“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
I can’t avoid it anymore: writing something about the Lord of the Rings-triology (LOTR)! But what do you write about such a well known subject?
I must first have come across LOTR in my late teens. I remember struggling through the first 25-30 pages. (I have later advised people new to the books to start with chapter IV of the prologue, where it’s told how Bilbo got hold of the ring. They can always go back and read the whole prologue later, when they have more interest in the subject.) I did persist, and soon I was hooked for a lifetime! I missed the fairy-tales from my youth, but here was one for adults, richer and more complex than any work I had previously encountered.
Tolkien started to write LOTR as a sequel to The Hobbit, a children’s book that he wrote and published in 1937. The popularity of the book led to demands from his publishers for more stories about hobbits and goblins, so the same year Tolkien began writing the story that would become LOTR. After several false starts the story of the One Ring emerged, and the novel had by then mutated to become a work for adults. Writing was slow due to Tolkien’s perfectionism, and he didn’t finish it until 1949. He utilised his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, as well as Norse and Celtic mythology, but he was also influenced by his military service during World War I and his son’s in World War II. He created a complete mythology for his realm of Middle-earth, including genealogies of characters, languages, writing systems, calendars and histories. The books were published first in 1954-1955.
At the time when I read the books, it was very popular to try to guess what the ring symbolised – the nuclear bomb was a common interpretation. Tolkien himself has persistently declared that the book is not an allegory at all and denied any nuclear reference. I suppose, if the ring symbolises anything at all, it would be the concept of Absolute Power and its effects, and that anyone who seeks to gain absolute power will inevitably be corrupted by it.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
To me it’s mainly a story of an ordinary young man going on a quest. It’s about the comrades who go with him and those he meets along the way. It’s a story about friendship that surpasses borders and races. It’s of course also about the battle of good versus evil, mercy and pity, self-sacrifice, free will and justice.
Anything else? I love the way Tolkien balances humour and the noble and heroic. And the books are really exciting! I still find the black riders you meet in the beginning of the triology really scary, more so than any balrog or spider-monster.
Here are some of the encounters with the black riders. These are excerpts only. I have left out long passages.
Frodo, Sam and Pippin have just left the Shire:
“I can hear a pony or a horse coming along the road behind,’ said Sam.
They looked back, but the turn of the road prevented them from seeing far. ‘I wonder if that is Gandalf coming after us,’ said Frodo; but even as he said it, he had a feeling that it was not so, and a sudden desire to hide from the view of the rider came over him.
‘It may not matter much,’ he said apologetically, ‘but I would rather not be seen on the road by anyone. I am sick of my doings being noticed and discussed. And if it is Gandalf,’ he added as an afterthought, ‘we can give him a little surprise, to pay him out for being so late. Let’s get out of sight!’
The other two ran quickly to the left and down into a little hollow not far from the road. There they lay flat. Frodo hesitated for a second: curiosity or some other feeling was struggling with his desire to hide. The sound of hoofs drew nearer. Just in time he threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree that overshadowed the road. Then he lifted his head and peered cautiously above one of the great roots.
Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.
When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.
A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring. ‘And I am still in the Shire,’ he thought, as his hand touched the chain on which it hung. At that moment the rider sat up, and shook the reins. The horse stepped forward, walking slowly at first, and then breaking into a quick trot.
Frodo crawled to the edge of the road and watched the rider, until he dwindled into the distance. He could not be quite sure, but it seemed to him that suddenly, before it passed out of sight, the horse turned aside and went into the trees on the right.”
Hush!’ said Frodo. ‘I think I hear hoofs again.’
They stopped suddenly and stood as silent as tree-shadows, listening. There was a sound of hoofs in the lane, some way behind, but coming slow and clear down the wind. Quickly and quietly they slipped off the path, and ran into the deeper shade under the oak-trees.
‘Don’t let us go too far!’ said Frodo. ‘I don’t want to be seen, but I want to see if it is another Black Rider.’
‘Very well!’ said Pippin. ‘But don’t forget the sniffing!’
