Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! (Day 21)

Making their way into the Old Forest, our hobbits become sleepy and lie down next to an old willow tree. But not all is as it seems. This is Old Man Willow, and he traps Merry and Pippin and tries to drown Frodo in the river! The uneasy Sam comes to Frodo’s rescue, but here we meet one of the strangest of Tolkien’s characters, Tom Bombadil.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper || FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP), expired mid 90s, xpro

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper || FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP), expired mid 90s, xpro

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p115-120, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
I don’t think I can explain just how much I absolutely love the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil segments of LotR. They really do exist in their own world. The story could do almost as well without anything between Crickhollow and Bree, but I would miss everything about Old Man Willow, Tom, Goldberry and even the Barrow-wights. I know this isn’t a very common view, but I adore every word of Chapters six, seven and eight.

Today, I don’t want to get too into Bombadil, just yet. There will be more than enough time for him. Today I’m thinking about Old Man Willow. He is the most Ent-like of the trees in the Old Forest, but his heart is rotten and he is, maybe not evil, but really not a nice fellow. He seems to control the trees in the Old Forest, and while our hobbits followed the path along the Withywindle, they began to feel sleepy. Actually, this was part of Old Man Willow’s power: “Sleepiness seemed to be creeping out of the ground and up their legs, and falling softly out of the air upon their heads and eyes.”

Frodo, Pippin and Merry were drawn to a large willow tree and there they rested, each falling asleep. This was Old Man Willow, and he literally ate all of Pippin and half of Merry. Frodo he dunked in the water and held him under with a tree root. Sam, on the other hand, made it a point to stay awake, though he too was sleepy: “‘There’s more behind this than sun and warn air,’ he muttered to himself. ‘I don’t like this great big tree. I don’t trust it. Hark at it singing about sleep now! This won’t do at all!'”

Tolkien’s use of song – well, I could go on for days about it. From the Ainulindale to Finrod’s battle with Sauron to the Dwarves convincing Bilbo to come with them, it’s clear that songs are ridiculously powerful and enchanting. Old Man Willow’s song is no different.

He, like Tom, Goldberry and the Barrow-wights, were first introduced in a stand-alone poem written in the mid1930s. Only later did Tolkien fold them into Middle-earth. And I’m so glad that he did.

In the original poem, Old Man Willow swallows Tom, clothes still wet from when Goldberry, the river’s daughter, pulled him under. It’s Tom’s song that releases him from the Willow, putting the tree to sleep, just as he did to escape Goldberry. Tom then does the same to Badgers and the Barrow-wight. Tolkien makes a passing reference to badgers later on.

Anyway, Tom accidentally comes across the scene of the crime, singing a song to Old Man Willow to clear the way: “Poor old Willow-man, you tuck your roots away!/Tom’s in a hurry now. Evening will follow day.” Apparently, Tom must do this every time he goes near Old Man Willow. They clearly have a long history together.

And while Tom might be able to handle this old crooked tree, our hobbits cannot. Because of this, Tom gets serious. He puts his mouth up to the tree and sings, though the hobbits cannot hear the words. He backed off, broke off one of the Willow’s branches, hit him with it: “‘You let them out again, Old Man Willow!’ he said. ‘What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! Bombadil is talking!'”

It’s later explained that there are varying degrees of Ent-ness, from those who are almost like trees, to full on Ent, like Treebeard. Old Man Willow isn’t an Ent, but he’s not totally asleep, either. This Tom Bombadil tries to remedy, telling him to go back to sleep, to dig his roots into the ground and drink water like a good willow tree might. That he ends his command with “Bombadil is talking!” really strikes me. He’s not singing here. He’s serious, so cut the crap, tree.

In the next chapter, Tom explains to Frodo just why the trees act in such a way:

“Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of the trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers.”

But we shouldn’t feel too badly for them, at least not for Old Man Willow, whose “heart was rotten.” He was “a master of winds, and his song an thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge [in Buckleberry] to the Downs.”

Though Tom chastised Old Man Willow, he did not cast him out. He didn’t cut him down or burn him up. He simply put him in his place. Goldberry explains why: “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”

Of course, if we are to believe the old poem (said to have been written by hobbits in Buckland), Goldberry caught Tom wading in the water. But then, in turn, Tom caught Goldberry. Since then, and after a wedding (which makes the Barrow-wight cry), they lived together in the Old Forest.

