Danger closes in from without, and divisions start to appear from within, as the Company moves toward a decision.
Aragorn decided to wait until they reached the waterfall Rauros to make his choice of ways, and everyone except Boromir (who’s growing increasingly insistent on turning for Minas Tirith) is perfectly content to stick to the river Anduin as long as they can.
There was little speech and no laughter in any of the boats. Each member of the Company was busy with his own thoughts.
The heart of Legolas was running under the stars of a summer night in some northern glade amid the beech-woods; Gimli was fingering gold in his mind, and wondering if it were fit to be wrought into the housing of the Lady’s gift. Merry and Pippin in the middle boat were ill at ease, for Boromir sat muttering to himself, sometimes biting his nails, as if some restlessness or doubt consumed him, sometimes seizing a paddle and driving the boat close to Aragorn’s. Then Pippin, who sat in the bow looking back, caught a queer gleam in his eye, as he peered forward gazing at Frodo. Sam had long ago made up his mind that, though boats were maybe not as dangerous as he had been brought up to believe, they were far more uncomfortable than even he had imagined. He was cramped and miserable, having nothing to do but stare at the winter-lands crawling by and the grey water on either side of him. Even when the paddles were in use they did not trust Sam with one.
The absence of Boromir’s POV here is glaring – in fact, I don’t think we ever get narration from Boromir’s perspective. He occasionally speaks his thoughts, but we never get into his head. I guess it’s arguably for “suspense”, but it’s pretty obvious by now that all Boromir wants (at this point) is to control the Ring. I’ll take the film version of Boromir any day, the one that actually has a rapport with Merry and Pippin, not to mention Aragorn or even Frodo. All he is in the books is “Man of Gondor, proud and valiant”, and I imagine having a little bit from his perspective (even if it’s only a sentence or two like here) would’ve helped flesh him out. Ultimately, though, Tolkien simply wasn’t concerned with Boromir’s perspective. He represents the sort of national pride that led to the senseless slaughter of World War I, so I can see why Tolkien would find it revolting, but taking a deeper look at his mindset would definitely help the story. In that sense, even the movies don’t really do him justice – he’s simply more likable so that you actually care what happens to him, not exactly “deeper” as a character (or at least not in the theatrical cut). But here in the books, he sometimes comes off as petulant and stubborn (he threatens to leave at one point when the River gets rough, and only stays because Frodo makes it clear he’s sticking with Aragorn).
In other news, Sam caught sight of “a log with eyes” floating on the water…
‘I should make nothing of it but a log and the dusk and sleep in your eyes, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘if this was the first time that those eyes had been seen. But it isn’t. I saw them away back north before we reached Lórien. And I saw a strange creature with eyes climbing to the flet that night. Haldir saw it too. And do you remember the report of the Elves that went after the orc-band?’
‘Ah,’ said Sam, ‘I do; and I remember more too. I don’t like my thoughts; but thinking of one thing and another, and Mr. Bilbo’s stories and all, I fancy I could put a name on the creature, at a guess. A nasty name. Gollum, maybe?’
At first, Frodo determines they shouldn’t bother anyone else with their suspicions and just keep watch by themselves, but after he spots the creature messing with their boats, Aragorn wakes up and says that he’d noticed Gollum in Moria, too. Aragorn alerts the rest of the Company, but we don’t see anymore of Gollum this chapter. It’s a little thing, but it goes to show how Frodo and Aragorn aren’t quite on the same page (beyond the whole Boromir thing, which Aragorn still seems to be oblivious about). Frodo is still trying to deal with things on his own when he should be asking for help from his companions – that’s kind of point of the Company.
And then they run into some rapids unexpectedly, which in turn drives them to the east bank and an ambush of Orcs (which may or may not be Gollum’s doing).
But now rising and sailing up from the South the great clouds advanced, sending out dark outriders into the starry fields. A sudden dread fell on the Company.
‘Elbereth Gilthoniel!’ sighed Legolas as he looked up. Even as he did so, a dark shape, like a cloud and yet not a cloud, for it moved far more swiftly, came out of the blackness in the South, and sped towards the Company, blotting out all light as it approached. Soon it appeared as a great winged creature, blacker than the pits of night. Fierce voices rose up to greet it from across the water. Frodo felt a sudden chill running through him and clutching at his heart; there was a deadly cold, like the memory of an old wound, in his shoulder. He crouched down, as if to hide.
Legolas shoots the thing down before it can really do anything, but Frodo (and presumably Aragorn) clearly suspects it was a Ringwraith. Not a good sign, considering all the trouble they’ve gone to trying to shake their pursuit.
As they’re lying awake that night, they get on the subject of Time.
Legolas stirred in his boat. ‘Nay, time does not tarry ever,’ he said; ‘but change and growth is not in all things and places alike. For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream. Yet beneath the Sun all things must wear to an end at last.’
Tolkien put way more thought into the Elves than the other races. This is simply a fact.
Although we do get our first glimpse of Numenorian architecture with the Gates of the Argonath, the markers of what was once the northern border of Gondor.
‘Fear not!’ said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skillful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.
Aragorn’s still torn between duty to his kingdom and duty to his friends – he doesn’t want to go to Mordor, but neither do any of them, least of all Frodo. With Gandalf gone, he’s forced to decide which duty is more pressing.
Next time: The breaking of the Fellowship…