Ring has escaped East.” It was on the move so they left the Greenway for the East Road.

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

“Soon after midnight they ride through Bree like a storm, casting down the gates.”

Gandalf recalled the night: “Five at least came from the west, and they threw down the gates and passed through Bree like a howling wind; and the Bree-folk are still shivering and expecting the end of the world.”

Camera: Mamiya m645j (1979)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor C 2.8/45mm
Film: Kodak Vericolor III (x-08/1998)

September 29, 3019 – The Barrow-downs ; Bree and Crickhollow Attacked!

Today, September 29th, is a long ass day for our Hobbits. We’re taken from them waking in the Barrow-downs to leaving the Prancing Pony. That’s the rest of Chapter 8 through a the first few pages of Chapter 11.

Since today is a Saturday (in our calendar), I feel like taking it easy. Let’s just do a very quick overview. If you want to know more, read this passage!

His Song are Stronger Songs

We learned a couple of days ago (from Tolkien’s notes) that the Nazgûl believed Frodo to be a weak creature. This set his mind at east a bit. But we, as readers, know different – especially after today, when Frodo refused the call of the Ring.

Gandalf would later call this “perhaps the most dangerous moment of all.” When Frodo woke in the Barrow, he saw what appeared to be his dead friends. He heard a song, an incantation from the Wights, and at first, he wondered if he could simply put on the Ring and escape death at the hands of whatever killed Sam, Merry and Pippin.

“But the courage that had been awakened in him was now too strong: he could not leave his friends so easily. He wavered, groping in his pocket, and then fought with himself again….”

This is probably the first most important moment on Frodo’s journey. Rather than using the Ring, Frodo remembered that he could call Tom Bombadil.

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

In Tom’s reply, he sang that “His songs are stronger songs,” which should remind us of the power of song in Tolkien’s other writings (Luthien’s song against Sauron, especially).

After the Wights are sent packing (“till the world is mended”), Tom sings to wake the other Hobbits. They woke with some memory of what happened, but were dressed in armor. Tom told them to nude up as he fetched their ponies and packs (and spare clothes). Once dressed, they found knives (“swords for hobbit-people”) which were made by the “Men of Westernesse, who were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dûm in the Land of Angmar” – now the Witch-king. Tom accompanied them out of the Downs, singing in a strange language.

When they reached the East Road, Tom left them, directing them to Bree and the Prancing Pony.

Homelike Enough

Tolkien spends a few pages building the world around Bree and telling a bit of Hobbit history. I discussed this a long time ago here.

By the time Frodo & Co. arrived, it was night. And what a night it was! As they passed through the gate, the keeper, Harry Goatleaf, recognized them as four hobbits out of the Shire. On the night of the 26th he had been drafted into the service of the Nazgûls and told to keep watch for Shire Hobbits. This was no good.

He asked or their names and tried to figure out their business, but Frodo refused to divulge either. Harry gave them a sort of head’s up – “There’s queer folk about.” He was probably talking about Strider, Aragorn, but Frodo hoped he was talking about Gandalf. Unknown to the Hobbits, a “dark figure climbed quickly over the gate and melted into the shadows…”

This “dark figure” was Strider, who had been following the Hobbits since they reached the East Road with Bombadil.

Tolkien goes on for pages about the Prancing Pony, painting quite a home-like scene. But it wasn’t all wonderful. There were refugees from the south coming up the Greenway (the road running north crossing the East Road at Bree).

Here we meet the “squint-eyed ill-favored fellow.” Tolkien’s use of the word “squint” is meant that he had strabismus, an eye condition also known as “cross-eyed.” In this blog, we’ve met him before – on the 21st, when the Nazgûl come upon him and easily turn him to their service. He was one of Saruman’s spies with extensive knowledge of the Shire.

Aragorn Enters the Story

We also meet Butterburr again, we met him way back on Midyear’s Day when Gandalf gave him a letter to send to the Shire. That will play out soon, but first the Hobbits have to meet Strider. We’ve been following him, Aragorn, for some time now.

Seeing that Merry was about to reveal a bit too much about Bilbo and his party from years ago, Frodo, at the direction of Strider, “does something.” That something is a song and dance routine that unfortunately ends with Frodo disappearing due to the Ring “accidentally” slipping on as he fell. (More about that here.)

This was witnessed by the “Swarthy Breelander” (Bill Ferny) and the “squint-eyed southerner” who had been talking. Just after this event, they slipped out the door.

This whole thing raised a commotion, but soon Strider and Frodo got a chance to talk. Though Aragorn didn’t reveal himself, he showed Frodo that he knew a bunch of stuff any normal person shouldn’t know – such as “Baggins.” He also knew of the Nazgûl and that hey had dealings with some southerners as well as Bill Ferny.

