October 20, 3018 – Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen!

Welcome to October 20, 3018 of the Third Age. Today our Hobbits cross the Bruinen. It’s a big day for everyone – Man, Wizard, Hobbit, Elf, and Nazgûl alike. Let’s dig in.

Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
“The hobbits were still weary, when they set out again early next morning.”

Catching Up and the Morning

The Hobbits were beat. They had walked over 50 miles in the last two days and had around 20 to go today to get to Rivendell. Their last day off was at Tom Bombadil’s house on September 27th. From that point on, they had 15 to 20 mile days without rest.

For a hiker, this is pretty normal. But these weren’t just hikers out for a ramble. They were attacked, chased, off trail through thickets and rocks. These were hard miles and it was life or death.

When they woke up this morning, Glorfindel gave them the inspiring news that his heart warned him “that the pursuit is now swift behind us, and other danger may be waiting by the Ford.”

The morning and early afternoon were uneventful. There was grass along the road and the Hobbits walked on it to soothe their feet. Frodo was now riding Glorfindel’s horse, Asfaloth.

But once they passed through a tunnel of pine trees, everything changed.

‘They Called To Him with Fell Voices’

‘Fly!’ he called. ‘Fly! The enemy is upon us!’

As it turns out, Glorfindel’s heart was right. The Nazgûl were behind them. Frodo was pretty close to unconscious, but this woke him. The Nazgûl seemed to be commanding him to halt, which he did.

Then at once fear and hatred awoke in him. His hand left the bridle and gripped the hilt of his sword, and with a red flash he drew it.

Frodo’s out of it for a little while and wake up with delusions of grandeur, right? Apparently so.

Glorfindel, probably rolling the hell out of his Elvish eyes, stops telling Frodo to ride on and speaks directly to the horse: “noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth!” – Run swift. run swift, Asfaloth!

Though Frodo made time against the Nazgûl behind him, there were four in front, coming in on his left to cut him off before reaching the ford.

The Nazgûl here are described in striking terms. Tolkien wrote that they “appeared” to Frodo to not be wearing their black cloaks – “they were robed in white and grey.” They held their swords and “helms were on their heads.”

Gandalf will explain this when they reach Rivendell. “You were beginning to fade,” he would tell him, referencing his wound from Weathertop. Even without the Ring, Frodo was starting to be able to see the Nazgûl as they saw him.

And though they “called to him with fell voices,” Frodo was nothing but terrified. He held onto Asfaloth’s mane as the horse darted past all of the Nazgûl, who were clearly unaware of the speed of an Elf-horse.

Of course, they could have just been waiting on the road to intercept Frodo, and still have been mostly out of sight, but then we’d have a very different story.

‘To Mordor We Will Take You’

Anyway, Frodo crossed the river with his eyes closed and basically without incident. To him, of course, it was dramatic. The Nazgûl were right behind him. Maybe they could even overtake him!

But when he reached the far shore, Asfaloth turned around. Horse and rider both saw the Nine just waiting on the other side. Though he had safely crossed, Frodo felt defeated. “…he had no longer the strength to refuse.”

It should be pointed out (quickly) that Strider, Glorfindel, and the three Hobbits were on the other side of the Nazgûl at this point. Gandalf fills in the details to Frodo in Rivendell: “Your friends sprang aside, off the road, or they would have been ridden down. They knew that nothing could save you, if the white horse could not.”

With the Nine stood still at the water’s edge, everything seemed to stop. The Witch-king advanced, but his horse reared up in fear before the river.

This spurred something in Frodo!

‘Go back!’ he cried. ‘Go back to the Land of Mordor, and follow me no more!’

With that, the Nazgûl laughed and urged him to recross the river – “to Mordor we will take you!”

Three of the Nine, with the Witch-king in the lead, began to cross. Frodo called to them, dropping the names of both “Elbereth” and “Lúthien the Fair,” that they “shall have neither the Ring nor me!”

The Witch-king stood up in his stirrups and raised a hand. Apparently through magic, he broke Frodo’s sword and caused his tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth. By this time, the Witch-king was nearly across.

And here is where the flood came. We’re later told that Elrond controlled the river, but it was Gandalf who made the “white riders upon white horses with frothing manes” appear on the waves. Nice touch!

Only three of the Nine were in the river and washed away. These were the Witch-king (for certain), Khamûl (as confirmed in Tolkien’s note), and another – maybe Khamûl’s messenger (unconfirmed, and actually Tolkien’s notes say that there were “possibly some others” rather than just one).

As for the other six, we only get Frodo’s hazy vision of what’s going on:

“…a shining figure of white light; and behind it ran small shadowy forms waving flames, that flared red in the grey mist that was falling over the world.”

This is, of course, his Ring-o-Vision™. In notes, Tolkien clarified: “Aragorn and Glorfindel drive the others into the River with fire.”

Gandalf also clarifies this to Frodo when the latter awakens in Rivendell: “Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn.”

