LotR Reread: Welcome to Rivendell, Mr. Baggins

Book Two, Chapter I: Many Meetings

Frodo wakes up. Again. He’s confused, thinking at first that he’s back in Bag End after an illness and that his adventures were a bad dream. Then he realizes that all it did indeed happen. While he’s getting his bearings, he asks what time it is, and lo and behold, Gandalf answers!

Frodo is shocked because last he knew Gandalf hadn’t come back to the Shire when he said he would, leaving Frodo in the lurch with Black Riders on his trail. Instead of asking where Gandalf has been all this time, Frodo asks about the others. Good on him. I don’t think I would have done the same. Everyone else is fine. The Black Riders had pursued Frodo, leaving them alone. Glorfindel, being a badass Elven lord, pursued the Riders and between him (and the others, mostly Strider) and the flood, the Black Riders were defeated. Not for good. Just for now. And then Frodo asks where Gandalf has been.

Gandalf, as it turns out, had been held captive. Because even wizards can be defeated, and there some powers out there greater than his. He refuses to say more, though. His tale will be told at the upcoming council meeting. I guess Gandalf doesn’t like to repeat himself. He gets Frodo back up to speed on what’s happened since that little incident at the Ford of Bruinen– once the water returned to normal, Strider and the others found him near death on the far bank. They started carrying him to Rivendell and were met by the Elves. Frodo has been under Elrond’s care for four nights and three days and was near death (or close to becoming an undead wraith under the dominion of Sauron, which I have to say, is a fate worse than death) until Elrond removed the splinter of the Morgul blade that had been working its way to Frodo’s heart. Fortunately, Hobbits are tough. Any Man would have succumbed far sooner than Frodo.

But everything’s fine. The splinter is gone, Frodo is recovering, and the Ring is safe for now.  And now Frodo has a chance to ask a bunch of questions, like, ‘how can the Black Riders’ horses put up with them, when all other animals freak out? (answer: the horses were bred in Mordor because not all Sauron’s servants are wraiths) and ‘Is Rivendell safe?’ (answer: for now it is because there are powerful Elves to hold back the darkness, but that won’t last forever). While Frodo is pondering all this, Gandalf takes a good look at him. The Hobbit looks much better now, but there’s a hint of transparency about him, especially on his injured arm. “‘Still, that must be expected,’ said Gandalf to himself. ‘He is not half through yet, and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.’” In other words, he may have a spirit akin to the Elves, who also shine with an inner light that some can see.

All these questions and answers are tiring, and Frodo is still recovering and so he falls back to sleep wishing that he could see Bilbo.

 

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Frodo wakes up. Again. He’s less confused this time and manages to get up and about and notices he’s grown thin during his travels, and sees something of the young hobbit he used to be. Before he can ponder this too much, Sam shows up. He’s thrilled to see Frodo awake and unthinkingly grabs Frodo’s hand to check his health– that hand had been deathly cold since Frodo was stabbed, and its warmth is a sign of renewed health. Also, it’s wonderful that Tolkien has the hobbits touching each other to give comfort and reassurance. Men can touch each other with affection. It’s okay. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s just a sign that you like your friends. Tolkien knew this. Why haven’t more writers figured it out?

Anyway. There’s a feast going on in Frodo’s honor and Sam was sent to show Frodo the way to it. Sam is the happiest he’s ever been- Frodo is better! There are Elves here! There’s a feast! They reunite with Merry and Pippin and head off to the party. There, they see all sorts of amazing people– Glorfindel all done up and shiny, Gandalf looking dapper, Elrond looking ageless and wise. And down the way is this intensely beautiful woman with pale skin, black hair, and grey eyes. She looks young and ageless, though there is wisdom and nobility about her. So now Frodo has seen Arwen Undómiel, who is said to be as beautiful as Lúthien (given that there are Elves there who were around when Lúthien was, they should know).

