Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book I, Chapters 7-12)

Welcome back!  Everyone enjoying our journey together through Middle-Earth still?  Yes?  Awesome.  (I’ll ignore any NOs, so don’t even.)

When we left off, we’d just met good ol’ Tom Bombadil.  For some reason, Mr Bombadil seems to be the subject of a ton of hate from the general LotR community.  This wasn’t something I was aware of before.  I’ve read all kinds of theories recently about him (ranging from Tom’s the Eldest Evil to Tom is the Witch-King) most of which I think are complete BS.

Now, listen.  Tolkien himself said that he purposely left Tom somewhat of an enigma, but to him he was a “nature spirit of the English countryside.”

None of that really matters to me (although, I think the nature spirit/hippie thing is kind of cool), here’s why I really enjoy the chapter with Tom and Goldberry before they get to Barrow-Downs.  Their time spent at Tom’s house is pretty much their last moments of peace before all hell breaks loose.  I mean, you’ve all read these chapters by now, right?  You know that the stuff that is about to happen gets progressively darker (and hoo!  just wait til the next few sections!), but while they’re hanging out here, it’s just a happy, peaceful, joyous time, with stories and friendship before the heavy ish starts to happen.  I think our hobbit friends needed that, and I think we (as readers/fellow travellers) needed that too.

Moving on!  Our wonderful hobbits are warned by Tom to avoid the Barrow-Downs because of the Barrow-Wights.  What are the Barrow-Wights?  Well, it seems they’re spirits placed there by the Witch-King to prevent resurrection of Cardolan, a destroyed kingdom of the Dúnedain.  I can hear you now, “Wait, who the snape are the Dúnedain?!”  Um…well, remember when we I talked about the sinking of the island continent of Númenor?  What, you skipped that?  Go read, I’ll wait.

[taps foot impatiently]

Oh, you’re back?  Okay, so the Númenoreans that escaped?  The Dúnedain were descended from them.  Make sense?  Good.  All right, so the Barrow-Wights inhabit the corpses of the Dúnedain that are buried in these mounds (or, Barrows).  Frodo and friends make the mistake of stopping on a shady rock and wake up to fog.  Now they can’t find the road and go wandering where they shouldn’t.  Of course they get knocked out and captured and wake up in the Barrow, about to be slain by a Wight.  Frodo calls for Tom’s help, and good ol’ Tom comes to the rescue.

See?  Not a bad guy.

Tom finds their wayward ponies and even brings one of his own to accompany them.  He takes them as far as the road to Bree, but can’t go any further – Goldberry is tied (no, not literally) to the River Withywindle, and he won’t leave his OTL.  Awwww.  <3

There’s a little suspicion from the gatekeeper at Bree, but they’re allowed in and head for the Prancing Pony, where they hope to meet Gandalf.

Gandalf isn’t there of course (but where IS that Wizard?  Hmpf), but they’re given nice rooms and have a huge dinner, then head out to the common room to socialize.  Well, all except for Merry, who decides to hang back and maybe take a walk later.

Frodo has warned everyone to remember to use only his name of Underhill, but Pip gets a little toasted and starts talking about Bilbo’s awesome disappearing act at his birthday party (jeez, they can really milk a story, can’t they?  This happened SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!), and to distract everyone Frodo hops up on a table and starts to sing and dance.  He’s kind of caressing the Ring in his pocket for courage (which makes me wonder what everyone standing around thinks he’s doing?) and when the table is bumped, he goes flying, breaks a bunch of crockery and the Ring “slips” on his finger.

There is much shoutery and Frodo sneaks under the tables to go sit back by his new friend, Strider.  Hey, that post you read that I linked to up there?  What did it say about Rangers?  Yeah, Strider’s a Ranger.  Woo for interconnectedness!