With that, Frodo passed out.

It can be assumed that they made it the rest of the way to Rivendell without incident.

What’s Next?

We’ll meet again whenever the hell Frodo wakes up – ‘the morning of October the twenty-fourth, if you want to know.’

Camera: Crown Graphic (1962)
Lens: 127mm f/4.7 Rodenstock Ysarex
Film: Kodak T-max 100 (x-09/2003); 64iso

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October 18, 3018 – Troll Sat Alone On His Seat Of Stone

Welcome to October 18, 3018 of the Third Age! We’re twelve days out from Weathertop, but today retreads some ground as we dip back into The Hobbit.

Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
“The morning dawned bright and fair…”

A Morning Scout

Soon after rising, Strider decides that he needs to check out the surroundings and takes Merry with him.

Merry is the most well-traveled of all the hobbits in the party, so it makes a bit of sense, though he doesn’t really say much and the conversation is all topical. They had just come over a pass and Strider walked back up to the summit to see what he could see. When they passed over it the day before, night had already fallen. In the daylight, however, he could see that they were going in the right direction (“more or less”).

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

They had strayed too far north and now they were pointed southeast. If they continued down this valley, the Misty Mountains would be on their left. Had they been going east, the mountains would be on their front. While descending the summit, Strider caught glimpses of the Loudwater River, also known as the Bruinen (which apparently means “noisy water” – go figure). The Loudwater flowed southwest until it met the Hoarwell, which the company had crossed not too long ago. Both rivers flowed out of the Misty Mountains. At the confluence, they form the Greyflood.

When he saw the Loudwater, Strider knew the East Road was close at hand. It was the only way to cross the river – at the aptly-named Ford of Bruinin. That it was the Ford of Bruinin indicated that there weren’t other fords. If they were going to cross the river, it would have to be on the East Road. Otherwise, they’d end up in the Misty Mountains and away from Rivendell, now incredibly close at hand.

But an obvious crossing, such as the Last Bridge had been, was dangerous. The party still had no idea why the Nazgûl pursuing them had not cut them off at the bridge spanning the Hoarwell. And likewise, they (or at least Strider) could think of no reason at all why the Enemy wouldn’t be waiting for them at the obvious crossing of the Ford of Bruinin.

As for Frodo and his wound, he was feeling better, even after the nightmare-laden sleep of the previous night, when he dreamed of Nazgûl on large winged creatures (!!!). Still, every once in a while, “a mist seemed to obscure his sight, and he passed his hands over his eyes.” I guess that helped.

The Stone-Trolls!

“In the stony wall there was a door hanging crookedly ajar upon one great hinge.”

To readers of The Hobbit, it should be clear where they are. And to Pippin, who was more than a little familiar with Bilbo’s stories, it was certain. “Surely this is a troll-hole, if ever there was one!” If Pippin knew where he was, though, he would not have been afraid.

This wasn’t just a troll-hole, but the Troll-hole from Bilbo’s tales. In The Hobbit, after escaping the Trolls. Though then it was hidden by bushes, “they came on a big door of stone leading to a cave.” Gandalf tried to open it with incantations, but it was Bilbo who had found a key. This is where Bilbo received his sword, Sting. Apparently, someone had left the door open when last visiting the troll-hole.

When Pippin comes running back telling everyone that he’s seen trolls down “in a clearing of the woods,” they proto-fellowship, led by Strider, who picked up a stick, went to check them out.

“Strider walked forward unconcernedly. ‘Get up, old stone!’ he said, and broke his stick upon the stooping troll.”

When the hobbits come to their senses and realize that they’re standing among the trolls turned to stone in The Hobbit, they all have a good laugh at themselves (except Pippin, who’s still a bit shaken). Strider replies:

“It is broad daylight and with a bright sun, and yet you come back trying to scare me with a tale of live trolls waiting for us in the glade! In any case you might have noticed that one of them has an old bird’s nest behind his ear. That would be a most unusual ornament for a live troll!”

To me, this sounds quite a bit like hobbit-speak. And it’s no wonder, really. This goes back to our old friend Trotter, the wooden-shoed hobbit, who played the roll of Strider in the early drafts of the story, before Strider became Aragorn.

The original draft is nearly identical to the final, published version, except for the lines spoken by Trotter/Strider.

“Trotter walked forward unconcernedly. ‘Hullo, William!’ he said, and slapped the stooping troll soundly.’ And he said: ‘In any case you might have noticed that Bert has got a bird’s nest behind his ear.’”

It’s slightly different – Trotter knows the story well and uses the Trolls’ names. It seems like he’s been here before. But there’s enough of the hobbit-speak left in the final draft to throw Strider’s character off a bit.

This version, written in 1938ish remained unchanged until 1942 when the Trolls’ names were dropped and Sam was finally given his song.

They had not had a song since Weathertop, which was twelve days past. And so Sam began to sing off the top of his head. Seriously. Sam is awesome.