The Three Little Nazgûl

According to Tolkien’s notes as published in Hammond & Sculls Reader’s Companion, the three Nazgûl sent out towards Weathertop reached Bree on their return trip just before the Hobbits. After the “squint-eyed southerner” slipped out of the Prancing Pony, he went straight to them. He told them the story of the Hobbit’s disappearance, and they figured it out.

These three are unnamed Nazgûl, neither the Witch-king nor Khamûl (nor his companion). They are weaker than them, and weakest without the Witch-king, who they need to alert.

One of them tries to go directly to the Witch-king, but is “waylaid by Dúnedain and driven away…” He’ll be delayed by a day. The other two we’ll get to soon enough.

A Hunted Man

Back at the inn, Strider convinces them (even Sam) to trust him enough so that he can get them to Rivendell. Butterbur comes in to say good-night, and reveals that he forgot all about a letter from Gandalf. Strider nearly skins him for this, but scares him a bit instead. Still, Butterbur agrees to help and defend his inn.

The letter, which was discussed on the Midyear’s Day post back in June, is read and Frodo fully trusts Aragorn.

One thing that jumps out at me is Aragorn’s honesty with the Hobbits:

“But I must admit,’ he added with a queer laugh, ‘that I hoped you would take to me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But there, I believe my looks are against me.’”

This is passed down from the original draft where Strider’s part was played by Trotter, a Hobbit. He was carrying Gandalf’s letter and said to them that “it amused me to see if I could induce you to take me on – just by my gifts of persuasion. It would have been nice (though quite wrong) if you had accepted me for my manners without testimonial!”

It’s clunky and not nearly as sympathetic as Strider’s phrasing, but that’s the germ of the thing. Sometimes I miss Trotter, but here, Strider has me won over despite his looks.

Both versions use the chestnut: “Handsome is as Handsome does.”

Sam took some extra convincing, but it was clear that “Aragorn son of Arathorn” was coming with them. He vowed “if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

Where the Hell is Gandalf?

Neither Aragorn nor the Hobbits know the answer to this, and it’s worrying them greatly.

Gandalf is in Hobbiton! And he visits the Gaffer, who tells him of Frodo’s leaving and about how shitty his new neighbors were. The Gaffer rattled on, and Gandalf was able to surmise:

“that Frodo had left Hobbiton less than a week before, and that a black horseman had come to the Hill the same evening.”

Gandalf did not stay the night in Hobbiton. At the Council of Elrond, he concludes the story by admitting: “Then I rode on in fear.”

I Have Seen Them! Black Riders!

Merry burst through the door with news that he was nearly captured by the two Nazgûl in Bree.

While the story follow’s Merry’s description of the events, Tolkien, in notes, jotted down the Nazgûl’s side.

“…foiled in their attempt to capture Merry [the two Nazgûl] make plans for attack on the Inn at night …

“The Inn attacked by the two Riders in the early hours before dawn.”

Map from Atlas of Middle-earth by Fonstad

Khamûl and two other Nazgûl (his companion and another) had returned to Crickhollow that morning and kept it under watch through the day into the night. Around the same time as the Inn was attacked by the two Bree-based Nazgûl, the three Crickhollow-based Nazgûl attack Frodo’s new home with Fatty Bolger inside.

Tolkien jots down that “Both attacks fail.” In the service of brevity, we can leave it at that – though reading the Crickhollow attack at the start of Chapter 11 is so much fun, maybe at least do that, okay?

Tolkien continued:

Following the failed attack upon the Inn, the two Nazgûl “go off in haste to find [the Witch-king] to report that the Bearer has gone (without waiting for further news).

[The three from Crickhollow] ride down the Buckland Gate and make also for Andrath [where the Witch-king is headquartered].

All nine of the Nazgûl were now assembled at Andrath, a pass between the Barrow-downs and the South-downs – perhaps thirty of forty miles south of Bree.

Tolkien’s notes continue:

[The Witch-king] now plans his pursuit. He sends four Riders across the country from Andrath to Weathertop. He himself with the other four scour all round the borders from Sarn Ford to Bree at speed, but can find out nothing, or feel any trace of the Ring….

This seems like quite a busy night for the Nazgûl, and Tolkien probably wasn’t taking distance into too much account when writing this. But this is where he settled upon, and he does say they did it “at speed.” So who knows?

Camera: Mamiya RB67 (1974)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor C 3.5/90mm
Film: Kodak Portra 160

September 28, 3018 – Hobbits on the Barrow-downs!

Welcome to September 28, 3018 of the Third Age. It’s technically the Autumnal Equinox in Middle-earth, but there’s a lot more going on than that. We’re starting Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-downs, if you’re reading along (and why wouldn’t you be?). We’ll also check back in with the Nazgûl.