To Frodo’s right, there’s an old dwarf and Frodo discovers that this is Glóin— THE Glóin, of Thorin Oakenshield’s company. They make their introductions and spend most of the evening talking about news from here and there. Frodo does more listening than talking because it’s good to hear about the places that Bilbo visited once upon a time. What’s not nice to hear are the dark tidings of terrible things moving out of the dark places of the world.

After the feast, Gandalf takes Frodo to the Hall of Fire, where Elven minstrels are singing and telling tales. They spy a familiar figure asleep by the fire and who should it be but Bilbo! Frodo is thrilled, but wonders why he hasn’t seen Bilbo before now. As it turns out, Bilbo spent a lot of time at Frodo’s bedside when he was unconscious, but decided not to attend the feast. He’s aging now, and social responsibilities aren’t his thing anymore. He had a poem to finish, anyway. They chat for a while, and of course, the Ring comes up. Bilbo wishes he had brought it to Rivendell those seventeen years ago. It would have avoided a lot of trouble if he had. He asks to see the Ring, just to peek at it one last time.

Frodo reluctantly pulls out the chain that’s around his neck, revealing the Ring. He suddenly sees Bilbo as this horrid, grasping creature. The music falters and dies. Then Bilbo realizes what’s going on and tells him to put the Ring away. He knows now what effect the Ring is having on Frodo and what seeing the Ring again is doing to him. He sees that his role as Ringbearer was only a chapter in this great tale. “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” He changes the subject then, and then Strider shows up. Bilbo chides Frodo for not knowing what Dunadan meant when he called Strider that earlier. It means ‘Man of the West’ or ‘Numenorean’. It’s important, but Frodo doesn’t know why yet.

As it turns out, Strider has come to hear Bilbo’s poem. The Elves want to hear it, too, and so Bilbo recites it, asking if they’ll look for the part Strider wrote. They can’t figure it out, but Bilbo isn’t worried. The whole thing was his, except for a detail about a particular green gem. Bilbo didn’t know why it was important, and Strider didn’t bother to explain it. “…he said that if I had the cheek to make verses about Eärendil in the house of Elrond, it was my affair. I suppose he was right.”

Why is it cheeky to make songs about Eärendil in the house of Elrond? Well, because Eärendil was Elrond’s father. War separated the family when Elrond and his brother Elros were children. Eärendil set out on a journey to Valinor to seek the aid of the Valar. On the way, his wife Elwing (who, after her own adventure with one of the fabled Silmarils, turned into a bird after leaping into the sea to escape from some awful Elves) found him and gave him one of the Silmarils. Once they found Valinor, the Valar heard his plea and gave him a new ship before putting him, Elwing, and the shining Silmaril into the sky as the Evening Star. So every twilight, Elrond looks up into the sky and sees his parents, always there but forever out of reach. Tolkien’s work is filled with bittersweet stories like that.

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The hobbits leave the Hall of Fire and head back to Bilbo’s room for some good hobbit-talk. On the way, they see Strider and Arwen together. Frodo doesn’t know it, but these two have loved each other for years and this is the first time they have been together for a long time. And remember chapter or so ago, when Strider told them the story of Beren and Lúthien, and how Lúthien chose to give up her immortality to be with Beren? That story means a lot to him because Arwen has made the same choice. She has said she will give up her Elvish immortality to be with him.

(By the by, there are many who think that Aragorn and Arwen are cousins and that their love is a little weird because of it. While it’s true they are of the same lineage, they’re far from cousins. Sure, their lines meet up with Eärendil and Elwing, who were the parents of Elrond and Elros. But these brothers were not fully Elven, and so were given the choice of immortality or the fate of Man. Elrond chose Elvenkind, while Elros chose Mankind and eventually died. Elrond married Celebrian, who bore him three children– twin boys named Elladan and Elrohir and one girl, Arwen. Elros married, had children, and sixty-plus generations later, Aragorn came along.)