Anyway, the song was originally to be sung by Frodo at the Prancing Pony, but when Tolkien discovered that the proto-fellowship had come to the same trollish haunts as Bilbo, he couldn’t do anything but use it here!

Following the song, Strider and the hobbits continue on toward the East Road, likely following the same path Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves used decades before.

It’s Glorfindel Again!

Shortly after arriving at the East road, the hobbits hear Glorfindel’s horse, and become understandably worried that it was one of the Black Riders’. But the way Tolkien describes the hoof beats was so dissimilar to those of the Nazgûl, that it’s clear from the start that this is something different. There’s nothing at all harsh about it: “They were going fast, with a light clippety-clippety-clip.” There were jingling bells and “trotting feet.” I don’t believe he ever described the Ringwraiths’ horses as trotting (and certainly not as a “clippety-clip”).

As soon as he saw the rider, Strider smiled and ran over to him. They exchanged an Elfish greeting (meaning “Hail at last, Dunadan! Well met!” This was hardly a social call, and the two had a quick and urgent conversation.

Glorfindel then tells them about his encounter with the Nazgûl at the Last Bridge a week prior.

Anyway, Glorfindel was fairly certain that the Road Frodo must travel, and specifically the Ford of Bruinin that he must cross to get to Rivendell, would be barred by the Nazgul. To make matters worse, he was just as certain that some of their number were behind them.

While Glorfindel was explaining all of this, dusk was falling. With this dimming, Frodo’s wound worsened and he felt cold. The Nazgul’s power is heighten not only at night, but by fear. And now he was getting a heave dose of both.

Sam demanded that Frodo rest for the night, but that couldn’t happen. And once Strider explained the nature of the wound and showed Glorfindel the hilt of the Morgul-weapon, the Elf said that “there are evil things written on this hilt,” though they could probably not be seen with the eyes of Men. “Keep it, Aragorn, till we reach the house of Elrond! But be wary, and handle it as little as you may!”

For Frodo’s wound, Glorfindel could do only a little. He took a close look at it and pressed upon it with his fingers. Though he gave it a “grave” look, the cold in Frodo’s side and arm lessened and the pain was easier to take. Even the dusk seemed to be less dark. “He saw his friends’ faces more clearly again, and a measure of new hope and strength returned.”

This was great and all, but Glorfindel now insisted that Frodo ride his horse – he’d even adjust the stirrups for him. “He will bear you away with a speed that even the black steeds of the enemy cannot rival!”

“‘No, he will not!’ said Frodo. ‘I shall not ride him, if I am to be carried off to Rivendell or anywhere else, leaving my friends behind in danger.’”

This was certainly sweet and noble of Frodo, but Glorfindel assured him that his friends, Strider and even Glorfindel himself would be perfectly safe once Frodo was away from them. “The pursuit would follow you and leave us in peace, I think.” And though true, we can see that even Glorfindel could be kind of dickish.

Frodo acquiesced, though he stuck with the group. They would walk another fifteen miles before they’d make camp for the night. All told, Strider and the hobbits tramped thirty-four miles that day, their 12th from Weathertop and 25th from Hobbiton.

A Quick Check in on Gandalf

It’s on this date (October 18th) that Gandalf finally arrived in Rivendell. He had traveled a bit farther than Strider and the Hobbits, heading north into the Ettenmoors to avoid the Nazgûl following him after their fight at Weathertop on October 3rd. For fifteen days, the Wizard was wandering on his own.

By this point, Boromir, Glóin and Gimli have all probably made it to Rivendell.

What’s Next?

We’ll take tomorrow off (since it’s just a walking day), and check back in on the 20th, when they reach the Ford of Bruinen.

Camera: Seneca Chautauqua 4×5 (1905)
Film: Kodak Tri-X (4164); x-09/1973; 50iso

October 17, 3018 – ‘Some Poison or Evil at Work’ Against Frodo

Ho! Welcome to October 17, 3018 of the Third Age. We’re still walkin’. Frodo had left the Shire 24 days ago. It had been eleven days since he was wounded on Weathertop, and Strider was beginning to worry about provisions. Let’s dig in.

Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
“In the morning he woke up to find…”

Since our last post, Strider, the Hobbits and Bob the pony had scrambled over hills and boulders of the Trollshaws working their way east towards Rivendell. The going was rough and Frodo wasn’t getting better.

For eleven days, Frodo had been suffering from being pierced with the Witch-king’s notched blade. Strider had done what he could to nurse it, but hurrying to Rivendell was of the utmost importance. There, Frodo might be cured.

The night previous, Frodo’s wound was more painful than it had ever been before. This was attributed to the cold, but there was more to this than simply the weather. That night, before sleep, he was haunted by the encounter on Weathertop, “he felt that black shapes were advancing to smother him; but when he sat up he saw nothing….”