SO – everyone leaves, all whispering and grumbling about Frodo’s mysterious disappearance.  They have a chat with Mr Strider, who offers to help them.  Sam is especially suspicious (good boy, Samwise), BUT then the owner of the tavern comes in all apologetic because he’s had a letter from Gandalf for the last SIX MONTHS that he was supposed to deliver, but did not.  Um…wow.  So, my whole “yeah, smart to stay in the Shire” comment wasn’t so stupid now, was it?  AND the letter is all “you might meet my friend Aragorn, who goes by Strider, he’s a good dude, trust him.”  And then they do.

That night, someone sets all of the horses and ponies free AND there’s an attack on the room the hobbits should have been staying in.  One of the Asshats of Bree was working with the Black Riders, but they DIDN’T KILL ANY HOBBITS, BOOYA!

Luckily, that Asshat happens to have the last pony in the whole township and they buy it from him for more than it’s worth, but it turns out to be good for our friends AND the pony.

Strider informs them that they’re heading to Weathertop, so they can get a good 360° view of the surrounding countryside.  While there, they notice what MAY be Gandalf’s mark, but it also might not be.  BUT THEN they’re accosted by 5 of the 9 Nazgûl.  Frodo is injured, but he fights back, so they run away.

Now it’s pretty much just a race against time.  Can they make it to Rivendell and ACTUAL help before Frodo succumbs to the poison in the Nazgûl blade?

C’mon, of course they can.  It wouldn’t be much of a story if the protagonist died halfway through the first book, would it?

That’s not to say it’s easy going.  They have to take a circuitous route, and just when things are at their most dire, MY buddy Glorfindel shows up on his majestic steed.

Look, Glorfindel…he’s kind of special.  Remember back when I was talking about the Silmarillion and I told you that elves only die in battle or of grief?  WELL.  Glorfindel was around for the Fall of Gondolin, and was one of those that escaped with Tuor, Idril and Eärendil.  Here’s the thing, though.  They were ambushed by Morgoth’s armies and badass Glorfindel manages to kill a Balrog, but is also killed and buried in rubble.  Thorondor (‘member, King of the Giant Eagles?) lifts him from the rubble, and (like all dead elves) Glorfindel travels to the Halls of Mandos.  Part of the awesome mythology that was created was (even if it did have to be retconned, SHUT UP) after a period of time in the Halls of Mandos (um, kind of like a purgatory type dealy) the spirits of the dead elves can be re-embodied.  So, yeah.  Glorfindel is pretty effing awesome.  </fangirling>

ANYWAY – as they’re on their way to Rivendell, they are surrounded by the Nazgûl and it’s time for Frodo to go on ahead on Glorfindel’s awesomely fleet steed.  It looks like things are going to end badly as they get to the river, but ALL THE WATER COMES RUSHING DOWN and sweeps them away.  Frodo’s pretty sure he sees the shapes of horses in the foam, but surely he’s hallucinating, right?  Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

Discussion Topics

  • Okay, Tom Bombadil – Why doesn’t the Ring turn him invisible?  What is his alignment?  General thoughts on his character?
  • Strider/Aragorn – Srsly, would a note have been enough to make you trust this stranger?
  • Since we just finished reading The Hobbit together – What the Snape is up here?  It took us less than five chapters to get from Bag-End to Bill, Bert and Tom – but this time ’round, it’s taking forfreakingEVER to get to THE VERY SAME TROLLS!  Why is it taking so long to cover the same distance?  Discuss.
  • How awesome are Sam and Merry?  Like, really, why are they the only ones not acting like total dumbasses right now?
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43 thoughts on “Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book I, Chapters 7-12)

  1. I have a special place in my heart for Tom Bombadil, and I am totally not going to shut up about it. I think Tom is the place where JRR’s friendship with CS Lewis comes out the strongest, because Tom is totally in line with Aslan (except for all the weird patronizing Christian stuff). There’s a fascinating discussion going on over on Kate’s blog about him, including his weird magical singing power and whether he is God. (In her latest post she’s got a great couple of lines about Tom-as-Zen-master, which I also appreciate.) Me, I think he’s True Neutral. He’s just…bigger than all the other characters, for all that he seems so small and silly in his little kingdom.