About the Photo
The photo was taken along Crab Creek in central Washington. This passage reminded me of it:
“Everywhere the reeds and grasses were lush and tall […] but once found, the path was easy to follow […] There were armies of flies of all kinds buzzing round their ears, and the afternoon sun was burning on their backs.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
Well, okay. So I stopped at four miles. That’s just how it works sometimes. It’s probably because I worked on speed. I was hovering at 12-13+mph the whole way. Normally, I’ll start at 10mph and work my way up (slowly). Tomorrow, I’m going to do four again. We’ll see if I can eventually trick myself into doing six.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 96
    • 39 miles to Bree
    • 118 miles to Weathertop
    • 364 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,683 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At Old Man Willow! (Map and Map)

All they Could Do Was Follow the Fold – Downwards (Day 20)

Camera: Imperial Savoy Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

And down the hill our hobbits go, trying always to turn to the north. The trees, however, have a different idea, and constantly block their way – though nobody ever sees them move. It’s as if they’re trying to draw them deeper into the Old Forest. After reaching a fold with a far side too steep to climb, they follow of brook to the Withywindle. Mary explores a bit and finds a footpath.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p114-115, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Though they could not see the East Road from the hilltop where they rested, they knew it was to the north, and set off in that direction. The idea that trees could move to block their way was on their mind, but nobody seemed to believe it. Yet, whenever they’d begin to make some northerly headway, they were turned back and led deeper into the forest.

While our hobbits were brave, they were at this point, except for Frodo and maybe Sam, hobbit-brave. If they had known for sure that the trees were actually moving and guiding them, Merry wouldn’t have left the company to search for some kind of path. After sitting for a spell, Pippin began to have doubts: ‘I am getting very suspicious of this Forest and everything in it, and I begin to believe all the stories about it.’

Pippin had discovered a footpath leading east along the river. It was the direction they wanted to go, but they had no idea how far down the Withywindle they were. They decided to continue on because what else could they do?

The question of who made the path was brought up by Pippin – Frodo and Sam are quiet during this passage. “Who made the track, do you suppose, and why?” Pippin asks. Merry has no idea “who could possibly come here often enough to make a path along it.”

I’ve read Lord of the Rings several times, but the small details such as this path are lost to my memory. And so, while I have a suspicion who made this path, and why, I find myself wondering what’s at the other end. There are willow trees all around, though no mention of water lilies.

About the Photo
At the risk of giving myself too much to do, I’m adding a segment where I can say a bit about the photo. This one in particular is in central Washington. Near Omak, and just east of the Columbia River, there are glacial lakes and myriad erratics (large boulders scooped up by the former iceflow and deposited where they now rest). There are a few dirt roads through this open country, and this spot, overlooking one of the lakes, really took me.

Though it’s nothing like the wooded scene described in the book, the description of the cliff with water immediately reminded me of this place. Also, the camera I used here, a plastic one from the 1960s called the Imperial Savoy (described by me, here), is easily my favorite.

Thoughts on the Exercising
A bit harder today than yesterday, but only a bit. I tried for a higher rate of speed, and was between 12mph and 14mph the whole time, but for the first mile. I still don’t seem to be losing weight, which is fine, but I figured I might by now. The noticeable change is that I’m not exhausted immediately after the session. I’m going to try to tack on an extra mile tomorrow and see what happens. Wish me lucky!

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 92
    • 43 miles to Bree
    • 122 miles to Weathertop
    • 366 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,687 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At the Withywindle! (Map and Map)

The Centre from Which All Queerness Comes (Day 19)

Camera: Kodak Duaflex II Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

Camera: Kodak Duaflex II
Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

Up a hill our hobbits climb, circling around it until they reach the top where they could see down into the river valley below. They took lunch and peered over the Barrow Downs – where they vowed not to go.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p112-113, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Another short passage, but one that gives Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry a chance to rest and have a look around. Due to the haze, they could not see very far.

