Frodo awakens several days later in a bed in Rivendell. He is shocked and delighted to see Gandalf sitting nearby. The wizard tells Frodo that Elrond, the Master of Rivendell, healed Frodo’s wound just in time; a splinter of the Black Rider’s knife had stayed in the hobbit’s shoulder and was working its way toward his heart. If it had reached Frodo’s heart, it would have turned him into a wraith, just like the Riders.
Gandalf explains to Frodo that the Black Riders are the Ringwraiths (known in Elvish as the Nazgûl), the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings. The Ringwraiths, now undead, were once mortal kings to whom Sauron gave Rings of Power, which he then used to bring the kings under his control. For now, the Ringwraiths have been swept away—though not killed—by the flood of water in the Bruinen River. Elrond, who controls the water running in front of Rivendell, let loose the flood with some help from Gandalf.
Now that Frodo is well, he goes with his friends to dinner at Elrond’s table. The hall is suitably magical and impressive. There, he sees the beautiful Arwen Evenstar, Elrond’s daughter. Frodo sits beside Glóin, one of the dwarves who traveled with Bilbo years ago (in the adventures chronicled in The Hobbit). Glóin tells Frodo much about the history of the Dwarves.
After dinner, the party passes into the great Hall of Fire for music and merrymaking. Frodo, to his surprise, finds that old Bilbo himself is present. The two hobbits talk for a long while. At one point, Bilbo asks to see the Ring, but Frodo is reluctant. Suddenly, Bilbo appears to Frodo as a strange, grasping creature. Bilbo notices Frodo’s hesitation and apologizes. Later, Frodo, enchanted by the Elven-songs, falls into a deep sleep. He wakes to the sound of Bilbo singing a song, and the two go to Bilbo’s room to talk more. Eventually, at Sam’s insistence, Frodo goes to bed in order to be well rested for the Council the next day.
Frodo’s wound is the first of many he receives in the course of his journey, and it is symbolically important. It is much more than a mere injury to the flesh, and it is made by no ordinary knife blade. Rather, Frodo’s wound strikes his inner self. Indeed, the physical wound barely affects Frodo’s outer self at all; Tolkien does not focus on the blood, scar tissue, or any external harm it causes. Rather, he focuses on the internal activity of the knife blade, which breaks off inside Frodo and moves toward his heart. The blade of the Nazgûl is alive inside Frodo, like a kind of cancer. We learn that if the knife had reached Frodo’s heart, it would have been the end of him—but not, interestingly, the death of him. Frodo would have become an undead wraith like the Ringwraiths. He may have continued functioning under the knife’s influence, but he would no longer be the Frodo we have known thus far. Once again, we see that personality and selfhood are key in The Lord of the Rings, and in some cases even more important than life and death.
The insidious power of the Ring to infect healthy relationships with greed and selfishness comes to affect one of the happiest bonds in the novel—the friendship between Bilbo and Frodo. It is sad enough to see the Ring’s effect on the already-corrupted Gollum, but it is grievous to see its effects on those we feel we know well, such as Bilbo. The bond between Bilbo and Frodo represents more than an enjoyable union between like-minded Hobbits; as Bilbo and Frodo are related, it symbolizes the continuity of Hobbit culture itself. The aging Bilbo passes on his role to the younger Frodo in just the same way that myths and traditions are always passed down from generation to generation, especially in oral cultures. Therefore there is something sacred about Bilbo and Frodo’s relationship that makes it all the more painful to see the Ring come between them. When Frodo watches the strange transformation of Bilbo’s face from that of friendly advisor to that of rapacious, power-hungry manipulator, our shock is as great as Frodo’s. The horror of this corrupted friendship never quite fades, even after Bilbo comes to his senses and apologizes, and even after Frodo accepts the apology. A deep suspicion remains, one of the hateful legacies of the Ring’s power.