North With the Wind in the Left Eye

Frodo is woken from a dream by Tom Bombadil’s singing. All the Hobbits were soon up and eating breakfast.They got their ponies and packs ready, and forgot to say good-bye to Goldberry. As Frodo turned around to do so, he saw her dancing on a hilltop calling them. She reminded them to keep north and to travel while the sun was shining. She again referred to Frodo as “Elf-friend,” using it almost as a second name, and they were off.

Their hike today was over plenty of treeless hills – the Downs. And though they would have to veer east or west for a bit to climb them, they generally kept north in the direction of the East Road. By midday, they could see a line of trees in the distance: the East Road. They were nearly out of the Downs.

From this high vantage point, Frodo looked east and saw hill that “were crowned with green mounds, and on some were standing stones, pointing upwards like jagged teeth out of green gums.” Putting it out of their minds, they hiked down the eastern slope of the hill for lunch, eating it with their backs against the “single standing stone” in this little hollow. They grew sleepy against the cold standing stone.

Not Quite Losing Heart: He Was Alone

All at once, the Hobbits woke to a changed scene. They must have slept for hours. The stone was cold and the sun was setting. Finding themselves “upon an island in the fog,” they felt trapped by this “white sea,” which soon swallowed them.

Despite the fog rolling in, the Hobbits remembered that the East Road was just to the north. As the scene darkened, they packed up their things and restarted their hike.

It turned cold and damp. They threw on their overcoats, mounted their ponies, and kept on a line to the East Road. Ahead, Frodo saw the north-gate, and knew that they were on the right path.

But when he got to the gate (“two huge standing stones”), it seemed off. This didn’t seem like the same gate that he saw in the distance. Despite this, he entered. His pony was having none of it and threw him off.

He realized that he was alone, and called to Sam, Merry and Pippin. Thinking he heard a reply, he scrambled east up one of the hills. He wasn’t sure, but thought he heard “help! help!” He got to the top of the hill, but it “was wholly dark.”

Looking around, he saw “a great barrow” – a grave. He called for his friends, but a voice, seemingly coming out of the ground, answered “I am waiting for you.”

Frodo looked up, thought he saw “a tall dark figure” with two eyes, and blacked out.

And that was the end of Frodo’s September 28th. When he woke, it would be the next morning.

Checking on Gandalf

You’ll recall that Gandalf started for the Shire from Rohan on September 23rd – the same day Frodo and the Hobbits left the Shire. It had been six days, which would have brought Gandalf to around Sarn Ford, where the Nazgûl overtook the Rangers to enter the Shire on the 22nd.

Gandalf was now in the Shire, but still 100 miles from Bag End.

Nazgûl Still in Buckland

Continuing Tolkien’s note from the previous post, we learn that:

“On 28 September they find Crickhollow at night, but do not attack though [Khamûl] is aware that the Ring has been, or is still, there. [Khamûl] ?lurks near, and [his companion] is sent to bring [the rider left by the Bridge] and the horses. Road between Bridge and Bree is thus left unwatched.”

It’s likely that the rest of the Nazgûl are more or less where they were the day previous. The three send to Weathertop are probably nearing it or working their way back west along the East Road.

Bree and Buckland are now their focus, and soon it will matter.

Camera: Spartus 35F Model 400 (c1948)
Film: Kosmo 100
Process: HC-110B; 6mins

September 27, 3018 – Taking a Zero with the Bombadils

On very long hikes, you sometimes take a “zero-day” – a day when you stay where you are and make no further progress. You do “zero” miles. Typically, this is in a town, and not at a campsite.

On this rainy day, our Hobbits take a zero-day at Tom Bombadil’s house. The day is spent listening to Tom’s stories. So much has been written about them that it hardly makes sense for me to delve into them. But we’ll check in with the Nazgûl too, of course.

Tom, History and the Barrows

Tom first told them all about the Old Forest and the Willow Man – and this “was not comfortable lore.” Frodo had enough of it, but Tom kept on going until his talk left the woods and moved to the area to the west: the Downs, the Great Barrows, etc.

He told them the history of their area, but it was Tom, so it didn’t quite make sense. Also, we’re told it through the narrator, not through Tom’s actual words.

The talk then turned to the Barrow-wights and the Barrow-downs, which the Hobbits had heard of before. Rumors of such things and places, though the Shire folk didn’t care to talk about it much.

Like Tom, Goldberry, and Old Man Willow, the Barrow-wights predate the Lord of the Rings. They appeared in the original 1937 Tom Bombadil poem. There, the Barrow-wight was typically under a mound of dirt, but had gotten free and wanted to take Tom back with him. But Tom scolded him – “Go back to buried gold and forgotten sorrow” – and that was that.

Tolkien believed that he had invented the word “Barrow-wight,” but it was apparently used in the late 1800s.