Merry, as a guide, pointed out the Withywindle, a river that flows diagonally across the Old Forest before emptying into the Brandywine River. Merry, turning once more to fables, warns his companions that the “Withywindle valley is said to be the queerest part of the whole wood – the centre from which all the queerness comes, as it were.”

The others, however, just aren’t seeing it. I suppose it’s possible that Merry doesn’t see it, either. He would know the area well enough through maps, but maybe he was trying to seem more knowledgeable than he actually was.

From the top of this hill, they could not see the Brandywine River valley, now only fifteen or so miles back. To the north, they could not see the East Road, the main thoroughfare running from the White Downs in the east, through Buckleberry and Bree, near Rivendell and beyond.

If they were not being pursued by the Nazgul, Frodo would have taken the East Road, which was a much shorter path. Since that way was watched, they were forced to parallel it through the Old Forest.

As they ate, the sun burned off some of the haze so that they could finally see the edge of the forest to the southeast. And though they cheered, what they saw was the Barrow-downs. While Merry wanted to steer clear of the Withywindle because of all the queerness, they all wanted to keep far away from the Barrow-downs as they “had as sinister a reputation in hobbit-legend as the Forest itself.”

Before long, we’ll discover just why, though there’s more more weirdness between this hill and the downs.

Thoughts on the Exercising
It’s another five mile day on the lower tension setting and I’m feeling really good. I need to work at getting my heart rate up a bit, but other than that, I think I’m getting a decent enough workout. If I keep feeling this well, I’d like to start working on my time – trying to do it faster each day (or at least keeping a steady pace once I plateau). Onward!

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 87
    • 48 miles to Bree
    • 127 miles to Weathertop
    • 371 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,692 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At the top of a bald hill overlooking the Withywindle (Map and Map)

Bogey Stories of the Old Forest (Day 17)

Former car tunnel on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA
Former car tunnel on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA

Camera: Polaroid Minute Maker || Film: Fuji FP-100C (negative scan)

Our hobbits are up early in the predawn, but don’t get on the road until 6am. Now riding ponies, they clop slowly along until they reach the hedge separating Buckleberry from the Old Forest, which they enter through a tunnel of sorts. They bid good-bye to Fatty Bolger and Merry tells Frodo, Sam and Pippin what he knows about these strange woods.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p109-110, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
“There,” said Merry. “You have left the Shire, and are now outside, and on the edge of the Old Forest.” Hobbits seem to enjoy both the telling of stories and being suspicious. When they can combine the two pastimes, all the better. So it is with the Old Forest. Just as they entered the tunnel, Pippin asks Merry if the stories he’s heard about the place where true.

In this, Merry is more of an expert than anyone, since he’s been inside the Old Forest a few times – and once or twice at night! He didn’t believe the “old bogey-stories Fatty’s nurses used to tell him, about goblins and wolves and things of that sort.” Apparently, hobbits held that orcs and (I assume) wargs bandied about the Old Forest. According to Merry, that wasn’t true. “But the Forest is queer.”

Merry then goes on to tell what he knows. “Everything in it is very much more alive,” he explains, specifically mentioning the trees. “They watch you.” But not only do they watch, they’ll sometimes stick out a tree branch to trip you. Merry has heard for himself that the trees seemed to be whispering to each other. He has also heard that the trees can even walk, and relates a story about them attacking the Hedge which surrounds Buckleberry.

There doesn’t seem to be a date given anywhere for this attack, but the hobbits then cut down hundreds of trees and burned them. This was when they (the trees) became rather passive aggressive.

In letter #339 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he says this: “In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlorien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries.”

This was in response to an article that ran in the Daily Telegraph about forestry, saying that where there was once beauty, was now “transformed into a kind of Tolkien gloom….” He objected to the idea of “gloom” being connected with him and forests. He ends the letter: “The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.”

In the case of this passage, Tolkien is siding with the Huorns – which are a sort of sub-species of Ents. According to Treebeard the Ent, there are trees that are more Ent-like, and Ents that are more tree-like. Huorns fall in the middle. And it is probably Huorns who occupy the Old Forest. And though Tolkien defends trees overall, the Old Forest is actually something a bit different, as we’ll see. Think of it as Mirkwood if Mirkwood had never been returned to Greenwood by the Elves. But there’s something older in this Forest. According to Treebeard, the trees here might even be older than he is.

