Trying to be a bit more expeditious this time, but man, there's a lot of information here.
Once again, spoilers for anything Middle-earth might be found here.
What Happens: Frodo goes on with his life, with late-growing restlessness, for sixteen years. He's forty-nine, Gandalf hasn't been seen for nine years, and there are strange rumours about; so he starts collecting bad news of a dark power growing in Mordor after being driven out of Mirkwood.
Sam and Ted Sandyman (the miller's son) talk in an inn (a different inn) about the strange rumours; Ted doesn't believe them and doesn't see the relevance regardless, while Sam is thoughtful and concerned.
Gandalf re-appears, reveals the fiery letters on the Ring, and provides an enormous info-dump. He was concerned about it from the start, but since he couldn't take it from Bilbo and Saruman's general information about rings was reassuring, he left it. After the party, he determined to figure things out. Aragorn finally found Gollum, and between his information and the lore of the Wise, Gandalf tells the Ring's history: the forging; Sauron's defeat; Isildur's death at the river; Sméagol's murder of Déagol, transformation into Gollum, attempt to track Bilbo and capture by Mordor; and the resulting danger to the Shire.
Frodo chooses to take the Ring out of the Shire to save it. Sam has been eavesdropping, Gandalf catches him, and tells him to go with Frodo, to Sam's joy.
The opening parallels the first chapter, opening with the town's general opinion of Bilbo and then moving to a conversation at an inn.
In the inn conversation, the Gaffer's son and the miller's son occupy their fathers' narrative positions, but aren't the same; Sam is more open-minded, Ted is less nasty (though just as close-minded). This is the conversation that hints at strange things coming up against small-town complacency, not the one in the first chapter, but they're so similar that it's no surprise that people mistake them.
* * * *
As Frodo becomes more restless, we're told, "He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams." The Valar taking a subtle hand?
Anyone here seen Grosse Pointe Blank? When I got to the timeline here, I hear Jeremy Piven in my head going "Ten years!" Only, you know, sixteen years instead. I know this gets the times all symbolic and aligned and stuff, but it really strains my suspension of disbelief.
* * * *
I tend to notice the rhythmic reversals pointed out by LeGuin most at the start of things, before I fall into the story, so Gandalf's opening lines when he starts info-dumping stood out:
In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles — yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.
Also, setting the conversation during the bright day provides handy built-in opportunities for release of stress.
* * * *
Does Gandalf touch the Ring to throw it into the fire?
Frodo took it from his breeches-pocket, where it was clasped to a chain that hung from his belt. He unfastened it and handed it slowly to the wizard. It felt suddenly very heavy, as if either it or Frodo himself was in some way reluctant for Gandalf to touch it.
Gandalf held it up. It looked to be made of pure and solid gold. . . . To Frodo's astonishment and distress the wizard threw it suddenly into the middle of a glowing corner of the fire.
He's probably holding it up by the chain, but it's surprising that it is ambiguious.
* * * *
Smeagol & Gollum:
The characterization of Smeagol pre-Ring caught my attention; it starts out positive or at least neutral, and then progresses, well, downward:
He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunnelled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.
I think I need to flag "pursuit of knowledge" as well as a theme to look for.
The power Gollum was given by the Ring: "He was very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it; and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses. He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature." I heard it suggested at a Boskone that later, the power he was given was secrecy, which maybe explains how he stayed hidden for so long even with all those goblins around and Sauron in Dol Goldur.
* * * *
The other significant conversations:
"What, just in time to meet Bilbo?" said Frodo. "Wouldn't an Orc have suited it better?"
"It is no laughing matter," said Gandalf. "Not for you. It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far: Bilbo's arrival just at that time, and putting his hand on it, blindly, in the dark.
"There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur's hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!
"Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that maybe an encouraging thought."
"What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!"
"Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."
"I am sorry," said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."
"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.
"No, and I don't want to," said Frodo. "I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."
"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many — yours not least."
* * * *
I didn't talk much about my personal emotional reaction to the first chapter, mostly because I don't have much of one. Here, my predominant reaction is, during the info-dump, getting a bit annoyed at Frodo's reactions before deciding to leave—perfectly understandable reactions, of course, but still. I can't remember now if I was ever surprised that Frodo chooses to take the Ring out of the Shire (just as Bilbo chose to leave it behind).
* * * *
Some miscellanous things about the big info-dump conversation:
- Foreshadowing/repeated image: "Fear seemed to stretch out a vast hand, like a dark cloud rising in the East and looming up to engulf him."
- Frodo calls the Ring precious twice in this chapter, once out loud and once in his thoughts (and once characterizing Golllum's thoughts).
- Chad once met a waitress who had the Elvish Ring verse tattooed on her shoulderblade.
- Okay, one movie thing: sometimes it puts more emphasis on lines that I wouldn't otherwise have noticed. The "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" conversation doesn't even get a separate paragraph in the text.
* * * *
The ending fails for me: "'Me, sir!' cried Sam, springing up like a dog invited for a walk. 'Me go and see Elves and all! Hooray!' he shouted, and then burst into tears."
I can see bursting into tears of shock and joy immediately; I can see bouncing around in joy; I can't see doing them in this order. Also, while the dog simile is vivid (having acquired a dog since the last time I read this), I do find the overall effect unfortunate.
[Edit: I realized last night just before bed that I wanted to talk about the structure and mechanics of the info-dump conversation more, but that I also needed to sleep, eat, and work. So that post will come tonight.]