Tom continued, circling back to history. Here, he tells much of what is later more clearly told in Appendix A. Tom’s telling is very Tom-like. This apparently took all day as soon the stars were out.


Frodo then asks Tom: “Who are you, Master?” Of course, he doesn’t get a straight answer.

Tolkien first wrote this in a second draft of the chapter (written almost immediately following the first). The answer to “Who are you, Master?” is a little different.

In the final, published version, Tom replies:

Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.

The first draft of it has Tom calling himself “an Aborigine of this land.” In a later draft, he changed it to “Ab-Origine” – Latin (of all things) for “in the beginning.”

Continuing the first draft, Tolkien wrote and then struck out “I have spoken a mort of languages and called myself by many names.”

The rest is much the same. Tom was here before the rivers and trees, he remembers the first raindrop and acorn. He made paths before the arrival of the big and little people. And he was here before the Kings, graves and “ghosts” – a word he crossed out and jotted down “Barrow-wights.”


The first draft contains the line: “He saw the Sun rise in the West and the Moon following, before the new order of days was made.” This was kept in the next draft and dropped only for the final.

In The Return of the Shadow, Christopher Tolkien is surprised that his father would have written that Tom “saw the Sun rise in the West and the Moon following, before the new order of days was made.” In Tolkien’s concept of creation the Moon came first – “it was the elder of the lights.” He offers no explanation as to why his father wrote it, but that Tolkien eventually took it out is telling.

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

In both the original draft and the final version, the phrase “before the Dark Lord came from Outside” is puzzling.

Again, turning to Christopher Tolkien’s words, he suggests that “Outside” cannot refer to Valinor, since Tom wouldn’t have referred to Valinor in such a way, especially since he’s talking about the ages “before the seas were bent” – before the drowning of Númenor.

This leads him to conclude that by “Outside” his father (and Tom) meant the Void. The only issue with that, says Christopher, is that at this stage of writing his Silmarillion mythology, Melkor/Morgoth entered the world straight from Valinor and never left it.

Of course, in the published Silmarillion, Morgoth enters the world from the Void (the Outer Dark) into which he was cast by the Valar. But this idea didn’t come about until after the publication of Lord of the Rings.

Christopher here suggests that his father either talking about the scene when Melkor entered Middle-earth with Ungoliant (and the Silmarils) or that Tolkien had already changed his mind about the history of Melkor.

Personally, seeing how drastically writing Lord of the Rings changed the final-ish Silmarillion, it seems more likely that Tolkien had already changed his mind. But that’s wild speculation, so who knows for sure.

Supper, Silence and Almost Sleep

Goldberry had been out most of the day doing her washing, but the rain stopped, night fell, she returned and it was time for supper.

First, it was time for a dance, but then finally supper.

It was then good night, but Tom wasn’t tired and asked the Hobbits a bunch of questions. We’re told that “he appeared already to know much about them and their families, and indeed to know much of all the history and doings of the Shire…”

We here find out that Tom and Farmer Maggot are close. Though Maggot isn’t mentioned in the original Tom Bombadil poem, Tolkien later added him to his revised version (published after Lord of the Rings).

Tom then asked to see the Ring. He put it on, but did not disappear. Tom gave it back via a slight-of-hand “magic” trick (or real Tom-magic). This annoyed Frodo, who tried on the Ring just to make sure it was the same one.

And this set Tom off a bit. “Old Tom Bombadil’s not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring!”

Of note – Tolkien does not capitalize the “R” in “Ring” when Tom is wearing or referring to it. It’s subtle, but a clue into Tom’s nature, maybe.

The rest of the night was planning for the next day. They would start early, head north, avoid the Barrows and hit the East Road by sunset. “Don’t you go a-meddling with old stone or cold Wights or prying in their houses, unless you be strong folk with hearts that never falter!”

Tom then taught them a song to sing if they got into trouble. He doesn’t exactly say that he would come fish them out of this trouble though. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow!

Checking on the Nazgûl

The two Nazgûl who visited Bree and threatened the gatekeeper, Harry Goatleaf, found the Witch-king. Tolkien took quite a lengthy set of notes, and they’re all delicious for us Nazgûl fans. Let’s read some!

We learn that the Witch-king

“…is elated to learn that the Ring was really in the Shire, but is alarmed and angry at its escape; and also by the fact that the Bearer must now certainly know that he is being hunted. (If he is a person of power and knowledge he may find out indeed how to use it, and compel a Nazgûl to leave him unmolested at the least. But [the Witch-king is told that Khamûl] has discovered that the Bearer is a very small spiritless creature with no pride or will power, and is filled with terror at the approach of a Ringwraith.)”

It’s interesting to see the Witch-king’s change of moods here. He’s happy, he’s angry, he’s worried, and then happy again (well, happy in a Nazgûl sort of way).