When he did finally sleep, he dreamed about walking in the Shire, but everything seemed “faint and dim.” The only thing that was clear were “the tall black shadows that stood looking over the hedge.”

Frodo and the ‘Icy Claws’


Strider discovered that he had taken them too far north and they were at risk of fumbling into the Ettendales, troll country. Though we think of Strider/Aragorn as knowing nearly all of Middle-earth like the back of his hand, he admitted that he knew very little about the Ettendales. There was also the question of food.

And so he resolved to again rejoin the East Road at the Ford of Bruinen. This long and rocky detour wasn’t all for nothing, of course. The less they were on the main road, the more difficult they would be to find for the Nazgul, wherever they were.

Though they found a valley leading in a more southerly direction, it was the most difficult of the Trollshaws episode thus far. Frodo, hardly able to walk, had to get off his pony (though how they were taking a pony through this is well beyond me). Here it becomes clear that the reason why Strider was carefully picking their paths and why he ended going too far north was to accommodate Frodo.

By the end of the day, all were even more exhausted. Frodo could not move his left arm, and all down his side and shoulder was like “icy claws” had him in their grip.

Merry, the most traveled of the hobbits, pulled Strider aside and confided in him that Frodo might not be able to go any farther because of his wound. Strider countered that Frodo’s wound was why they had to press on. He wasn’t certain that Rivendell would be any help, but it had to be better than this place.

But here we learn something about the Enemy’s weapon. Sam asked what was wrong with Frodo. The wound seemed to have healed well enough. “There’s nothing to be seen but a cold white mark on his shoulder.”

Strider then explained that Frodo had been “touched by the weapons of the Enemy… and there is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out.”

This was the work of the Morgul-blade. They were knives carried by the Nazgul that are laced with some sort of dark power (“morgul” means dark sorcery). When stabbed, the victim dies, even if the wound, like Frodo’s, was slight.

As Gandalf will explain later, if the Nazgul had succeeded in piercing Frodo’s heart, “you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord….”

Gandalf attributed Frodo’s survival to “fortune or fate,” and even his own courage. The Nazgûl missed their mark – his shoulder – because he resisted to the last.

What’s Next?

We’ll check back tomorrow for some Trollish action.

Camera: Imperial Satellite II
Film: Fuji Velvia 100F (x-09/05)

October 13, 3018 – “We May Pass the Bridge”

Welcome to October 13, 3018 of the Third Age! The Hobbits and Strider are coming up on the Last Bridge on their way to Rivendell. Let’s catch up!

Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
Next day, early in the morning…

Two days ago we looked briefly at Glorfindel’s route of the Nazgûl at the Last Bridge. There wasn’t a fight – they saw him and took off. While there (and before giving chase) he placed a jewel on the ground for Aragorn and the Hobbits to find.

Today, the seventh day out from Weathertop, they find it.

Their course had taken them north from the East Road, and then north-east. They knew they had to get back to the road itself in order to cross the Hoarwell at the Last Bridge, but were hesitant to do so because of the Black Riders. However, Frodo’s wound wasn’t getting any better, and speed was needed to get to Rivendell.

On the morning of this day they finally came back to the road. Strider could tell that the road had been unused for two days. A couple miles later, they came to the Last Bridge.

When the bridge came into view, Strider ran ahead to check it out and found Glorfindel’s jewel.

‘It is a beryl, an elf-stone. Whether it was set there, or let fall by chance, I cannot say; but it brings hope to me. I will take it as a sign that we may pass the Bridge; but beyond that I dare not keep to the Road, without some clearer token.’

Glorfindel later explains that he “left it as token,” but doesn’t really go into detail and clears nothing up about how the stone was supposed to be helpful in the least.

Still, it gave Aragorn hope.

After crossing, they walked another mile or so and then headed off-road once again. This time it was into a rocky and hilly wilderness known as the Trollshaws.

We’re told that “this new country seemed threatening and unfriendly.” Frodo, who was at this point not walking, thought of Bilbo and the Trolls, William, Tom and Bert, from his quest here 77 years before.

They also saw old forts and embattlements staring down at them, and asked Strider who built them. This land used to be part of Rhudaur, one of the three sub-kingdoms of Arnor. This sub-kingdom was the first to fall under the influence of the Witch-king’s land of Angmar.

Looking around, they saw buildings, castles, built atop some of the hills. Strider then went on to explain that these evil men were all killed in the war that “brought the North Kingdom to its end.” While the war started in 1409 of the Third Age, this last fight, called the Battle of Fornost, did not happen until 1975, or 1,043 years before our story takes place. These old forts were over a millennium old.

After Strider explained this (in much less detail), Pippin asked where he learned about all this history. “The birds and beasts do not tell tales of that sort,” he concluded. This is incredibly fascinating, I think. Pippin completely took for granted (or simply knew) that the birds and beasts told some sort of tales – though not of this sort. So, what tales do the birds and beasts tell? We know that some birds, like crows, can be spies and report to the Enemy, but what could he mean here?

