The Fellowship of the Ring: Part II

Right on schedule, I’ve finished Fellowship of the Ring for the Lord of the Rings Readalong, hosted this month by Clare. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the first part of the book here. Today, I’ll be focusing on Part 2.

The first part of Fellowship focused primarily on hobbits, but the second half of the book broadens the story considerably, giving us nine central characters, the titular fellowship. The fellowship is formed in Rivendell and comprises nine walkers—to match the nine riders who were pursuing Frodo in the first half of the book. There are the four hobbits that we already know, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin; the wizard Gandalf; two men, Aragorn and Boromir; one elf, Legolas; and one dwarf, Gimli. The group represents all the free peoples of Middle Earth, and their quest is to take the ring to the East—perhaps all the way to Mordor where it can be destroyed.

As with the first part of the book, I love how Tolkien eases the reader into the story. The company is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters, so it’s not at all overwhelming. And each member of the company has his own personality and motivation for coming. It does take a while to get to know the personalities of the three newcomers to the group, but it’s clear that each one has a history, even if most of that history is the history of his people. (This seems to be particularly the case with Legolas and Gimli, and one of the treats of the book is seeing the two overcome their antipathy for the other that results from their people’s history.)

This section includes some of the best suspense writing I’ve ever encountered. The chapters about the journey through Moria kept me up late on my first reading of the series, many years ago, and the impact is only slightly lessened with multiple readings since. The phrase “Drums. Drums in the deep” still sends shivers down my spine. On this read, I thought a lot about what makes it work so well. [Note: This discussion will get slightly spoilerly, but only slightly. I will be as vague as possible regarding the outcome of the journey.]

Moria is referenced several times before the company gets there. The longest discussion of the great dwarvish kingdom is in Gloin’s story of the disappearance of Balin and the other dwarves who attempted to reopen the mines. It’s a mystery and an interesting one because it involves characters from The Hobbit, but there’s nothing to make the reader suspect that the fellowship’s quest will involve this dread place. 

The first real hint of its significance comes with the dispute between Gandalf and Aragorn about whether to journey through Moria. These two have always seemed to be of one mind, so the fact that they are openly arguing is startling. And Aragorn in particular seems set against it, not for the sake of the company but for Gandalf’s sake. So we know it will be a dangerous path. And then the company ends up not having a choice. They get there, they get in, and they’re locked in.

The scene that stands out to me the most is the reading of Balin’s journal. Hearing the desperate final written words of the dwarves is chilling, made even more so because there are so few details. What did happen there? And then the company hears the drums.

At the point, my anxiety as a reader is at a fever pitch. On my first read, I was young enough not to suspect just how serious the situation was—I knew it was dangerous, but the outcome hit me hard. For some reason, at age 14, I thought central characters of fantasy/adventure stories lived in a sort of protective bubble. I had no idea that a writer might go so far as to kill a central character. (Well, except in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but that was a special case.) After staying up until the wee hours to see the company through Moria on my first reading, I then ended up crying myself to sleep. Subsequent readings haven’t had quite that effect on me, because I know what’s coming, but I do still sometimes get a lump in my throat at the words, “Fly, you fools!”

Of course, after Moria, we have the lovely sojourn in Lothlórien, where on this read I was especially moved by Gimli’s encounter with Galadriel, the elf who rules Lothlórien with her husband Celeborn. (And incidentally, she seems to be the partner with the greater power, which is a wonderful thing to see in such a male-dominated story.)

I’ve always been moved by Gimli’s affection for Galadriel, but I’d never paid close attention to the passage where she wins his heart. It happens just after the elves have been complaining about the folly of going to Moria (Khazad-dûm in the dwarves’ language), and they’re obliquely blaming the dwarves, and Gimli as their representative, for what has happened there. And then Galadriel speaks:

Do not repent of your welcome to the Dwarf. If our folk had been exiled long and far from Lothlórien, who of the Galadrim, even Celeborn the Wise, would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons.

‘Dark is the water of Kheled-Zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dûm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.’ She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer.

One of the things that struck me here was the power of Galadriel’s not just speaking words of understanding, but speaking them in Gimli’s own language. It’s a remarkable moment and one that, I think, shows Tolkien’s ability to make goodness and grace more appealing and powerful than evil and resentment. Intimate moments like this are what make this epic story truly memorable.

In March, the readalong will focus on The Two Towers, and I’ll be hosting the discussions. Stop in again on Monday for an introductory post.