    As for “he’s kind of caressing the Ring in his pocket for courage (which makes me wonder what everyone standing around thinks he’s doing?)” — I snorted out loud pretty hard at that one. But when it comes to Strider, well, conveniently, in this world, people are evil who look evil, and people are nice who look nice, pretty much. Sigh.

    As for the loooong beginning, David said he thinks that “Tolkien was attempting the thankless task of bridging The Hobbit and LOTR and it doesn’t quite work. The lull in the story only seems right if you’ve just read The Hobbit (a slow period between the Battle of Five Armies and the growing menace of Bilbo’s ring), and really serves to shift the story’s focus to Frodo.” Which I think is spot on. But also, it’s the opening of a trilogy, not a single book, and the quest is triply epic, so why shouldn’t it take triply long? Times for TONS OF FORESHADOWING ZOMG.

    I’ll never forgive PJ for turning Sam from a deceptively thoughtful and poetic soul into a bumbling dumb slavey to Frodo. He’s got more poetry in him than any of them. SNARL.

    • Hee, Kate actually suggested the alignment question because of your comment. Tom’s joyous attitude was what made me think of you, btw. ;)

      Also, I have many issues with how Sam is portrayed in the films, not the least of which is the fact that he never gets to truly shine like he does in the books. I will talk about it more when we get to the sections in the books/films that I have in mind, but, for realsies? I kind of hate Movie Sam, whereas Book Sam is probably one of my favourite literary characters.

      AND, the part about Frodo’s caressing the Ring? Probably one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. :)

      • K, this is going to be a hard-to-articulate opinion on Tom Bombadil, but here goes.
        I like him, but he doesn’t belong in The Lord of the Rings.
        One, he serves as a handy deus-ex-machina not once but TWICE. In my opinion, this underlies a lot of the hobbits’ heroism. Why did he need to appear to save them from Old Man Willow? What in the story so far did we know about the hobbits and their dealings with The Old Forest? That when the forest encroached on them, they fought back by cutting down trees en masse and scorching a DMZ so the trees would stay back. Why could Sam and Frodo’s attempt to burn Old Man Willow not have worked? Yes, OMW began torturing Pippin and Merry, but this is just Tolkien painting the hobbits into a corner. He makes it impossible for them to deal with the threat, and so pulls out Tom Bombadil. A great, fun character, but his arrival dissipates any tension the story had. Not only can he deal with OMW, he’s also guaranteeing them safety from the Black Riders. All that action and suspense the story was building just grinds to a halt.
        Also, as one of the Maiar, or elder spirit, he’s on par with Sauron and certain other characters who shall remain nameless for now. So the Ring has no effect on him. He has now become the ultimate deus ex machina — solution to all our problems! Not tempted by the Ring, invulnerable to it! He could just solve the basic narrative problem of the entire story, but Tolkien essentially brushes this aside.
        I have no problem with a merry spirit of the wild singing odd songs full of nonsense — we saw the elves of Rivendell do almost the same thing in The Hobbit — but I just don’t think it fits in this story. The very first time I read FOTR, I was dying for Tom to show up when the hobbits are trapped in the Barrow, and there is real terror as a reader when you are wondering how the hell they are going to get away from the wights. But now as I re-read it, it just seems like Tom is a get-out-of-jail free card — which Tolkien wisely shuffles to the bottom of the deck after this section, not to be used again.

    • My favorite thing about Sam in the book is that he’s one of the smartest characters, but he’s underestimated (by himself and others) because he is less educated. He is so humble and loyal, but by the end he becomes almost regal. In many ways, I feel like he is the true hero.