The hoofs drew nearer. They had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees; Sam and Pippin crouched behind a large tree-bole, while Frodo crept back a few yards towards the lane. It showed grey and pale, a line of fading light through the wood. Above it the stars were thick in the dim sky, but there was no moon.
The sound of hoofs stopped. As Frodo watched he saw something dark pass across the lighter space between two trees, and then halt. It looked like the black shade of a horse led by a smaller black shadow. The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him.
Once more the desire to slip on the Ring came over Frodo; but this time it was stronger than before. So strong that, almost before he realized what he was doing, his hand was groping in his pocket. But at that moment there came a sound like mingled song and laughter. Clear voices rose and fell in the starlit air. The black shadow straightened up and retreated. It climbed on to the shadowy horse and seemed to vanish across the lane into the darkness on the other side. Frodo breathed again.”
Next excerpt is from the inn in Bree:
“Frodo found that Strider was now looking at him, as if he had heard or guessed all that had been said. Presently, with a wave of his hand and a nod, he invited Frodo to come over and sit by him. As Frodo drew near he threw back his hood, showing a shaggy head of dark hair necked with grey, and in a pale stern face a pair of keen grey eyes.
‘I am called Strider,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I am very pleased to meet you. Master Underhill, if old Butterbur got your name right.’
‘He did,’ said Frodo stiffly. He felt far from comfortable under the stare of those keen eyes.
‘Well, Master Underhill,’ said Strider, ‘if I were you, I should stop your young friends from talking too much. Drink, fire, and chance-meeting are pleasant enough, but, well this isn’t the Shire. There are queer folk about. Though I say it as shouldn’t, you may think,’ he added with a wry smile, seeing Frodo’s glance. ‘And there have been even stranger travellers through Bree lately,’ he went on, watching Frodo’s face.
They made Frodo have another drink, and then begin his song again, while many of them joined in; for the tune was well known, and they were quick at picking up words. It was now Frodo’s turn to feel pleased with himself. He capered about on the table; and when he came a second time to the cow jumped over the Moon, he leaped in the air. Much too vigorously; for he came down, bang, into a tray full of mugs, and slipped, and rolled off the table with a crash, clatter, and bump! The audience all opened their mouths wide for laughter, and stopped short a gaping silence; for the singer disappeared. He simply vanished, as if he had gone slap through the floor without leaving a hole!
The local hobbits stared in amazement, and then sprang to their feet and shouted for Barliman. All the company drew away from Pippin and Sam, who found themselves left alone in a corner, and eyed darkly and doubtfully from a distance. It was plain that many people regarded them now as the companions of a travelling magician of unknown powers and purpose. But there was one swarthy Bree-lander, who stood looking at them with a knowing and half-mocking expression that made them feel very uncomfortable. Presently he slipped out of the door, followed by the squint-eyed southerner: the two had been whispering together a good deal during the evening. Harry the gatekeeper also went out just behind them..
Frodo felt a fool. Not knowing what else to do, he crawled away under the tables to the dark corner by Strider, who sat unmoved, giving no sign of his thoughts. Frodo leaned back against the wall and took off the Ring. How it came to be on his finger he could not tell. He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall. For a moment he wondered if the Ring itself had not played him a trick; perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room. He did not like the looks of the men that had gone out.
‘Well?’ said Strider, when he reappeared. ‘Why did you do that? Worse than anything your friends could have said! You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Frodo, annoyed and alarmed.
‘Oh yes, you do,’ answered Strider; ‘but we had better wait until the uproar has died down. Then, if you please, Mr. Baggins, I should like a quiet word with you.’
‘What about?’ asked Frodo, ignoring the sudden use of his proper name.
‘A matter of some importance to us both,’ answered Strider, looking Frodo in the eye. ‘You may hear something to your advantage.’
Frodo, Pippin, and Sam made their way back to the parlour. There was no light. Merry was not there, and the fire had burned low. It was not until they had puffed up the embers into a blaze and thrown on a couple of faggots that they discovered Strider had come with them. There he was calmly sitting in a chair by the door!
‘Hallo!’ said Pippin. ‘Who are you, and what do you want?’
‘I am called Strider,’ he answered: ‘and though he may have forgotten it, your friend promised to have a quiet talk with me.’