 

Chapter II: The Council of Elrond

Frodo wakes up. Again. He does a lot of waking up in Rivendell. This time, though, he has Something To Do. He’s hardly had a chance to appreciate the beauty all around him before Gandalf and Bilbo whisk him off to the council chamber. Elrond is there, of course, as are Glorfindel, Glóin, and Strider. There are some other Elves, too, along with a strange Elf named Legolas, Glóin‘s son Gimli, and a tall man with a silver-capped horn named Boromir. I have a feeling we might be seeing more of these guys.

But onto the council. This chapter is about thirty pages long, though sometimes it feels much longer. What’s it about? A bunch of guys sitting around talking about history. It can be hard to get through, but this is where we discover the entire history of the Ring, the rise of Sauron, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and the downfall of Isildur. It’s also where we find out what happened to Gollum after ‘Riddles in the Dark’, as well as hearing about Gandalf’s captivity. There’s a lot of information being dropped on our heads in this chapter, and while some of it may not feel essential to The Lord of the Rings at first, it builds up the history of Middle-earth itself.

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So here’s what goes down in the board meeting to end all board meetings. First off, Glóin and Gimli were sent by the Dwarven King Dáin because a messenger from Mordor keeps darkening their doorstep to ask after a ‘Baggins’ and some little trinket he found while traveling with Thorin Oakenshield’s company. The messenger has been making veiled threats, and Dáin wants to know what’s up with that.

In response, Elrond says that Glóin will find his answers because his trouble is part of what’s going on in the rest of the world. As it turns out, Elrond didn’t call this council. Everyone showed up at the same time, seeking his advice about the same thing. Good timing, everyone!

Elrond launches into the story of how the Elven smiths of Eregion were deceived by Sauron and forged the Rings of Power (three for the Elves, seven for the Dwarves, and nine for Men) to help govern the races. But out in his own realm, Sauron forged the One Ring to control the others. Fortunately, Celebrimbor caught wind of this and hid the Elven Rings from Sauron, and so they weren’t corrupted. War spread across the lands, and the Last Alliance defeated Sauron (for a while). Elrond remembers it because he fought at the battle. When Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand, Elrond advised him to destroy the Ring. Isildur did not follow Elrond’s advice, and much evil came after that. “‘I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories,” he says. War and war and war across all these centuries and none of it has ever defeated evil forever. It never will.

But the tale continues with the fall of Isildur, who took the Ring and was betrayed by it. He put on the Ring and leaped into the River Anduin to escape an ambush and the Ring slipped from his finger and so he was spotted and killed, and the Ring lay on the riverbed for many, many years.

Boromir speaks up then. Part of his question has been answered. It turns out that both he and his brother had this weird, repetitive dream wherein the Eastern sky grew dark, but in the West, light remained. A voice called to them to find the sword that was broken, and that Isildur’s Bane (the Ring) would awaken. Because even in Gondor everyone knows that Elrond’s strength is in words, not in weapons, Boromir’s spent the past hundred-and-more days getting to Rivendell. His brother would have come, but Boromir insisted on going.

Strider reveals himself as the heir of Elendil– Aragorn, son of Arathorn– and draws the broken sword, Narsil. Boromir is skeptical. He came looking for answers to a riddle, not to find a questionable heir from a nearly-forgotten line. Bilbo tries to put him in his place, but I don’t think it worked very well, and Aragorn doesn’t need Bilbo’s help anyway. Aragorn tells of his people, how they are scorned and mocked and yet they hold true to their purpose and guard the people of the North (like Hobbits). He doesn’t begrudge them their happy lives, even if his has been filled with danger and loneliness.

Bilbo tells his tale, then. The real one, not the one he first told to the Dwarves. Some of the councilmembers are surprised by this, and they’re even more surprised when Frodo tells him of his own journey. They wonder if Tom Bombadil might be a good guardian for the Ring, and then decide that, no, an absent-minded forest spirit who doesn’t understand the Ring and its evil would be a lousy guardian.