If Khamûl had been able to capture Frodo and the Ring on their first or second encounter, none of this would be an issue. But he failed and that was troublesome.

We learn that the Witch-king was concerned that the Bearer could use the Ring to command the Nazgûl. I’m not sure this is ever mentioned in-story. It makes sense, of course, but I don’t think this is something outside of Tolkien’s head. Those worries are quickly put to rest when Khamûl describes Frodo.

Tolkien continues:

“[The Witch-king] is uncertain what to do. The Bearer seems to be making eastwards, he is therefore surely bound for Rivendell (not the Havens). He would have naturally used the East Road; but will he do so, now that he knows he is pursued? Probably he will attempt to escape from the Shire at some unexpected point, through the Old Forest and the Down, and there make cross-country to strike the Road beyond Weathertop, maybe.”

Nobody said the Nazgûl were dim. This is exactly what Frodo was doing. He decided to travel through the Old Forest, and was making north for the East Road.

“In that direction [the Witch-king] now sends out [three Riders] separately, with orders to reassembel just east of Weathertop, and then return towards Bree along or near the Road. [He] himself, [with two other Riders] redoubles his vigilance on the east-borders along the Greenway … his counsels disturbed by threat of attack. Some of the Dúnedine have met Elvish messengers, and [he] is uneasily aware that many enemies are watching him and though none has yet come with power to challenge him.”

It’s never said how the Witch-king knows that (probably Gildor) met with the Rangers, but it’s a good guess. He certainly learned that there were Elves in the Shire from Khamûl, and could pretty well guess that they told the Rangers all about it.

But Tolkien wasn’t finished! The 27th was a busy day for the Nazgûl!

“Meanwhile [Khamûl and his companion] are searching Buckland, but can do little except at night; and they are at a loss, since the Buckland did not appear in Saruman’s charts of the Shire at all. By good fortune they do not discover the Hay-gate [how Frodo & Co. entered the Old Forest]or become aware that the Ring has departed.”

It’s strange how long Khamûl was in Buckland. And it’s not over yet! Tune in tomorrow!

Camera: Imperial Debonair (c1960)
Film: Kodak Verichome Pan (x-06/1974)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

September 26, 3018 – The Old Forest, Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter

Hello and welcome to September 26, 3018 of the Third Age! It’s another big and memorable day today. We enter the Old Forest and meet a few legends! Let’s go!

The Memory of Many Injuries

Merry was the first awake (probably), and Frodo is again last (except for “that sluggard Fatty”). After a quick breakfast, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippen were on the road just a bit after 6am. It was their earliest start yet.

Coming to the Hedge an hour later, they entered the Old Forest a tunnel. Before disappearing, Frodo reminded Fatty to “tell Gandalf to hurry along the East Road.” They, of course, had no idea where Gandalf might be, but it was a ‘just in case’ sort of thing anyway.

There has been oodles written about the Old Forest, and it wouldn’t do well for me to go on about it. But in 1972, Tolkien had this to say:

“In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. […] The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries.”

These injuries, we learn were from the Hobbits who “came and cut down hundreds of trees and made a great bonfire in the Forest, and burned all the ground in a long strip east of the Hedge.” Local Hobbits claim that it was because the trees were attacking the Hedge, but after the fire, they noticed that the trees “became very unfriendly.”

This whole thing reminds me of a passage in “The New Shadow,” a possible sequel to Lord of the Rings that Tolkien abandoned in the late 1960s. He constructed a conversation between two men of Gondor, Saelon and Borlas. They were talking about unripe fruit, with Borlas telling the younger Saelon that destroying unripe fruit is just as bad to the trees as blights and cankers, ill winds. It was, in fact, “the way of Orcs.”

Saelon reasoned that it was the “way of Men too.” Then Saelon went on a bit of a tear:

“To trees all Men are Orcs. Do Men consider the fulfillment of the life-story of a tree before they cut it down? For whatever purpose: to have its room for tilth, to use its flesh as timber or as fuel, or merely to open the view? If trees were the judges, would they set Men above Orcs, or indeed above the cankers and blights? What more right, the might ask, have Men to feed on their juices than blights?”

Anyway, this was a matter close to his heart, especially, it seems, towards the end.

Everything Is Much More Alive

All that said, the Old Forest is depicted as basically bad, even evil. The Hobbits, as a whole, are afraid of it, few ever daring to step foot within it.

As Merry explained, “Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire.” He had been in once before, just a little, and it seemed like “all the trees were whispering.”

In their journey into the Old Forest, the trees attempted to hide the path, and even to guide them. We soon learn that Old Man Willow controls almost everything in the Old Forest. “His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in teh ground, and invisible twig fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs.”

