Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

The Hall of Fire's extended chapter by chapter discussion of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
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Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Okay, here we go. A number of people have said that they were waiting for this chapter, so hopefully they will all jump in and have their say. Certainly, there is much to say about it. I will only start with the beginning and hopefully others will carry it on to the end.

The chapter starts with a return to the Shire, specifically the house at Crickhollow where Fatty waited in growing fear. And sure enough the house is invaded by three black, menacing figures. I'll be interested to hear what folks think of the description of this invasion, and the reaction of the hobbit-folk to it.

Meanwhile, back in Bree, Strider's precautions proved to be prescient. Frodo's dreams are once again troubled with the noise of wind and galloping horses. He hears a horn blowing wildly. Is that a reference to the horns of Buckland? Or to Boromir? Something else? Or nothing at all. Sure enough, the bedrooms where they were supposed to have been staying had also been invaded. Is everyone convinced that Strider was right, and that it was not the Black Riders themselves that did the invading, but instead Ferny and friends? I for one am not at all convinced.

Their ponies are lost in the invasion, and too their hope for an early start. They do at least get a good breakfast out of the deal, and a replacement pony from a not exactly altruistic Ferny, who gets a last unpleasant apple in the nose courtesy of Sam as they leave the village.

Strider leads them off the road (and away from their crowd of onlookers. We get a little more of a glimpse of his personality when Pippin mentions that their last short cut had almost led to disaster. "Ah but you had not got me with you then' laughed Strider. "My cuts, short or long, don't go wrong.' Beneath the patina of humour is a hard core of absolute confidence that borders (or perhaps cross the border) on arrogance.

I'll stop there, since there is plenty to talk about in this portion of the chapter, and much more (including some very important verses, and of course the actual knife in the dark) as we go along.
Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Thu May 14, 2009 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

Post by The Tall Hobbit »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote: Is everyone convinced that Strider was right, and that it was not the Black Riders themselves that did the invading, but instead Ferny and friends? I for one am not at all convinced.
Given the Black Riders' natural attraction to the Ring, could they really have been fooled into attacking the wrong room?

Wouldn't they have sensed that the Ring was elsewhere?
Last edited by The Tall Hobbit on Sat Apr 04, 2009 11:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Frelga »

I took part in a long and enjoyable discussion about the identity of the invaders. I vote for Ferny and Co. The Riders look feckless enough without being charged with slaughtering a roomful of feathers, PJ style.

One thing that always puzzled me was Aragorn taking the hobbits to Weathertop. "Oh look, the one place where the enemy is most likely to head. Let's go there!" :scratch:
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

The Tall Hobbit wrote:
Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote: Is everyone convinced that Strider was right, and that it was not the Black Riders themselves that did the invading, but instead Ferny and friends? I for one am not at all convinced.
Given the Black Riders' natural attraction to the Ring, could they really have been fooled into attacking the wrong room?

Wouldn't they have sensed that the Ring was elsewhere?
That's a good argument, my tall friend (and I'm pleased to see you jumping in!). But wouldn't the same argument apply to Crickhollow? Yet the Black Riders certainly burst in the house there thinking the Ring was present.
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark

Post by The Tall Hobbit »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:But wouldn't the same argument apply to Crickhollow? Yet the Black Riders certainly burst in the house there thinking the Ring was present.
A good point.

However, the house at Crickhollow is said to be "more than a mile" from the nearest neighbor.

On the other hand, Frodo & Co were staying in a crowded inn located in a well populated villiage.

At Crickhollow, the riders could afford to make a quick (and possibly reckless) attack; but at Bree much more planning and stealth would be required.

Therefore, at Bree, the riders would have had more opportunity to sense the actual location of the ring, which was already present in the same building.
Last edited by The Tall Hobbit on Sun Apr 05, 2009 3:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Teremia »

This chapter sure covers a lot of territory, doesn't it? From Buckland to Bree to Weathertop, plus the nasty midges in between.

Just a few thoughts: The "Horn-call of Buckland": AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE! -- seems like an early rehearsal for the grander horns of Rohan.

