Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Fear

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Fear

"Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was <em>meant</em> to find the Ring, and <em>not</em> by its maker. In which case you also were <em>meant</em> to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." (1.2.116)

When Gandalf speculates about what force brought the One Ring to Bilbo at just the right time, he decides that Frodo was <em>meant</em> to have it. Whether he's talking about a divine power or fate, it's unclear. What matters is that Gandalf wants to reassure Frodo by telling him this whole Ring thing is part of a larger plan of the universe. Would it make you more or less afraid to feel that it was your fate to carry the One Ring? Would you find it comforting to know that it was your destiny to go up against Sauron, instead of random chance or bad luck? Why or why not?

I've only just remembered, sir. It was like this: when I go back to our hole yesterday evening with the key, my dad, he said to me: <em>Hallo, Sam!</em> he says. <em>I thought you were away with Mr. Frodo this morning. There's been a strange customer asking for Mr. Baggins and Bag End, and he's only just gone. I've sent him on to Bucklebury. Not that I liked the sound of him. He seemed mighty put out, when I told him Mr. Baggins had left his home for good. Hissed at me, he did. It gave me quite a shudder</em>. <em>What sort of fellow was he</em>? says I to the Gaffer. <em>I don't know,</em> says he; <em>but he wasn't a Hobbit. He was tall and black like, and he stooped over me. I reckon it was one of the Big Folk from foreign parts. He spoke funny</em>. (1.3.91)

This is the first direct image we get of one of the Black Riders: the Gaffer describes one to Sam. He finds this "strange customer" frightening for obvious reasons: the rider hisses at him, and gets really angry when the Gaffer tells him that Frodo has gone to Bucklebury. But the Gaffer also finds it frightening that he can't describe the rider: his face is hidden, and he speaks "funny." The Gaffer can't identify or classify the rider, which makes him frightening. In fact, it is the Ringwraiths' formlessness that makes them intimidating to everyone: they have no definite shape, so they are impossible to pin down or categorize mentally. All we can do is imagine what they look like (at least, until Frodo puts his ring on), and what we imagine is pretty stinkin' terrifying.

"Well, that's that," said Pippin. "On the whole I would rather have our job than Fatty's – waiting here till Black Riders come."

"You wait till you are well inside the Forest," said Fredegar. "You'll wish you were back here with me before this time tomorrow." (1.5.92-93)

You can tell how inexperienced Pippin and Fatty both are, that they can joke about things as serious as the Black Riders and the Old Forest. Of course, joking is a useful way to deflect fear. But Pippin's quickness to jest about the Black Riders is at best inappropriate and at worst foolhardy; when he blurts out that they have seen Black Riders to Gildor and the High Elves, they all immediately shush him and refuse to discuss the matter until they get inside. Pippin's clearly got a thing or two to learn about the wisdom of caution.

At first their choice [to leave the path and go north] seemed to be good: they got along at a fair speed, though whenever they got a glimpse of the sun in an open glade they seemed unaccountably to have veered eastwards. But after a time the trees began to close in again, just where they had appeared from a distance to be thinner and less tangled [...] Each time they clambered out, the trees seemed deeper and darker; and always to the left and upwards it was most difficult to find a way, and they were forced to the right and downwards. (1.6.36)

The first mistake the Hobbits make when they enter the Old Forest is to underestimate the damage that a bunch of sentient trees can do; they may not be actively attacking the Hobbits (yet), but they are making it impossible for the Hobbits to get where they want to go. Second, this section of the Old Forest actively foreshadows the troubles Frodo and Sam are going to face later in the series. The Old Forest's dreary sense of oppression and hopelessness sounds like the effects of Ring possession to us. And the struggle to find the best path through the wilderness pretty much defines 85% of their travels in Mordor. What have Sam and Frodo learned between this adventure in the Old Forest and their later travels through Mordor? How do they relate differently to the wilderness later on in the series?

[Frodo] imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside, and the starry sky was unveiled. A glance showed him that he was now facing southwards and was on a round hill-top, which he must have climbed from the north. Out of the east the biting wind was blowing. To his right there loomed against the westward stars a dark black shape. A great barrow stood there.

"Where are you?" he cried again, both angry and afraid.

"Here!" said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. "I am waiting for you!" (1.8.26-8)

It's tough to overlook the similarity between this Barrow-wight episode and the whole run-in with Old Man Willow: there is the same confusion about where the Hobbits think they are going, the same sudden separation from the other members of the traveling party, and the same inability to stay conscious. The Old Forest's tricks all seem to be the same, whether they're caused by warrior ghosts or angry, ancient trees. What traditional ghost story elements does Tolkien use in this passage? Why does he include both the Barrow-wights <em>and</em> Old Man Willow? Does having both of them increase or decrease your appreciation of the scariness of the Old Forest?

"Of course there's a mistake!" said Frodo. "I haven't vanished. Here I am! I've just been having a few words with Strider in the corner."