The Origins

Atop a hill and a clearing, they got their first glance of the Withywindle.

Tolkien’s first bit of creation that would eventually grow into the Lord of the Rings-era of Middle-earth was the poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” Though it was first published in 1934 (while he was writing and editing The Hobbit, it was a story he told his children years before that (probably before he started writing The Hobbit).

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

The Withywindle, however, did not come from this poem, but was created by Tolkien in the first draft of this chapter. He wrote in Nomenclature that it was intended to be “in the language of the Shire.” Withy- was a common name for willows, though -windle was all his own. Seemingly, he just added a bit of flair to the word “withywind, “a name of the convolvulus or bindweed.”

Anyway, the Hobbits are soon attacked by Old Man Willow, a character taken directly from “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”. In the earliest published version (1934), Tom was attacked and captured by Old Man Willow just as the Hobbits were. Tom fell asleep under him and “in a crack caught him tight: quiet it closed together” and Bombadil was trapped.

In the poem, Old Man Willow has a bit of dialog, and asks Tom why he was “peeping” and various other things. Tom’s reply was:

You let me out again, Old Man Willow!
I am stiff lying here; they’re no sort of pillow,
your hard crooked roots. Drink your river water!
Go back to sleep again, like the River-daughter!

Old Man Willow “let him loose, when he heard him speaking.”

In our story, Old Man Willow throws Frodo into the water, while practically devouring Pippin and Merry. Sam save Frodo, and here is where we meet the aforementioned Tom Bombadil.

Hop Along, My Hearties

Tom Bombadil refers to himself as “Eldest,” and doesn’t seem to really fit into any category of creature in the Legendarium. In another sense, Tom is truly the eldest, as he was created by Tolkien likely before even The Hobbit was written.

In 1937, when Tolkien was trying to figure out what to do for a Hobbit sequel, he wondered Tom could be made into the hero the story (that would eventually become Lord of the Rings. At this time, Tolkien saw Tom as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.”

Of course, he didn’t center the story around Tom, but liberally sprinkled on the Bombadil & Friends through this chapter. He did so, he claimed, because he “wanted an adventure along the way.”

Who Is Tom Bombadil?

Tom is ancient and Tolkien never gave much of an explanation beyond that. He was likely in the world before the First Age (or at least at the start of it). Many folks smarter than I have spent thousands of words on Tom. I honestly can’t add much of anything to that.

My favorite thing about him is that Tolkien wrote even Tom’s non-rhyming lines in meter. It’s a lovely touch, and honestly makes me love the Bombadil chapter.

Tom frees Merry and Pippin. It’s clear that he could destroy Old Man Willow, but lets him live, again and again. This is Tom’s nature.

After Fellowship of the Ring was published, Tolkien received a lot of mail wondering who and/or what Tom Bombadil was. He seemed perplexed by the question. “Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative,” he replied to one. “[H]e is just an invention….” Tolkien added him and left him in because served a sort of function. “Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”

Tolkien insisted that Tom Bombadil did not need “philosophizing about, and is not improved by it.” He described Tom as an “exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science,” which he went on to clarify meant “Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture.”

In the end, Tolkien added Tom for “an adventure along the way.” He left him in “because I like him.”

“He is best left as he is,” wrote Tolkien in 1968, “a mystery.”

Spring-time and Summer-time, and Spring Again After

To me, there is nothing as wonderful in all of Tolkien’s writings as Goldberry. Her mystery, her everything completely captures me. I adore her.

She was a central part of the original Bombadil poem from 1934, where she was the “Riverwoman’s daughter.” She pulled him down into the river and then fled back to her house, but Tom would not follow. He later caught and married her (thankfully this problematic bit was sorted out in Lord of the Rings.

In our story, Tom first mentioned her in verse, and again as he was leading the Hobbits to his house.

When they arrive, Tolkien finally gets a chance to describe Goldberry.

Her long yellow hair rippled down her shoulders; her gown was green, green as young reeds, shot with silver like beads of dew; and her belt was of gold, shaped like a chain of flag-lilies set with the pale-blue eyes of forget-me-nots. About her feet in wide vessels of green and brown earthenware, white water-lilies were floating, so that she seemed to be enthroned in the midst of a pool.

When she met Frodo, he recited a poem that seems to come out of nowhere – at least Frodo has no idea how it came to him.

Tolkien later described Goldberry as representing “the actual seasonal changes in such [river-]lands.”

It’s Goldberry who sees Frodo as an “Elf-friend.” While Gildor was the first to refer to him as such, he seemed to do so as a sort of friendly greeting. Goldberry explained that “the light in your eyes and the ring in the voice tells it.” Readers know that this phrase crops up again and again, and it might be a good idea to keep an eye on it.

When Frodo asked her “Who is Tom Bombadil,” she replies simply: “He is.”

