Frodo’s made a lot of stupid decisions on the road, and now he’s paying the price – but thanks to the stubbornness of his friends, it’s not the ultimate price.
I keep calling Frodo’s actions “stupid”, but I know that’s just what it seems like to the characters at first glance – it’s really something far more sinister at work.
He bitterly regretted his foolishness, and reproached himself for weakness of will; for he now perceived that in putting on the Ring he obeyed not his own desire but the commanding wish of his enemies.
It’s not that he’s stupid, or even particularly weak-willed, just that he’s battling an incredibly powerful force, a force that can even direct his own will. Perhaps if he had actually known his danger, he would’ve found a way to resist – or perhaps it would only paralyze him with fear, as that is exactly why the ones who know more about the situation haven’t been forthcoming.
It could have turned out much worse – because Frodo retaliated and tried to attack his assailant (although it turns out he missed), the knife that was aimed at his heart instead pierced his shoulder. Strider (and the Black Riders, evidently) still thinks the wound will kill him soon without some serious medical attention, but a knife to the heart could have killed him on the spot. That’s how it always seems to be for poor Frodo: He manages to pull through by sheer grit, but with a little more luck he could’ve been far from harm. In that sense, he’s basically the opposite of Bilbo.
Strider uses an herb to sooth the pain in Frodo’s shoulder, even if it can’t do much to heal it, and they set out again with Frodo riding the pony so as to make the best speed that they can.
‘No one lives in this land. Men once dwelt here, ages ago; but none remain now. They became an evil people, as legends tell, for they fell under the shadow of Angmar. But all were destroyed in the war that brought the North Kingdom to its end. But that is now so long ago that the hills have forgotten them, though a shadow still lies on the land.’
‘Where did you learn such tales, if all the land is empty and forgetful?’ asked Peregrin. ‘The birds and beasts do not tell tales of that sort.’
‘The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past,’ said Strider, ‘and many more things than I can tell are remembered in Rivendell.’
‘Have you often been to Rivendell?’ said Frodo.
‘I have,’ said Strider. ‘I dwelt there once, and still I return when I may. There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond.’
Strider’s rather a cultured mysterious vagabond, isn’t he?
If you’re familiar with the movies, you may have noticed some significant differences in this chapter. Aside from all the travelling and path-finding (and occasional backtracking), this is where Frodo’s characterization begins to really diverge. In the movie, he can barely speak at this point, let alone stand or ride a pony. Here, although he’s still quite weak, he’s certainly intelligible, and even manages to trudge along steep paths when the pony has trouble getting through. What’s perhaps more astounding, he manages to smile and laugh. They run into the three trolls that Bilbo met in The Hobbit (still turned to stone, of course), and Sam sings a silly song about trolls (with some unfortunate choices in nonsense rhyming).
‘Where did you come by that, Sam?’ asked Pippin. ‘I’ve never heard those words before.’
Sam muttered something inaudible. ‘It’s out of his own head, of course,’ said Frodo. ‘I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior!’
I love these hobbitses. You just watch Sam become a wizard!
And then we get to the other big difference in the chapter: Glorfindel.
To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil.
I guess one elf will do more or less the same as another, and I definitely understand PJ wanting to condense the number of characters who show up once and never really do anything later, but Glorfindel is still awesome. He was the one who fought off the Black Riders at the Last Bridge so that they could cross it safely – leaving an “elf-stone” (beryl) as a token. He also has an awesome elf-steed (Asfaloth), which he allows Frodo to ride so he can escape if they run into anymore Black Riders.
‘I shall not ride him, if I am to be carried off to Rivendell or anywhere else, leaving my friends behind in danger.’
Glorfindel smiled. ‘I doubt very much,’ he said, ‘if your friends would be in danger if you were not with them! The pursuit would follow you and leave us in peace, I think. It is you, Frodo, and that which you bear that brings us all in peril.’
This feeling of homelessness is almost constant in Book I. In the first chapter, Frodo is (almost) moved to follow Bilbo, who had something of a restless spirit. From then on, Frodo became aware that he must leave what he loves in order to protect it, and then he just started fleeing from one danger to another with little guidance. But it’s his friends and allies that keep pushing him forward, one step at a time.
Frodo’s pain had redoubled, and during the day things about him faded to shadows of ghostly grey. He almost welcomed the coming of night, for then the world seemed less pale and empty.
Ever since Frodo was wounded, he’s been much more sensitive to the “spiritual” realm, be they spirits of light (like Glorfindel) or darkness (the Black Riders). It’s becoming more and more “real”, while the physical world seems less solid.
And then the Riders catch up.
‘Ride forward! Ride!’ cried Glorfindel to Frodo.
He did not obey at once, for a strange reluctance seized him. Checking the horse to a walk, he turned and looked back. The Riders seemed to sit upon their great steeds like threatening statues upon a hill, dark and solid, while all the woods and land about them receded as if into a mist. Suddenly, he knew in his heart that they were silently commanding him to wait. Then at once fear and hatred awoke in him. His hand left the bridle and grasped the hilt of his sword, and with a red flash he drew it.
This time, Frodo realizes that he’s being manipulated, but his fear and hatred still serve the enemy’s purpose of keeping him from running away (Glorfindel has to command the horse to run). The horse carries him across the ford, but the Black Riders are still behind him.
Suddenly the foremost Rider spurred his horse forward. It checked at the water and reared up. With a great effort Frodo sat straight and brandished his sword.
‘Go back!’ he cried. ‘Go back to the Land of Mordor, and follow me no more!’ His voice sounded thin and shrill in his own ears. The Riders halted, but Frodo had not the power of Bombadil. His enemies laughed at him with a harsh and chilling laughter. ‘Come back! Come back!’ they called. ‘To Mordor we will take you!’
‘Go back!’ he whispered.
He has no strength to resist them on his own, but fortunately, he’s not on his own. A raging flood comes down the Bruinen and sweeps the Riders away…and Frodo loses consciousness.
Until next time…