Finally, Gandalf tells his story. During The Hobbit, when Gandalf left Thorin’s company, he and the White Council drove the Necromancer out of his stronghold of Dol Guldur. The Necromancer turned out to be Sauron, who had been gathering his strength in secret. The White Council said, “Well, crap! Now what do we do?”. Saruman told them to hold their horses, that the Ring had been lost forever, and so the Council waited. Gandalf admits that this was a mistake. Saruman had been studying their enemy’s secrets, and it’s dangerous to study such things so deeply. Merely studying the Ring’s history and the making of it can lead one to desire its power and because Saruman was a powerful wizard, he fell into darkness. He tricked his fellow wizard Radagast into talking Gandalf into coming to his stronghold of Isengard, and when Gandalf refused to go along with his evil plans to find the Ring and take power, Saruman imprisoned Gandalf.

He probably shouldn’t have taken Gandalf to the top of the tower, though, because after a while the giant eagle Gwaihir shows up. It turns out that Radagst spoke to the Eagles about Gandalf’s concerns, and the Eagles went in search of Gandalf. And so he was rescued from Isengard. He ended up in Rohan, discovered that their King suddenly hated him, took the best horse in the Riddermark, and rode for the Shire. He arrived there a couple of days after Frodo left and almost despaired when he found Frodo’s torn cloak on the doorstep of the Crickhollow house. He rode on, thinking all might be lost, and discovered that not only had the hobbits made it to Bree, but they’d also taken up with Strider! Hooray! So he rode on, confronted some of the Black Riders on Weathertop before Strider and the hobbits arrived there, and hurried on to Rivendell.

And now we come to the tale of Gollum. After losing the Ring to Bilbo, Gollum left the caves of the Misty Mountains in search of it. He ended up in Mordor and was captured and tortured in Barad-Dur, where he told Sauron about ‘Hobbits’ and ‘Shire’ and ‘Baggins’. He was released then and left Mordor, wandering far and wide until Aragorn caught up with him in the Dead Marshes. Together, Gandalf and Aragorn tried to get him to talk, but it wasn’t much use. Gollum hated them both and bit Aragorn, though Gandalf managed to get a little information before turning him over to the Elves of Mirkwood, where they think he’s still imprisoned.

This is where Legolas speaks up because he’s come to Rivendell to inform them all that Gollum escaped! The Elves took him out for a walk one day for some air and exercise. Gollum climbed a tree and refused to come down before the Elves were attacked by orcs. When the attack was over, Gollum was gone. Legolas thinks the orcs were helping Gollum escape, probably so he could cause more mischief in the world.

And so here we are, with the tale told in full. Now the question is, “What do we do with the Ring?” There are two options– take it into the West, to the Undying Lands where Sauron can never go, or take it to Mordor, into the heart of Sauron’s realm and cast it into the fires of Orodruin (aka Mount Doom), the one place the Ring can be destroyed. They decide that option one is not feasible. All roads are dangerous now, and hiding the Ring won’t solve the problem forever. They have to end Sauron once and for all, and destroying the Ring is the only way to do it.

But who will carry this foul, corrupting thing into Mordor, where enemies are everywhere and death is a near certainty?

There’s quiet for a moment, and then Frodo speaks up. “A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken… At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.

 

‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.'”

Elrond is surprised but not surprised. He seems to have expected this answer the whole time: “If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.'”

Yup. This little Hobbit has been chosen by Fate or Iluvatar to complete a dire task that will determine the fate of all life in Middle-earth. Who’d have thunk it? It should have been an Elf or a Man doing this, but no, only a Hobbit will do.

And then Sam pops out of his hiding place, because you can’t separate Sam from Mister Frodo that easily. He’s going to go to Mordor with Frodo.


Next Week: The Fellowship of the Ring forms and picks a very bad time of year to go for a very long walk into some very dark places.

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