Before they make their camp for the night, Strider sort of reveals two things about himself that the hobbits seem to miss completely. In answer to Pippin’s question, Strider replies: “The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past.” He quickly moves on to talk of Rivendell, which the hobbits key upon, ignoring the whole “heir of Elendil” bit, if they would even have known what it meant.

Second, in talking of Rivendell, he says “there my heart is.” Of course, it could mean that he misses the place because he “dwelt there once,” but that hardly seems reason to leave your heart behind. I mean, Tony Bennett didn’t just pass through San Francisco, right? No, his love waits there, above the blue and windy sea!

A Short History of Rhudaur

In the year 3320 of the Second Age, near the end of that age, the kingdom of Arnor was founded by those who had escaped the destruction of Numenor. Others of their number also founded Gondor. (Here’s a lovely map that might help you.)

For some 860ish years, Arnor was one kingdom, but after the king died, his three sons started a civil war which resulted in Arnor being divided into three separate kingdoms: Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan. It is the border of Arthedain and Cardolan which Tom and the hobbits come across. Cardolan was the southern portion, with its northern border along the East Road. All three kingdoms met at Weathertop.

From roughly 861 till roughly 1300 (it was in 1100 when Gandalf, etc discovered the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, by the way), there was relative peace between the three separate kingdoms. But it was then that the Witch-king established Angmar, to the north of old Arnor, but still its influences could be felt even in southern-most Cardolan.

This was when the orcs began to attack the Dwarves in the Misty Mountains. But it was also around this time (1300ish) that the Periannath (the ‘halflings/hobbits’) come west to live in Bree, itself on the border between Cardolan and Arthedain.

Around 1350, the king of Arthedain, Argeleb I, claimed rule over all of Arnor, as he was supposedly the only true air in the line from Isildur. While Cardolan seemed cool with this, Rhudaur did not and actually sided with Angmar and the Witch-king. On their own, Rhudaur went to war with the new and slightly smaller Arnor, killing King Argeleb I. In turn, his son pushed back, driving the troops from Rhudaur away from Weathertop.

About 50 years later, the Witch-king attacked, combining his own forces with those from Rhudaur, capturing Weathertop and King Argeleb’s son (now the king, himself) was killed. It was at the Barrow-downs and in the Old Forest where the last few of the Dunedain made their stand.

Eventually, the Witch-king’s armies were stopped by Elrond’s forces from Rivendell, but most of Arnor, including Cardolan, was completely gutted by the enemy. But it was around this time (1601) that the hobbits migrate farther west into the Shire, in what was once Arthedain. This makes 1601 actually Year 1 in the ‘Shire reckoning’.

What’s Next?

Honestly, there’s a lot of walking. We’ll check back in with them in a couple of days.

Camera: Agfa Clack
Film: Kodak Vericolor III (x-06/99)

October 11, 3018 – Glorfindel and the Bridge (to the Silmarillion)

Okay, hello. Welcome to October 11, 3018 of the Third Age. Or should I say Ai na vedui! Mae govannen! That’s right, today’s the freakin’ day we meet freakin’ Glorfindel. We’ll get into just who he was in a sec, but first, let’s check on the Hobbits.

Where Are the Hobbits?

On the evening of October 11, still off-roading and led by Strider, they turned northeast toward the Last Bridge, which crossed the Hoarwell. This was their fifth day out from Weathertop.

Whatever, Let’s Talk About Glorfindel’s Day!

What kind of day was the dreamy Glorfindel having? Well, since it’s awesome being Glorfindel, it’s safe to say that his day was equally awesome. Let’s see.

When Frodo saw the Elves just after leaving Hobbiton, he told them about his quest and about the Nazgûl. Through crafty, Elvish means, word got back to Rivendell. There, Elrond sent out a company of Elves to help them along. This company was led by Glorfindel the Elf-lord. They left Rivendell on October 9.

On this day, he reached the Last Bridge, called the Bridge of Mitheithel, to the Elves. He left a jewel, a “token,” as he called it.

He saw three Nazgûl near the bridge, and upon seeing him, they took off. He chased them westward. Soon after, he saw two others and they fled south. Unable to catch them, and really more concerned about Frodo than the Riders, he began to search for the Hobbits.

So Who Was Glorfindel?

The Tolkien Estate just published The Fall of Gondolin, which collected all the variations of the Gondolin story into one volume. Keen-eyed readers might notice the name “Glorfindel” crop up now and then. Was this the same fellow?

The answer to that a fuzzy “sometimes.” This obviously requires some explanation.

Nailing down Tolkien’s intentions is sometimes a bit squirrely, so let’s see if we can figure this out.

Tolkien first wrote about a character named “Glorfindel” around 1916 as part of the early Book of Lost Tales. He continued to do so through the poetic Lays from the 1920s. The same is true for the 1930 Quenta Noldorinwa. Even after writing The Hobbit, the Quenta Silmarillion of 1937 has “Glorfindel” filling the same basic role.

