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Who doesn't love Lord of The Rings? It was that epic story that birthed a genre. I've been using the Walk To Mordor app and a pedometer to re-tract Frodo and Sam's legendary journey from Hobbiton to Mordor. As I go, I'm also revisiting the movies and the books. In today's podcast, we talk about the beginning of the story, up until Buckleberry Ferry. So grab some lembas bread and let's go on an adventure!
Welcome to Nerd Heaven.
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of the Stars.
And I am a nerd
This is episode 22 of the podcast.
Today is the first installment of my Lord of The Rings, Read, Walk and Watch series.
If you’ve been following my content anywhere, you’re most likely aware that I’ve been doing a walk to mordor challenge.
Using a pedometer, and an app on my phone called Walk to Mordor, I enter the distance I’ve walked at the end of each day, and the app tells me how far along the legendary journey from the Shire to Mordor I have travelled. There are lots of milestones along the way.
From time to time, I’ll be doing one of these episodes where I dig into the story of Lord of The Rings, discussing it as far where I’ve walked, drawing from both the books and the movies.
I’m not really going to be comparing the book and movie, I’m just going to be drawing from both.
In this installment, I’ll be talking about the beginning of the story, up and until Buckleberry Ferry
Lord of the Rings Part 1 The Fellowship Of The Ring was written by J.R.R Tokkien.
It was first published in 1954.
The movie was written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson.
It was directed by Peter Jackson
And first released in cinemas on the 19th of December 2001.
The description on IMDB reads
A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.
So. Let’s go on an adventure.
My first experience with Lord of The Rings was seeing Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema. I hadn’t read the book prior to this, and was blown away by the epic scope of the story.
So I’m not a hard-core lifelong Tolkien fan. There are many people who cold run rings around me in terms of their knowledge of the lore of Lore of The Rings.
So I’m not doing this as an expert, just a nerd geeking out of a story that I think we can all agree is pretty darn awesome.
Both the book and the movie start off giving us backstory and setup, but they do it in very different ways. The prologue to the novel reads somewhat like a non-fiction book written in universe. No book would ever be published today if it began this way, but there is a certain old-fashion charm to this prologue.
While the book focuses on the smaller details, the history of hobbits, and how Bilbo came to have the ring, the movie delves right back to the creation of the ring and the first battle with Sauron. Important aspects of the world that the books keep a mystery for now.
I think both were the correct choices for the given medium.
See, I said the point of this wasn’t to compare the two, but given the different ways they start, it’s kind of hard not to.
This opening sequence for the movie sets up the stakes from the beginning. We know how powerful, and how dangerous this ring is. So when it comes into Frodo’s possession, we already fear for him. These sequences were great to watch. This movie was pretty revolutionary in it’s use of CGI to create huge armies.
It was the feat for the eyes when it first came out, and is still impressive today, although no longer unique.
I like the sense of wonder you get as history become legend and legend became myth over 2 and a half thousand years.
The extended version of the movie actually follows the prologue of the book more closely. Narrated by Bilbo.
I only saw the extended version about a year ago, so it’s still pretty new and exciting to me.
The set for Hobbiton is awesome. I’ve always loved it. You can’t watch this and not just want to be transported there.
And of course the music! It fits the visuals so well and has got to be one of the most memorable pieces of movie music ever. I love it.
The new scene where Bilbo has a panic attack because he can’t find the ring is a nice touch. IT shows the addictive powers that it has over those it owns.
Bilbo and Frodo kind of represent two different responses to the amazing World Tolkien created. Bilbo is tired of living in the idyylic shire. He wants to go and travel, to experience advanture again.
Frodo also has some interest in adventure, but he is still in love with the shire. And who wouldn’t be? I can identify with both of them. I’d want to go and see the whole of Middle Earth. But I’d want to know the Shire is still there to return to. If there’s one thing the story shows us at the beginning, it’s that life in the shire is very very good.
One of the best things about being a hobbit would be how much they love food.
They also like drinking beer and smoking pipe weed, neither of which interest me, but I loooove food.
Bilbo has some genuine regret about leaving Frodo behind. He’s the only family that Bilbo actually likes.
Biblo’s behaviour regarding the ring stimulates Gandalf’s suspicions straight away.
He doesn’t know the full story, but there’s definitely something off about it.
The ring hadn’t been used in decades. When Bilbo uses it to escape, he doesn’t seem to suffer any effects. No scary flaming eye staring at him. But that moment of usage is probably what first gets Sauron’s attention. The ring calls out to him after all these years. Now he must retrieve it.
And so, Golumn is captured and tortured.
I like the scene in the movie where Gandalf is researching the ring. I know it’s just him reading to himself, but it adds a real sense of history.
