Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Perseverance

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Perseverance

"[The poem] came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountains or even further and to worse places?' He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk." (1.3.74)

As Frodo sets out on the road to Rivendell with Sam and Pippin, he starts to reminisce about Bilbo. Frodo's early journey mimics Bilbo's adventures in <em>The Hobbit</em> for a time: they both leave the Shire somewhat against their will, at fifty years old, for an adventure that they cannot fully understand at the start. And of course, a lot of the wisdom about travel that Frodo has, he gets from Bilbo's stories.

This speech from Frodo to Pippin underscores the fact that the Shire may seem like a protected and secluded place, but it's still part of the larger world. Even the road from Hobbiton to Buckland is part of the larger Road to Mirkwood. This reminder that the Shire is connected to the rest of Middle-earth, no matter how conservative and private the Hobbits like to be, foreshadows the conclusion of <em>The Return of the King</em>.

"You have read his book!" cried Frodo. "Good heavens above! Is nothing safe?"

"Not too safe, I should say," said Merry. "But I have only had one rapid glance, and that was difficult to get. He never left the book about. I wonder what became of it. I should like another look [...] I kept my knowledge to myself, till this Spring when things got serious. Then we formed our conspiracy; and as we were serious, too, and meant business, we have not been too scrupulous. You are not a very easy nut to crack, and Gandalf is worse. But if you want to be introduced to our chief investigator, I can produce him." (1.5.63-4)

Merry turns out to be a Hobbit of unusual resourcefulness: he finds out about Bilbo's Ring more than a <em>decade</em> before this showdown with Frodo. Rather than blabbing the information, he patiently gathers information and draws in his close friends to find ways to help Frodo without Frodo knowing anything about this well-meaning conspiracy. This small-scale campaign foreshadows Merry's future leadership skills; after all, we know from the Prologue of <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> that Merry is going to be the Master of Brandy Hall someday.

Sam sat down and scratched his head and yawned like a cavern. He was worried. This afternoon was getting late, and he thought this sudden sleepiness uncanny. "There's more behind this than sun and warm air," he muttered to himself. "I don't like this great big tree. I don't trust it. Hark at it singing about sleep now! This won't do at all!" (1.6.52)

If the Old Forest episode of <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> gives us our first chance to see what the Hobbits are like in an adventure, Sam's response to Old Man Willow proves that he's not particularly vulnerable to mind control. He hears the willow tree singing, but he doesn't topple over, the way Frodo, Merry, and Pippin do. He does his best to keep on going. This bodes well for Sam's participation in the Ring Quest: he's not too sensitive to outside influence, and he's tough as nails.

[T]hey looked out from the hill-top over lands under the morning. It was now as clear and far-seen as it had been veiled and misty when they stood upon the knoll in the Forest, which could now be seen rising pale and green out of the dark trees in the West. In that direction the land rose in wooded ridges, green, yellow, russet under the sun, beyond which lay hidden the valley of the Brandywine. To the South, over the line of the Withywindle, there was a distant glint like pale glass where the Brandywine River made a great loop in the lowlands and flowed away out of the knowledge of the Hobbits. Northward beyond the dwindling downs the land ran away in flats and swellings of grey and green and pale earth-colours, until it faded into a featureless and shadowy distance. Eastward the Barrow-downs rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into a guess: it was no more than a guess of blue and a remote white glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them out of memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains. (1.8.6)

As the Hobbits look out over the Old Forest, they can see the whole of the Shire (that's the place where the Brandywine River makes "a great loop in the lowlands"). And they can also see vague hints of where they're going ("out of the knowledge of the Hobbits"). But we're also struck by the Barrow-downs: the giant mounds under which lie the graves of ancient warriors. Middle-earth is covered with relics and remnants of earlier battles; after all, <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> ends near the Argonath, the giant statues of the men of Numénor who fought in the first war against Sauron. So the landscape of Middle-earth itself is written over with physical signs of old struggles. It's as though the land is a parchment for "memory and old tales." The history of Middle-earth endures not only in the minds of its residents, but also in the layout of the landscape itself.

Frodo felt a fool. Not knowing what else to do, he crawled away under the tables to the dark corner by Strider, who sat unmoved, giving no sign of his thoughts. Frodo leaned back against the wall and took off the Ring. How it came to be on his finger he could not tell. He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall [off the table]. For a moment he wondered if the Ring itself had not played him a trick; perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room. (1.9.68)

Having put the Ring on in a public place like a complete idiot, all that Frodo can do is bluster on and hope that nothing too terrible comes of this accident. But it's interesting that Frodo has no conscious memory of choosing to slip the Ring on; it tries to trip him up just as he's finishing off a popular drinking song for his happy audience. This scene works quite differently in Peter Jackson's film version of <em>The Fellowship of the Ring.</em> In the movie, Frodo handles the Ring intently until he overhears Pippin telling someone at the bar that he knows a Baggins – he's right over there! (pointing at Frodo). Frodo rushes over to shut Pippin up, only to trip and basically stumble into the Ring. For the sake of saving time in an already long movie, it makes sense to cut out the whole singing aspect of the Hobbits' visit to Bree. But it totally changes the tone of the whole Bree sequence: there are some unsavory characters in Tolkien's book, sure, but nothing like the muttering crowd of Jackson's film. Why do you think Tolkien includes Frodo's drinking song in the novel? How does Frodo's comfort in front of the crowd contrast with his awkwardness after his accidental disappearance? What do you think this performance makes Strider think of Frodo as a Ring-bearer?

