Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 11

By J.R.R. Tolkien

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Book 1, Chapter 11

A Knife in the Dark

  • Back at the house at Crickhollow, Fatty Bolger peers out the front door: he sees strange shadows creeping about the garden.
  • He quickly shuts the door and locks it; he's been feeling a strange sense of fear all day.
  • Fatty runs out the back door to the nearest house, where he collapses on the doorstep. He keeps raving, "No, not me! I haven't got it!" (1.11.7).
  • The people of Buckland think there's some kind of invasion from the Old Forest and start sounding the alarm.
  • The Black Riders run out of the house at Crickhollow, dropping a Hobbit-cloak on the doorstep.
  • They know that Frodo has left the Shire, so they ride quickly toward the north gate of Buckland.
  • Meanwhile, back at Bree, Aragorn wakes the Hobbits in the early morning.
  • They go to their bedrooms and find that the windows have been broken open and the beds have been tossed around.
  • The Hobbits are even more distressed when they find out that every pony in Butterbur's stables has bolted.
  • Aragorn worries that they won't be able to carry as many provisions as they will need for a two-week journey to Rivendell.
  • Frodo asks Butterbur to try to find a pony for sale in the village.
  • Aragorn agrees that they should find a pony, but now they won't exactly be able to slip out of Bree unnoticed.
  • In the end, it takes them an additional three hours to get out of town. Not a great start.
  • And worst of all, they have to buy their pony from deceitful Bill Ferny.
  • The animal is not very healthy, and Bill Ferny horribly overcharges for it, but they have no choice.
  • (It turns out that the story has a happy ending for the Hobbits' horses. When they bolted, they made their way back to Tom Bombadil's pony, Fatty Lumpkin. Tom Bombadil continues to look after them until he hears of what happened at The Prancing Pony; then he sends the ponies to Butterbur, where they live happily ever after.)
  • Butterbur is also in a tough spot: a number of the guests at the inn raise a fuss about the missing horses.
  • But it turns out that one of the guests ("Bill Ferny's squint-eyed companion" [1.11.31]) has gone missing as well.
  • The whole inn begins to suspect that he is the horse thief.
  • The Hobbits leave Bree at last at 10:00AM.
  • It's the talk of the town, what with Frodo's disappearing trick, the Black Riders, the empty stables, and the appearance of Strider.
  • Because half the residents of Bree-land seem to be watching them now, the party doesn't even try to leave Bree quietly; they just march off, feeling downhearted.
  • As they walk past Bill Ferny's house, Frodo catches sight of the southerner in the window.
  • Bill Ferny shouts after them: "Morning, my little friends! [...] I suppose you know who you've taken up with? That's Stick-at-naught Strider, that is! [...] And you, Sammie, don't go ill-treating my poor old pony!" (1.11.41).
  • In response to Ferny's jeers, Sam throws an apple at his nose.
  • Finally, the party leaves Bree, Staddle, Combe, and Archet behind them.
  • The sun is shining, the land is wholesome, and the walk is quite pleasant.
  • Still, Aragorn can't help but worry what Ferny will tell their enemies about their path.
  • The party reaches the Midgewater Marshes.
  • The Hobbits are soon horribly uncomfortable: "The flies began to torment them, and the air was full of clouds of tiny midges that crept up their sleeves and breeches and into their hair" (1.11.50).
  • As they camp out that night, Frodo sees a light flashing in the eastern sky; neither he nor Aragorn can figure out what this light is.
  • On the fifth day, they finally leave the marshes, and they can see Weathertop in the distance.
  • Aragorn worries what they'll find at Weathertop. It's close to the Old Road, and since the Riders haven't been able to find them in the wilderness, they may try to catch up with Frodo on the road.
  • On the sixth night of their march to Rivendell (October 5th) they reach the base of Weathertop.
  • The path up reminds Merry uncomfortably of the Barrow-downs.
  • Aragorn explains that these hills were defended by the Men of the West against "the evil that came out of Angmar" (1.11.76) long ago.
  • Even before those battles, the Men of the West built a watchtower on Weathertop called Amon Sûl. The tower was burned, and all that remains is a ring of stone. But the story goes that once, it was tall and fair.
  • The watchtower of Amon Sûl is supposed to be where Elendil (the King of Westernesse) stood watching for his ally, Gil-galad, in the days of the last Alliance.
