The Fellowship of the Ring
Book I, Chapter 12
Summary — Flight to the Ford
When Frodo comes to, the other hobbits are standing over him. When he put the Ring on, they saw only shadows rushing by and Frodo disappearing and then reappearing, collapsed on the ground. The Black Riders are gone, having been repulsed by Strider’s defense and by the Elven names Frodo invoked.
After hearing Frodo’s account and examining his wound, Strider becomes concerned—even more so when he finds on the ground the knife that gave Frodo the wound. Strider takes Sam aside and tells him that the wound will soon have an evil power over Frodo, and may well be deadly. Strider goes down the hill and returns carrying leaves of athelas, a plant with healing power. He uses the leaves to tend to Frodo’s wound, which has begun to spread a cold numbness through the hobbit’s side.
Day finally comes. Strider leads the hobbits down from Weathertop and across the road. They suddenly hear two shrill cries from far off. They scramble along in the forest to the south of the road. The next several days are difficult going, and Frodo gets weaker all the time. Strider finds a beryl, a pale green elf-stone, in the path; it appears to have been left for them, and he considers it a good sign. A few days later, they stumble across the three trolls that turned to stone on Bilbo’s journey many years ago (an episode from The Hobbit). This reminder of Bilbo’s adventure cheers them.
The party is forced to return to the road to make the last leg of the journey to Rivendell. Soon after they take to the road, they are alarmed to hear the sound of hooves behind them. They hide, but the rider turns out to be not a Black Rider but an Elf-lord, Glorfindel, a friend of Strider who lives in Rivendell and was sent out several days ago to help them. They put Frodo on Glorfindel’s white horse and tell him to ride ahead. The hobbit is at first reluctant to abandon his friends, but Glorfindel reminds Frodo that it is he, not the others, whom the Black Riders are after.
Frodo slips in and out of dark dreams as he rides. The party walks on through the night and rests only a few hours before heading out again at dawn. After another hard day’s march, they stop again. Glorfindel and Strider, despite their desire to push on, are forced to stop, as the hobbits are exhausted.
The next afternoon, they approach the Ford of the Bruinen River, beyond which is Rivendell. As they exit the forest just a mile before the Ford, Glorfindel suddenly hears the sound of the Black Riders behind them. He cries to Frodo to run for the Ford. Glorfindel’s horse, still bearing Frodo, sprints ahead. Suddenly, four Riders, who have been waiting in ambush, leap out from the trees ahead to intercept Frodo before he reaches the Ford. Glorfindel’s horse carries Frodo across the river just in time, but there the hobbit waits helplessly on the opposite bank.
The Black Riders begin to cross the river, but their horses seem reluctant. Frodo calls out to them to return to Mordor, the land of Sauron, but the Riders only laugh at him and say they will take him back with them. Then, just as three of the Riders approach the other bank, a rush of whitewater fills the Bruinen and rises up, overwhelming the three in its cascading waves. As Frodo slips into unconsciousness, he sees the other black horses madly carrying their Riders into the rapids, where they are swept away.
This chapter brings to a close the first book of The Lord of the Rings and the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. Throughout Book I, the hobbits prove themselves rather hapless and in constant need of rescue, whether by Farmer Maggot, Tom Bombadil, Strider, or the raging waters of the Bruinen River. Indeed, it is partly this powerlessness that makes a Hobbit such an appropriate Ring-bearer. As Gandalf earlier explains, if a Wizard such as himself were to take the Ring, it would certainly turn him into another Sauron. Frodo’s stewardship of the Ring, while it poses grave dangers to Frodo himself, does not bring about the sort of consequences that it would with a powerful being such as Gandalf. Despite their bumbling ways, however, the hobbits also demonstrate a bit of pluck and ability, as we see in Frodo’s stands against the Barrow-wight and then the Black Riders, or in Sam’s resistance to the wiles of Old Man Willow. The hobbits appear to be adept at learning on their feet.
As Frodo makes his way from Bag End to Rivendell, a group of companions—which is later christened the Fellowship of the Ring—begins to form around him. Whereas at first Frodo thought his mission would be a solitary one, Gandalf decides to send Sam along with him. Then Merry and Pippin join, and finally Strider. More join the party in the upcoming chapters. As we see in the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring, however, forces begin to break the Fellowship apart as the quest progresses and grows more difficult. This movement from solitude to community and back emphasizes the particular burden of the Ring. Though Frodo needs all the help he can enlist to continue in the quest, in the end the weight of responsibility falls squarely on him alone. Tolkien emphasizes the great and solitary weight of the Ring in a number of ways. Glorfindel reminds Frodo of his status and responsibility as Ring-bearer when he tells Frodo that the Black Riders are interested only in capturing him, not the rest of the party. Similarly, the glimpse of the Black Riders that the Ring reveals to Frodo , as well as the dark dreams that his wound gives him, show how he is, in a way, set apart from the rest of the party.
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