  2. I love Tom Bombadil. When I first read the book I hated him. He’s now one of my favourite characters. He’s compassionate and friendly, but politically neutral. He understands the presence of evil and will fight it where appropriate, but he’ll do so in his own little corner: he recognises where his talents are served best. He’s sort of the way I’m going as I get older – a realisation that the world will to a considerable extent tick along the way it is irrespective of what you do, and that sometimes the best thing you can do is to help those around you, and be friendly and warm and hospitable rather than trying to strive for lofty ideals.

    I’d say this of him:

    “Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow
    Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
    So don’t have him on your paintball team.”

  3. Questions, questions, hooray hooray hooray!

    1. I assumed Tom was…I don’t know, above the ring? Somehow? Like, ancient, and the magic just didn’t touch him. Like how time doesn’t matter to a god, kind of, because they blink an eye and a hundred years have passed? I feel that Tom feels that way about our petty concerns. I think he’s good, overall, but just above us. Uninterested, for the most part.
    2. Yeah, probably I’d have trusted Strider. But I’m a sucker for the tall dark stranger.
    3. I assume that The Hobbit was shorter because it was for kids, and this is streeeeetched out because it’s for adults? There’s a lot of countryside description. I’ll admit I skim that shit.
    4. “How awesome are Sam and Merry? Like, really, why are they the only ones not acting like total dumbasses right now?” The phrasing of this question made me snort cereal-milk through my nose. Sam is the BEST. I am in love with him. I have no idea why he and Merry are calmer and better. You’d think Frodo would ATTEMPT for some decorum. He’s supposed to be the damn LEADER. Sheesh.

    • Frodo does have a few moments of badassery, now. He stands up to the Barrow Wights, or tries to, and winds up hacking one’s arm the Snape off and he didn’t need a fancy Bear-Wolf heirloom Longclaw to do it, either. AND, even though he’s halfway wraithed by the time he has crossed the Ford at Bruinen (another Tolkien/Lewis crossover for Jerusha, there — Fords of Bruinen/Beruna, WHAAAAAAT?), he still hobbits up, turns around, grabs his sword and yells “By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!”* I kind of forgot about this last night during EssJay’s and my Sam Gamgee Lovecapade.

      But yes, BookSam is quite possibly my hobbit boyfriend.

      *OMG, I’m footnoting blog comments now? But anyway, how many million times better is that than Arfindel getting to say “if you want him come and claim him” instead? MANY. Many millions.

  4. I love Tom Bombadil, too, and I was sad that he wasn’t included in the movies. Along with the barrow-wights. They should have made 15 movies and left ALL the good stuff in. Tom is JUST like nature. He’s neither evil nor purely good. He just IS. He’s above all that magic foolishness. Just like nature, he can’t be controlled by outside forces.

    And no. I wouldn’t have trusted the dude with just a note. But the first time I saw the movie, I wanted to throw myself at those blazing eyes from the moment I saw them in the shadows. Judge me?

    I know we met the trolls faster in The Hobbit, but that was an appetizer. LoTR is the main course, meant for savoring. And Hobbit didn’t have Tom Bombadil.

    I do love Pippin and Merry. They’re such good friends, and they don’t seem to feel the need to hog the spotlight. They’re content playing their supporting roles in the story, so when good stuff happens to them (and by them) by accident, I find myself wanting to cheer.

    • I can understand why they dropped Bombadil from the films – he would have been great in a TV adaptation, but the whole point behind the films is pacing. You need to move the story on, and the Bombadil sequences, as fun as they are, simply don’t – and the barrow-wights are a part of that. The whole point behind the films is that the ring is the epitome of evil, tempting all those who come into contact with it, and to have a character who at this early stage shows complete disinterest seems to undermine its effectiveness somehow. It works in the novel because there’s so much else going on, but the leaner strands of film narrative would suffer.

      • In a post-LOTR-movie and post-Game of Thrones world, it’s more likely that a TV series based more faithfully on the books could have been produced. I doubt we’ll see it now, though. I always dreamed that if I won a huge lottery, I’d find some way to fund a TV series adapting The Silmarillion.

