The Company is formed and begins the Quest, so let’s talk about these characters we’re going to spend the rest of the book with.
‘It’s most unfair,’ said Pippin. ‘Instead of throwing [Sam] out and clapping him in chains, Elrond goes and rewards him for his cheek!’
‘Rewards!’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t imagine a more severe punishment. You are not thinking what you are saying: condemned to go on this hopeless journey, a reward? Yesterday I dreamed that my task was done, and I could rest here, a long while, perhaps for good.’
‘I don’t wonder,’ said Merry, ‘and I wish you could. But we are envying Sam, not you. If you have to go, then it will be a punishment for any of us to have to be left behind, even in Rivendell. We have come a long way with you and been through some stiff times. We want to go on.’
So first we have the hobbits. Frodo’s in a unique position, not just among the hobbits, but of all the members of the Company – he’s the only one who’s sworn to his task of carrying the Ring to Mount Doom. He chose the Quest, except for him, there didn’t seem like any other option – it’s just the fate appointed to him when he inherited the Ring. Now that he knows what a burden it is, how much pain it brings just to bear it, it’s simply unthinkable for Frodo to (literally) shirk it off to someone else. He’d much rather see everyone else happy and peaceful than to have peace for himself when there’s still so much at stake. But keep in mind how Gandalf said that the way of the Ring to his own heart would be through Pity – even the best of intentions can be warped and corrupted to serve the Ring’s purpose.
The rest of the hobbits all have more or less the same motives as before, just sharpened by the hardships they’ve already faced together. Sam earned his place in the Company by sheer devotion, but Elrond actually initially plans for Merry and Pippin to be left out (thinking instead to send some great Elf-warriors).
‘We don’t want to be left behind. We want to go with Frodo.’
‘That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead,’ said Elrond.
‘Neither does Frodo,’ said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. ‘Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him.’
‘You speak gravely,’ said Elrond, ‘but I am in doubt. The Shire, I forebode, is not free now from peril; and these two I had thought to send back there as messengers, to do what they could, according to the fashion of their country, to warn the people of their danger.’
Elrond is ultimately convinced by Pippin’s stubborn refusal to be ordered away, but let’s just say Elrond’s not worried about the Shire for nothing – and the Elves don’t really have any local contacts there. The Hobbits would never take an Outsider seriously.
In addition to the hobbits, they have representatives of each of the races: Legolas (Elf), Gimli (Dwarf), Aragorn and Boromir (Men), and Gandalf (wizard/Maiar thing). The pony (which Sam has dubbed Bill) also continues the journey. The number nine was specifically chosen to set them in opposition to the Black Riders: Nine Walkers against the Nine Riders.
‘The Ring-bearer is set out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid […]. The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside to other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy it will be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road.’
‘Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’ said Gimli.
‘Maybe,’ said Elrond, ‘but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.’
‘Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,’ said Gimli.
‘Or break it,’ said Elrond.
Legolas and Gimli are mostly just there to represent their respective peoples, but that’s not a less noble motivation – they know the stakes and want to be a part of the solution. It’s that simple. Boromir, on the other hand, has decidedly mixed motives. A part of his reason for joining the company is simply that his way and theirs happen to coincide for a long way, since Mordor is basically on the doorstep of Minas Tirith, the current capital of Gondor. But he also seemed to be the least on-board about the idea of destroying the Ring of all the people in the Council…
Strangely enough, though, the only conflict in the first part of the journey arises between Gandalf and Aragorn. It’s not a power struggle (they obviously have a great mutual respect, in addition to their shared understanding of the necessity of the Quest’s success). It’s more that they have different ideas of how best to lead the party: Gandalf’s highest priority is avoiding detection, while Aragorn’s is safety for all the members of the Company.
Speaking of Aragorn…
Aragorn sat with his head bowed between his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.
Yet another sideways reference to “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen”! Basically, once Elrond found out Arwen wanted to marry Aragorn, he stipulated that Aragorn had to claim his kingship first. Now Aragorn’s explicitly agreeed to go back to Minas Tirith with Boromir (although he also sincerely wants to keep helping Frodo), so he’s finally going to claim his inheritance (or try to). He even got Narsil reforged for the occasion, renaming it Andúril, Flame of the West! Bilbo also handed off Sting and his mithril-coat to Frodo before they left.
Their first few weeks of travel are fairly uneventful as they make their way towards Hollin, an empty land where Elves used to live long ago. They don’t meet any enemies, but they do seem to be spotted by some crow-spies once, and possibly a Ringwraith. They’re planning on crossing the Misty Mountains by the Redhorn Gate, a pass over Caradhras (which the Dwarves call “the Cruel”).
‘Winter deepens behind us,’ [Gandalf] said quietly to Aragorn. ‘The heights away north are whiter than they were; snow is lying far down their shoulders. Tonight we shall be on our way high up towards the Redhorn Gate. We may well be seen by watchers on the narrow path, and waylaid by some evil; but the weather may prove a more deadly enemy than any. What do you think of your course now, Aragorn?’
Frodo overheard these words, and understood that Gandalf and Aragorn were continuing some debate that had begun long before. He listened anxiously.
‘I think no good of our course from beginning to end, as you know well, Gandalf,’ answered Aragorn. ‘And perils known and unknown will grow as we go on. But we must go on; and it is no good delaying the passage of the mountains. Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan. I do not trust that way since your news of Saruman. Who knows which side now the marshals of the Horse-lords serve?’
‘Who knows indeed!’ said Gandalf. ‘But there is another way, and not by the pass of Caradhras: the dark and secret way that we have spoken of.’
‘But let us not speak of it again! Not yet. Say nothing to the others, I beg, not until it is plain that there is no other way.’
Tolkien gives some more weight to their climbing the pass both by discussing their options (or lack thereof) and making it clear that their second choice would be dark and dangerous. But Caradhras is not without its perils, either. Snow begins to fall, and quickly ramps up into blizzard territory.
‘I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy,’ said Boromir. ‘They say in my land that he can govern the storms the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies.’
‘His arm has grown long indeed,’ said Gimli, ‘if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away.’
‘His arm has grown long,’ said Gandalf.
Despite the talk about Sauron, and the “fell voice” in the wind, the implication is more that it’s the mountain itself that’s resisting their incursion (although it’s still possible Sauron incited it in some fashion). It’s just another of those natural powers in the world that doesn’t care for moving things.
Eventually they’re forced to halt and light a fire just to make it through the storm alive, and once the snow slows down, it’s several feet deep (well over the heads of the hobbits). Boromir and Aragorn set out to make a path through the snow so they can go back, because there’s still a threat of snow looming over them.
A cold wind flowed down behind them, as they turned their backs on the Redhorn Gate, and stumbled wearily down the slope. Caradhras had defeated them.
But just so that I don’t have to end on such a down note (and because I think we all need a little warmth right now), here’s one of Bilbo’s best poems from earlier in the chapter:
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times that were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.
Until next time…