The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien

Book I, Chapter 8

Summary Book I, Chapter 8

The struggle with the Barrow-wight illustrates in miniature some of the major elements of the hobbits’ future adventures. First, the idea of fellowship is emphasized when Frodo is left isolated after the wight has captured his cohorts. Frodo has been seen alone in the novel before this point, but he has never seemed quite as lonely as he does when he calls out for his friends and hears nothing but the wind in return. We see that Frodo is not just in the company of the other members of the Fellowship, but is building a real connection with them. Another example of fellowship is Frodo’s sudden rescue by Tom, who has appeared only recently in the narrative. We might have expected Tolkien to use the encounter with the Barrow-wight as an opportunity to showcase Frodo’s developing heroic skills—but he does not, for Frodo falls prey to the wight just as his colleagues did. Heroism does not necessarily mean standing out from the others as the strongest; it can go hand in hand with reliance upon others. We see that Tolkien is putting forth a new model of the hero, one who does not insist on doing everything himself, but who can accept aid from others.

The power of the Ring appears as a temptation here, one that must be resisted. We are again shown that Sauron’s power is not an external threat, but an internal one as well: it afflicts the mind and heart of its wearer, working its insidious effects from the inside out. During Frodo’s confrontation with the Barrow-wight, his first instinct is to put on the Ring, become invisible, and save himself by running away. Of course this would be an effective solution, but it would also be a thoroughly selfish one, as it would ensure the deaths of his friends left behind in the mound. The struggle Frodo undergoes in this episode is therefore not just between himself and a wicked demon, but between two parts of himself—one part that looks to save his own skin at any cost, and another part that cares about those dear to him. We see again that Tolkien’s tale is not just about external happenings, but about inward development.