“If there are no worse things ahead than the Old Forest, I shall be lucky.” – Frodo

Thoughts on the Exercising
Well, figuring that I should have taken a break today, I decided to unloosen the tension completely on the elliptical machine. It was like running (or whatever) on air. Of course, it was much easier, but I was able to get my heart rate up without my legs hurting. I’ll add a bit of tension next time (because it was seriously cake… mmmm, cake), but for now, I feel great again. And in my defense, Frodo and company are riding ponies at this point.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 77
    • 58 miles to Bree
    • 137 miles to Weathertop
    • 381 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,702 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just as we enter the Old Forest. (Map)

From Deadly Peril into Deadly Peril (Day 16)

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

The walk from the ferry to Frodo’s new “home” at Crickhollow is a short one, taking our hobbits past Brandy Hall, Buck Hill and Buckleberry. Finally, they come to the new home, which Merry and Fatty have made into something lovely – very similar to Bilbo’s back at Bag End.

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/94)

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 5 (p99-108, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Though the walk was uneventful, the real story is at Crickhollow. I’m even tempted to say that this chapter, “A Conspiracy Unmasked,” contains everything you need to know about the new generation of hobbits and even Lord of the Rings in general.

Here we learn that Sam, Pippin, Merry and Fatty Bolger have known that Frodo was planning on leaving the Shire since April (it’s now the end of September). Not only that, but they knew of the Ring! In his teens, Merry once saw Bilbo use it to avoid the dreaded Sackville-Bagginses. He even caught a glimpse of the Red Book! But the hobbit who uncovered the most information about Frodo and his coming journey was, of course, Sam.

At first, Frodo believes his friends are trying to force him to stay. But no, they surprise him still further by telling him that they’ve planned all along to come with him – no matter where he’s going. They even made up their own version of the Dwarves’ “Far over the Misty Mountains” song.

Naturally, Frodo tries to talk them out of it, but he gives in far too quickly. They use a bit of logic and namedrop Gandalf and Gildor, but even if they hadn’t, two things were working against Frodo going at it alone. First, he was terrified. Second, he didn’t want to say good-bye to his friends. All this adds up to a road trip. Five ponies were made ready by Merry, and in the morning, they’ll be off – sans Fatty, who has no desire to leave the Shire – his job was to stay behind and make it look like Frodo still lived at Crickhollow. He was also to tell Gandalf where the four hobbits were headed.

There’s not a lot of commentary that can be done here. It’s just a wonderful chapter. Short, but filled with so much hobbity goodness. At the end, Frodo has two dreams. The first foresees his stay in Lothlorien, while the second is about a white tower which he wants to climb to view the sea, which he was (in the dream) filled with longing to see. The white tower is probably one of the Elf-towers at the edge of the Shire. They were built either by Gil-galad for Elendil or by Elendil himself. Supposedly one of the seven Palantiri (seeing stones) was in one of them.

Originally, Frodo’s dream was much longer and took place in Bree. It was from a passage that explained Gandalf’s absence. In that version, Gandalf, pursued by Black Riders, climbed into a tower to escape them. The idea of this tower later evolved into Orthanc. Finally, however, Gandalf’s absence goes, as of yet, unexplained or even unseen, and Frodo is simply dreaming about the sea.

The date is now September 25th. On July 10th, Gandalf was arrested by Saruman and placed in Orthanc. He escaped on September 18th. In this chapter, Frodo contemplates waiting at Crickhollow for Gandalf to arrive, but on this date, Gandalf is heading toward Bree. He crossed the Isen, leaving Rohan, the day before, upon Shadowfax. You can dig around for yourselves in the Timeline of Arda.