So when Tolkien penned the “Council of Elrond” chapter for Lord of the Rings a year later, his use of “Glorfindel” must have been a simple continuation of the First Age’s Glorfindel, right?

Well, no. Glorfindel died fighting the Balrog, Gothmog. It was “a very grievous thing,” we’re told. This demise was part of the Gondolin story from the very beginning.

That clears it up, right? The Lord of the Rings Glorfindel can’t be the Silmarillion Glorfindel because the Silmarillion Glorfindel is dead!

Except Tolkien’s first notes right before introducing Glorfindel to the LotR story were: “Glorfindel tells of his ancestry in Gondolin.”

Okay, so it’s clear that they were the same character then? Could Tolkien clear this up for us?

No. Well, not quite.

In an essay he wrote in 1972, Tolkien mused that the use of the name “Glorfindel” in Lord of the Rings might have been “one of the cases of somewhat random use of the names found in the older legends.” He claimed that its use “escaped reconsideration in the final published form of The Lord of the Rings. This was, however, due to a language issue and not necessarily a character issue (though that seems to have been there too). It seems like if he had his choice, he would have changed the name “Glorfindel” something else, though the character would have remained the same.

Tolkien did re-use names, especially before nailing down a final draft. A good example of this is Elrond from The Hobbit. That character was not originally meant to be Elrond from The Silmarillion. It was only later, after Tolkien smooshed the three stories together, that Elrond became both.

From Tolkien’s notes, however, it seems like the LotR‘s Glorfindel was originally supposed to be the Glorfindel – the one who was killed while fighting Gothmog. But how could this be?

Tolkien Ret-Cons the Crap Out Of This

In 1972 Tolkien finally tried to figure out which Glorfindel was which. If they were indeed the same person, Tolkien admitted that “difficulty is presented by the things recorded of Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Tolkien quickly put to rest the idea that LotR Glorfindel was simply named in honor of the clearly dead Silmarillion Glorfindel – basically, Elves don’t do that.

Now, here Tolkien had a fine way to leave himself an out. If he had simply said, “Glorfindel of Rivendell was named in honor of Glorfindel of Gondolin,” nobody would have cared even a little bit.

But that’s not how Tolkien did things.

Rather than that simple solution, Tolkien jumped through hoops to connect the two.

Glorfindel, along with all of the Ñoldor, were banned from entering Valinor due to rebelling against the authority of Manwë. “They could not return in bodily form to the Blessed Realm,” wrote Tolkien.

But, he rationalized, since Manwë authored the curse Manwë could also make an exception to the curse. You can practically see the lightbulb appear over old Toller’s grey head.

He continued with the justification. First, it was clear from both the Silmarillion and LotR that Glorfindel was “of high and noble spirit.” And that though he left Valinor with Turgon (and was thusly banned), he only did so reluctantly and because he was related by blood to Turgon. Also, he had no part in the kinslaying (he wasn’t even mentioned during it, so at least Tolkien didn’t have to scratch that bit out).

Adding to this, Tolkien reminded himself that Glorfindel died while saving a while slew of people.

Glorfindel’s Redemption

As soon as Glorfindel died, he was sent to Mandos to purge his guilt from the rebellion. With that out of the way, Manwë, breaking with tradition, restored him bodily and he was allowed to live in the Blessed Realm.

There, he hung out with the other Elves and became tight with the Maiar, especially as a follower of Olórin (aka, Gandalf, who had apparently already visited Middle-earth… it’s a whole thing).

Glorfindel’s return to Middle-earth came around the year 1600 of the Second Age to aid Elrond and Gil-galad in the war against Sauron.

Tolkien went on to pen an essay concerning Elvish Reincarnation, I wrote about this here and here a long time ago.

What’s Next?

In two days we’ll all meet up at the Last Bridge!

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960s)
Film: Ilford HP3 (x-12/1960)

October 7, 3018 – Where Is The Pale King? (An Answer)

Welcome to October 7, 3018 of the Third Age – the day after the attack on Weathertop. Frodo has been wounded! But what does that mean? And where are the Nazgûl?

Where Is The Pale King?

Well that is a good question. Where are the Nazgûl? After being frightened off by Aragorn, they simply disappear into the night. Shortly after the attack, Aragorn wonders: “I cannot think why they have gone and do not attack again. But there is no feeling of their presence anywhere at hand.”

Tolkien filled in some of the details, but as it turns out, Aragorn’s befuddlement was actually his own.

It’s noted by Tolkien that since Frodo was stabbed, the Witch-king thinks he “cannot last more than a day or two.” That’s fine. In fact, it’s how a rattlesnake operates. He’ll bite a rodent, injecting his venom, and simply wait for it to die. It seems that the Nazgûl might work in the same way.