‘You said I might hear something to my advantage, I believe,’ said Frodo. ‘What have you to say?’
‘Several things,’ answered Strider. ‘But, of course, I have my price.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Frodo sharply.
‘Don’t be alarmed! I mean just this: I will tell you what I know, and give you some good advice . but I shall want a reward.’
‘And what will that be, pray?’ said Frodo. He suspected now that he had fallen in with a rascal, and he thought uncomfortably that he had brought only a little money with him. All of it would hardly satisfy a rogue, and he could not spare any of it.
‘No more than you can afford,’ answered Strider with a slow smile, as if he guessed Frodo’s thoughts. ‘Just this: you must take me along with you, until I wish to leave you.’
‘Oh, indeed!’ replied Frodo, surprised, but not much relieved. ‘Even if I wanted another companion, I should not agree to any such thing, until I knew a good deal more about you, and your business.’
‘Excellent!’ exclaimed Strider, crossing his legs and sitting back comfortably. ‘You seem to be coming to your senses again, and that is all to the good. You have been much too careless so far. Very well! I will tell you what I know, and leave thereward to you. You may be glad to grant it, when you have heard me.’
‘Go on then!’ said Frodo. ‘What do you know?’
‘Too much; too many dark things,’ said Strider grimly. ‘But as for your business -‘ He got up and went to the door, opened it quickly and looked out. Then he shut it quietly and sat down again. ‘I have quick ears,’ he went on, lowering his voice, ‘and though I cannot disappear, I have hunted many wild and wary things and I can usually avoid being seen, if I wish. Now, I was behind the hedge this evening on the Road west of Bree, when four hobbits came out of the Downlands. I need not repeat all that they said to old Bombadil or to one another, but one thing interested me. Please remember, said one of them, that the name Baggins must not be mentioned. I am Mr. Underhill, if any name must be given. That interested me so much that I followed them here. I slipped over the gate just behind them. Maybe Mr. Baggins has an honest reason for leaving his name behind; but if so, I should advise him and his friends to be more careful.’
‘I don’t see what interest my name has for any one in Bree,’ said Frodo angrily, ‘and I have still to learn why it interests you. Mr. Strider may have an honest reason for spying and eavesdropping; but if so, I should advise him to explain it.’
‘Well answered!’ said Strider laughing. ‘But the explanation is simple:
I was looking for a Hobbit called Frodo Baggins. I wanted to find him quickly. I had learned that he was carrying out of the Shire, well, a secret that concerned me and my friends.
‘Now, don’t mistake me!’ he cried, as Frodo rose from his seat, and Sam jumped up with a scowl. ‘I shall take more care of the secret than you do. And care is needed!’ He leaned forward and looked at them. ‘Watch every shadow!’ he said in a low voice. ‘Black horsemen have passed through Bree. On Monday one came down the Greenway, they say; and another appeared later, coming up the Greenway from the south.’
There was a silence. At last Frodo spoke to Pippin and Sam: ‘I ought to have guessed it from the way the gatekeeper greeted us,’ he said. ‘And the landlord seems to have heard something. Why did he press us to join the company? And why on earth did we behave so foolishly: we ought to have stayed quiet in here.’
‘It would have been better,’ said Strider. ‘I would have stopped your going into the common-room, if I could; but the innkeeper would not let me in to see you, or take a message.’
‘Do you think he—? began Frodo.
‘No, I don’t think any harm of old Butterbur. Only he does not altogether like mysterious vagabonds of my sort.’ Frodo gave him a puzzled look. ‘Well, I have rather a rascally look, have I not?’ said Strider with a curl of his lip and a queer gleam in his eye. ‘But I hope we shall get to know one another better. When we do, I hope you will explain what happened at the end of your song. For that little prank—?
‘It was sheer accident!’ interrupted Frodo.
‘I wonder,’ said Strider. ‘Accident, then. That accident has made your position dangerous.’
‘Hardly more than it was already,’ said Frodo. ‘I knew these horsemen were pursuing me; but now at any rate they seem to have missed me and to have gone away.’