“You speak of danger, but you do not understand. This is no treasure-hunt, no there-and-back journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.” – Frodo

“We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.” – Merry

Thoughts on the Exercising
I don’t know why, but it keeps getting more difficult. It’s more my legs than anything else. I’m not winded or tired, but my thighs feel like they’re going to give out. I don’t know what to do. So I only did four miles today. I don’t think I would have been able to do more, really. On most elliptical machines, there’s a setting for tension. Ours has this too, but it’s fairly ghetto and has only a “+” and “-” symbol with an arrow to guide us. But it’s somewhat adjustable, so I’ll try messing with that tomorrow. Today was sort of a frustrating day, anyway, so maybe it’s just that. Bah.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 73
    • 62 miles to Bree
    • 167 miles to Weathertop
    • 385 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,706 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Frodo’s new “home” at Crickhollow. (Map)

The Sniffing of the Nazgul (Day 15)

Ferry Crossing Columbia River, WA

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Our hobbits continue their ride to the Buckland Ferry in Farmer Maggot’s cart. They’re met at the lane to the ferry by a dark rider who turns out to be none other than Merry Brandybuck! Sam is the only one among them who has never crossed the Brandywine River. After boarding the ferry and starting over, they look back and see that they narrowly escaped one of the Black Riders.

Ferry Crossing Columbia River, WA

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (x-pro)

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 4-5 (p96-99, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
With this passage, we start Chapter 5 – A Conspiracy Unmasked, though we’ll get to the conspiracy itself tomorrow. First, I’ve had some thoughts about the Nazgul who have been dogging Frodo. I’ve read “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales, and strongly suggest you do the same. It’s wonderfully fascinating.

In it, we learn what this particular Black Rider, Khamul, has been up to since Gildor and the Elves chased him off with their singing. The short story is that the nine Ringwraiths split up into pairs (as best they could) and two, including Khamul, went from Dol Guldur into the Shire. This pair are the two Frodo, Sam and Pippin heard call to each other not long before.

Khamul had been near to the Ring, but lost track of it, which is why he called to his companion. The Nazgul believe that Frodo has gone straight rather than zig-zagging through the woods. Going straight, they come to Farmer Maggot’s house and talk to him (as we know). Believing now that they’ve missed him, Khamul sends his companion south, while he goes north, and plan to meet at night, apparently at the ferry.

Frodo crosses just before Khamul arrives. His companion comes soon after. Being on the water, they lose track of the Ring once more. Frodo looks back from the ferry and sees Khamul on the ground as if looking for something. In actuality, he’s sniffing. This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of behavior from a Black Rider. To me, he is smelling (or something quite like smelling) for the Ring. Just like a dog who is tracking something, once it goes onto the water (supposedly) the dog loses the scent. This seems to be true for Wraiths and Rings.

On top of that, due to fear, the Ringwraiths cannot cross water but by bridge (except for the Witch King and one or two others). “My father nowhere explained the Ringwraiths’ fear of water,” wrote Christopher Tolkien in a commentary to “The Hunt for the Ring.” He brought up the inconsistency that they must have crossed other rivers by fords. “My father did indeed note that the idea was difficult to sustain.”

I love this idea, but it’s not consistent and is never explained. However, I think the sniffing is self-evident. They can “smell” the Ring (not Frodo).

Oh, and something else much less important (sort of). The older versions of the book say that it’s twenty miles from the ferry to the Brandywine Bridge, while the 50th Anniversary Edition says it’s ten. The reason for the change is that Tolkien reduced the size of Buckland but neglected to reduce the distance from the ferry to the bridge. “It is in fact an error that my father never observed,” Christopher Tolkien explained, giving the figure of ten miles as a good approximate.

“He [Sam] had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front. He scratched his head, and for a moment had a passing wish that Mr. Frodo could have gone on living quietly at Bag End.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
I took a break today during my five mile slog. It was only for about thirty seconds, but it broke the rhythm, and that’s no good. I’m going to start trying for speed for both my four and five mile jaunts (and maybe six mile, if my heart doesn’t explode too much). I’m having such a hard time with this, and if it were for the Tolkien bits, I would have stopped by now. That’s sad, because I really do want to get into better shape. I just need something more to drive me. Thankfully, I’ve got Sweating to Mordor.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 70
    • 65 miles to Bree
    • 170 miles to Weathertop
    • 388 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,709 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: On the Buckland Ferry (Map)

There’s More to Farmer Maggot than His Icky Name (Day 14)

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Four miles brings our hobbits to and from Farmer Maggot’s place. But here, we meet not just a kindly old hobbit, but an ally who much just have more of a story about him that we first suspect. We also get actual dialog from a Nazgul.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 4 (p90-96, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Once more, I could talk about Khamul the Nazgul, who actually has some lines in this passage. We learn that though their voice is “queer,” he speaks. Actually, we might get a paraphrased accounting as given by Farmer Maggot, as I can’t picture a Ring Wraith saying “I come from yonder.” Though, you never know.

