The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Summary and Analysis
Book I, Chapters 9-12
Book I, Chapter Nine: At The Sign of the Prancing Pony
Bree is the main town in Bree-land and the men (humans) in Bree are friendly and familiar with Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and other non-human inhabitants of the region. When they make their way to The Prancing Pony, the hobbits find that they are not the only guests. Frodo takes on an alias (Mr. Underhill) because he does not want to find any trouble with the Black Riders. A man called Barliman Butterbur runs the establishment. Inside the inn, the hobbits find the Bree-hobbits to be rather inquisitive and nosy. Frodo becomes especially worried when he sees an old, weather-beaten man in the corner of the room, staring at the new arrivals. This man is called Strider and Frodo worries that he is in league with the Black Riders.
Meanwhile, Pippin (whose alias is "Took") has become a drunken spectacle. He is telling the story of Bilbo's farewell party and Frodo is worried that Pippin will unwittingly reveal the secret of the ring in recounting Bilbo's disappearance. Trying to mend the situation, Frodo takes the attention from Pippin by standing on top of the table and beginning a comic song. He is nervous and so he starts fidgeting in his pockets and he accidentally slips the ring onto his finger. He vanishes - accidentally. Panicking, he moves to the corner and joins Strider again. The hobbits want to know how Mr. Underhill (Frodo) has managed to disappear and then reappear. Mr. Underhill insists that he has done no such thing. The chapter ends just as the innkeeper, Mr. Butterbur, confronts Frodo, with an important message.
The narrative structure of this chapter should remind us that Tolkien is still at the beginning of his story (remember, this is a trilogy). Chapter Nine begins with a history of the region that offers parallels to our world, partly because of Tolkien's idea of "Westernesse" and partly because there are "Big People" (humans) in this part of the story. Strider's character is introduced here and he only grows in importance, in chapter ten. Frodo is fearful of Strider and Tolkien adds an element of suspense to the story, until Chapter Ten confirms Strider's honor. Frodo and his friends are always getting themselves into trouble and there is irony in the fact that in the process of trying to repair the situation, Frodo only makes everything worse.
Book I, Chapter Ten: Strider
Strider goes to the hobbits' room and tells them that he has some good advice to give them - if they will give him a reward. He wants to be taken along. Frodo, of course, refuses to make a deal until he learns more about Strider. Strider tells Frodo that he heard the hobbits talking, as they arrived in Bree and created false names. Strider then reveals that he has been looking for a hobbit named Frodo Baggins and he is glad that he has found him. Strider tells Frodo that his accident with the ring has made his position dangerous and he might find trouble with various villains in the town (including a guy called Bill Ferny).
Mr. Butterbur comes to the room with a letter from Gandalf, addressed to Frodo Baggins. The letter is a few months old and when Frodo reads it, he realizes that Gandalf warned of danger well before the hobbits actually left the Shire. Gandalf has also introduced Strider as another figure who can be trusted. Under Strider's guidance, the hobbits put bolsters under the sheets of their beds so that they appear to be in their rooms. Then, they move to the parlor and sleep their while Strider watches over them.
This chapter confirms Strider's honor and he joins the list of characters who offer to assist Frodo. While the hobbits are rather inept, there is always help for them, just when they need it. Gandalf's letter foreshadows a good deal of difficulty to come and even though the hobbits have found two wise and powerful friends (Butterbur and Strider), the chapter ends with a depressing and foreboding tone. It seems clear that the forces of evil are as powerful as the hobbits are powerless. The hobbits move slow and steady and they are prepared to end their day. But the narrative structure of the preceding chapters (especially chapters seven and eight) should warn us that the night is incredibly dangerous. There are nightmares within Frodo's head and there are nightmarish figures in the world around Frodo. The repeated images and motifs of the last few chapters should prepare the reader for Chapter Eleven: "A Knife in the Dark."