‘You must not count on that!’ said Strider sharply. ‘They will return. And more are coming. There are others. I know their number. I know these Riders.’ He paused, and his eyes were cold and hard. ‘And there are some folk in Bree who are not to be trusted,’ he went on. ‘Bill Ferny, for instance. He has an evil name in the Bree-land, and queer folk call at his house. You must have noticed him among the company: a swarthy sneering fellow. He was very close with one of the Southern strangers, and they slipped out together just after your “accident”. Not all of those Southerners mean well; and as for Ferny, he would sell anything to anybody; or make mischief for amusement.’
‘What will Ferny sell, and what has my accident got to do with him?’ said Frodo, still determined not to understand Strider’s hints.
‘News of you, of course,’ answered Strider. ‘An account of your performance would be very interesting to certain people. After that they would hardly need to be told your real name. It seems to me only too likely that they will hear of it before this night is over. Is that enough? You can do as you like about my reward: take me as a guide or not. But I may say that I know all the lands between the Shire and the Misty Mountains, for I have wandered over them for many years. I am older than I look. I might prove useful. You will have to leave the open road after tonight; for the horsemen will watch it night and day. You may escape from Bree, and be allowed to go forward while the Sun is up; but you won’t go far. They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!’
The hobbits looked at him, and saw with surprise that his face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair. The room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim. For a while he sat with unseeing eyes as if walking in distant memory or listening to sounds in the Night far away.
‘There!’ he cried after a moment, drawing his hand across his brow. ‘Perhaps I know more about these pursuers than you do. You fear them, but you do not fear them enough, yet. Tomorrow you will have to escape, if you can. Strider can take you by paths that are seldom trodden. Will you have him?’
At that moment they heard a door slam; then feet came running along the passage. Merry came in with a rush followed by Nob. He shut the door hastily, and leaned against it. He was out of breath. They stared at him in alarm for a moment before he gasped: ‘I have seen them, Frodo! I have seen them! Black Riders!’
‘Black Riders!’ cried Frodo. ‘Where?’
‘Here. In the village. I stayed indoors for an hour. Then as you did not come back, I went out for a stroll. I had come back again and was standing just outside the light of the lamp looking at the stars. Suddenly I shivered and felt that something horrible was creeping near: there was a deeper shade among the shadows across the road, just beyond the edge of the lamplight. It slid away at once into the dark without a sound. There was no horse.’
‘Which way did it go?’ asked Strider, suddenly and sharply. Merry startled, noticing the stranger for the first time. ‘Go on!’ said Frodo. ‘This is a friend of Gandalf’s. I will explain later.’
‘It seemed to make off up the Road, eastward,’ continued Merry. ‘I tried to follow. Of course, it vanished almost at once; but I went round the corner and on as far as the last house on the Road.’
Strider looked at Merry with wonder. ‘You have a stout heart,’ he said; ‘but it was foolish.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Merry. ‘Neither brave nor silly, I think. I could hardly help myself. I seemed to be drawn somehow. Anyway, I went, and suddenly I heard voices by the hedge. One was muttering; and the other was whispering, or hissing. I couldn’t hear a word that was said. I did not creep any closer, because I began to tremble all over. Then I felt terrified, and I turned back, and was just going to bolt home, when something came behind me and I… I fell over.’
‘I found him, sir,’ put in Nob. ‘Mr. Butterbur sent me out with a lantern. I went down to West-gate, and then back up towards South-gate. Just nigh Bill Ferny’s house I thought I could see something in the Road. I couldn’t swear to it, but it looked to me as if two men was stooping over something, lilting it. I gave a shout, but where I got up to the spot there was no signs of them, and only Mr. Brandybuck lying by the roadside. He seemed to be asleep. “I thought I had fallen into deep water,” he says to me, when I shook him. Very queer he was, and as soon as I had roused him, he got up and ran back here like a hare.’
‘I am afraid that’s true,’ said Merry, ‘though I don’t know what I said. I had an ugly dream, which I can’t remember. I went to pieces. I don’t know what came over me.’
‘I do,’ said Strider. ‘The Black Breath. The Riders must have left their horses outside, and passed back through the South-gate in secret. They will know all the news now, for they have visited Bill Ferny; and probably that Southerner was a spy as well. Something may happen in the night, before we leave Bree.’