But that’s not what’s on my mind, and that’s not all we learn. We also get a juicy bit of hobbit culture. Now, you’ll remember that Samwise’s father, The Gaffer, referred to the people of Buckland as “a queer breed, seemingly,” because they used boats. Here, Farmer Maggot admonishes Frodo, who was raised in Buckland, for moving to Hobbiton. “You should never have gone mixing yourself up with Hobbiton folk, Mr. Frodo. Fold are queer up there.”

I love the rivalry between Hobbiton and Buckland. I wonder if any of the other Shire towns have such a thing.

Farmer Maggot reckoned that the reason the Black Rider was looking for Frodo was because of old Bilbo’s gold. Frodo found the accurate guess “rather disconcerting,” though it wasn’t quite on the mark. We now have two accounts of older hobbits meeting Khamul, and both the Gaffer and Farmer Maggot refer to him as “a queer customer.”

Another sliver that’s easy to miss (but good to keep in mind) is that Pippin makes a reference (perhaps the second, I can’t remember) to Frodo living for good in Buckland. This will come into play soon enough, I think.

Incidentally, in Tolkien’s essay “Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings,” he makes a strange confession about Farmer Maggot’s unfortunate name. “Maggot. Intended to be a ‘meaningless’ name, hobbit-like in sound. Actually it is an accident that maggot is an English word meaning ‘grub’, ‘larva’.” I suppose this is similar to his unfortunate naming of Tirion on Tuna (and yes, “Tuna” is pronounced like the fish). Tolkien clearly lacked a bit of self awareness.

“Mark my words, this all comes of those strange doings of Mr. Bilbo’s. His money was got in some strange fashion in foreign parts, they say.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
I did something to my back yesterday – maybe I slept on it wrong, who knows. Anyway, It hurt quite a bit all today. After exercising, it feels a lot better, I guess I worked it out a bit. I know that pretty much nobody who’s reading this is doing so to keep up with how I’m feeling after ellipticaling several miles. This is really not a “Fitness” blog. I keep this section so I can look back on it later and see how out of shape I was. Today, I did only four miles because I was feeling sore. I’d much rather keep it at 5 or 6, but right now, that’s asking too much.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 65
    • 70 miles to Bree
    • 175 miles to Weathertop
    • 393 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,714 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Leaving Bamfurlong, Farmer Maggot’s place. (Map)

How Quickly Our Hobbits Forget (Day 13)

Glacier erratics in Douglas County, WA

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Glacier erratics in Douglas County, WA

Camera: Imperial Debonair 620 (1960ish) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64X (EPX) (expired 10/96 – xpro)

Five more miles brings our hobbits out of the woods and into a broad flat land. The indentation of the Brandywine River can be seen in the distance, as can Bucklebury Hill on the other side. As they tramp, Frodo looks back and can see their former campsite. He expects to see a Black Rider, but does not. Their spirits are lifted as the sun breaks through the clouds.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 4 (p90, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
With only a paragraph and a half, there’s not a whole lot to grab onto. This is one of the drawbacks of the project. Sometimes, I’ll have to skip huge chunks of the story (Rivendell, for example – as well as the entireties of Book 3 and Book 5). But that’s okay, I think. It’s not like I’ve not read Lord of the Rings before, and it’s not like I won’t read it again. I’ll probably even read it separately during this project.

Anyway, as far as the text goes, Tolkien is mostly describing the land. But he’s also describing our hobbits’ fear. The call of the Black Rider and the response from another (discussed yesterday) really startled them. It’s here that Tolkien begins to refer to the Black Riders in the plural.

First, being out in the open, the hobbits were even more frightened. But as the sun came out and as Frodo didn’t see the Rider on the ridge behind them, their fear left them, “though they still felt uneasy.” And as the land flattened out and they came to farmland “everything seemed peaceful, just an ordinary corner of the Shire. Their spirits rose with every step.”

