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.
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.”
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.