‘What will happen?’ said Merry. ‘Will they attack the inn?’ ‘No, I think not,’ said Strider. ‘They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people -not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe, the gatekeeper too. They had words with Harry at West-gate on Monday. I was watching them. He was white and shaking when they left him.’
‘We seem to have enemies all round,’ said Frodo. ‘What are we to do?’
‘Stay here, and do not go to your rooms! They are sure to have found out which those are. The hobbit-rooms have windows looking north and close to the ground. We will all remain together and bar this window and the door. But first Nob and I will fetch your luggage.’
While Strider was gone, Frodo gave Merry a rapid account of all that had happened since supper. Merry was still reading and pondering Gandalf’s letter when Strider and Nob returned.
‘Well Masters,’ said Nob, ‘I’ve ruffled up the clothes and put in a bolster down the middle of each bed. And I made a nice imitation of your head with a brown woollen mat, Mr. Bag… Underhill, sir,’ he added with a grin.
Pippin laughed. ‘Very life-like!’ he said. ‘But what will happen when they have penetrated the disguise?’
‘We shall see,’ said Strider. ‘Let us hope to hold the fort till morning.’
‘Good night to you,’ said Nob, and went off to take his part in the watch on the doors.
Their bags and gear they piled on the parlour-floor. They pushed a low chair against the door and shut the window. Peering out, Frodo saw that the night was still clear. The Sickle was swinging bright above the shoulders of Bree-hill. He then closed and barred the heavy inside shutters and drew the curtains together. Strider built up the fire and blew out all the candles.
The hobbits lay down on their blankets with their feet towards the hearth; but Strider settled himself in the chair against the door. They talked for a little, for Merry still had several questions to ask.
‘Jumped over the Moon!’ chuckled Merry as he rolled himself in his blanket. ‘Very ridiculous of you, Frodo! But I wish I had been there to see. The worthies of Bree will be discussing it a hundred years hence.’
‘I hope so,’ said Strider. Then they all fell silent, and one by one the hobbits dropped off to sleep.
The night deepened. There came the soft sound of horses led with stealth along the lane. Outside the gate they stopped, and three black figures entered, like shades of night creeping across the ground. One went to the door, one to the corner of the house on either side; and there they stood, as still as the shadows of stones, while night went slowly on. The house and the quiet trees seemed to be waiting breathlessly.
There was a faint stir in the leaves, and a cock crowed far away. The cold hour before dawn was passing. The figure by the door moved. In the dark without moon or stars a drawn blade gleamed, as if a chill light had been unsheathed. There was a blow, soft but heavy, and the door shuddered.
‘Open, in the name of Mordor!’ said a voice thin and menacing.
At a second blow the door yielded and fell back, with timbers burst and lock broken. The black figures passed swiftly in.
At that moment, among the trees nearby, a horn rang out. It rent the night like fire on a hill-top.
AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!
Fatty Bolger had not been idle. As soon as he saw the dark shapes creep from the garden, he knew that he must run for it, or perish. And run he did, out of the back door, through the garden, and over the fields. When he reached the nearest house, more than a mile away, he collapsed on the doorstep. ‘No, no, no!’ he was crying. ‘No, not me! I haven’t got it!’ It was some time before anyone could make out what he was babbling about. At last they got the idea that enemies were in Buckland, some strange invasion from the Old Forest. And then they lost no more time.
FEAR! FIRE! FOES!
The Brandybucks were blowing the Horn-call of Buckland, that had not been sounded for a hundred years, not since the white wolves came in the Fell Winter, when the Brandywine was frozen over.
Far-away answering horns were heard. The alarm was spreading. The black figures fled from the house. One of them let fall a hobbit-cloak on the step, as he ran. In the lane the noise of hoofs broke out, and gathering to a gallop, went hammering away into the darkness. All about Crickhollow there was the sound of horns blowing, and voices crying and feet running. But the Black Riders rode like a gale to the North-gate. Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later. Meanwhile they had another errand: they knew now that the house was empty and the Ring had gone. They rode down the guards at the gate and vanished from the Shire.
