My sinuses are giving me trouble, again, so I'm not in the most charitable mood; but regardless, I'm not finding this chapter very interesting. I'll just start talking and see what I can find.
What Happens: Around the end of April, Gandalf tells Frodo he should leave soon. Frodo suggests by September 22, his and Bilbo's birthday; Gandalf reluctantly agrees, and suggests that he head for Rivendell. At the end of June, Gandalf leaves to look into some worrying news, and says he'll be back by the birthday/farewell party; he thinks he'll be needed on the road.
Frodo sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses, and arranges to move to Buckland. Gandalf doesn't show for the party, and Frodo sets off without him and with Pippin and Sam (Merry and Fatty Bolger having gone on ahead). As Frodo is leaving, a sinister black rider, Man-sized, asks the Gaffer next-door where Frodo's gone; the Gaffer thinks that they've already left and says so. The (or a) black rider comes along the road the next day, and seems to sniff after the hidden hobbits; Frodo feels an urge to put on the Ring but does not.
That night, a black rider comes near their camp, but retreats when Elves are heard singing nearby. The Elves, upon hearing of the black riders, take the hobbits to their lodgings for the night. Their leader, Gildor, is concerned that Gandalf is late, and earnestly counsels Frodo to flee the deadly Black Riders, who are servants of the Enemy. After this conversation, Frodo falls asleep.
Logistics first. I understand why Frodo was reluctant to leave the Shire right away, I do—I procrastinate even when life-changing events aren't at stake, after all. But I like to be practical, and if someone told me that evil was searching for me in a particular place and was coming ever closer to finding that plce, I hope I would overcome my reluctance and leave the place that evil was searching for as soon as possible. Yes, even if Gandalf claimed to be okay with my delay.
I do give Frodo credit for not waiting for Gandalf, however.
* * * *
I note that this chapter also has a inn scene after the opening scene, though this one is at a further remove, not at one inn and not with named participants other than Frodo:
One summer's evening an astonishing piece of news reached the Ivy Bush and Green Dragon. Giants and other portents on the borders of the Shire were forgotten for more important matters: Mr. Frodo was selling Bag End, indeed he had already sold it — to the Sackville-Bagginses!
I presume this pattern will be broken with the next chapter, when the hobbits are still on the road.
* * * *
Even before the black rider questions the Gaffer, the journey is ominous through Gandalf's mysterious absence and the melancholy of leaving a beloved home. Perhaps it's familiarity that makes the black rider not very scary to me when talking to the Gaffer, or perhaps it's that the rider isn't that scary yet.
There's an interpretive narrative intrusion here:
He had half a mind to go and ask the Gaffer who the inquirer was; but he thought better (or worse) of it, and turned and walked quickly back to Bag End.
(Emphasis added.) I'm not sure I think that intrusion was necessary.
Later on, there's a much-remarked-on POV shift with bonus narrative intrusion:
A few creatures came and looked at them when the fire had died away. A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.
"Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There's something mighty queer behind this." He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.
This is the first indication in LotR proper that animals in Middle-earth are (or may be) sentient. Whether that's enough to justify its inclusion, I'm also not sure.
* * * *
More echoes of the past: Sam is said to look like a dwarf as they prepare to leave Bag End.
* * * *
Reading this closely makes me appreciate the descriptions of the landscape, which provide a good deal of atmosphere that reinforces the story's tone: for instance, safety as they make camp the first night ("deep resin-scented darkness of the trees"), or waking up into the unknown the next morning ("Away eastward the sun was rising red out of the mists that lay thick on the world. Touched with gold and red the autumn trees seemed to be sailing rootless in a shadowy sea.").
* * * *
Elves, never in need of flashlights?
They bore no lights, yet as they walked a shimmer, like the light of the moon above the rim of the hills before it rises, seemed to fall about their feet.
It wouldn't surprise me if this were limited to High Elves, given the associations with light and the West.
* * * *
The famous exchange:
Gildor was silent for a moment. "I do not like this news," he said at last. "That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait."
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."
"Is it indeed?" laughed Gildor. "Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?"
Crunchy and good with ketchup, I know—is there a compliation of the variants? But it's another underlining of the theme of choice.
* * * *
Poetry (or, in which Kate reveals her lack of appreciation and understanding):
Frodo's "road goes ever on" fragment: is this good? It's not doing much for me.
The hobbits' walking song does indeed have a strong rhythm. Um, that's about it. (Look, my idea of a good walking song is "Sally Maclennane," okay?)
The Elves' song is obviously of a different verse form, that's clear to me, and with antiquely inverted syntax. The exclamation points make it hard for me to imagine it as song lyrics, somehow. I freely admit this is a failing of mine.
Relatedly, the Elves place a great deal of emphasis on language and Frodo knowing theirs, offering him aid in part because of it.
* * * *
Pippin is a bit high-handed in ordering Sam around when they wake up the first morning ("Sam! Get breakfast ready for half-past nine! Have you got the bath-water hot?"), but (1) he's quite young and (2) he might be joking, it's a little hard for me to read him. I noted that Frodo later makes Pippin come with him to fill water bottles. I had forgotten, in fact, just how young Pippin is here.
Sam: more dog imagery, curled up and sleeping at Frodo's feet. I don't recall whether this is carried on further.
Frodo: a bit introspective and unworldly, with all his not-so-unnoticed muttering about ever looking down on that valley again, being out of shape, and so forth; more emphasis on his learning than his experience.
I was interested in the summary we're given of the three hobbits' reactions to the Elves:
Pippin afterwards recalled little of either food or drink, for his mind was filled with the light upon the elf-faces, and the sound of voices so various and so beautiful that he felt in a waking dream. But he remembered that there was bread, surpassing the savour of a fair white loaf to one who is starving; and fruits sweet as wildberries and richer than the tended fruits of gardens; he drained a cup that was filled with a fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon.
Sam could never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night, though it remained in his memory as one of the chief events of his life. The nearest he ever got was to say: "Well, sir, if I could grow apples like that, I would call myself a gardener. But it was the singing that went to my heart, if you know what I mean."
Frodo sat, eating, drinking, and talking with delight; but his mind was chiefly on the words spoken. He knew a little of the elf-speech and listened eagerly. Now and again he spoke to those that served him and thanked them in their own language. They smiled at him and said laughing: "Here is a jewel among hobbits!"
Pippin and Sam both are described as having much more sensory and much less articulate reactions; though to be fair they don't know the language and it would be harder for them to focus on words as Frodo does.
* * * *
Having broken it down, I think my vague dissatisfaction is from (1) the logistics and (2) the minor bits of narrative voice that I thought unnecessary. Somehow that doesn't seem quite enough to account for it, so I'm going to put it down to the sinuses and leave it at that.