Book I, Chapter Eleven: A Knife in the Dark
While the hobbits are sleeping in the inn at Bree, Fatty Bolger is kept awake at the house in Buckland. There are three black figures roaming the house and there is a voice that says "Open, in the name of Mordor." This breaks the door down but Fatty Bolger has already escaped to the nearest house, more than a mile away. He is babbling but the villagers understand that an invasion is underway and as they prepare for battle, the black figures flee. After the wake, the hobbits return to their rooms and find the bolsters slashed to pieces. The stable-doors had been opened in the night and the ponies were gone. They are forced to buy an expensive pony from Bill Ferny and they make their way out of Bree.
They travel off of the road and into the forest to avoid the Black Riders and with Strider leading them, the hobbits have five days of relative calm and security. Strider tells stories and sings old songs that celebrate heroes and old rulers. He also warns them not to use the word "Mordor" when they are outside. They soon find a message that Gandalf has left, scratched into a tree, indicating that he had been at that location on October 3 (3 days before them). Clearly he was in danger and could not leave a longer message. The hobbits see black riders moving towards them and, of course, they are frightened. Strider defends them well, using his firebrand. Frodo is afraid and he gives into his temptation to put on the ring. Invisible, Frodo is also more imperiled. He sees the riders clearly and one of them wears a crown. He stabs Frodo with his knife and to defend himself, Frodo stabs at the rider's feet and calls out: "O Elbereth! Githoniel!" With his last effort, Frodo wisely removes the ring from his hand.
The motif of the song becomes especially important in this chapter because ultimately, Frodo was saved not by his knife but by the phrase "O Elbereth! Githoniel!" The parallel to this is the scene where Strider warns Pippin not to use the evil word ("Mordor") so flippantly. Also, the Black Riders used the same word to break Fatty Bolger's door. The theme of language relates to the invented history of Tolkien's world but it also plays into the battle between good and evil. We saw this in Chapter One and Gandalf's explanation of the ring's creation. We also learn more about the characters known as the Black Riders. They are amorphous in shape and incredibly threatening. They use their horses to see and they can detect blood (living creatures) and they instinctively seek out the presence of the ring. Frodo must also come to terms with his own failings and temptations; this temptation grows each time Frodo wears the ring.
Book I, Chapter Twelve: Flight to the Ford
This is the last chapter of Book One. Frodo regains consciousness and he asks the other hobbits about the "Pale King." It is at this point that he realizes, that they did not see the Black Riders as clearly as he did. Strider tends to Frodo's wound, and it is a good thing that Strider is there to protect the group. He uses a medicinal plant called athelas to tend to Frodo's wound but it is spreading numbness in Frodo's shoulder. The next day, the group continues on the road and nothing really happens until they come across the trolls that Gandalf turned to stone (in another story). The hobbits are closer to the road to Rivendell and when they cross the Last Bridge, they are greeted by an elf called Glorfindel. He knows Strider and in fact, he has come from Rivendell to help them. Frodo is now on Glorfindel's horse and Frodo's wound is poisonous. He is suffering strange depressing dreams that alternate with reality.
As the chapter ends, the group arrives at the last river that they must cross. Of course, Black Riders are right on their trail, at the Ford of Bruinen. Frodo is on Glorfindel's horse and Glorfindel commands his horse to head for the Ford, leaving the group behind. There are nine Black Riders trying to ambush Frodo but Glorfindel's horse gets Frodo across the river in time. The Riders follow Frodo's course and as they begin fording the river, they command Frodo to join them and follow them to Mordor. Frodo is saved when whitewater rapids come out of nowhere, briefly flooding the river and erasing three of the Black Riders from the scene. The six Black Riders that remain are also lost when their maddened horses plunge into the raging water.
Frodo's ring creates a greater contrast between the bearer (Frodo) and the rest of the group. He is the only one that has seen the Pale King, and at the end of the chapter, Frodo is alone on the opposite side of the ford. He has regained some moral stature because in the crucial moment, he wins - not by battling, but by remaining firm in his position. The scene where the evil Black Riders are destroyed in the rapids is intended as an allusion to the famous Old Testament story where Egyptian soldiers are chasing Moses and his people. Stranded at the Red Sea, Moses parts the water leads his people across the dry seabed and when the group is safely on the other side, the water rushes back to its original position. The story ends as "the riders are thrown into the sea." In contrast to the Old Forest, this force of nature works to the favor of Frodo and his friends.
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