Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book I, Chapters 1-6)

Yay, we’re done with The Hobbit and are making progress with this whole thing!  Not to imply that The Hobbit is inferior, but there’s probably a reason I’ve read it only 20-30 times instead of the 50+ I’ve probably read LotR.  Dunno.  Also, don’t you judge me for my multiple re-reads.  When I lived in NW Montana from the ages of 10-17, our library was a two mile bike ride away and only open two days a week during the summer.  I had to do a lot of re-reading of things to avoid having to carry my own damn books home all the time.  Plus, I love this book, so that helped.

Here’s a funny thing, though.  I grew up reading the copies my dad had bought when he was a kid.  I just checked this morning, and they’re the second editions from 1965.  What, you wanna see?  FINE.

Are you happy now? Jeez.

Lest you think I’m trying to show off or anything, I’m saying this for a reason.  The above editions ARE NOT what I’m reading now, and apparently were riddled with typos.  I’m currently reading the 50th anniversary ebook editions which have ALL THE INTROS, ZOMG!  Normally I would have skipped the foreword and stuff cos I’ve read it a bunch, but this was NEW TO ME so I was all kinds of excited.  I know, I’m lame.  Shut up.

Past the intros we get a little bit about the history of hobbits, the Shire and why they weren’t mentioned in the Silmarillion, a nice little summary of how Bilbo came upon the Ring AND an amusing little history of pipe-weed.  Because of course, that’s super important.  Hee!

This is the map from my book. I figure you all have it, but still.

When the story starts, we hear a little about how Bilbo has been pretty much ostracized by the more uppity hobbits since his return from the adventures we just read about, but has been friendly with some of the younger crowd.  He’s adopted his nephew/cousin, Frodo, which really pissed the Sackville-Bagginses right off.  Of course it did.  There’s going to be THE HUGEST PARTY THE SHIRE HAS EVER SEEN for Bilbo’s ELEVENTY FIRST birthday.  That’s pretty old, even for a hobbit, so people have been talking about that, and casting furious side-eyed glares his way.  It’s just not proper to live that long and look exactly the same as he did on his 50th birthday, who does he think he is?

Um, he’s the guy that’s about to blow your socks off, that’s who.

BIG PARTY!  WITH GANDALF!  AND FIREWORKS!  AND BLACKJACK!  AND HOOKERS!  AND…disappearing Bilbo?  After he insults everyone?  Huh.  They weren’t expecting that, were they?  There is a huge uproar, and we (with our omniscient narrator) get to see that Bilbo is sneaking off in the night with his dwarf caterers.  He leaves the Ring on the mantle along with his will and the papers regarding his estate.  Oh, wait.  No, he STARTS to leave the Ring on the mantle, then absentmindedly puts it in his pocket.  Gandalf shows up to see him off and IMMEDIATELY calls him on his shenanigans.  Bilbo engages in a small bit of Ring lust before conceding that Gandalf is right.  He leaves the Ring behind and heads out the door.

The following day, people come banging on the door to find out WTS happened to old Bilbo.  They find that he’s gone forever and has left them some lovely snarky parting gifts.  Tell me you didn’t giggle imagining Lobelia’s face when you saw this:

For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT; on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had acquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons.

Hee!  Priceless.

17 years pass.  During this time, Gandalf and Frodo become quite close, and Frodo spends a lot of time tramping around the Shire with his besties, Pippin, Merry and Fatty.  Gandalf spends a lot of time hanging out at Bag-End, but waits A LONG TIME to go find out anything about/tell Frodo what, exactly, the Ring is.  Then he shows up one night, throws it into the fire, and we learn that it’s the Ring of Power.  DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN.