    • [sigh]

      I don’t understand why each “book” (when really it’s all ONE book, divided into six sections) got only one movie. I think I would have enjoyed it more had there been six movies, one for each actual book within the larger whole. This is why I don’t really understand why the Hobbit needs two movies, when it’s considerably shorter than each of these.

      • Hm, the argument for 6 movies would have made editing them to fit the books better a very different task – and perhaps more narrative sense!
        According to what I’ve read/seen about why there were three movies, when PJ et. al. were trying to find a studio to make the movies, they kept having to revise their expectations; they revised it to a two-movie adaptation, and, I think, a one-movie adaptation (think how truncated THAT would be) because they kept getting turned down. But fortunately, the last studio they went to, New Line, said basically, “How many books are there in the series?” and they said, “Well, three,” thinking they’d sunk their hopes of getting them made. But the exec said, “Why are you pitching me less than that? Let’s make three movies.”

  5. 1. I’m with Amy on Tom Bombadil–as he said, he is “the Eldest”. He is above everything. Which is why I love him—he is above it all, yet he never is condescending towards the hobbits. And his songs are the best! Hey Tom Bombadilo!
    And what’s with the weirdos saying he’s evil? I think they’re just trying to be contrary, like me saying Bono is evil, just because he’s such a goodie goodie and his music has gone downhill.
    2. If I were Frodo and the gang, I probably would’ve trusted Strider/Aragorn. If anything because I didn’t have much to lose. They need help getting to Rivendell and they were in a tight spot with the Nazgul after Frodo’s ring fiasco.
    3. I assume it was much easier (and less eventful) to travel in The Hobbit. They probably took the road the whole way and sang songs for hours. They didn’t have their first adventure until running into the trolls.
    4. Sam and Merry are awesome. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble telling them apart due to their similar characterization at this point. They both are smart, brave, and caring. I can’t remember when and if they start developing their own unique traits. After the Ents, maybe?

    Sidebar: I’m so glad Wednesday is finally here so I can read on!!!

      • Exactly. See, I disagree that he doesn’t belong in the story, as you suggested above, because I think he’s an awesome way for Tolkien to put in the idea that in fact even this Most Epic Of All Epic Quests is actually just, y’know, part of how things go in the world. He’s the ultimate in perspective the same way a little kid asking you questions can be the ultimate in perspective.

        • Hm…. now, that is a good point. It shifts the perspective, as the mention of past struggles against other dark forces do, so that you know that now matter how terrible the problem of the Ring is, there is still a wider world out there.
          For, me, though, that is achieved by the wonderful hobbits-looking-at-stars moment later (so I won’t get into it here).
          I think what my main problem with Tom is is that to me he just does seem to take care of the hobbits’ immediate problems and then disappear, ie. narratively that’s all he’s there in the story for.

  6. Tom Bombadil has always kind of made me uneasy, probably because he is enigmatic. Also, I have known 1 or 2 people who tried to embody his character and they were aligned Chaotic Good at best.

    Bill the Pony rules!

    I think Dwarves take the straight route and don’t dally for mushroom hunting, etc. The Dwarves would also have known the way out of Hobbit Land well. These youngster, rebel Hobbits we are following around still think of this as a holiday, are toddling along, stopping for meals at the slightest belly twinge, and haven’t been out of the Shire before. That’s why it took so long to come to the Stoned Trolls.

    • I think (at this point), they’re already getting used to going hungry. Much belt tightening has happened already (literally), but it hasn’t become anywhere near as bad as it will.

  7. People, people, people, we’ve forgotten something!

    MEG. IS. BACK.

