Thursday, June 11, 2009

Blogging the Rings: Fellowship, Book 1, Chapter 2

Popcorn? Drinks? On with the show...

The Shadow of the Past

Chapter two starts out rather distantly again, with that longshot view, a sense of the narrator framing the situation. A lot is covered in a little space. Years, in fact, in a few pages. And those passing years, it seems to me, are a bit of an odd authorial choice, considering we finally built up a little tension at the end of the last chapter. At least Tolkien covers it quickly, skimming across this passage of time in a dash. Yet still, a curious choice.

We're also introduced to two main characters, Pippin and Merry, though in a "tell" fashion that doesn't particularly inscribe them in the reader's memmory. Indeed, they are part of a list of friends, including Folco and Fredegar (Fatty). I wonder if Tolkien, at this time, even knew that they would be key characters? It doesn't really feel like it - but rather more like a placeholder introduction has been put in place, and never changed even when two of these characters become central to the story.

We also get some whispers and rumors of troubles in the world abroad, which is helpful here, both to show a bit of the larger picture and provide a bit of tension (since, in the quiet passing of years, much of the dramatic insistence inherent in the first chapter's hook drains away in this second opening).

At this point we reach the second of those mirrored conversations I mentioned in the last post, this one between Sam and the Miller's son, Ted. This introduction, I think, is a little better, as Sam is an important character, and (unlike the intro to Merry and Pippin) he is at least given a chance to breathe. And there are more rumors here of oddities abounding, which helps peak the interest a little. And a rumored sighting of something that sounds very Ent-like, these "Tree-men, these giants" as Sam calls them. A curious bit, considering the Ent scenes later in the Two Towers. Ents don't live outside Fangorn Forest, apparently... so is this an Entwife? or merely a tall tale? The similarity of description is striking. Or is this a sighting of something more like a Huorn, something that crept out of the Old Forest? And yet the idea of lurking Entwives is intriguing... Again, we have a foreshadowing or forewarning, something Tolkien seems to do often and intently. And again we see that penchant for mirroring ideas, for repetition. It creates a certain resonance, I think. We have the "Tree-men" here, then Old Man Willow later on in the Fellowship of the Ring, and then we have the Ents and Huorns in the Two Towers. Tolkien certainly takes a lot of care to set up certain elements and themes within the text.

We also see Frodo's "preservation" touched on. He remains young, just as Bilbo had, and strikingly enough for the community around him to notice. It's a small element, but I think it helps the reader keep plugged into the larger plot.

Gandalf finally returns (many years have passed), looking "older and more careworn". And yet the suggestion here is that this is not a result of age, but of weariness and the weight of many troubles, a suggestion that helps heighten (and darken) the mood. What has only been rumors and whispers to the hobbits of Hobbiton has been reality to Gandalf, and these cares have weighed upon him.

Finally we come to it, some of the mystery of the Ring revealed. Fears and suspicions become reality, and Gandalf relates some of the history of the Ring, and its danger, its corrupting power - and its desire to return to its master and maker. And Tolkien uses an interesting technique here, one I've not seen in many other books. In the midst of the scene he uses line breaks, as with a scene shift... and yet there is no shift, either in scene, location, or time. The next line after the break directly follows the one before it. It's an interesting, and somewhat odd, use of white space within the text. It highlights elements, certainly, though perhaps creates an overly dramatic pause? Anyone have thoughts on this technique?

The narrative tone has changed a little, too. No longer so funny, no longer with so many overt interjections by the narrator. The lines, it seem, start to become a little more fluid, a little more elegant and descriptive: "lines of fire that seemed to form the letters of a flowing script. They shone piercingly bright, and yet remote, as if out of a great depth." And this is a line I love, spoken by Gandalf, simple and yet evocative: "That name even you Hobbits have heard of, like a shadow on the border of old stories."

Interestingly, too, we are introduced to Gollum in this chapter, though he never appears. Yet we hear his history, and his character comes to life through the mimicry of Gandalf. An interesting and subtle introduction, really, that captures him in the dialogue of others. Craftily done, really.

And with the introduction of Gollum comes Frodo's desire that Bilbo had killed him, that he deserved death, and Gandalf's wonderful admonishment. "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least." This is both an interesting evocation of the compassionate philosophhy guiding one side of this spiritual war, and a wonderfully brave bit of foreshadowing. I mean, in a sense he just gave us the climax of the story right there, in chapter two. It highlights, as well, the importance of Gollum, and keeps alive a sense of expectancy until he finally arrives.

Another clever refrain here is the use of "precious". That's Gollum's word, of course, for the One Ring, his "precious". And then in chapter one Bilbo uses the word in connection with the Ring, and Gandalf calls him on it by reminding Bilbo that he was not the first to call it so. Here, though, the word crops up again, and more subtly, slipped into the description of the Ring as Frodo is pondering it, considering an attempt to destroy it. "It was an admirable thing and altogether precious." It works merely as an appropriate descriptive word, but on that second level it reveals that the Ring is already seducing Frodo. Carefully done, here, and the same section also ends with Frodo unconsciously putting the Ring back in his pocket rather than attempting to harm it in some way. Again, another cheeky foreshadowing of the story's climax, a little mirror of what is to come.

And finally, a decision made. Frodo must leave, and take the ring with him. No sign of where or when... but the adventure is set to start, and Frodo has his first companion, the eavesdropping Sam Gamgee.

So, a few thoughts on what struck me about this chapter in a craft sense. I keep getting drawn back to the odd use of white space in the repeated application of the extra line breaks. In a way, it compartmentalizes the scene into little units, small chapters in and of themselves. And it might also help highlight certain moments, allowing a more direct focus to be drawn to particular elements. On the other hand... a wee bit choppy. It does, I think, break the rhythm and flow of the scene. And the other thing... foreshadowing! It's interesting how much Tolkien hints at right from the start. Fairly brazen, really, and it certainly shows how much you can get away with in this regard.

Note: I forgot to mention something that struck me in chapter one. Gandalf's description and my long-held mental image of him: Bushy beard, check. Pointy hat, check. Staff, check. Grey robes and cloak, check. Scarf... um, no. Never really had that as part of my mental image of Gandalf. Anyone else forget the scarf? Anyone else get surprised when rereading something and finding the text says something quite different than you remember? Important to remind oneself, perhaps, how much each indvidual reader brings to their interpretation of the story. And how mood and character can sometimes trump specific details, perhaps?


Deb Salisbury, The Mantua Maker said...

I had forgotten the scarf, too.

Hurray for cheeky foreshadowing! I wonder if I can get away with it...

Ink said...

It's interesting. I realize that foreshadowing is not someting I tend to use much, if at all. So it's curious to see someone who obviously uses it a lot. It's really struck me, in this rereading, how he does, and how often he likes to tie elements together. You broach it early, and then come back to it, and back to it again.

Matthew Rush said...

Scarf? On Gandalf? No I do not remember that at all and I have read all of Tolkien's works more than once.

I will have to go back and look at this passage again. I don't recall the line breaks off the top of my head but it sounds interesting. I have used a similar technique to jump back and forth between POVs in nearby scenes but never within a single scene. My guess is that if anyone could make it work it would be JRR, but I will have to go back and look again.