And I really, really appreciate the completely unnecessary paragraph explaining the further fate of all those ponies stolen (actually: scattered) by the Black Riders: "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 ths got five good beasts 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." There we have the pony's-eye view of The Lord of the Rings! I'm glad the ponies are all right (even if they never get to see Rivendell), and I'm also glad Fatty Bolger's all right, back in Buckland. (That's a paragraph with two Fatty's in it, I just now notice.)

We're not talking about the Nazgûl yet, right? They are very scary in this chapter.

brrr

Sam is speaking for me when he says, anxiously, about the fire: "It is also as good a way of saying 'here we are' as I can think of, bar shouting." I want them to HIDE. To hide!! To hide!!!!!!

Sam also gets lots of points for reciting the "Fall of Gil-galad," to everybody's amazement -- that's a hobbit with hidden depths. :love:
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Post by Rowanberry »

According to a draft for the events that Tolkien wrote at some point, and which is included in Hammond and Scull's The LOTR: A Reader's Companion, "The Inn attacked by the two Riders* in early hours before dawn". So, apparently, it was the Black Riders after all.

* The ones that Merry saw in the previous evening.

There is a bit of a plot hole though in that, the Riders don't sense that the Ring is somewhere else. Do they perhaps sense it properly only if it's actually worn by someone?
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Post by Elentári »

I particularly liked the passage describing the southern travellers the morning after the attack. They are all set to blame Butterbur for the loss of their horses, until it is realized that one of their companions has also disappeared in the night. None other than the squint-eyed southerner seen in Bill Ferny's company. Butterbur tells them to "Go and ask Ferny where your handsome friend is!". Then Tolkien slips in the signifcant line "But it appeared that he was nobody's friend, and nobody could recollect when he had joined their party."

I was wondering about the reference to Elendil standing on Weathertop (Amon Sûl) and watching for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West, in the days of the Last Alliance.

Does anyone think this is a reference to Elendil using one of the Palantíri, rather than actually seeing the host with his naked eye?
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Post by Frelga »

Rowanberry wrote:According to a draft for the events that Tolkien wrote at some point, and which is included in Hammond and Scull's The LOTR: A Reader's Companion, "The Inn attacked by the two Riders* in early hours before dawn". So, apparently, it was the Black Riders after all.
Rowan, I've seen this fragment mentioned as a proof of the Riders' guilt before. I don't know the timing of it, though. At one point in Tolkien's drafts, the Riders really were just men in black on horses, and were quite capable of such petty offenses. Only later did they turn into the wraiths of doom.
There should be a word for the microscopic spark of hope that you dare not entertain in case the mere act of acknowledging it will cause it to vanish, like trying to look at a photon. You can only sidle up to it, looking past it, walking past it, waiting for it to get big enough to face the world.
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Post by vison »

I agree with you, Frelga. The Black Riders are not what they became later - and it wasn't some internal change, it was HOW they were written.

As I said in another thread, until the Hobbits have left Bombadil's house, the tone of the story is very different from that which follows. It was a Black Rider that talked to the Gaffer while Frodo was leaving by another route, a Black Rider who tried to buy information from Farmer Maggot, and Merry tells Frodo that the Black Riders will be turned away from the North Gate.

Not the Black Riders at Weathertop!
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Frelga wrote:
Rowanberry wrote:According to a draft for the events that Tolkien wrote at some point, and which is included in Hammond and Scull's The LOTR: A Reader's Companion, "The Inn attacked by the two Riders* in early hours before dawn". So, apparently, it was the Black Riders after all.
Rowan, I've seen this fragment mentioned as a proof of the Riders' guilt before. I don't know the timing of it, though. At one point in Tolkien's drafts, the Riders really were just men in black on horses, and were quite capable of such petty offenses. Only later did they turn into the wraiths of doom.
I usually prefer to wait until the whole chapter has been discussed before turning to the Reader's Companion, but since this came up, I decided to look this up.

