Book Two begins with one of the longer conversations in a few chapters as we get reintroduced to Gandalf and do some story recounting.
Gandalf only teases some info on his absence. The real story is coming in the next chapter, though his revelation that he was imprisoned is concerning. And the Ring-bearer is alive and recovering, an indication of how tough Tolkien is trying to show him and the hobbit race to be. He has survived carrying the Morgul wound and a piece of the blade inside him for 17 days and treatment/surgery for four days. Not too shabby.
Frodo has a mental recollection of the disasters that have befallen the group so far, which is a grave list. Gandalf refers to their actions as “absurd” but recants this a moment later…though I don’t think he really means that. Certainly, a lot of mistakes have been made so far. Gandalf’s description of what would have happened to Frodo if he had not gotten aid is fairly horrific and there is an excellent little bit here where Gandalf recounts the strength and diversity of Sauron’s forces. We also have the first mention of the name this war will take – “The War of the Ring”. Interesting name, considering the majority of combatants don’t even know such a thing exists.
Gandalf gives Frodo, the audience surrogate for this section as he was in “The Shadow of the Past”, the rundown on what happened at the ford. Considering the universe that has been established, what he tells is decent enough, dispelling a little bit of the deus ex machina feeling we may have gotten. We get confirmation that the Wraiths are gone. They’ll turn up briefly in Book’s Two, Three and Four, but won’t be directly interacting with the main characters again until Book Five. For most of the rest of the story, the enemies will be less spooky and more tangible. We also read the first set-up for the Bilbo reveal later, as Frodo fondly recalls his Uncle and his own journey to Rivendell.
Gandalf is just as friendly and vague as ever. We learn he can read minds and memories, and create images of horses within roaring water. It’s good to remind people that he is a wizard capable of such things. The mind reading also lets him know about some of the braver things Frodo has done, notably the incident with the Wight.
A very interesting moment towards the end of this conversation as Frodo declares, happily, that they’re safe now. Gandalf gives him what is described as “a flicker” before agreeing. It’s a clear and effective sign – no, they aren’t safe. Gandalf, like Aragorn before, is also seen to be superstitious, expressing anger when Pippin mentions “the Lord of the Ring”. This also starts the standard Gandalf/Pippin interaction, something that will last for a very long time and be a cornerstone of the events of Book Five.
Sam gets his Book Two introduction, after we learn that he’s spent most of the previous days at Frodo’s bedside. His opening scene in this chapter is actually quite creepy – he strokes Frodo’s arm without saying anything – but Sam is in his element here, in the bastion of Elvish power in Middle Earth.
Anyway, the theme of this chapter is one of relief and safety from the storm outside. Rivendell is a sanctuary in an increasingly dark world, one that is imbued with that feeling of protection and seclusion. It’s a welcome break from the danger and tension of the previous few chapters.
Merry/Pippin get brief bits in this chapter, being portrayed as the cheerful, boastful hobbits that they are. They’ve come through fire to get here – seems like they’re on a bit of a survival high.
The centrepiece of the chapter is an evenings feast and entertainment. More whiffs of Xenia here, as the hobbits and guests are honoured with the best of Elronds table. Elrond himself is shown as a master of healing and has mystical command over nature, especially the waters of the Bruinen river. He is a great Elven Lord, portrayed as holding court at this feast, surrounded by immortal royalty on all sides. It’s an occasion of pomp and grandeur, one meant to show off the power of the “firstborn” race of Middle Earth. The description of Glorfindel’s wrath when facing the Ringwraiths is another example of this in this chapter. It’s all about the Elves and how awesome they are.
Gandalf is also described in lordly terms at this table, perhaps as a connection to the fact that he is, revealed only in the appendices, a Ring-bearer himself. Glorfindel gets a long flowing description , indicating that he’s going to be an important character. This does not come to pass, as he appears only in the following chapter and nothing else. Very odd that Tolkien would give such a large amount of attention to the guy and not expand. The movie swaps him out for Arwen. I wonder if a more prominent Elf might not have been a better choice in the book as well, such as Legolas or even the Sons of Elrond who will be turning up throughout the story.
The feast also serves as the occasion to introduce Arwen, Aragorn’s romantic interest, your stereotypical beautiful faerie queen. Not much to say here apart from the flowing descriptions of her beauty and grace, which will later help us understand why Aragorn is so headlong in love with her.
Having spent an inordinate amount of time telling us where everyone at the table is sitting (it really isn’t that important) Tolkien gives us another callback to The Hobbit, the biggest one yet – Gloin, one of Bilbo’s companions. This is the fourth character (Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond), not counting the Trolls, to be included from Tolkien’s first trip to Middle-Earth so the connections are strong.