Tolkien continues, writing in his notes (a number of years after writing this section of the story):

“It is a strange thing that the camp was not watched while darkness lasted of the night Oct. 6-7, and the crossing of the Road into the southward lands seems not to have been observed, so that [the Witch-king] again lost track of the Ring.”

This was strange. It made no sense to Aragorn, and there’s really no explanation given in the text. But Tolkien had some ideas.

Tolkien guessed that the Witch-king “was actually dismayed.” First, Aragorn had attacked him with the fire originally set up by Gandalf. This was strange to him, and he now saw that his mission to find “Shire” and “Baggins” was an incredibly dangerous one.

Further, since Gandalf was involved, it’s likely that all of the Wise were involved. Rather than capturing the Ring in relative secrecy, the Witch-king alerted the Wise to not only their mission, but to the Ring itself.

There was, however, another thing which dismayed the Witch-king even more. He was now “timid and terrified” because Frodo, the “Bearer had resisted him, had dared to strike at him with an enchanted “sword made by his own enemies long ago for his destruction. Narrowly it has missed him.”

The Witch-king knew that Frodo’s sword was taken from the Barrows, but exactly how Frodo had come to have it wasn’t clear to him. However it happened, he had to assume that Frodo “was in some way mightier than the Barrow-wight.”

Even worse, after Frodo was stabbed and while he lunged at the Witch-king, “he called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl. He was then in league with the High Elves of the Havens.”

So now, the Nazgûl have Gandalf, the Wise, the High Elves, and Baggins with an enchanted sword and the Ring going up against them!

During the attack, the Witch-king narrowly escaped “a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife to Frodo.” This shook him. It really took him aback.

Because of all of this, “he withdrew and hid for a while, out of doubt and fear both of Aragorn and especially of Frodo.”

Tolkien concludes this section of notes by reminding himself that the Nazgûl would return because the “fear of Sauron, and the forces of Sauron’s will was the stronger” than anything else he feared – even the Bearer!

All of the above notes seem to be for October 6th, though in the way I’m splitting up the days, they serve well for the morning hours of this day. Obviously, the Nazgûl don’t really sleep, but the Witch-king must have been thinking hard about all of this.

When though, “He arose and cried out to his companions, and drew [the other four] back to him.”

This whole day, the Nazgûl patrol the East Road. The other four Nazgûl, by the way, were up north pursuing Gandalf.

Meanwhile, Aragorn leads the Hobbits south of the East Road, slipping across it while the Witch-king was caught in revelry. As they crossed “they heard far away two cries: a cold voice calling and a cold voice answering.”

What’s Next?

In the text, four days pass with the change of a paragraph. Because of this, we’ll meet back here on the 11th with Glorfindel.

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Eastman Double X (5222)

October 6, 3018 – The Attack on Weathertop!

Oh hello there, welcome to October 6, 3018 of the Third Age. Today is a pretty big day, what with the whole attack on Weathertop and everything, so let’s get to it!

Well, Here We Are!

After a bit of walking our Hobbits and Strider make it to Weathertop. Within minutes, Frodo finds a sign left by Gandalf that looked something like: |”·|||

It seemed to mean that Gandalf was on Weathertop on October 3rd, which, of course, he was. A bit later, Strider discovers that Rangers had been there as well. Other boots, too.

Below them in the later afternoon, they saw the Nazgûl – five of them – far below on the road. “The enemy is here!”

Frodo began to lose hope, and Strider comforted him a bit, and began to plan for their defense: fire. “Sauron can put fire to his evil uses, as he can all things, but these Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it. Fire is our friend in the wilderness.”

As night fell, Strider began to tell stories. Merry requested the tale of Gil-galad, but Strider thought it should be saved until later.

Instead, he told them the tale of Beren & Luthien.

The Attack

The first sign that the Nazgûl were drawing near was Sam’s fear. He didn’t see anything, but felt a terror. Merry, however, thought he saw black figures. Soon, these black figures were upon them and Frodo heard the urge to put on the Ring.

When the Nazgul attacked, Merry and Pippin threw themselves on the ground out of fear and weren’t part of the picture. Sam, who “shrank to Frodo’s side,” was just as scared. Frodo’s fear, which was as great as the other hobbits’, was overtaken by the urge to put on the Ring. His fear was enough to make him shake and to freeze him, but the Ring’s call was even stronger.

The attack by the Black Riders was actually an incredibly short affair. It’s really just a lunge, a counter-lunge, and a retreat – with a couple of stabs thrown in for good measure. It’s dramatic, but not overly so. Hell, the related story of Baren and Luthien takes up several times as much space.

While everyone else saw “nothing but vague shadowy shapes coming towards them,” once the Ring was on Frodo’s finger, “immediately… the shapes became terribly clear.”

However, once the Ring was on his finger, “their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him.” But this Ring-O-Vision allowed him to see the Riders. It allowed Frodo to slash the Witch-kings cloak, and apparently stab his foot while crying “O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!”.

