Saturday, July 14, 2012

Puttin' the Blog in Balrog VI: Fellowship of the Ring Book 2: Chapter 1-5

Wow has this turned into a thing! By current reckoning as of July 12 we have 19 participants, 18 of whom I've put on this handy Twitter list so we miss out on as little of the 140-character #PtBiB fun as possible. Alas, the 19th participant is me; though my account is old and venerable by Twitter standards, it is somehow still under the curse of a bug that makes me unlistable. I can be put on Twitter lists, but I sort of slide right off them a few minutes after that's accomplished. So please use the hashtag whenever possible, especially if you're talking to me (@KateSherrod).

And here is the part of the post where I promise to try to be a bit more concise, but who am I kidding? Tolkien brings out the gushy firehose of thoughts in me. That being said, though, this first part of Book II of Fellowship of the Ring has always been a bit lackluster for me, at least until we wander back into OMGWTFBBQ territory again.

I'm pretty sure that J.R.R. Tolkien's paintings set my standard for good art forever. 
I still tend to favor these stained-glass-ish styles. Look how pretty!

Ahh, Rivendell, where they keep all the exposition* and, now that even Bilbo has decided to retire there, all the poetry as well. It's also sort of a warehouse for characters of proven usefulness, like pretty much everyone who survived the various and sundry events of The Silmarillion. And it lets the current cast recover their hit points. And it's pretty! And there's a woman there, bringing the apparent female population of Middle Earth up to two!** What's not to like?

I mean, aside from all the exposition.

Frodo is awake and finds out that the Nazgul tried to draft him for their team. He is told there is going to be a feast in his honor. Sam and Bilbo and Gandalf -- who has yet to explain his Delay -- have all been sitting up with him while Elrond has plied him with plants and potions and performed delicate neurosurgery. And Bilbo is the A.Z. Foreman of Middle Earth.*** That pretty much sums up Chapter 1 of Book Two (which my ebook collection lists as Chapter 13, so pardon if I get mixed up a bit. I'm trying to save wear and tear on my beloved Ballantine Boxed Set from 1977).

Who can blame Frodo for wanting to go exploring, by the way? He's in by all accounts the prettiest and safest place on the whole damned continent with the possible exception of Lothlorien, and he can see most of it from Elrond's sweet patio. He's just been on the worst camping trip ever and gotten over having the Snow Queen's sliver a piece of a Morgul blade lodged in his shoulder for 17 days. And there it all is. I bet there aren't even any mosquitoes, because the Bruinen is very strong and swift-flowing, so there's probably not a lot of standing water.

And I bet the fly-fishing is out of this world!

But no. Like being shipped off to a sweet new condo development only to have to sit through 30 hours of time share sales presentations, Frodo has to go to a meeting. As do we.

Expositions and new characters. Gimli (Dwarve), son of that Gloin who went on the trip with Bilbo. Legless Legolas (Elve), son of that Thranduil, who kept the Dwarves prisoner in Mirkwood. And Boromir (Manve), son of Denethor, steward of Gondor, though first introduced as just a "man from the South." "Called," as Elrond says "though I have not called you to me... You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem." Uh, yeah.

Anyway, they swap a lot of news that, get this, Tolkien doesn't even want to bother with: "Not all that was spoken and debated in the Council need now be told."****

But we do hear that 30 years ago, Balin son of Fundin, Bilbo's best friend from the trip to Erebor, had taken it upon himself to hare off and re-open Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern World, Moria for short. But see, there's a reason that fabled mine/cave/city/kingdom got closed in the first place. That may or may not have wings. As such. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, here, because what matters right now is that 1. Balin has disappeared in Moria and 2. Sauron is reaching out to the Dwarves for help finding Hobbits/Shire/Ring except Sauron is being all dismissive about what a small "trifle" the ring is. Like anyone is going to buy that! But so, the Dwarves sent Gloin (and Gimli) to warn Elrond and, hopefully, Bilbo that the hunt is on.

And then the spotlight moves to Elrond the Expositor, who reads everybody most of the Silmarillion tells everybody the history of the Ring, which amounts to, hey, Sauron was kind of a hottie once, and he just wanted this one little favor... just a little bling, and then everything kind of got blown out of proportion because everybody wanted one, and then there was this war, and this guy Isildur (son of Elendil, King of Gondor) cut the Ring off Sauron's hand, and Elrond tried to get him to destroy it, but he kept it until... look, we all know this story by now, right?