This is something that Gildor warned Frodo about. “You must now make haste, and neither stay nor turn back; for the Shire is no longer any protection to you.” Frodo balked at this, wondering why a hobbit couldn’t just walk to the edge of the Shire in peace. Gildor countered: “The wide world is about you: you can fence yourselves in , but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

At the end of this short passage, Frodo is mentally fencing it out, forgetting about everything except the ordinary and peaceful Shire – now so obviously a relic. Tolkien ends this passage: “and the Black Rider began to seem like phantoms of the woods now left far behind.”

“Everything seemed quiet and peaceful, just an ordinary corning of the Shire.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
I’m a odometer watcher. As I’m ellipticaling along, I constantly look down to see how close I am to being finished. I realize this is probably not the best mindset to have, but that doesn’t so much matter to me. The real problem is that it’s like watching the clock – everything seems to move slower. This is why I watch TV while I’m exercising. Normally, it’s a half hour show, and that’s long enough to last the entire session. But today I’ve found that if I start a movie, the time goes by much faster, as I’m not rushing at the end to make sure I’m finished before the show’s conclusion. This is also a bad mindset, but it’s gotten me through today, and it was pretty easy. I’m feeling great, and though it took me a touch longer, I don’t care! It’s Monday, and who wants to feel even more exhausted on a Monday?

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 61
    • 2 miles to Farmer Maggot’s
    • 74 miles to Bree
    • 179 miles to Weathertop
    • 397 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,718 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Right by the edge of Farmer Maggot’s fields. (Map)

‘There Were Words in that Cry’ (Day 12)

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Camera: Imperial Savoy Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

Another five miles and now our hobbits are out of the woods – but not before a bit of a song and a terrifying cry. When the sun comes out and they start moving again, their spirits raise and all is (sorta/kinda) well again.

Thoughts on the Passage – p 88-90, Chapter 4 – (50th Anniv. Ed.)
No matter how I try, and even though there’s other things going on, I just can’t seem to get away from the Nazgul. This is Tolkien’s fault, as his narrative only gives tiny morsels of information about these Black Riders as it develops them as characters.

Here we learn something about the way they communicate with each other. Previously, we’ve only seen how they communicate with hobbits, specifically The Gaffer. They can apparently speak in the common tongue (and hiss).

As Sam and Pippin sing a pre-drinking song after having eaten lunch, their tune is interrupted. “A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high piercing note.” The call was answered, and whatever made the sound was far away.

It was, as we know, the call of the Nazgul. In “the movies,” Peter Jackson portrayed the sound as a scream. It’s effective and fairly chilling. But in the book, there’s more to it than just a shriek. Pippin first compared it to a bird, though not one that he had ever heard before. Frodo adds to the description: “It was a call, or a signal – there were words in the cry, though I could not catch them. But no hobbit has such a voice.”

Just what the one Nazgul (assumedly Khamul, the Rider who has been dogging the trio for miles and miles now) said to the other can only be imagined. It’s explained in Unfinished Tales that the Witch-king (the Nazgul leader) sent Khamul and a few other Riders into the Shire, “with orders to disperse while traversing it.” Khamul was ordered to find Hobbiton. Evidently, he was told that Baggins lived there by Saruman. So Khamul was more than likely reporting his findings to one of his nearby(ish) comrades.

Maybe it’s like listening to some screamy mid90s hardcore band. The vocals don’t sound like much, you can’t really pick out the words, yet you know they’re there.

If you want a good read, check out the “Hunt for the Ring” chapter in Unfinished Tales. It does for the Nazgul what the “Quest for Erebor” does for the Dwarves. There are a few different versions of the manuscript and goodness, it’s stocked with background information.

‘It was a call, or a signal – there were words in the cry, though I could not catch them. But no hobbit has such a voice.’