In this, Frodo was stabbed by the Witch-king.

Taking notes about this passage, Tolkien wrote:

“[The Witch-king] now knows who is the Bearer, and is greatly puzzled that it should be a small creature, and not Aragorn, who seems to be a great power though apparently ‘only a Ranger’.”

The attack came early in the night, and for the rest of the time until morning, Aragorn went looking to see where the Riders had gone, but couldn’t find anything at all. As Frodo slept, he was watched over by his friends. Aragorn went looking for healing herbs.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll go into all of this a bit more, as the Hobbits and Strider figure out what’s going on.

An Interesting Aside

Dr. Corey Olsen in his series on the History of Middle-earth discusses the writing history of this chapter (here).

Tolkien had been writing his “Legendarium” since the middle 1910s. By the time he wrote The Hobbit, in the early 1930s, he had a fairly good idea of what we now know as the First Age. It had been with him for decades.

Though we now think of The Hobbit as perfectly connected to the same in-story universe, that wasn’t the case when it was published in 1937. It still wasn’t the case when he began to write its sequel two years later.

There were, of course, some connections, but mostly they were simple reusing of names and characters. They were not connected on the same timeline.

This all changed when Tolkien wrote the scene before the attack on Weathertop.

Dr. Olsen argues that here is where he fully integrated the Silmarillion stories into the Lord of the Rings. He claims that when Aragorn begins to tell the Tale of Tinúviel that it was “the most important paragraph that Tolkien ever wrote in his entire life.”

Hyperbole? Sure. But nevertheless, he has a point.

“‘But I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel – in brief,for it is a long tale of which the end is not known, and there is no one that remembers it in full as it was told of old, unless it be Elrond. But even in brief it is a fair tale – the fairest that has come out of the oldest days.’ He fell silent or a moment, and then he began not to speak, but to chant softly:”

And here in this early draft, Tolkien did not write out the Beren & Luthien story, but instead jotted down a note to himself:

“Put in Light on Linden Tree [sic] emended. Ore the alliterative lines. Follow with brief Tinúviel story.”

As Dr. Olsen concedes, he could be mistaken. Tolkien could have wanted to connect the two before – perhaps with the mention of Gilgalad – but it unquestionable that from the Tale of Tinúviel onward, the two worlds are now one.

He points out that Strider’s tone changes from here, and that as he sets up the story he sounds like one of the framing narrators from The Book of Lost Tales.

Take from that what you’d like. To me, it’s pretty convincing.

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960)
Film: Kodak Vericolor III (x-06/1999)

October 5, 3018 – Exploring the Ruins on the Weatherhills

Welcome to another day on the road. Today Strider and the Hobbits make it to the mountains. Though Aragorn is familiar with the land, it’s the Hobbits’ first taste of the ancient world.

The Hills Drew Nearer

As they made their way to the top of the ridge, they found “the remains of green-grown walls and dikes,” as well as other ancient ruins.”

They weren’t just walking at this point, they were climbing, cover 1000 feet of elevation in only a few short miles.

“Along the crest of the ridge the hobbits could see what looked to be the remains of green-grown walls and dikes, and in the clefts there still stood the ruins of old works of stone.”

A Very Short Historical Diversion

These dikes were built about 1600 years before Strider and the hobbits found them atop the Weather Hills. They were not dikes in the watery sense, but built as defenses – breastworks, escarpments, works, whatever you want to call them.

They were built out of stone and were clearly more of a line of defense than a fort, though the main structure on Weathertop itself was probably just that during the war against the Witch-king of Angmar. Though formidable, the defenses didn’t work in the end.

The Weather Hills form a line facing northeast, conveniently toward Angmar. What was incredibly inconvenient was that Weathertop, the prize sought by the Witch-king (and by others before him), anchored the right flank. It was the extreme right, with nothing protecting it on that side.

Tolkien gives no details on the assault, but it can easily be imagined that the forces of Angmar mostly ignored the defenses on the left of Weathertop. Perhaps there was a feint here and there along the line, but it would have been much more advantageous to simply assail the defenses of Weathertop.

But not that this would be easy. The East Road runs along the southern base of Weathertop. If held by Angmar’s column, the attack itself could have been made from the south, even though they were originally coming from the north. Scaling the heights would have been a huge problem. The East Road climbs to just over 600 feet above sea level. The summit, where Amon Sul and the Palantir resided, was around 1000 feet. The climb, while only 400 feet in altitude, would have been a rough one.

However it happened, Amon Sul, Weathertop, fell in 1409 of the Third Age (it’s now 3018). Over those 1600 years, the dikes have deteriorated, the buildings made ruins.

That night, Strider and our Hobbits camped on the westward slopes of the Weatherhills.

For a bit of writing history about this passage and chapter, check out this article.

Camera: Spartus 35F Model 400
Film: Kodak Panatomic X (x-06/91); 16iso

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