So, since Sauron has been missing his favourite accessory for THOUSANDS of years, and our old friend Gollum (whose backstory we also learn) couldn’t keep his mouth shut about BAGGINSES!  SHIRE! he’s set the Nazgûl on the trail.  Yeah, Frodo, GTFO of the Shire, you dummy.  Oh, what’s that?  You want to wait SIX MONTHS until your birthday?  Well, I don’t see why there could possibly be a problem with that.   Hey, who’s listening at the window?  Why it’s Samwise Gamgee!  A faithful servant and gardener at Bag-End, who was there before Mr Bilbo left.  He’s a good little hobbit.  You’ll find out why.

Frodo spends the next six months convincing everyone he’s decided to move to Buckland, and finally agrees to sell Bag-End to the Sackville-Bagginses.  Too bad Otho died before he could get his greedy mitts on it, amirite?

The night that Frodo, Sam and Pippin are to head off to Buckland (Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday, September 22), Frodo overhears someone questioning ol’ Gaffer Gamgee (Sam’s da) about his whereabouts.  This can’t be good, right?  Turns out, it’s terrible.  They learn while they’re on the road that they’re being searched for by the Nazgûl and there are a few near misses.

After one such near miss, they meet a group of wandering elves led by Gildor.  Now, maybe this isn’t of utmost importance to most of you, but I feel it needs to be mentioned that Gildor is a Noldorian elf, specifically of the House of Finrod.  Finrod was son of Finarfin, who was the brother of Fëanor that turned back, instead of sailing to Middle-Earth with his traitorous jerkwad brother.  I talked about all of that here.  It isn’t strictly necessary to know all of this, but real Tolkien nerds lose their ish over the interconnectedness.  [ahem]

MOVING ON!  Frodo, Sam and Pippin spend the night with these Noldorian elves, Gildor gives Frodo some advice that isn’t really advice (in the manner of elves, natch) – but does impress upon Frodo the need to GET OUT OF THE SHIRE, head to Rivendell and if Gandalf doesn’t show up, then he needs to take some friends with him.  And Sam (who has always dreamed of meeting elves) has this to say:

Sam could never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night, though it remained in his memory as one of the chief events of his life. The nearest he ever got was to say: ‘Well, sir, if I could grow apples like that, I would call myself a gardener. But it was the singing that went to my heart, if you know what I mean.’

Oh, Samwise.  There’s a reason you’re one of my favourites.  <3

The following morning, they awaken to find their new elf-friends gone, but breakfast is left for them.  They try to take a shortcut to Crickhollow (the location of Frodo’s new home), but end up far off course – on Farmer Maggot’s land.  Frodo’s a bit frightened because Farmer Maggot caught him stealing mushrooms when he was young (hobbits LOVE mushrooms), and his dogs are supposed to be familiar with Frodo’s scent – and they know to attack if they smell him again.  LUCKILY Farmer Maggot has seen some strange Black Riders inquiring after the young Mr Baggins and is aware that he should offer some assistance.  Our three hobbit friends get a decent meal and a ride to the ferry, where dear Merry is waiting for them – with news that Gandalf still hasn’t shown up.

At Frodo’s new home, everyone has a nice hot bath and ANOTHER dinner (accompanied by more of Mrs Maggot’s mushrooms, aw) and Frodo worries how to tell his friends that he’s taking off on his own.  He knows his mission is far too dangerous to ask them to accompany him, but it turns out he needn’t worry.  They all know, and have been preparing/spying/making arrangements for quite some time.  Fatty will stay behind and pretend to be Frodo, and Pippin, Merry and Sam will go along.  There’s no way they’d let their dear friend head off to danger by himself, and they have EVERYTHING ready to go.

They leave the next morning, thinking to take a shortcut through Old Forest.  Old Forest is thought to be a bit haunted, there are rumours that trees once moved to the edges of the hedge and attacked passersby, so the hobbits cut down the nearest trees and had a huge bonfire.  The Paths seem to have minds of their own, and before long, our little group is quite lost.  They sit down on the bank of a stream under a large willow and are lulled into sleepiness.  Luckily, Sam suspects something is up, and is proven correct when Frodo is tipped into the stream (and held down by a root) and Merry and Pippin are swallowed up by the tree.  Frodo and Sam think to burn them out, but Merry yells (from inside the tree) that they’ll be squished in half if they continue.  Frodo (not thinking) starts running around shouting for help, and a strange little man in a blue hat with a “face as red as an apple” shows up to sing the tree into acquiescence.