Thoughts on the Exercising
Crap. Today is the exact opposite of yesterday. No idea what’s happening to me. Usually, I don’t sweat (it’s just a thing I don’t do – I basically never sweat, no idea why). But today, it’s pouring off me in some very unflattering ways. I did five miles in about the same amount of time it usually takes me (25 minutes, give or take). Yesterday, I didn’t even bother showering (seriously, I don’t get stinky, either), but today I feel like doing nothing but showering. And that’s where I’m headed now. Smell ya later.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 56
    • 7 miles to Farmer Maggot’s
    • 79 miles to Bree
    • 184 miles to Weathertop
    • 402 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,723 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Out of the woods. But too far south! (Map)

Day 11 – There’s Something More to Our Sam

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Our hobbits start their third day, and we’re with them for the first five miles. The crux of the writing is actually spent at breakfast. But soon Frodo decides to leave the road again, cutting through the woods toward Buckleberry Ferry. Pippin protests, but mostly he just wants to go to Stock and drink beer. It is good that they leave when they do, as Sam sees the Black Rider in their old campsite from a mile or so away. The woods and brambles are much slower going then Frodo figured.

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: FujiChrome RDP (100D), x-pro as C-41, expired 10/1997

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: FujiChrome RDP (100D), x-pro as C-41, expired 10/1997

Thoughts on the Passage – p 86-90 (of the 50th Anniversary Edition)
Today we learn a bit more about Samwise Gamgee. In the first part of the book, Sam is little more than Frodo’s gardener. Sure, they’re friends well enough, but mostly he’s not Frodo’s peer. Early on, we see a slight hint of what’s to come with Sam, however. Sam is in the Green Dragon with the miller’s son, Ted Sandyman (the Shire’s very own Scut Farcus). They’re talking about the Elves moving west and Ted is being a chump. Anyway: “‘They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,’ said Sam, half chanting the words, shaking his head sadly and solemnly. But Ted laughed.”

Sam, here, is nearly a poet. This is more than we might have expected. And in today’s passage, Sam is more, still. Frodo was thinking of what to do next, and trying to figure out how to dump everyone off at Crickhollow (where he was supposedly going to live) while he set off for Rivendell. Frodo said to himself: “It is one thing to take my young friends walking over the Shire with me, until we are hungry and weary, and food and bed are sweet. To take them into exile, where hunger and weariness may have no cure, is quite another – even if they are willing to come. The inheritance is mine alone. I don’t think I ought even to take Sam.”

For me, it was easy to recall the idea that Sam was merely going along to protect Frodo. That, like a good servant, friend and gardener, Sam would follow Frodo into Hell itself. But next I was reminded that there was something more.

Frodo then asked Sam if he felt any need to leave the Shire now that he had finally seen Elves for himself. Sam replied:

“Yes, sir. I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. 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 right 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 did not, but concluded that “Gandalf chose me a good companion. I am content. We will go together.”

When I read this, it sort of took me by surprise. It’s easy to miss. Because of his nature, it’s easy to miss a lot of what Samwise Gamgee says. And I’ll admit, I missed this the first few times I read it. But if we’re smart, we’ll pay attention. Sam is no ordinary Hobbit and he’s not simply following his master. He’s not even just following his friend. Tolkien argued in a 1964 letter that Sam only becomes paternal after Frodo is injured at Weathertop (and we’re not there yet).

What drove Sam was never explained, and soon his love for Frodo would take over whatever selfish motives he had (I don’t mean ‘selfish’ in a nasty way). But it could possibly have been the same thing that drove Bilbo to have his adventure with the Dwarves. Maybe there was a line of Took in Sam’s blood, or maybe he was just influenced by Bilbo as Pippin and Merry were. But be watchful, there’s something more to our Sam.

“Shortcuts make long delays.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
I love this project. I’m feeling so great right now (I’m writing a few minutes after getting off the elliptical). Five miles hardly seemed like enough. And to be honest, before hopping on the machine, I seriously contemplated just skipping today. I felt sort of washed out. But now I’m quite the opposite. My thighs, which had been hurting a great deal, hurt a lot less. My arms are now what’s aching. But now it’s a good ache. I sprinted (well, “sprinted”) the last quarter mile, and now I think I’ll try to do that more and more each day. We’ll see how that works out.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 51
    • 12 miles to Farmer Maggot’s
    • 84 miles to Bree
    • 189 miles to Weathertop
    • 407 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,728 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Walking south (but not too south) through the woods. (Map)