It's not from one of the old drafts of this chapter that this statement comes from. It's from one of the portions of the "Hunt for the Ring" texts that was not included in UT. What it states is quite interesting, actually:
[The other two] failed in their attempt to capture Merry make plans for attack on the Inn at night.... The Inn attacked by the two Riders in early hours before dawn. Crickhollow attacked at about the same time... Both attacks fail.
This was written after LOTR was published (but before the second edition). It's possible that it wasn't Tolkien's intention at the time he wrote this that it was the Riders that attacked the Inn, but he certainly concluded that it was afterwards. And there really isn't any reason to believe that he changed his mind. There's nothing in the original draft of the chapter that shed's any light on the subject. It pretty reached the final form right from the beginning; which is to say vague enough to be either the Riders or their surrogates.
I particularly liked the passage describing the southern travellers the morning after the attack. They are all set to blame Butterbur for the loss of their horses, until it is realized that one of their companions has also disappeared in the night. None other than the squint-eyed southerner seen in Bill Ferny's company. Butterbur tells them to "Go and ask Ferny where your handsome friend is!". Then Tolkien slips in the signifcant line "But it appeared that he was nobody's friend, and nobody could recollect when he had joined their party."

I was wondering about the reference to Elendil standing on Weathertop (Amon Sûl) and watching for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West, in the days of the Last Alliance.

Does anyone think this is a reference to Elendil using one of the Palantíri, rather than actually seeing the host with his naked eye?
Elen, I like that passage with the southern travelers, too. It's one of those places where Tolkien shows a keen insight into human nature.

As for whether the reference to Elendil is to his using the palantír, it could well be. I don't think I had ever given that much thought, but it makes good sense.
Just a few thoughts: The "Horn-call of Buckland": AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE! -- seems like an early rehearsal for the grander horns of Rohan.
Tolkien does that type of foreshadowing very well, doesn't he Teremia?
And I really, really appreciate the completely unnecessary paragraph explaining the further fate of all those ponies stolen (actually: scattered) by the Black Riders: "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 ths got five good beasts 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." There we have the pony's-eye view of The Lord of the Rings! I'm glad the ponies are all right (even if they never get to see Rivendell), and I'm also glad Fatty Bolger's all right, back in Buckland. (That's a paragraph with two Fatty's in it, I just now notice.)
The detail about the ponies is the type of thing that separates LOTR not only from other people's writings, but from The Silmarillion as well. I love those kinds of details; it makes the world so much realer for me. It's why I'm glad that Tolkien didn't have a professional editor, forcing him to remove "unnecessarily and irrelevant" details.
We're not talking about the Nazgûl yet, right? They are very scary in this chapter.
We can talk about them. I just didn't get to the end of the chapter. And I think they are pretty scary even in the beginning of the chapter, when they are shown attacking Crickhollow. Much more so than earlier. They start to become scary for me when Merry describes his encounter with them at the end of the previous chapter. Before then, not so much.
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Post by Queen_Beruthiel »

I always thought it was Billy Ferny too! Never mind. ;)

Yes, the last hobbity residences are left behind now, and the Fab Four progress into a world new to them, save in stories (Bilbo's, mostly). I think it is in this chapter that we feel the full width and breadth of Middle-earth; it's depth we have glimpsed earlier through Gandalf's account of the Ring backstory.

All other fictional worlds are shallow and meagre compared with ME, IMO.

I've got a ME atlas somewhere.....
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Post by N.E. Brigand »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:This was written after LOTR was published (but before the second edition). It's possible that it wasn't Tolkien's intention at the time he wrote this that it was the Riders that attacked the Inn, but he certainly concluded that it was afterwards. And there really isn't any reason to believe that he changed his mind. There's nothing in the original draft of the chapter that sheds any light on the subject. It pretty reached the final form right from the beginning; which is to say vague enough to be either the Riders or their surrogates.
Actually, in the "New Plot. Aug 26-27, 1940" on pp. 70-71 of The Treason of Isengard, Tolkien writes of the two Black Riders that he labels D and E that they "get in touch with Bill Ferney, and hear of news at the Inn [Struck out at once: They attack the Inn but fail (and get the idea that 'Green' has gone off?)] They fear 'Trotter', but get Bill Ferney and the Southerner to burgle the Inn and try and get more news, especially of the Ring. (They are puzzled by two Bagginses.) The burglary fails; but they drive off all the ponies."

That's actually the last word on the subject in the published drafts -- though obviously, as with a good deal of the material in HoMe VI-IX, we are still some way from the finished text.