    And the Evil Tom Continuum should be taught in every Snaping classroom in the land. In all the lands. It should be in all future editions of The Trilogy right after the maps AND printed in place of the stupid epilogue at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

  8. First, I love the Tom chart! (Though I’m not sure how much I agree with it, see below)

    So I have not read the books any where near as many times anyone here has, but I think Tom is sort of something above or beyond good and evil. He reminds me of some ideas of god that probably would not have been Tolkien’s idea of god at all. When Goldberry says he is, it reminds me of things I remembered from my religious studies classes. In some religions, applying any label to god (even saying god is good) limits god and you can’t limit something limitless. Also his indifferent-ness reminds me of this. That he doesn’t go invisible when he puts on the ring suggests to me that he is above it. I don’t know if I’m making any sense.

  9. @nrlymrtl – Yes. Bill the Pony. Yes.

    @davidjfuller – as likable as Tom B. is, I think your initial comments were right on the mark. He kills the momentum and there is just no good explanation for it. But then, this won’t be the last instance of the nearly the same problem cropping up. Somehow, I refuse to believe that this was overlooked by Tolkien or was just due to poor editing. The virtue of making the hard-but-right choice in the face of an easy way out was clearly Tolkien’s go-to theme. Still I’m not quite sure Tom B. fits in there. I guess he is like Johnny Depp… too weird to make sense of so there’s nothing to do but love him.

    • Well, I don’t know that I would blame poor editing — LOTR was published in an era where books got a lot more editing than they do today. If my criticism is to stand up, I might add that there were two factors: one, Tolkien, for much of FOTR, at least, follows a similarly episodic structure as in The Hobbit; once one threat is dealt with, move on to the next; the characters gain an occasional respite; and so forth. So Tom Bombadil’s section is not much different than the strange encounters Bilbo had in The Hobbit, which, the publishers and Tolkien would have recognized, had been successful storytelling. (I don’t think it quite fits as well with the more serious tone and deeper threat of LOTR; dissipating the tension through a character who seems to exist only to do that lessens the threat and diminishes the hobbits’ heroism)
      Secondly, given Tolkien’s background in the rich medieval epics and sagas and myth, the insertion of such an episode may have fit very well — in Arthurian texts such as Percevale or in the Icelandic sagas, there are many such digressions and side-tales. BUT… I don’t think it quite fits with our expectations today of epic fantasy. I’m not slamming Tolkien for his choices — in my view he essentially invented the high fantasy genre with his Middle-earth books — but the Bombadil section still seems out of place to me.

  10. BTW, I know I’m filling up the comments here, but yes, Sam rules. Love the moment when Bill Ferny sneers at them and might as well be twirling a big moustache and saying “Hee, hee, they’ll get you hobbits, and your little pony too!” and Sam responds by whipping a nice hard apple at his face and probably breaking his nose. BOO-YA, Mr. Ferny. Don’t mess with the son of Hamfast.

  11. I hate writing my comments so late because all the previous comments are so long and there are so many, but they are good and I know I miss out by not reading them all but I have to go to bed so I can get to work tomorrow. So here it is: Edward and Bella need to read about Tom and Goldberry so they know what a tawdry excuse of an affair their little supernatural heavy petting fest is compared to the glorious romance of T&G (TomBerry? Goldadillo?) Also I had a heartburst of love for Sam when he put his hands behind his back (like he was in SCHOOL!) and recited his own poetry about kicking troll butts! Love!

  12. Tom is the love-child that England would have had if it slept with Jerry Garcia when they were both frying on acid… he is just beyond being influenced by any magic ring.
    I always related to Strider. When I re-read the books as an older kid, I was tall with long hair and I was adopted, so I just knew I could be a long lost king.
    Time and distance are relative things. A boring trip can take longer than an exciting one, even if it really doesn’t.
    Sam is one of the most awesome, loyal friends in all creativity. Merry and Pippin fill a lot of rolls as sidekicks, comedic relief, moral support, fall-guys, stooges, heroes, and so on. It is all to show the hidden depth of the Hobbits, and by doing that, to make us view the English people as the subtle, intricate beings that they are.

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