In fact, this conversation serves as somewhat of an epilogue to The Hobbit, where we learn how some characters, Dale, Esgaroth and the Lonely Mountain have been getting on (very well, though the next chapter reveals some problems).
The mood is relaxed for the most part, but some strain can still be detected. Frodo is at pains to hide the Ring and not mention it. Gloin’s reason for being in Rivendell is described in ominously vague terms. Balin, another of Bilbo’s companions has “gone away” and has not been heard from in a while. Hmm. Foreshadowing, the beginnings of the story’s inevitable route to Moria.
And we get some more Bilbo foreshadowing which comes to fruition straight away? It’s been painfully obvious what has been coming and here we are. It is a joyous reunion and it’s the same old Bilbo, outspoken, jolly, lackadaisical about everything. He really is sort of the odd man out here at Rivendell, the weird old hobbit amongst all the Elven Lords. Doesn’t seem to bother him though.
The reintroduction of Bilbo gives us one of the more memorable bits, as he temporarily changes form upon seeing the Ring again, a “little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands”. It’s about time we got some more reinforcement of the Ring’s dark power. In this case, it’s clear that its effect never goes away, that it can recur, just like a drug. It’s a lasting addiction, only handled by abstinence and avoidance. Bilbo has avoided the Ring for decades, yet is still being affected by it. This may also plant a seed of doubt within the readers mind: If Bilbo has gone through this despite giving it up, how can Frodo bring himself to destroy it?
Bilbo also gives us another of my favourite parts from the book: “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” It’s a recurring idea, one we’ll come back to at a later time.
Aragorn is only in this chapter for a short period, but we learn plenty. We get confirmation that he’s of a kingly line, though no mention of Gondor just yet. Frodo captures what we’ve seen of him so far by calling him “grim” yet someone likeable and trustworthy. Despite that, he gets some time for “mirth” later in an effective little diversion with Bilbo, which is a nice touch just to show us that Aragorn is more than just the dark Ranger. His connection to Arwen, though not explicitly clear yet, is highlighted later. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on there, since Arwen is the only female character of real note so far in the story (bar Goldberry) and Aragorn is the only one you can pair her with. The very first time I read the book, around 1999, I first assumed Tolkien was setting her up with Glorfindel, but boy did I miss the mark.
If the depiction of Elrond’s magical healing abilities and power to control water wasn’t enough to fill the “weird stuff Elves can do” quota for this chapter, their music acts as a kind of hallucination/projection device with effects not far outside that of a drug. Pretty sure that’s not what Tolkien meant, but there it is, Frodo going into a haze and seeing unbidden things while listening, an effect that will be seen again in Lothlorien. Bilbo’s verse is an interesting one, but far more for the response it gets from Frodo. He sees some connection between the song and himself. It’s obviously, with foresight, the songs mention of the sea and Valinor, but it’s clear Frodo is having some kind of premonitions.
This chapter gets the reunions and the relief out of the way so we can focus on much more important and dramatic things in the next. It’s not a terribly plot relevant chapter, meant more as a break between bouts of crises.
The movie alters the events of this chapter, cutting most and adding a lot of original stuff. The hobbit reunion gets cut big time, with the Bilbo/Frodo Ring scene being moved to after “The Council of Elrond”. The feast is also gone, as is Gloin. Instead, we get some private conversations between Elrond and Gandalf which flesh out the backstory of the Ring (and Elrond). This scene also introduces the idea that men are the new dominant race in Middle-Earth much earlier then in the book.
Elrond insists that the Ring has to move on. Frodo, in the movie, actually thinks his part in the quest is done, which is faithful to the book (to an extent). It’s all set-up to what we know is coming.
Boromir gets an early introduction in the movie, in an oddly directed scene where he seems to disrespect the shards of Narsil, Isildur’s sword. It serves as a way to contrast him with rival, Aragorn. This also sets up the rather excellent scene between Aragorn and Arwen on the bridge, which was perfectly done.
The Aragorn/Arwen romance sub-plot gets very little pages in the book, to the extent that their marriage was almost an afterthought. It’s actually fair to say that the Faramir/Eoywn sub-plot was better presented.
Jackson and co, needed a recurring romantic plotline, one that the book doesn’t really have, so Arwen’s role was expanded. She gets a load of screentime, a lot of it completely original stuff. It’s a controversial topic, and I’ll speak more later, but I’ll say that I was not against it. It is somewhat bizarre that Arwen gets introduced here and is then never seen or barely referred to for the equivalent of over four books.
Anyway, next up, the longest chapter in the book.
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.