I have previously argued, based on that passage, that Tolkien erred when writing the late "Hunt for the Ring" notes, forgetting his earlier intention. However, when last I did so, some eighteen months ago, I was intrigued by the counter-argument that by making the Wraiths the burglars, Tolkien is emphasizing Aragorn's fallibility (when he predicts they won't attack).
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Ah, very intriguing. I hadn't looked at the whole history yet, just the initial draft, where the description of the attack on the inn is essentially already in it's final form.

So we have two statements written by Tolkien, neither of them part of an actual draft of the text, that contradict each other. The first was written while the text was still being formed, but after the relevant portion had already been written. The second was written after the work had been published. Which is more reliable? I think there are equally good arguments either way.
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Post by solicitr »

I don't think they contradict at all; Tolkien in HR was simply expressing himself elliptically in what is, after all, a very abbreviated chronology. Elsewhere he says "The Witch-king forces the crossings of Osgiliath".... even though we know that ol' Wiki didn't do so personally, of course. In other words, I'm content to read the Hunt for the Ring note as an epitome para agentia for "the two Nazgûl see to it that the Inn is burgled by arranging for Bill Ferny and the Southerner to do it."

Or look at it from another perspective: which version is more consistent with the Riders' behavior at Weathertop? They aren't warriors- they're spooks.
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Post by Frelga »

N.E. Brigand wrote:I have previously argued, based on that passage, that Tolkien erred when writing the late "Hunt for the Ring" notes, forgetting his earlier intention. However, when last I did so, some eighteen months ago, I was intrigued by the counter-argument that by making the Wraiths the burglars, Tolkien is emphasizing Aragorn's fallibility (when he predicts they won't attack).
That is an intriguing notion indeed. However, "emphasized" is an overstatement, I think. At most, he may have enigmatically hinted, as nothing in the published text reinforces the idea.
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Post by Alatar »

There's no consistency regarding the Nazguls "sensing". We can't argue that they would have "known" the Ring was or was not in the room. Consider that in our first encounter, the Nazgûl is within about 10 feet of the ring on a lonely road, and still has to sniff around for it, and is happy enough to leave off searching when he hears something coming. Yet we're expected to believe they can accurately pinpoint its presence or absence in one room of a crowded Inn?

This is where these discussions get difficult. Either we accept the published text as the definitive account or we don't. We all know the story was in constant flux, even after publication, so how can we argue that, for example the definitive statement by Tolkien that it was riders who attacked the pony is irrelevant cause the story was changing; but we then argue that the nature of the riders changed in the writing, so we can ignore the published accounts? (That sentence is too long...)
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Post by Dave_LF »

Right; discussions of the way something _really_ happened or looked quickly become absurd because none of it really happened at all. The best one can do is apprehend what Tolkien intended, and in cases like this one even that is impossible because he kept changing his mind.
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Post by Pearly Di »

Queen_Beruthiel wrote:Yes, the last hobbity residences are left behind now, and the Fab Four progress into a world new to them, save in stories (Bilbo's, mostly). I think it is in this chapter that we feel the full width and breadth of Middle-earth; it's depth we have glimpsed earlier through Gandalf's account of the Ring backstory.
Yes. 8)

I can feel those chill October winds blowing across Wilderland, as Aragorn and the Fab Four (:D) and Bill the Pony of course ;) trek across the bleak moors.
All other fictional worlds are shallow and meagre compared with ME, IMO.
I still pretty much agree with that, after all these years of fangirling Tolkien.

(off-topic: Although Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Trilogy imagines an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sol-type star on a simply awesome scale, including geology, geography, vast swathes of both Helliconian and Earth history and all ... a very different type of saga though. It was the sheer scale of his imaginary world that inevitably made me think of Tolkien's achievement.)

Certainly no other fictional world gets under my skin like Middle-earth does ... or feels so wonderfully familiar.
I've got a ME atlas somewhere.....
Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth? :love: That is just wonderful. :)

There's also Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Journeys-Frodo- ... 0261102672
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Post by Alatar »

I prefer Stracheys, for no real reason apart from its format and "intimacy", if you get me.
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