The Lord of the Rings – Book 1, Chapter 3: “Three is Company”

There is a little known fact in the world that before he was known as “Frodo of the Nine Fingers” (for all of you who’ve seen the animated version of The Return of the King) he was “Frodo the Procrastinator.”  It’s been “two or three weeks” since Frodo was told to get the Ring out of town.  Even then, he’s waiting until autumn, for his and Bilbo’s joint birthday.  He might be bothered to make some arrangements by then.  Oh, my hobbity friend, this is where Gandalf should be beating you with his staff and scaring the living daylights out of you.  Where’s your sense of urgency?!  Gandalf’s advice: go towards danger, but not too rashly.  I love this.  The last place the enemy would ever look is for someone to head straight at them with the object of their search.  And this is why Gandalf is wise while Frodo is still… well, he’s Frodo.

To Rivendell!  It’s decided!  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Of all the locations in Middle-Earth I’d love to visit, that’s the top of my list.  Wise choice, yet again.  Good for you, Gandalf!  The translation behind Gandalf’s suggestion is, of course, “You’ll need all the help you can get, buddy.”

As many times as I’ve read this book, the one thing I absolutely could never fathom was was why Frodo would choose to sell Bag-End.  I get it that he’s thinking he’s a permanent exile, but seriously?  If you’re supposed to be leaving the Shire and not telling anyone until after you’ve gone?  You might as well get the eagles to do some skywriting for you.  “Hey, Nazgul… look here!”  *face/palm*  And Lobelia is the buyer, so you know the source of the gossip is her bragging about it.  The theory, of course, is that people think Frodo is running out of Bilbo’s money, and that he was going to settle down in Buckland to live out a quiet, hobbity life.  Of course.  Such a provincial people, our hobbits.  So predictable.  That’s going to work in Frodo’s favor, or should.

Don’t leave a forwarding address, Gandalf says.  So naturally Frodo has bought a little house at Crickhollow with a little scouting help from Merry, and to everyone but Sam, it’s known that he’ll be moving there permanently.  Frodo, are you certain you’re related to Bilbo?  Listen to the wizard!  Especially the part where he says not to use the Ring.

Moving finally gets underway, and there’s no sign of Gandalf, but we do have a Black Rider poking around and asking questions, even if we aren’t supposed to know what that is yet.  You’re so close, dude.  Just go up the next hill and knock on the door.  Thankfully Frodo has presence of mind enough to not leave through the village.  Merry has gone on ahead and will meet with them in a couple of days.  Pippin leaves with Frodo, while Sam escapes through the back way after making a run back to his house.  So much character to be found here, which is part of my love affair with this story.  Sam becomes such an instant favorite between saying his goodbyes to the beer barrel in the cellar and doffing more than his fair share of the pack load while still offering to carry even more.

The time in the woods gives us talk of the elves and another refrain of “The Old Walking Song.”  They’re not in any hurry, but they have presence of mind to leave quietly and quickly before this point?  *second face/palm*  That’ll cost them, because the Black Rider is on their trail.  The instant he shows, Frodo has to fight the urge to use the Ring, so desperate is his need to hide.

Pippin proves to be a smart cookie here, sussing out that the Black Rider has something to do with Frodo leaving in the first place, but he places trust first and lets Frodo keep his secret.

We’re given another walking song, cleverly titled “A Walking Song” by those who’ve recorded it so as to distinguish it from “The Old Walking Song.”  According to the story, the tune is as old as the hills, but the lyrics are Bilbo’s.  Again, as I tend to do with this book, I listen to the recorded versions from The Tolkien Ensemble when I read.  It gives it more ambiance, I think. If you’re interested, you can listen to “A Walking Song” right here.  Nothing quite like a rousing hobbit music trio, no?

When the music ends on Pippin’s high voice, the fear of the Black Rider sniffing around retakes them.  I suppose this can be attributed to the general lack of common sense among hobbits that they are overtaken by the joy of the moment, even when evil is at the back door simply because they’re unaccustomed to such evil.  Still… you’d think they’d remember that first encounter before the nick of time.  But it’s not the Black Rider that they discover.  Instead, it’s elves, much to Sam’s delight.

This is where the elves of Middle-Earth truly become the elves we know.  If you’ll recall, back in The Hobbit, these people were as silly as they were wise, taunting Bilbo with their songs and mirth.  This time, there’s a somber and sober attitude, but they still have a sense of humor without being silly.  These elves are leaving Middle-Earth, and all that implies.  Indeed it is apparently rare to encounter High Elves anymore.  Again we are treated to Tolkien’s masterful world building through their song. You can hear The Tolkien Ensemble performing “Elven Hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel” right here if you like.  This is where we get to hear some contrast as the two walking songs were very folksy and hobbity, and this we get a sense of sadness, mystery, and nostalgia from the elven song as sung by by Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod.

As I say, this is where the world building comes in, and as this is all about tracking the development of the lore on the road to The Silmarillion, let’s dig in a bit.  Our heroes know that they are High Elves because they invoke the name of Elbereth.  Who is that?  It’s important to know, because her name will be invoked at various times inThe Lord of the Rings.  Elbereth is the Sindarin name of one of the Valar, the godly beings (Ainar) who entered the tangible world of Arda (the physical lands and seas of the world, including Middle-Earth – and you thought the world was named Middle-Earth, didn’t you?) after its creation to defend it against the evils of Melkor, aka the original Dark Lord and Sauron’s master.  Elbereth, or Gilthoniel, is called the “queen of the stars.”  Her true name is Varda, and it is she who placed the stars in the heavens.  She is the wife of Manwë, who is the eldest of the Ainur and the brother of Melkor.  Elbereth is said to be beautiful beyond description of Men or Elves, and her face radiates the light of Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme deity in this pantheon.  We can go on and on about Elbereth, and eventually we will, but the point is this: she is light and goodness incarnate, and so it is that invoking her name is a high protection against evil.  With this in mind, I recommend going back and listening to the song again with an ear towards the reverence and pleading in the song as Gildor invokes her.

Back to the story, Frodo impresses Gildor by addressing him in the ancient tongue, and the elves proves to be good-natured and humored by the meeting.  The hobbits accompany the elves for a time, and Frodo puts Gildor to many questions regarding the world outside the Shire and Bilbo, but the questions are vague, and the answers even more so.  Gildor assures Frodo that their secrets will not be learned by the Enemy because of elves.  They discuss the Black Rider, but nothing is revealed apart from it being an agent of the Enemy.  Frodo urges for more information, but Gildor leaves that up to Gandalf and again invokes Elbereth’s protection for the hobbit.  Frodo is named Elf-friend, and the Wandering Companies will be on watch for the journey ahead.

It’s really hard to argue that kind of awesomeness, even if it might be difficult for our hobbits to know the full extent of what that even means.

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