The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books 2002) pp. 114-122
It doesn’t take long for Frodo, Sam, and Pippin to encounter trouble after they depart Hobbiton on their way to Bree to meet Gandalf. There is talk of mysterious folk about in the Shire, and it appears they are in hot pursuit of the Hobbits. A particularly close encounter with these mysterious Black Riders is thwarted by a chance encounter with some very unlikely friendly faces.
“These are High Elves!”, says Frodo, as the Hobbits finally glimpse those whose singing voices had frightened off the Black Rider who had been stalking them. “Few of that fairest folk are ever seen in the Shire. Not many now remain in Middle-earth, east of the Great Sea. This is indeed a strange chance!” Frodo continues.
This encounter is a strange chance indeed, but discovering Elves in the Shire is actually not an altogether unlikely prospect, and the reason for the Elves’ presence in this situation is not mere coincidence. This is something that could be discussed at length in another post all to itself, but most of the Elves are in the midst of departing Middle-earth and returning to the western lands across the sea. Again, it’s a long story for another time, but this particular company of Elves, as Gildor explains to Frodo, is tarrying in these lands a while before they depart into the West.
As one could imagine, the Hobbits, coming directly off of a harrowing close call with the Black Rider, seem a bit shell-shocked to suddenly be in the safe company of these glorious beings that they have never seen before. Tolkien describes Sam’s expression as “half of fear and half of astonished joy”, and Pippin later recalls the experience, saying that he recalls little of the food or drink (which is really saying something, coming from a Hobbit) because his mind was “filled with the light upon the Elf-faces, and the sound of voices so various and so beautiful that he felt he was in a waking dream.” The lavish hospitality of the Elves toward the Hobbits renders these reactions quite unsurprising. “There is a fire in the hall, and food for hungry guests.” I hope I may always be as hospitable as the Elves when I encounter those desperate for refuge, food, and shelter.
Frodo’s experience during this meeting is quite different from the others given his position as Ring-bearer and the subject of this quest that the Hobbits are on. Though Gildor, the leader of this company of Elves, does not know of the Ring or of the purpose of the Hobbits’ flight, is observant enough to ascertain that these Black Riders that are roaming the Shire are in pursuit of Frodo and company for some reason, though he does not press Frodo as to why. Frodo and Gildor have a lengthy conversation through the night, and I cannot express to you, readers, how much I love this exchange between Frodo and Gildor. I would so much love to see this interchange portrayed in film by actors, but I know that this meeting with the Elves involves so much backstory that would not have made much sense and would have taken too much time too include in the Peter Jackson film.
Frodo expresses his confusion to Gildor about why these mysterious riders are pursuing him. “I knew that danger lay ahead, of course; but I did not expect to meet it in our own Shire”, Frodo laments. “But it is not your own Shire,” Gildor tells him. “Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”
There are at least two reasons why I can scarcely read this passage without tears welling in my eyes. (There may be others but I haven’t quite figured out how to express them yet). First, and I don’t mean to put too fine a point on this as I speak solely from my personal worldview, I live in a place that tends to prefer to fence itself in from the rest of the world, or perhaps more accurately prefers to fence the rest of the world out. This saddens me, because while there is danger that may be invited through an open door, there is also great camaraderie and mutual benefit in collaboration. Frodo and company encountered both the Black Rider and the Elves in the same place at the same time, and were it not for the presence of the Elves they may well have been overcome by the Rider. Second, Gildor’s words remind me of how inconsequential the problems of one people in one place at one time are in the scope of all of time. People existed long before us, and they will exist long after us, and the issues of the day will be eventually be a long-forgotten memory. I certainly don’t say this to diminish the hardships that individual people in individual time periods face, but to acknowledge that there were people long before us and there will be people long after us, and our petty grievances and paranoias will eventually be forgotten in time. There is some comfort to be found in putting things into the perspective of millions of years.
Readers, as always, I cannot express how grateful I am that any of you would take the time to read about my experience with these stories. If any of you feel that anyone else you know may be interested in what I write on this blog, I welcome you to share this blog with them. I always look forward to discussing Tolkien with anyone who would like to do so.