Thursday, December 14, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Knife in the Dark (FOTR 1, 11)

Well, that was tense! I love that we get to see what's going on back at Crickhollow here. Fatty Bolger has a narrow escape, but it shows that Frodo's subterfuge about moving to Buckland did trick the Enemy, at least somewhat. I think this is why all nine Ringwraiths aren't in Bree. And why they don't all nine attack them at Weathertop. They split up, some going to Crickhollow, and those ones hadn't caught up yet.

Anyway, after their own narrow escape, Frodo and company head out into the wilds, and their journey turns uncomfortable, then unpleasant, and finally dangerous. I find the part with the Neekerbreekers particularly memorable, for some reason. Probably because they keep the hobbits from sleeping, which makes me feel terribly sorry for them.

I tend to think of Sauron as a Satan-figure, but here we read about "the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant" (p. 189). The Enemy is named Melkor, and he rebelled against the creator of Middle-earth just like Satan rebelled against God, though that's all in the backstory that's told in The Silmarillion -- it's Tolkien's sort of creation story and all about this war to regain magic gems called silmarils. Those get talked about here, and people from that farther-back history like Gil-galad and Beren and Luthien. It's a lot harder to wade through than LOTR (it's about a third as long, but took me like six months to get through), but if you get really into LOTR, The Silmarillion is worth reading one day.

We get to learn part of the story of Beren and Luthien here in that long poem that Strider recites. Beren was a mortal man, and Luthien was an elf, but they fell in love anyway. Remind you of anyone else in this book? Aragorn is descended from them via Earendil and the Kings of Numenor, and Elrond is also from their line. That's why he's called half-elven, though he's much more elf than Aragorn, who is just a teensy bit elvish and therefore mortal (but long-lived). But of course, the whole idea of a mortal man and an elvish woman falling in love is echoed in the love story of Aragorn and Arwen.

And here's a fun fact: Tolkien and his wife are buried side by side with the names Beren and Luthien on their tombstones. (And their real names too, don't worry.) It's said that he based Tinuviel on his own wife Edith, who reportedly liked to dance in the woods. So sweet!

Favorite Lines:

"What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?" asked Sam, scratching his neck (p. 178).

In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger (p. 183-4).

Discussion Question:

When Strider begins to tell the tale of Beren and Luthien, he says, "It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts" (p. 187). Do you find their story sad? Do sad stories ever "lift up your heart?"


  1. It's been quite a while since I've read this section of the book (I tend to gravitate toward more dialogue-heavy chapters in later portions) and the line in the discussion question jumped out at me as well.

    Personally, the story of Beren and Luthien is one of my all-time favorites. (If we're talking recommended reading order for Tolkien, I did the exact opposite of what would have been wise and started with The Silmarillion.)

    In some ways, the story of Beren and Luthien is beautiful because of its sadness, rather than in spite of it. They face many trials and dangers and really experience little of the "happily ever after" that you might expect from a fairy tale. However, that doesn't stop their undying devotion to one another. A story like this has much more application in a sinful, broken world than one which has a fluffy, unrealistic ending. There will be trials and hardships; the goal of life is not to avoid those troubles, but rather to pursue good in spite of those troubles.

    Personally, when I'm in a difficult situation, I find it more helpful and uplifting to read a story about struggles than to read an ending where Prince Charming solves everything. There is something comforting in knowing that others (even if they're fictional) have faced hardship and won a small consolation, even if there is much sorrow and grief woven throughout.

    On a related side note, Luthien's an amazing heroine who not only has some awesome powers, but uses those powers for the good of others, proving that you can be a strong female character without being a loveless, "tough", distinctly-unfeminine character. She ends up married at the end of the book and doesn't spurn being rescued by a man, even though she can clearly handle many things on her own. I would love to see more characters like her.

    1. RM, I love your take on the story of Beren and Luthien, and how their story isn't beautiful despite the sadness, but because of it. They really are a formidable, commendable couple.

      And you're so right on how Luthien so beautifully balances femininity with power. Something for us to aspire to.

  2. I LOVE the Silmarillion! I've read it twice, I think. Beren and Luthien's story is so sweet, and I love the Tolkien and his wife were buried with their names on their tombstones. <3 Sad stories definitely lift my heart. :-) Ah, yes; the neekerbreekers. XD Poor hobbits.

    1. MEM, that's great! I would like to read The Silmarillion again sometime, but not for a while.

      And yeah, love that the Tolkiens are buried as Beren and Luthien. Gives me goosebumps.

  3. The Silmarillion is on my TBR list. I am only starting to delve into Tolkien now. Funny, as my best friend at school was really into Tolkien and she was always talking about his books and imaginary world and really tried to get me to read his books (she recommended me to start with The Hobbit) but I never really listen. Ah, so much time wasted but at least I am enjoying them now, all these years later :)

    I like it how Tolkien in interweaving all these stories and histories from his Middle-Earth in order to provide us with all the necessary backstory to better understand TLOTR. He does it so well, like it's not tiring at all to read about all those past people and deeds.

    The story of Beren and Luthien was totally new to me. I found it beautiful that both Beren and Luthien were so brave and fought against all odds and I think that their courage makes their story beautiful, in spite of the sad ending. I liked how it somewhat foretells the story or Aragorn and Arwen.

    1. Irene, better late than never! I actually read LOTR 6 times before I ever attempted The Silmarillion. It is a VERY different sort of book, almost like the Old Testament stylewise in some ways.

      I LOVE how Beren and Luthien's story sort of presages Aragorn and Arwen's. Both are beautiful and inspirational.

  4. I love this chapter. It's probably my favorite so far. I love the opening with Fatty Bolger slipping out and rousing the whole area. He may not have wanted to leave the Shire, but he's still remarkably brave and quick to do the right thing. I love the start of their journey with Aragorn, and all the horses/ponies run off causing them delays they can ill afford. I love Weathertop and the way the black riders come sneaking up, and how Frodo sees them when he puts the ring on.

    1. Definitely a favorite chapter for me too, all the adventuring ahead.

      And Fatty Bolger is a brick.


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