The massive two day vacation is over. I only wish it had been a real vacation rather than a blog vacation, since I worked both days. My tears are melting holes straight through to the Land of Sadness...
A Conspiracy Unmasked
The hobbits take the ferry across the river into Buckland, and this is followed by a bit of exposition about the place and its history. It's even set out in the text with line breaks, a sort of This Is Exposition marker. I'm not sure I'm all too keen on it. It's a largish chunk of exposition, even without being highlighted. Tolkien wants us to have this information... yet most of it could probably be slipped into the text more subtly. And much of it isn't really needed. Some of his historical intrusions, I think, help set mood and tone and deepen the present moment... this one, however, doesn't, barring perhaps the final lines about the Old Forest drawing close to the hedge and how the Bucklanders lock their doors at night, which is unusual for Hobbits.
On the far side of the river the hobbits look back and see a dark shape... the shadowy form of a Black Rider is the guess. They have escaped... but only barely. I like this bit... and yet feel the tension could have been heightened, the risk played up a little more. The mushroom talk and exposition interlude has slowed things down quite a bit. The shape of the Rider is a nice little jolt... but they're safe now on the far bank, and the Rider can't cross. More, I think, could have been done with this.
They finally make it to Frodo's new home, carefully arranged with all his things to appear as much like his old home, Bag End, as possible. I think there's a wonderful little introspective bit here, where he sees his new place and wishes he really could stay and live here... but knowing he can't, and believing he must abandon his friends, and abandon them this very night.
And we can't escape without a song or two. This time a bathing song, along with horseplay. Silliness, and a very boyish sort of silliness. This is one of the moments that really reminds me how masculine the story often is, whether it be heroic manhood or boyish capering.
Next we come to the scene for which the chapter is named, where Frodo's friends reveal that they know his secrets and, what's more, they're going to be coming with him (whether he wants them to or not). The scene is also helpful in that we see a little more of Merry, the last of the major hobbit characters. We see he is the sharpest of Frodo's friends, and also the leader. And courageous, too, as he seems to best understand the danger they will face, and yet is still willing to follow Frodo. He definitely seems hardier than the typical hobbit.
There is, however, what seems to be a bit of a logical error in this section, one that I tripped over. It's suggested that Sam was their key informant, until he was found out, after which he wouldn't speak. The problem, of course, is that Sam was found out in the very first moment, when Gandalf made his initial explanations to Frodo about the Ring and the task ahead. So there could not have been a conspiracy amidst the friends yet, as there was nothing to conspire over. And if Sam clammed up after he was found out... he could not have shared anything at all. A minor thing, I suppose, but a little odd, for Tolkien was generally pretty meticulous with his timelines.
And another song! A good, marching sort of song for the beginning of an adventure. After this another curious point comes up. Merry suggests that the Black Riders could actually be there by now... and thus, the implication seems to be, that they could come at any time in the night. Yet Frodo decides to stay the night regardless, even knowing the importance of his mission (which makes the mushroom and bath shenanigans, in this context, seem a little silly). Again, this decision oddly undercuts the basic dramatic tension of the story. The Black Riders seem less dangerous merely for the lack of reaction they create in the hobbits.
Frodo does, at least, decide to eschew the roads on account of the Black Riders, deciding to leave through the Old Forest. Fatty reacts with fear to this, which serves as a nice hook for the chapter to come... yes, they can escape the Riders this way, but the Old Forest has its own dangers.
The chapter concludes with a dream that comes to Frodo. It's strange and evocative, and its eerie mood unsettles the reader, creating a sort of expectancy for the next chapter. The elements of the dream itself are interesting too... the tower, the flash of light and sound of thunder... I have a feeling these might be connected to Gandalf, but I cannot recall exactly. We'll see if this dream is given any more meaning as we go along. There's also the sea imagery, the calling of the sea... which is an interesting omen for the end of the story, sort of an abstract foreshadowing, while at the same time creating a foundation piece for one of the motifs that run through the narrative. The Sea... a mixture of victory and loss, beauty and sadness. An end, the final crossing, death... and the possibility of rebirth and new life, too.
Things get a little darker from here on out, I think...