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)