I think that pretty well covers the chain of custody, your honor.

But there are other heirlooms and mementos to discuss, like Narsil, the sword Isildur used to cut the ring off Sauron's finger, now kept in pieces by his heir, Aragorn! Soon to be reforged and renamed Anduril, Flame of the West! And what's left of the White Tree of Gondor, a seedling of the seedling of the seedling of the... oh, go look at EssJay's blog about the Silmarillion. Anyway, it's there in Minas Tirith, which used to be Minas Anor, the city that's pretty much right on the border of Mordor (where shadows lie), which is where Boromir is from and is a big reason why, for instance, Bilbo and the Dwarves didn't have a lot more nastiness to contend with on their trip, and everyone else has been relatively safe, too, thank you very much. Although here lately, not so much, as Boromir tells everybody. Minas Tirith has been getting its ass kicked. Things are grim. No. I refuse. I refuse to say it. All right, you made me. And Winter is Coming. Now I'm ashamed. Drink.

Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of 
Numenor is spent. Boney doesn't stand a chance.

And then we move on to Gandalf, who finally explains why he wasn't able to escort Frodo and co. out of the Shire: Saruman.***** But first, we also hear why he dumped Bilbo and the Dwarves on the edge of Mirkwood, what is it, 68 years ago now? And his research tour of Middle Earth, complete with all the kind of bitchy things Denethor (father of Boromir) said to him when he hit the Scrolls of Minas Tirith, and how Aragorn found Smeagollum and hauled him off to be kept by the Elves, and...

Interruption! Legolas has to share the bad news that Smeagollum escaped!

Anyway, Saruman!

Saruman is the more scholarly of the wizards and the one who knows the most about Rings and Sauron (no Defense Against the Dark Arts jokes, please. I said NO!) has, Gandalf says, decided that everybody would really be better off if he, Saruman, was in charge and had the Ring if that's at all possible, please. Don't worry. It'll be fine.  But Gandalf was skeptical and Saruman got impatient and imprisoned Gandalf until Gandalf would spill what he knew about where the Ring was and now I know exactly how Gandalf must have felt because get me the HELL OUT OF RIVENDELL.

I apologize. I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West and meekly continue to be expositioned to.

But seriously, I'm with Bilbo on this one. They should have at least gotten a donut break. But no, on and on about what a jerk Saruman is now and how Rohan is paying Mordor a tribute of horses and the Sackville-Bagginses are ruining Bag End and...

"May Elrond and the others forgive the length of it."

Decision by committee, people. It's never pretty. And there's always at least one jackass who comes up with the worst idea and sticks to it like gorilla glue. Boromir. Oh, Boromir.

And then, what do they do? They decide to do what we all knew they were gonna do back when "they" was just Frodo, Sam and Gandalf.

I really do not remember being this irritated at this point in the book, not since that first time when I was nine anyway. Is it because I know so very, very well what is to come and just want to get there? Is it because I know so very, very well what all of the news is that they're sharing here? Or is it just that I didn't get enough sleep this week and I'd be irritated at anything right now?

Anyway, the party is chosen, but even now we're not swearing for keepsies that everybody's going to Mordor. We're sticking together through Moria, because (gigglesnort) that is apparently the safest route for them because no one expects them to be that stupid. But after that, well, we'll see. All I can say right now is OH THANK GOD THE RING IS GOING SOUTH.

Err. After the scouts come back. In two months. Or three. Gotta make sure the Nazgul got forced to respawn in Mordor after the hippopotamus attack!

And now back to our story, already in progress. Our nine companions (and Bill) approach the Misty Mountains and Gimli waxes downright poetic at the sight. He has never actually seen these peaks, mind you, but he's seen them represented in Dwarvish art and knows all their names and is pretty much a Misty Mountain fanboi, which I think is cool. Somebody should be! These mountains get such a bad rap, but then, oh yeah they deserve to, because Caradhras, where the very microclimates have a hate-on for Dwarves and Elves and everybody except Legolas gets buried in snowdrifts. I know a bit about that. My next door neighbor's giant camper trailer makes the snow pile up in my front yard and driveway so badly that I always wish I had Boromir and Aragorn to help me fetch the mail. It'll be chest-high against the house and then like two inches at the curb. Just like on Caradhras.