That’s a bit of a loaded answer – and Tolkien was not ready for the response he received about it. “He is,” thought many readers, was her way of rephrasing “I Am” from the Bible. Tolkien made certain to clarify this – Tom was not God, and “he is” was a far cry from “I am that I am.”

Good Night and Sleep Deep

After supper, the Hobbits were shown to their room. They talked to Tom for awhile, and he told them that he was expecting them. News had come his way, probably from Gildor. Frodo asked about Old Man Willow, but Tom wouldn’t talk about him at night. It would have to wait until morning.

Once asleep, Frodo dreamed of Gandalf’s escape from Orthanc, which happened four days prior. He also dreamed of the Nazgûl, likely happening at the same time as Gandalf’s escape. With that, Frodo woke, thinking that he had actually heard the Riders outside.

Pippin dreamed of Old Man Willow. He was terrified at first, but “a voice” (Tom) soothed him to “hear no nightly noises.”

Merry dreamed of water and lying in a “soft slimy bog,” but woke up soon after.

“Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented.”

Meanwhile in Bree …

Quickly – Aragorn has arrived in Bree as have two Nazgûl – one from the north, the other from the south. They ask about “Baggins” and terrorize the gatekeeper, Harry Goatleaf, into spying for them.

According to Tolkien’s notes (published in Hammond & Scull’s Readers Companion, there were two Nazgûl who visited Bree on this night. Neither were the Witch-king or Khamûl. These two were sent by Khamûl, who was then hiding in Buckland with his typical companion.

After leaving Harry Goatleaf and Bree, the two Nazgûl search for the Witch-king, but wont find him until the following day.

Camera: Ricoh KR-10 (1980)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor 55mm; f/1.8; 80B filter
Film: Kono Rotwild 400 CN

September 25, 3018 – More Nazgûl and Farmer Maggot

Today we meet Farmer Maggot, but there’s a bit to dig through before that, so let’s get going!

Good Heavens! At Breakfast?

Our Hobbits woke to no Elves, but to a wonderful breakfast, fully approved of by Pippin. He wanted to eat the whole thing, but Sam (dear Sam) stopped him.

Frodo is the last to wake (he was first the day before). Freaked out by the Black Riders, Frodo’s plan was to “walk to Bucklebury as quickly as possible.” In fact, he wasn’t even going to stop for a full day at Crickhollow. He was done with the Shire.

Pippin asked if Frodo and Gildor discussed the Nazgûl’s sniffing – they didn’t. Pippin was disappointed, “I’m sure it is very important.”

It’s a fair question. As discussed yesterday, Tolkien originally wrote the first rider, including the sniffing, as Gandalf. And even though he later had Pippin ask what that was all about, he never seems to have fully answered it.

Sam’s Change

Travel can give the traveler an entirely new outlook on life. Typically it happens after weeks or months on the road, but for Sam, it happened on the second night out. His meeting with the Elves. He was still Sam, of course. But there was an “odd change that seemed to have come over him.” He was, Frodo realized, thoughtful.

Sam said that he seemed “to see ahead, in a kind of way.” This change, when it happens, is hard to describe. Sometimes it’s even hard to notice. And while Sam noticed it, he couldn’t figure out how to put it into words. At first anyway.

“I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”

Frodo didn’t understand him, but understood that Gandalf “chose me a good companion.” It almost seemed like Frodo was following Sam’s lead. At the beginning of the morning, Frodo was cranky and sort of an ass to Pippin (which is pretty understandable). But Sam seemed to settle him.

It was another late start, but Frodo wanted to cut across fields to make it quicker. Mostly it was in a hope to avoid seeing other people. This did not work so well. By noon, they had only made a few miles. Frodo was in a hurry, but nobody really seemed all that interested in speed.

There Were Words in That Cry

Morning for the Nazgûl who retreated from the Elves the previous night was spent searching for a scent of the Ring. Tolkien, in notes finally published in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, had Khamûl (of Dol Guldur, the second-in-command) reach the ridge above Woodhall and was “aware that the Ring has been there.” This is where Sam saw the “black figure.”

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

Frodo wanted to cut across fields to make it quicker. Mostly it was in a hope to avoid seeing other people. This did not work so well. By noon, they had only made a few miles. Frodo was in a hurry, but nobody really seemed all that interested in speed.

They stopped for lunch, had a drink, and were soon laughing and singing.

Searching, the Black Rider could not find the bearer. Fearing that the Ring was slipping away, he cried out and called his companions to him.

This cry was heard by the Hobbits who quickly figured out two things. First, this was the Black Rider, and second, they were moving far too slowly.

When Khamûl’s companions arrived, they headed east riding over the fields.