  • When the Hobbits reach the top of the hill, they find "a wide ring of ancient stonework, now crumbling or covered in age-long grass" (1.11.87). The grass is scorched, as if it had recently been burned.
  • But there is no sign of any living thing: the hill is exposed, gray, and uninviting.
  • Aragorn finds a stone at the top of the cairn in the middle of the ring.
  • It bears a runic mark, and they speculate that Gandalf might have left it to show he was there.
  • Aragorn thinks that Gandalf was at Weathertop recently, and that the scorch marks are from some battle he fought there.
  • Frodo sees two black specks moving west and three more creeping east; Aragorn confirms that the enemy is here.
  • They go to the north side of the hill to find Sam, Merry, and Pippin.
  • Sam and Pippin have found footprints only a day or two old, and Aragorn finds signs of "many booted feet" (1.11.111).
  • Each of the Hobbits remember "the cloaked and booted Riders" (1.11.112, our italics).
  • Aragorn worries that they have already waited too long at the top of the hill, yet he knows that the road will also be patrolled by the Riders.
  • What should they do?
  • Aragorn decides that they should set a fire, since the Black Riders don't love fire.
  • They shelter as best they can, but as the light falls, it grows colder and colder.
  • To pass the time, Aragorn sings of Lúthien Tinúviel, an Elf maiden dancing in a glade.
  • Beren, an exhausted, sorrowing man coming down from the mountains, comes across Tinúviel dancing, and he suddenly feels refreshed. He tries to chase her, and she "lightly [flees] on dancing feet" (1.11.130).
  • He seeks her everywhere, throughout the winter, and then she reappears in the spring.
  • Again, Beren pursues her: he calls her by her Elvish name (Lúthien), and she stops for a moment to listen. Beren seizes the opportunity to grab Tinúviel.
  • The two are separated for many years, but eventually they reunite "In the forest singing sorrowless" (1.11.130).
  • After singing this song, Aragorn then explains that Tinúviel is the daughter of an early king of the Elves, Thingol.
  • Beren, son of Barahir, is involved with a war against the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron is only a servant.
  • This enemy killed Beren's father Barahir, and Beren had to flee across the Mountains of Terror to the hidden kingdom of Thingol in the forest of Neldoreth.
  • There, he caught sight of Tinúviel dancing in a glade and fell in love with her.
  • But many troubles befell them: Beren was captured by Sauron, and Tinúviel had to rescue him.
  • At last, though, the two overcame the Great Enemy and stole one of the three Silmarils (Elf-cut jewels) from his crown.
  • Beren used this jewel as a bride-price to Thingol for Tinúviel's hand in marriage.
  • But then, Beren was killed by a wolf that came from the gates of Angband (the Great Enemy's stronghold).
  • Tinúviel chose a mortal life so that she could die with him (kind of the opposite of the Twilight series, no?)
  • The story goes that the two of them lived briefly beyond the Sundering Seas before passing away from Middle-earth for ever.
  • But their descendants live on: Elrond of Rivendell is one of them.
  • This is where that brief story ends.
  • The Moon is rising now: Merry notices that it is getting late.
  • Frodo feels a cold dread creeping into his heart.
  • Aragorn instructs the Hobbits to take up longer sticks to burn if the Black Riders come near.
  • Three or four black creatures then come gliding up the slope.
  • Pippin and Merry throw themselves to the ground in fear and Sam shrinks back against Frodo.
  • Frodo is terrified, but he also has an overwhelming wish to put on the Ring. Frodo fights this compulsion momentarily, but at last he pushes the Ring on.
  • Everything looks the same except that the dark figures are clear: there are five of them, and in "their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes" (1.11.145).
  • They rush toward Frodo.
  • The tallest of the five, who wears a crown on his helmet, leaps at Frodo with drawn knife and long sword.
  • Frodo throws himself to the ground shouting "O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" (1.11.146).
  • He strikes at the Lord of the Nazgûl's feet. The creature shrieks, and Frodo feels a sharp pain in his shoulder.
  • Frodo sees Aragorn jumping forward with two flaming brands.
  • Frodo drops his sword and slips the ring off before losing consciousness. Another cliffhanger!

The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 11 Study Group

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