It turned out later that only one horse had been actually stolen. The others had been driven off, or had bolted in terror, and were found wandering in different corners of the Bree-land. Merry's ponies had escaped altogether, and eventually (having a good deal of sense) they made their way to the Downs in search of Fatty Lumpkin. So they came under the care of Tom Bombadil for a while, and were well-off. But when news of the events at Bree came to Tom's ears, he sent them to Mr. Butterbur, who thus got five good ponies at a very fair price. They had to work harder in Bree, but Bob treated them well; so on the whole they were lucky: they missed a dark and dangerous journey. But they never came to Rivendell.

This little digression into the fates of the Hobbit ponies demonstrates Tolkien's love of narrative closure: he likes to see his stories through to the very end. In the middle of this tale of Frodo, Aragorn, Sam, Merry, and Pippin racing to Rivendell, Tolkien stops to tell us that the five ponies persevered and made it safely to Tom Bombadil and then back to Butterbur. Where else in the novels do we see evidence of Tolkien's intense love of tying up loose ends? Are there loose ends that he leaves dangling? What effects does it have on the pacing of this section that Tolkien stops to tell us these narrative details?

They had climbed on to a narrow saddle between two higher points, and the land fell steeply away again, only a short distance ahead. Frodo threw himself down, and lay on the ground shivering. His left arm was lifeless, and his side and shoulder felt as if icy claws were laid upon them. The trees and rocks about him seemed shadowy and dim.

"We cannot go much further," said Merry to Strider. "I am afraid this has been too much for Frodo. […]

"What is the matter with my master?" asked Sam in a low voice, looking appealing at Strider. "His wound was small, and it is already closed. There's nothing to be seen but a cold white mark on his shoulder."

"Frodo has been touched by the weapons of the Enemy," said Strider, "and there is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out. But do not give up hope, Sam!" (1.12.41-2, 44-5)

The perseverance in this section is two-fold: first, there's the perseverance of the Hobbits against the hard, cheerless terrain they have to cross. They are all exhausted and drained by the journey to Rivendell, but none (of course) more than Frodo (what with that evil sword wound in his shoulder). But the other example of perseverance in this section is, sadly, the "poison or evil" that continues to destroy Frodo's health even when there is no obvious wound to cause it. The poison endures just as poor Frodo does. Frodo continues to be a victim of wounds that never properly heal – the Ringwraith's blade is only the beginning.

To the east the outflung arm of the mountains marched to a sudden end, and far lands could be descried beyond them, wide and vague. To the south the Misty Mountains receded endlessly as far as sight could reach. Less than a mile away, and a little below them, for they still stood high up on the west side of the dale, there lay a mere. It was long and oval, shaped like a great spear-head thrust deep into the northern glen; but its southern end was beyond the shadows under the sunlit sky. Yet its waters were dark: a deep blue like clear evening sky seen from a lamplit room. Its face was still and unruffled. About it lay a smooth sward, shelving down on all side to its bare unbroken rim.

"There lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-zâram!" said Gimli sadly. "I remember that [Gandalf] said: 'May you have joy of the sight! But we cannot linger there.' Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again. It is I that must hasten away, and he that must remain." (2.7.7)

(A mere, by the way, is a lake or pond.) In this day of extremely gory action movies, we've gotten used to characters dying over the course of a film with no time for the remaining characters to mourn them. The idea that you would stop in the middle of a quest to take stock of the loss of one of your friends is pretty risky: the Company has to keep going, even if they are going to miss Gandalf. So Gandalf's death is certainly a test of their perseverance. There are numerous wonders in this novel: the Dwarf hall of Khazad-dûm, the statues of the Argonath, and now, here, the Mirrowmere. The Company must keep racing past them, with, at most, a few rich paragraphs to mark the spot. Yet, these lyrical passages in Tolkien give Middle-earth a real shape and texture that brings readers back to this world over and over again.

All of them, it seemed, had fared alike: each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others [...]

"Well, have a care!" said Boromir. "I do not feel too sure of this Elvish lady and her purposes."

"Speak no evil of the Lady Galadriel!" said Aragorn sternly. "You know not what you say. There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then let him beware!" (2.7.40, 45-6)

As Galadriel peers into the souls of the Company's members, she offers them a test: if they could abandon the Quest and win their hearts' desires, would they do so? All of them pass the test, but Boromir most resents it. Again, his outraged pride suggests that he is not going to be able to resist the Ring the same way that calmer, more balanced men like Aragorn can. Boromir's resentment of Galadriel foreshadows his changing position in the Fellowship.

That night they camped on a small eyot close to the western bank. Sam lay rolled in blankets beside Frodo. "I had a funny dream an hour or two before we stopped, Mr. Frodo," he said. "Or maybe it wasn't a dream. Funny it was anyway."

"Well, what was it?" said Frodo, knowing that Sam would not settle down until he had told his tale, whatever it was. "I haven't seen or thought of anything to make me smile since we left Lothlórien."

"It wasn't funny that way, Mr. Frodo. It was queer. All wrong if it wasn't a dream. And you had best hear it. I saw a log with eyes!" (2.9.14-6)

That "log with eyes" that Sam observes in the Anduin is, of course, Gollum, who has been tracking them all the way from Moria, through Lothlórien, to the Anduin. Now <em>that's</em> perseverance. The frightening thing about Gollum is his uncanny similarity to the Hobbits. He is about the same size (though skinny and wasted with hardship) and Gandalf speculates that his people were probably distant Hobbit relatives. Gollum's desperation to be reunited with the Ring has two narrative functions: (1) it heightens our sense of the Ring's incredible power, since lust for the Ring drives Gollum to cross hundreds of miles on foot, alone, hunting after the Company. And (2), it foreshadows one possible (and hopefully avoidable) future for Frodo: Gollum's mind has been almost completely destroyed by the Ring, a risk that Frodo runs throughout the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> series. Having Gollum around increases our suspense over what will become of our favorite Ring-bearer.