Old Man Willow, from the 1978 Tolkien calendar.

TOM BOMBADIL!  Aw, you guys, I heart Tom so much.  You’ll find out why as we continue.

Discussion Topics

  • First time readers – are you keeping up okay?  Is everything fairly easy to follow so far, or are there things that need clarifying?
  • Also for first time readers – what could be keeping Gandalf?  Any ideas or thoughts on why he hasn’t shown up again yet?
  • Re-readers – Frodo’s dream in Crickhollow.  I think the last time I read this, I was high on Silmarillion and had convinced myself that he was talking about Elwing’s tower lighthouse instead of Tower Hills.  Now I can’t remember why I was so sure.  Thoughts?
  • Old Man Willow – related to Ents, Huorns or neither?  Why?
  • Um, did anyone else [fistpump] when they read this? :  “We are horribly afraid, but we are coming with you.”  Man, these little hobbits.  I get emotional every time.  Am I the only one?

Post-script 1:  If you haven’t already checked it out, I’m collecting all of the posts related to this group read on a separate page, you can find links to everything here.  Make sure you check it out and see what everyone else has to say.

Post-script 2:  Sorry this post took so long, I saved the draft last night, but 900 words were deleted instead of saved.  :/

42 thoughts on “Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book I, Chapters 1-6)

  1. I never got the impression that Old Man Willow was Ent or Huorn. He just seemed too sunk into the earth, and Tom Bombadil had known him forever. I’m not sure how Ent-time moves, and I know that some Ents became more tree-like, but he seemed entirely TOO tree-like. AND he formed a very hasty opinion about hobbits, which we all know ain’t what Ents do. An Ent would have taken two weeks to say its own name and wouldn’t have decided to eat hobbit for at least a couple of months.

  2. Lobelia – a family of flowering plants that includes Indian Tobacoo, Barfweed, Retchwort, and Fool’s Bane. Tolkien makes me laugh again.

    I really thought it very decent of Farmer Maggot to give assistance to Frodo and his entourage, even tho Frodo was a mushroom-stealing dork in the past.

    • I LOVE to hate the Sackville-Bagginses. Especially when Otho fumes they’ve basically waited 60 years for Bilbo to die so they can finally take over Bag End, only to find out he legally left it to confusticated Frodo, making sure to have seven witnesses sign in red ink on the papers. Still, I kind of feel sorry for them later, when [REDACTED] comes to [REDACTED].

  3. I always loved the party where Bilbo vanishes. Gandalf’s reasons for not doing anything about the ring always struck me as very unlike him. The friendship between Sam and Frodo is one of the best tales of love and loyalty in all of history. The fact that Pete left Tom B. out of the movies is one more black mark against him.
    I know I didn’t do the topics, but you know my mind flys around like a crack squirrel. Meddle not in the affairs of artists, for they are subtle and quick to change their minds.

  4. Oh man. I have just now decided that all the malevolent trees and Old Man Willow are actually the Entwives, who are super pissed off that they’re still waiting around after the Ents “went out for cigarettes” and are going to give them Hail Columbia when they finally get home and right now are just being pissy with EVERYBODY.

  5. Farmer Maggot and his wife gave me such a warm fuzzy with the mushrooms and what Frodo said about having missed a good friend. He wasn’t at all the pitchfork brandisher PJ made him out to be. But I do wonder why Tolkien named a farmer after fly larva.

    • This from Tokiengateway.net does nothing to satisfy me: “Tolkien says that the name “Maggot” is a Hobbitish name whose meaning is lost in history. Maggot should not be understood as the English word maggot or larva. The similarity is coincidental. ” Yes, but as Tokien invented Hobbitish and its names, and he knew English, no, he still gave a farmer the same name as larva. (nb, I’m totally fine with someone being called Fatty). But apparently (I’m digging in dictionary.com and wiktionary) maggot has an older meaning of a fanciful or whimsical thing “deriv[ing] from the folk belief that a whimsical or crotchety person had maggots in his or her brain.” Gross, but it makes me feel better about it.