He came forward into the firelight; but most of the company backed away, even more perturbed than before. [...] Most of the Hobbits and the Men of Bree went off then and there in a huff, having no fancy for further entertainment that evening. [...] Before long no one was left but Strider, who sat on, unnoticed, by the wall. (1.9.84-5)

This moment in <em>The Prancing Pony</em> with Frodo's unexpected disappearance is one of the only sections in all of <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> when Frodo and his friends frighten other people, instead of being frightened themselves. Frodo's sudden disappearance weirds out everyone at the inn; in fact, he manages to clear the room. Why does Frodo's "conjuring trick" have such an effect on the crowd? How would you respond if one of your friends disappeared from in front of your eyes after singing a rollicking drinking song?

Terror overcame Pippin and Merry, and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo's side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger. (1.11.144)

Even though Merry and Pippin have seen the Black Riders, at least from a distance, this direct confrontation still fills them with so much terror that they simply throw themselves to the ground in fear. Sam also can't raise a hand against them. Frodo is torn: the Black Riders do succeed in compelling him to put on the Ring, but Frodo also raises his sword against the Witch-king of Angmar, which none of the other Hobbits manage. So he's both more vulnerable <em>and</em> stronger than the others.

Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well. […] Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a <em>plunk</em>, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.

"What's that?" cried Gandalf. He was relieved when Pippin confessed what he had done, but he was angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting. "Fool of a Took!" he growled. "This is a serious journey, not a Hobbit waling-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!" (2.4.160-1)

Here, Pippin throws a stone into a deep hole in the Mines of Moria, thus alerting the Orcs to the Company's presence. The fear is two-fold in this section: first, there is Pippin, who does not have enough fear for his own good. If he were more fearful, he would also be more cautious. Courage is all very well, but you have to know when not to draw attention to yourself, and that's a lesson Pippin hasn't learned yet. But there is also the intense suspense that this scene provides for the reader. Tolkien has already ramped up our sense of dread by emphasizing Frodo's fearfulness as he keeps all of his senses on high alert in the dark of the tunnels. Pippin's little adventure with the old well raises the reader's fear of what's going to happen next. The whole Mines of Moria sequence is incredibly tense.

"It is grim reading," [Gandalf] said. "I fear their end was cruel. Listen! <em>We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the Bridge and second hall. Frár and Lóni and Náli fell there.</em> Then there are four lines smeared so that I can only read <em>went 5 days ago</em>. The last lines run <em>the pool is up to the wall at Westgate. The Watcher in the Water took Óin. We cannot get out. The end comes</em>, and then, <em>drums, drums in the deep</em>. I wonder what that means. The last thing written is in a trailing scrawl of Elf letters: <em>they are coming</em>. There is nothing more." Gandalf paused and stood in silent thought.

A sudden dread and a horror of the chamber fell on the Company.

This confrontation with the fates of Balin, Ori, and Óin thirty years before in the Mines of Moria plays on common human fears. First, the fear of being buried alive. They can't get out of their tunnels! It makes us claustrophobic just to think about. And second, the fear of being hunted. There is absolutely no escape, and the Dwarves know it. *Shudder*. The content of this passage is terrifying enough, but Tolkien also ramps up the horror by showing us that even brave characters like Gimli and Aragorn are filled with "a sudden dread." If this material is scary enough to frighten this Fellowship, then the average reader is going to be doubly horrified.

"Hey there, Aragorn!" shouted Boromir, as his boat bumped into the leader. "This is madness! We cannot dare the Rapids by night! But no boat can live in Sarn Gebir, be it night or day."

"Back, back!" cried Aragorn. "Turn! Turn, if you can!" He drove his paddle into the water, trying to hold the boat and turn it round.

"I am out of my reckoning," he said to Frodo. "I did not know that we had come so far: Anduin flows faster than I thought. Sarn Gebir must be close at hand already." (2.9.42-4)

We have said elsewhere in this learning guide that Gandalf's fall into darkness in Moria is a necessary plot device to remove some of Frodo's support. With Gandalf around, everything is too easy for the Company: they can rely on his wisdom to lead them (mostly) correctly. But it's not just important for Frodo to learn independence. Aragorn's sudden promotion to leader of the Company is an important step for his own character development, as well. Before joining this Company, we get the sense that Aragorn's battles have been largely solitary. He leads the Rangers, certainly, but they are a lonely bunch and do not seem to work together in groups all that much. Still, someday, Aragorn has to become king of Gondor. He has to learn to take command. When Gandalf first dies, Aragorn appears fearful of his own decisions: even in Lothlórien, he cannot decide where the Company should go next or what its goals should be. Here, when he almost leads the Company straight into death in Sarn Gebir, he admits to Frodo that he is making mistakes. The Fellowship of the Ring is still early in his character arc, but over the course of the Lord of the Rings series, he must grow into his role as a leader.