Farmer Maggot and the Nazgûl

After a bit more walking, the Nazgûl could no longer be seen on the ridge. This put them at ease, and soon enough they were their old selves again.

This brings us to Farmer Maggot.

Tolkien seemed to have no idea what to do with him, and several interesting characters were created and slashed in the process. Was Farmer Maggot really a hobbit? Or was he kind of like a Tom Bombadil sort of fellow? In another version, Maggot was vicious and threatened to murder Bilbo.

Farmer Maggot had two guests on this day. First was a Black Rider – probably Khamûl. Though the conversation is likely translated through Maggot’s colloquialism, it’s odd to think of a Nazgûl saying “I come from yonder” before asking about Baggins. He offers to give Maggot gold if the farmer keeps an eye out for Baggins. Maggot sent him away.

Khmûl, according to Tolkien’s notes, here makes a mistake. He believes that the Ringbearer is a strong man (or whatever he thinks Hobbits are). The Rider “does not look near the farm, but sends [his companion] down Causeway towards Overbourn, while he goes north along it towards the bridge.”

The second visitors to Maggot’s place were, of course, were the Hobbits. Tolkien does a wonderful job of depicting small town rivalry. Before leaving the Shire, Gaffer Gamgee calls the hobbits of Buckland “queer folk.” Here, Farmer Maggot says that “folk are queer up there” in Hobbiton.

Maggot also mentions that it’s “no accident” that the Rider and Frodo showed up on the same day. In-story, this is obvious. But Tolkien was keen on these sort of coincidences, and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for them.

Following a bit of supper, Maggot helped the Hobbits get across the Brandwine River – though not before yet another encounter with a Black Rider. This was the Hobbits’ third direct contact with one.

The two Riders agreed to meet after nightfall, but do so too late. “Frodo crosses by ferry just bofore [Khamûl] arrives.”

After crossing, the Hobbits, now accompanied by Merry who met them upon their arrival, see a figure searching the ground, even crawling upon it. Tolkien concludes this section of his notes, writing: “[Khamûl] is now well aware that the Ring has crossed the river, but the river is a barrier to his sense of its movement.”

Water and the Nazgûl

I don’t really feel like going into this web of stickiness any more than Tolkien seemed to want to settle his mind on it. But here’s a short stub.

In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien wrote:

“All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight; and all, again save the Witch-king, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dryshod by a bridge.”

It was clear that the Nazgûl couldn’t cross at the ferry as the Hobbits had, and they speculated on how far they’d have to go to the next bridge. It was “ten miles north to the Brandywine Bridge.” Tolkien apparently made a mistake in his calculations, first writing “twenty.” It was later corrected (in 2004) by his son.

According to Christopher Tolkien, his father admitted that the idea that the Nazgûl couldn’t cross water “was difficult to sustain.”

Water and the Hobbits

The Hobbits spent that night at Crickhollow, in the house that Frodo had bought. After a couple of nights without a bath, they figured it was a fine time for one – and another song. And another supper.

Frodo, I think, nearly tells Pippin and Merry (and Fatty, I guess) about the Ring. Really, he has two secrets, but only one is on his mind – The Ring. The other, that he is leaving the Shire for good, seems like something set in stone to him (and Sam) that it’s pointless even pretending that it doesn’t exist.

But Merry says knows what Frodo is about to say and goes off on the secret of leaving the Shire. It’s actually kind of sweet.

“You meant to leave the Shire, of course. But danger has come on you sooner than you expected, and now you are making up your mind to go at once. And you don’t want to.”

Frodo doesn’t want to leave the Shire, doesn’t know how to say good-bye to it. But must because of the danger. Merry picks up on the danger, but at this point everyone is being so vague that they lose track of which secret they’re talking about.

Merry promises to keep this a secret, a “conspiracy.” He was worried that they’d try to stop him, but they’re all coming along (well, not Fatty). They understand, Merry assures Frodo. “We know the Ring is no laughing-matter; but we are going to do our best to help you against the Enemy.”

As it turns out Merry knew about the Ring for years due to Bilbo not being careful enough about it. Merry caught Bilbo using it to escape the Sackville-Bagginses. Here is when Frodo learns that Sam is “head” of the conspiracy. It’s all quite surprising.

After a bit of thought, Frodo decides to cut through the Old Forest. A plan was in place to leave the next morning (not Fatty – he was staying behind). We’ll see how early they get on the road.

That night, Frodo dreamed of the sea and “a tall white tower”. In an early version, this dream was much longer and described Gandalf’s delay. When he settled upon Gandalf being imprisoned in Isengard, he slashed the dream down to this. You can read the rest of it in The Return of the Shadow.

Oh, and the Hobbits likely traveled 27 miles today. Seven were in Farmer Maggot’s cart.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c1950)
Film: Kodak Gold 100 (x-12/96)