      Sorry for being pedantic or whatever.

  6. Since I won’t be able to take part in this week’s drinkalong, I went ahead and watched PJ’s Fellowship up to this point of the novel (well as best as I could since it skips right on from Hobbiton to the woods to Farmer Maggot’s and then The Prancing Pony. No Crickhollow, no Old Forest, NO TOM BOMBADIL). I would like to state that my biggest gripe would be his ignoring of my favorite bit of characterization in this chunk of the novel: Sam’s awe of elves. Sam wants to see elves! He is enamored with elves, not with Frodo. He serves Frodo, and is joined in conspiracy with Merry and Pippin (and Fatty), but his deep desire in this adventure is to become acquainted with elves. I love that this regular little hobbit, lover of gardens and brews, with no Took or Brandybuck blood, has an interest in the ethereal!

    • I was really unhappy of Sam’s portrayal overall in the films. He just…I don’t know. Sam in the movies didn’t make me want to cry with his absolute adoration for Frodo, and how seriously he took this journey. Plus, ELVES! There’s actually a passage coming up in TT that I LOVE, that makes me cry every time, and I think it’s one of the most important sections in any of the books. I’ll talk about it when we get there.

  7. I don’t want to hog up space in your comments, so here I will say only that I *bawled* when I read the passage where Merry tells Frodo that he, Pippin and Sam are coming with him “or following [him] like hounds.” There were many years in between my first read of these books and watching the movies. And, I’m now understanding more and more why the movies made you so mad. Merry and Pippin are much more developed characters in the book – both emotionally and intellectually – than ever portrayed in the movie. And I could not agree more with what you said in reply to borkadventures about how Sam is portrayed. I think one of the best things to come of this group read for me is that it’s like reading these books for the first time. My clearer memory of these stories comes from the movies, not the books, and that makes the books so satisfying all over again.

    • Heh, well…I would say that I’m sorry my constant ranting may have deprived you of future enjoyment of the films, but I’m kind of not. ;)

      I know people have taken umbrage with my saying this, but I really feel like the movies were just a really expensive (and pretty) work of fanfic. The characters are different enough from the way they were originally written, that I barely recognize anyone anymore. The only one that was even partially faithful was Gandalf, and that was kind of ruined in RotK. But, um…spoilers, so I won’t go into it any further.

      • “Expensive (and pretty) work of fanfic” – bingo. I mean, I love ‘em. But they’re not the books. The fact that the ENTIRE Tom Bombadil section is UTTERLY ELIMINATED is enough proof of THAT. (Although I do totally buy what’s-his-face as Aragorn.) They’re an epic shiny thing to watch when you’re having the epic shiny thing craving and you’ve just seen all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies about seventeen too many times. I can’t stand either the film Frodo (too pop-eyed and whingey) or the film Sam (bumbling, serious, happily enslaved to his “betters” and utterly lacking in the sense of wonder and delight that animate his desire for adventure, as borkadventures pointed out.)

        I don’t think he was dreaming of the lighthouse – was it the mention of the Sea? I mean, unlike his second dream, it prefigures some stuff that doesn’t show up until MUCH later. Like much MUCH later. Or am I making that up?

        I never believed in OMW as Ent or Huorn, although it occurred to me as a possibility at one point. He’s too much himself – kind of like Tom, really. They exist in their own kingdom. I always felt like what was going on in the land of Bombadil was somehow apart. It’s actually Bombadil who seems to me to have the strongest connection of any Tolkien character to other fantasy writers of Tolkien’s era – there’s something about him that reminds me strongly of some of the more enigmatic stuff in the Narnia books, and the weird Pan episode in the Wind in the Willows. It’s like these nice Christian boys who grew up in pastoral England just couldn’t quite let go of some sense of a nature deity outside of moral order. Anybody else? No? Just me, then.