How many buried hobbits can you see in this picture?

So everybody turns back and heads back down the mountain, watched by crows and wolves and things that look like wolves but scare Gandalf much worse than wolves. Even more dismaying: the landscape as Gandalf remembers it has changed, a respectable and scenic-sounding river, the Sirannon, seems nowhere to be found until it's revealed as a mere trickle among the red rocks, the mighty Stair Falls is just a dribble, and this is all so because someone (or something) has dammed it up! There is now a "sullen" lake in front of the Gates of Moria, brimming over with "unwholesome" water that the party has to edge around.

And now it's time to say good-bye to Bill! Poor Bill, sweetest of ponies, has somehow to make his way through all the country they've traveled to get here, dodging wolves and who-knows-what-else in hope of Rivendell. Sam is upset, Gandalf's annoyed (but at least gives Bill his special, uh, pony blessing?). Extra classy that they made Bill edge around the unwholesome water before turning him loose, too.

But he doesn't have to leave right away, because now it's password guessing time (while the sullen surface of the unwholesome water ripples ominously. Um. And then, while Gandalf tries every command he can think of to get the gates to open, Boromir starts chucking rocks and sticks into the water in frustration. Oh, Boromir). The answer is from happier days. The doors open. And the giant evil tentacled horror, the Watcher in the Water attacks!****** While it makes an attempt at Frodo mostly, it's happy, once everyone has hurtled through the gates, to just pull them closed and trap everybody inside Moria, as if it had been stationed there for just that purpose, which might well have been the case. But can you imagine just sitting there in that pool for months or years waiting for that one job to do? And how did it survive until then? As was said of the midges outside the Old Forest, what does it eat when it can't get hobbit? And what did it do after this one great task of its was completed?

These are the things I wonder about. Along with why PJ had to take the idiocy of throwing rocks into the sullen water out of Boromir's hands and put it into Pippin's. No, I know the answer, really. Sigh. It's the same reason Pippin's dropping of a simple pebble down a well in the Moria guard station by way of a curiosity-driven depth-check got magnified into bumbling and knocking a helmet and all of the chain down that well in the film. Sigh.

But, pebble or helmet-and-all-of-the-chain, it certainly sets off some excitement which we've kind of been needing for a while. But first we have an exquisite slow burn as we tour the tunnels and galleries of the Dwarrowdelf, which Gandalf and Gimli assure us were not always dark and empty and full of dread - great shafts admitted sunlight, for one thing, we just happen to be there at night - and we're treated to a great bit of poetry about Durin and the world as it was when the Dwarves were the only people in Middle Earth, before even the Sun and Moon existed. I mean, WOW. I can totally imagine Moria that was. And would like to visit.

But Moria that is? Um. Doom-doom. Doom-doom. Tolkien did an amazing job of rousing our fears, then lulling/boring them, then rousing them again until the full-on attack of the goblins and also of the


Which I know is like the ultimate big-bad except for Sauron himself, and might be even older than Sauron; we know from the Silmarillion, or from EssJay's excellent summaries thereof, that Sauron is actually kind of a gotten-up former servant of the real big bad, Melkor. Which is neither here nor there, really, but I thought I'd mention it to show I've been paying attention. Anyway, the


Is not something I found nearly as scary as the Watcher in the Water, but as I said in my footnote, I have my reasons for that. But the thing is, Gandalf fears him. He shoos everyone else away, telling them that this foe is beyond any of them. And then he goes after the Balrog, yelling that it cannot pass (to be honest, I like the film's "shall not pass" a little better; it's got more imperative force to it and is, let's face it, memorable as hell. Kudos, PJ and co. Kudos), and attacks it with Glamdring and his staff and oh yeah, one of the Three Rings (which we only know he has if we've read the appendices), and it attacks him with a badass flaming red sword and a flaming bullwhip and oh, the bullwhip, because when Gandalf finally just breaks the bridge, CRACK. WRAP. YANK.

And down he goes.

Cliffhanger. Literally.

By the way: if anyone can explain to me why there exists in this world a baby's onsie that announces "I am Isildur" please do. Or maybe not. I am now undecided on this subject. Maybe tell me if it's really funny but don't if it's going to shatter my sanity?