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13 Responses to The Fellowship of the Ring: Part II

  1. gaskella says:

    Lovely post Teresa, to be honest I finished reading it weeks ago, and delayed posting until a few moments ago about the second half, and had forgotten some of the subleties you’ve picked up on. Although, I haven’t really bonded with the dwarves, I adored Galadriel (wasn’t Kate Blanchett good in the film?) However, I can’t wait to get going on the next book..

    • Teresa says:

      Oh I love Galadriel, and Cate Blachett was great in the film. She got the mix of gentleness and power just right (although I really wish Peter Jackson had held back on the scary monster effects during the temptation scene).

  2. Jenny says:

    The end of February really crept up on me! I have to finish this book today. I really, really cannot wait for The Two Towers. It’s my favorite of the trilogy, or at least it was the last time I read through these books.

  3. Jo says:

    Well, I may just need to join in and read these again! I loved your discussion about Moria, and I agree that Tolkein does suspense really, really well!

  4. Kristen M. says:

    I thought one of the biggest contrasts between the movies and the book that I noticed this time through is that Tolkien doesn’t really do action scenes and yet his books have more than enough suspense. Now the movies seem a bit heavy-handed in some parts!

    And I forgot to put it in my review (that’s what comes from finishing the book at 10:30pm the night before I want to post about it!) but I really enjoyed the Tom Bombadil part so much more this time through!

    • Teresa says:

      Kristen: I had the same thought about the action. The fight scene in Moria for instance was much longer in the movie than it seemed in the book. But, for me, the book is still much, much scarier during that section.

  5. EL Fay says:

    Great post – you really summed up the book well. I was actually somewhat disappointed with the Moria scenes compared to how awesome they were in the movie, particularly the Balrog. But Gandalf’s lines are immortal: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” “Fly, you fools!”

    I also have to say I was rather sorry to see Arwen so left out.

    Which all makes me feel somewhat guilty as a reader, to be comparing a masterpiece to its equally epic film version, made decades after the author’s death. But then, I wouldn’t have read this book if it hadn’t been for the movies, since I’m not a fantasy person at all. I can’t wait to see how the humongous battle scenes work out in The Two Towers. Thanks for letting me know about this read-along!

    • Teresa says:

      EL Fay: That’s so weird, because after being totally swept away by the Moria scenes in the book, the scenes in the movie, while well done, didn’t thrill me.

      And I do agree with you about Arwen. That’s a huge improvement Jackson made. On my first two readings of the book, I couldn’t remember her at all when she showed up in book 3, and that is a real flaw. I can see the hints about her relationship with Aragorn now, but Tolkien was much too subtle about it.

      I do tend to gripe about aspects of the movie, more so with the second and third books, but when I hear that people pick up the books because of the movies, I can’t be too annoyed.

      I’m glad I spotted your FOTR post, so you could join in. It’s been fun to compare thoughts with others.

  6. rebeccareid says:

    I am enjoying it much more this time around. I’m in chapter 5 of part 2, so they are on there way to Moria. (I may finish it tonight if I stay up late…) I have to say my favorite part was the beginning when he was setting up the scene in the Shire. I felt like it looses some of the focus when we meet all the people. Why did it take so long to do so? But then I remember this is only 400 pages of 1000, so there is much more to the story. Then it may feel balanced in the end.

    I also enjoyed whenever they were talking about the traditions and the lands becaase I really did enjoy Silmarillion. So far, I enjoyed Silmarillion more than this! I will keep reading and giving it a chance, though. It is beautifully written.

    • Teresa says:

      Rebecca: The Council of Elrond is a deathly scene for many, especially on first read because it does go on and on. But Moria–if you’re like I was on first read, expect a late night.

      I’m still fascinated that you liked The Silmarillion better. You make me want to revisit it! You do get more history and traditions of different races as the book goes on, so I think you’ll enjoy all that.

  7. J.G. says:

    Thanks for your insights! I couldn’t agree with you more! Moria is incredibly tense: all that waiting, trapped in the dark. And just when you find out what happened via the record book, uh-oh, now it’s happening to you.

    Gandalf’s fall is crushing on first read, but subsequently my reaction is always a mix of “Yep, that’s Gandalf, cranky ’til the last!” and “Yep, that’s Gandalf, always thinking about the big picture.” His last words capture two major aspects of his character in three syllables.

    The meeting of Galadriel and Gimli has a similar build-up; we hear a lot of hints about racial enmity and see evidence of the distrust, and then it’s swept aside by kindness and understanding. What a beautiful moment.

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