        • In C.S. Lewis’ Surprised By Joy (not Narnian, far from it,) he definitely connects his spiritual awakening (as an adult) to a transcendent experience of nature. I think these gentlemen are saying, “Wake up–if you think God is a few words you can scribble on paper and put in your pocket, you are looking at it all wrong.” IMHO, their integration of nature, humanity and magic doesn’t conflict with their theological leanings at all, and helps me keep faith in a world where some of the most vocal defenders of religion are major Sackville-Bagginses.

        • No, you’re right, it is stuff that comes MUCH later. Like I said, for some reason, the last time I read, I’d JUST finished the Silmarillion (but skipped the Hobbit) and Elwing and Eärendil’s story is one of my very favourites. I was likely just projecting.

          You know, it’s funny. I was reading the Tom Bombadil chapters, and thinking…well, thoughts that I’m going to try to get down in the next post – but the thoughts I was thinking brought you, specifically, to mind Jericha. I’ll try to explain why when I’m writing tomorrow.

  8. I could buy Old Man Willow as Ent-ish, but as an elder sort-of-renegade Ent. I get him as more self-interested than community servant, shepherding no one but potential mouthfuls toward his gaping maw. (I just had a flashback to the movie Poltergeist.) I love that he was laughing at Frodo and Sam when they were first trying to retrieve Merry and Pippin.

    I am so utterly disgusted. I wrote two paragraphs of thoughts on the book here, then had to cut them because they are from future chapters. This is why I Don’t. Read. Ahead. Except I did, and now I have exceeded my time for commenting.

    I will close with saying that what I REALLY NEED and would have bought from you for cash money (maybe not LOTS of cash, but some) is a picture glossary I could hold in my hands with names and places and a few explanatory family trees, because the words “Elwing’s Tower Lighthouse” is only one example of something to which I might say, “huh?” Also, my memory is corrupted by the movies and there is nothing we can do about that, now.

    • Don’t feel bad about not getting the Elwing comment. She’s from the Silmarillion, and I only touched briefly on her story because she’s Elrond’s mother. I found this lovely video, which absolutely does it justice, so you can watch it and feel like you learned something today ;) :

      I think many people’s memories have been (as you said) corrupted by the movies. I’m trying not to have them play along in my head as I read, but part of me has to accept that although I might not like it I will likely always hear Sean Astin’s voice in my head when Sam speaks. [sigh]

      I hope you can remember enough of your comments for Wednesday’s post!

      • Oh, THAT Elwing. Okay, I remember her, but she ended up living in a tower with birds? That is kind of funny because I do not know a single married woman of my generation who wouldn’t give a lot for a little tower somewhere to get away from it all, especially given the choice of tending ship with the hubby on an endless journey across the skies. That might be taking a little too much poetry out of it, but I totally GET her.

        • HEE! No, I totally understand. I find myself relating to her more and more as I grow older (and the kids get to be just a bit too much sometimes).

  9. I’m crazy late. Stupid weekend getting in the way of life. QUESTIONS TO ANSWER!

    1. Yep, keeping up fine. Liking it very much so far.
    2. I have evilly read ahead so I KNOW what kept Gandalf. I was pretty sure something bad had happened to him, though. People kept saying, “THIS IS UNLIKE HIM” so I didn’t think he was off picking daisies or something.
    3. I LOVE the Hobbits. They’re the bravest, because they do things even though they’re petrified.

  10. A couple of other things, one being — does anyone else find it noteworthy the Black Rider can’t follow them by attempting to ford or swim through the river? After reading The Silmarillion, especially everything about Túor, I often feel Ulmo, Lord of the Waters is still exerting his power over the rivers and streams of Middle-earth, meaning the servants of Morgoth (and by extension, Sauron) cannot cross them easily, if at all. This may not be the case… but it fits.

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