Now that we’ve gotten to know the hobbits a bit, let’s dig into their characters (and how they were translated to film).
Frodo is a sensitive soul, and he spends much of this chapter agonizing over telling Merry and Pippin and Fatty that he has to leave the Shire (and what all to tell them about the reason).
Frodo looked around. It did look like home. Many of his own favorite things – or Bilbo’s things (they reminded him sharply of him in their new setting) – were arranged as nearly as possible as they had been at Bag End. It was a pleasant, comfortable, welcoming place; and he found himself wishing that he was really coming here to settle down in quiet retirement. It seemed unfair to have put his friends to all this trouble; and he wondered again how he was going to break the news to them that he must leave them so soon. Yet that would have to be done that very night, before they all went to bed.
‘It’s delightful!’ he said with an effort. ‘I hardly feel that I have moved at all.’
A whole paragraph of worries, and then he thinks he has to pretend everything’s all right when he actually speaks. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but thinks it necessary in order to keep them from actual danger.
Frodo undergoes one of the more obvious changes from book to film – he goes from an older (or at least middle-aged) hobbit to a very young one in the films, and consequently shifting the timeline so that he just got the Ring (as opposed to possessing it for over 15 years). He gets a much more traditional “coming-of-age” arc in the movies, and to their credit, it at least fits nicely for the first film. So what’s his arc in the books? Perhaps just learning to rely on others and ask for help – he already knows quite a bit, but not everything. I definitely sense more than a little of Tolkien himself in Frodo, as I imagine that’s something a professor might constantly remind himself of.
Then there’s Merry, a very clever hobbit who tends to take charge and get things done – which turns out to be a very good thing for Frodo.
‘I think I could help you,’ said Merry quietly, ‘by telling you some of it myself.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Frodo, looking at him anxiously.
‘Just this, my dear old Frodo: you are miserable, because you don’t know how to say good-bye. You meant to leave the Shire, of course. But danger has come on you sooner than you expected, and now you are making up your mind to go at once. And you don’t want to. We are very sorry for you.’
Merry started the titular conspiracy among Frodo’s other friends, initially just because he feared Frodo would run off someday without warning like Bilbo did. They snooped around and learned various secrets of his – Merry even happened to learn about the existence of Bilbo’s Ring when he used it one day to hide from the Sackville-Bagginses.
Pippin gets one of the more accurate portrayals in the films, being similarly fun-loving and not thinking things through. He’s actually the youngest of the hobbits (not yet officially an adult by hobbit standards), and I get the feeling he might have liked the idea of a conspiracy and adventure a little more than just helping Frodo (at least compared to the rest). Either way, he has no clue what he’s signing up for.
‘You do not understand!’ said Pippin. ‘You must go – and therefore we must, too. Merry and I are coming with you. Sam is an excellent fellow, and would jump down a dragon’s throat to save you, if he did not trip over his own feet; but you will need more than one companion in your dangerous adventure.’
Poor Sam often faces conflict between his self-appointed task of looking after Mr. Frodo and his simple homebody nature. He loves the Shire (more specifically Hobbiton), but he gives it up (possibly forever) because Frodo needs him. Even participating in the conspiracy (as its chief informant) is somewhat contrary to his natural disposition. He’s the sort of person who rarely sees more than two steps ahead, but he’s content with that.
Then there’s Fatty Bolger, who was left out of the films altogether (not even a cameo in the Extended Edition!). Again, it’s understandable – when you trim so much of the first few chapters, you’ve got to cut the fat(ty) somewhere. Fredegar is lot like Sam, but a little more devoted to the Shire and comfort than to Frodo, and less interested in the larger world. He agrees to stay at the house in Crickhollow and give a message to Gandalf when he comes rather than travelling with the rest of them.
Fond as he was of Frodo, Fatty Bolger had no desire to leave the Shire, nor to see what lay outside it. […] His task, according to the original plans of the conspirators, was to stay behind and deal with inquisitive folk, and to keep up as long as possible the pretense that Mr. Baggins was still living at Crickhollow. He had even brought along some old clothes of Frodo’s to help him in playing the part. They little thought how dangerous that part might prove.
Despite the warm exterior, Tolkien sows seeds of foreboding all over the place in this chapter – not just reminding us that the Black Riders are still hot on their trail, but also bringing up the mysterious threat of the Old Forest on the borders of Buckland. Frodo decides he would rather chance the Old Forest in hopes of shaking off the Black Riders, and fortunately Merry had prepared several ponies for just such a journey.
‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’
Merry is one of the worst victims of adaptation in my opinion – next to Frodo, he’s clearly the most responsible of the hobbits, and also one of Tolkien’s more blatant author avatars (although it won’t become obvious for a couple books yet). In the movies he’s just the clever half of the comic relief duo.
Then, right at the close of the chapter, we get a taste of Frodo’s dreams.
Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams.
Next time: More divergence from the films…