In the early night Frodo woke from deep sleep, suddenly, as if some sound or presence had disturbed him. He saw that Strider was sitting alert in his chair: his eyes gleamed in the light of the fire, which had been tended and was burning brightly; but he made no sign or movement.
Frodo soon went to sleep again; but his dreams were again troubled with the noise of wind and of galloping hoofs. The wind seemed to be curling round the house and shaking it; and far off he heard a horn blowing wildly. He opened his eyes, and heard a cock crowing lustily in the inn-yard. Strider had drawn the curtains and pushed back the shutters with a clang. The first grey light of day was in the room, and a cold air was coming through the open window.
As soon as Strider had roused them all, he led the way to their bedrooms. When they saw them they were glad that they had taken his advice: the windows had been forced open and were swinging, and the curtains were flapping; the beds were tossed about, and the bolsters slashed and flung upon the floor; the brown mat was torn to pieces.
On the Weather Top:
They stood for a while silent on the hill-top, near its southward edge. In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger. He wished bitterly that his fortune had left him in the quiet and beloved Shire. He stared down at the hateful Road, leading back westward to his home. Suddenly he was aware that two black specks were moving slowly along it, going westward; and looking again he saw that three others were creeping eastward to meet them. He gave a cry and clutched Strider’s arm.
‘Look,’ he said, pointing downwards.
At once Strider flung himself on the ground behind the ruined circle, pulling Frodo down beside him. Merry threw himself alongside.
‘What is it?’ he whispered.
‘I do not know, but I fear the worst,’ answered Strider.
Slowly they crawled up to the edge of the ring again, and peered through a cleft between two jagged stones. The light was no longer bright, for the clear morning had faded, and clouds creeping out of the East had now overtaken the sun, as it began to go down. They could all see the black specks, but neither Frodo nor Merry could make out their shapes for certain; yet something told them that there, far below, were Black Riders assembling on the Road beyond the foot of the hill.‘Yes,’ said Strider, whose keener sight left him in no doubt. ‘The enemy is here!’
Sam and Merry got up and walked away from the fire. Frodo and Pippin remained seated in silence. Strider was watching the moonlight on the hill intently. All seemed quiet and still, but Frodo felt a cold dread creeping over his heart, now that Strider was no longer speaking. He huddled closer to the fire. At that moment Sam came running back from the edge of the dell.
‘I don’t know what it is,’ he said, ‘but I suddenly felt afraid. I durstn’t go outside this dell for any money; I felt that something was creeping up the slope.’
‘Did you see anything?’ asked Frodo, springing to his feet.
‘No, sir. I saw nothing, but I didn’t stop to look.’
‘I saw something,’ said Merry; ‘or I thought I did. Away westwards where the moonlight was falling on the flats beyond the shadow of the hill-tops, I thought there were two or three black shapes. They seemed to be moving this way.’
‘Keep close to the fire, with your faces outward!’ cried Strider. ‘Get some of the longer sticks ready in your hands!’
For a breathless time they sat there, silent and alert, with their backs turned to the wood-fire, each gazing into the shadows that encircled them. Nothing happened. There was no sound or movement in the night. Frodo stirred, feeling that he must break the silence: he longed to shout out aloud.
‘Hush!’ whispered Strider. ‘What’s that?’ gasped Pippin at the same moment.
Over the lip of the little dell, on the side away from the hill, they felt, rather than saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. They strained their eyes, and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt:
Three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them. So black were they that they seemed like black holes in the deep shade behind them. Frodo thought that he heard a faint hiss as of venomous breath and felt a thin piercing chill. Then the shapes slowly advanced.
Terror overcame Pippin and Merry, and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo’s side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger. He could not speak. He felt Sam looking at him, as if he knew that his master was in some great trouble, but he could not turn towards him. He shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand.
Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.
At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. A shrill cry rang out in the night; and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder. Even as he swooned he caught, as through a swirling mist, a glimpse of Strider leaping out of the darkness with a flaming brand of wood in either hand. With a last effort Frodo, dropping his sword, slipped the Ring from his finger and closed his right hand tight upon it.”