Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blogging the Rings: Fellowship, Book 1, Chapter 4

I'd sing a hobbit song for you, but, well, that would go poorly. Oh so poorly.

A Short Cut to Mushrooms

This chapter opens a little more immediately than the first few, focusing in closely on the hobbits. Still a moment of downtime, though, a moment of rest and low tension in the story. What strikes me in this opening scene is Sam, in that he surprises Frodo (and likely the reader, too). We've seen Sam mostly as the humourous and loyal servant so far, but here we see a little more. Sam, speaking of the Elves: "'They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak,' answered Sam slowly. 'It don't seem to matter what I think about them. They are quite different from what I expected - so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were.'" He still speaks simply, a little more commonly than the others, but yet he shows some keen insight here, which surprises Frodo. And his desire to "see it through" surprises Frodo a little, too, and it is this very trait, in the end, that will decide all. Loyalty and perseverence... this is the necessity of Sam, and here we see and feel that first formulation of his value within the narrative, one that will grow ever stronger throughout the long journey to Mordor.

The hobbits continue on their journey, taking a short cut across country. A short cut that proves slower, as Pippin warned, since the going is rough and they get somehwat lost - but wise all the same, for the Black Riders are abroad. I think there's a fine moment here, where Tolkien allows the tension to cut through the initial playfulness of a scene. The hobbits start to sing, and there's again that feeling of a lark, a country stroll, where tension has ebbed beneath the sound of one of the funny Ho!Ho!Ho! songs... but this time the song is cut off by a long wail, the cry of some "evil and lonely creature", and it is answered my another similar, though more distant, wail. Tolkien has, in a sense, pierced his own silliness. Tension floods back... for this was no animal's cry: there were words in those cries, though indecipherable.

The hobbits make their way to Farmer Maggot's land, where they are held at bay by the farmer's dogs until Maggot himself rescues them. And Farmer Maggot has a tale to tell - a Black Rider has come by looking for "Baggins". And, following the wail, these riders seem suddenly a little more dangerous and dark. Maggot is not mildly "put out", as the Gaffer once was, but faces something more serious as his dogs are sent running at the mere presence of the Rider. And the Black Rider scorns Farmer Maggot, and casually attempts to ride him down - Maggot is beneath a serious effort.

After a meal, Farmer Maggot takes them by cart to the Ferry crossing. It is foggy, and the gloom and fog add a menacing atmosphere to the scene, one that heightens the sudden fear at the sound of an approaching horse - but it is only Merry arriving on a pony, out looking for them. Again, tension has been built at the end of the chapter, though here with the twist of a happy reunion.

A short and fairly simple chapter, really. A few light moments, a bit of history, and a continuation of the journey. The deepening characterization, particularly for Sam, seems important, as does the heightened danger of the Black Riders. They become more frightening, and so the journey itself seems to become more dangerous. This deepening of the story's tension is also supported by the setting and mood Tolkien has chosen for the chapter. Lost in the woods, and then the eerie and blinding fog... both, I think, deepen the gloom and sense of danger, the sense of closing pursuit.

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