*If HBO were doing an adaptation, Rivendell is where all the naked whores would be.

**I mean, there must be some female hobbits, though unlike in the films, we have yet to learn of the existence of Miss  Rosie Cotton, ancestress-to-be of the Fairbairns of the Towers. And presumably many other females as well, since all these boys exist -- unless we are choosing to believe, for instance, that instead of being born, Dwarves are authochthons from the stone.

***If you like poetry, and especially if  you like original, sensitively done and beautifully rendered translations of foreign language poetry into English, Foreman is your man. Click on the link and go to his blog. Hit him up on Twitter. Tell him the PtBiB people sent you. He'll probably have no idea what you're talking about, but he'll be very polite and friendly about it. He's a cool guy. Also a prolific one. And he does all the languages. Probably even Icelandic.

****Though Christopher Tolkien is probably, even now, tossing that last desk drawer for materials to go into the 13th volume of The History of Middle Earth: Minutes of the 1017th Council of Rivendell, coming soon from Harper Collins.

*****Man, did this stuff drive me nuts when I was a kid. I kept getting Saruman and Sauron mixed up. I remember paging back in frustration, trying to figure out why the Snape Gandalf would have gone to the big bad enemy to get advice on how to deal with the big bad enemy. And this was before the internet, and I didn't know anyone else in the whole wide world who had read or was reading these books (and I have a feeling that my frustration at this time plays a role in why my mom to this day won't touch fantasy, which she dismisses as "dragons and dumdums" to this day), so it was me all on my lonesome, ten years old and grinding my teeth trying to keep everybody straight. It didn't help, of course, that the good guy wizard was the grey one, while the white wizard was obviously kinda maybe turning grey and had a name that sounded a lot like the evil/black wizard and man, Tolkien almost lost me right here. In fact, he did when I was nine, to be perfectly honest. But I kept the books and tried again, obviously.

******Oh god. This was by far the scariest moment in all of these books for me when I was a kid. Don't laugh, but when I was little and growing up in landlocked Wyoming, my greatest, most paralyzing, hysterical fear was that a giant squid was going to get me. Maybe I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea too young? Anyway, the Watcher in the Water still freaks me the eff out, even more so after talking about it a bit with David Fuller, who made the link between this monster and some stuff Gollum alluded to in The Hobbit, which would suggest it's been waiting up there for at least, what 67 years now? It was maybe stationed there against the day Gollum finally got sick of hiding out in the caves under the Misties, so it could attack him and get the Ring, by this theory, which is somewhat borne out by the fact that, of all the people it could have grabbed at after Boromir's pebble-throwing woke it up, it goes after Frodo. Now, the question of how it would get the Ring, if it managed to get it, to Sauron is another matter...


  1. I can not believe I forgot to talk about Bill. [sigh]

    That's it, I'm totally writing my posts as I go from now on instead of cramming everything in at the last second.

    Really, I'm kind of over the summary writing. You wanna come post for me on Wednesday? ;)

    1. Writing posts as I read is what is making this possible. It does add to the danger of OMG TOO MANY WORDS though.

      You might find it a refreshingly different way to proceed, though, so give it a shot before you start with the abdicating 8)

  2. There is really a dearth of females in this story, with the exception of magical ones. It's a sign of the times I suppose. Game of Thrones is full of game female protagonists/antagonists, although a couple of them are also magical.

    1. It's true, though it never really bothered me. Maybe it's a function of where and when I grew up, but what gender a hero was always seemed like the least important thing about him or her. Pretty much still does. Except when, as in George R.R. Martin, there's a lot of rapin' or threats of rapin' going on.

  3. Aw, come on, you mean you don't know the thing about dwarvish sex? Did you not read your Terry Pratchett? All dwarves take the male gender pronoun and dress the same. It's like that Far Side cartoon with the jellyfish outhouses. So it's entirely possible that any/all of the Tolkien dwarves are not technically male. (I always had my suspicions about Oin.)

    1. Ha! So like maybe Oin isn't Gimli's uncle but is aunt? Or maybe, actually, his MOM? Hee hee!

      And no, haven't read a whole lot of Pratchett yet. A few early Discworlds back when there were only three or four of them. I know..


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