Life continues as it always has back in the shire. They eat, they dance, they sing. It’s a truly joyful moment when we see them in the pub.
And then Gandalf shows up to share what he has learned with Frodo.
For that one moment, when Frodo says there is no text, I think Gandalf thinks maybe, just maybe he was wrong. But when Frodo says the Elvish writing has appeared, his face just dropped.
So this trinket that Bilbo passed on to Frodo is the one ring. Such a significant and ancient thing. While both Frodo and Galdalf must be feeling a lot of fear and dread in this moment, there’s got to also be a profound sense of wonder that they’d be feeling as well. I know I would. Which, I suppose, is a problem, because it’s just another thing that makes the ring more enticing.
This discovery about the ring comes in parallel with Gandalf learning of the return of Sauron and the regathering of forces at Mordor. Even the hobbits are talking. They know something is brewing in the wider world.
We learn here that the ring is basically sentient. It has a consciousness. It thinks. It has desires. This is because Sauron poured part of himself into the ring. It’s like a piece of his consciousness possessing the inanimate object. Without that, this is just a piece of gold like any other.
When Frodo learns the truth about the ring, his first impulse is to hide it. It’s actually impressive how quickly he formulates a good plan. “Nobody knows it’s here. We just bury it and never speak of it again.” That’s a good plan, and it could have worked, maybe for thousands more years. Except that it’s too late. Because of Golum. Sauron got to Gollum first and has told him exactly where to find the ring. Shire. Baggins. That will take the enemy literally to Frodo’s front door.
This is the point in the book where we get an interesting discussion about mercy, a discussion that happens much later in the movie.
Frodo wishes that Bilbo had just killed Gollum back when he found the ring. If he had, their problems would be over. They could hide the ring and Sauron would probably never find it.
It actually comes across a little callous, just how quick Frodo is to wish death upon another, even a creature as wretched as Gollum.
Specifically, Frodo says “It’s a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature , when he had the chance.”
And Gandalf replies “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 with pity.”
Frodo admits he has no pity for Gollum, and that it is because of his fear. And isn’t that so true of fear, and the things attitudes it leads to. He says Gollum deserves death.
“Deserves it,” Gandalf says. “I dare say 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 and 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.”
I really like this conversation. As for myself, I value things like mercy and compassion, so I love what Gandalf says.
At this point, Frodo just wants to give the ring to Gandalf. He doesn’t want any part in it.
And Gandalf immediately refuses.
It is far too great a temptation for him.
The ring has great power, and if he possessed it, he would want to use that power for good. But the ring would work great evil through him.
This isn’t just a question of power corrupting, something I don’t take as a given.
The ring itself is evil. It has its own will. So the ring doesn’t just represent neutral power.
To me, the ring has always been a pretty strong representation of temptation and sin.
This is seen thematically through the whole story.
Gandalf doesn’t believe he has the necessary willpower to resist that temptation when it comes, and he is very wise to recognise that, so he chooses to excercise that willpower now, and refuse the ring. Better never to possess it.
But what does that say about Frodo? He wants Frodo to keep it. He worries that it will be a great burden to Frodo, of course, but I think he recognises a moral strength in Frodo that most lack, including himself.
And then they realise that Sam was outside the window, and we get that awesome amusing line “I ‘aint been dropping no eaves.” I love that line. It’s not some witty one-liner, it’s just a statement that comes out of a genuine simple misunderstanding.
Gandalf warns Frodo to never put the ring on. It’s use will draw the attention of Sauron’s servents. It wants to be found. And that’s chilling. Anyway, we’ll see how that goes in the future.
And so, here is where my walk actually begins.
Frodo and Sam leave Bag End. That’s the starting point on my walk to Mordor app.
It’s taken this long just to get to the starting point.
But it’s been well worth it.
So within less than a page, we hit my very first milestone. Tookland. It’s just a sentance they says they passed through tookland. This is where Pippin’s family are from.
From here on, the order of events is a little different between the movie and the book, but they both follow the same points. My Walk to Mordor app obviously follows the book.
As they’re walking through a paddock, Sam stops. And he says “This is it. If I take one more step, it’ll be the furthest from home I’ve ever been.”
I like this recognition of the significance of this moment. It’s not an expression of fear, or anxiety, about being so far from home. It’s simply an acknowledgement of something that feels significant to Sam.
I understand this.
I went on my first cruise a few years ago. I was 39 at the time, and I’d never been outside of Australia. This would be my very first time setting foot in another country. I felt like Neil Armstrong.
I remember that morning at our first port, Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia. I stepped slowly down the gangway toward the soil of another nation.
I say soil, but it was actually concrete. It was a dreary industrial port, but that wasn’t the point.
This was a significant moment for me. Unfortunately, the staff were hurrying us on to get a photo, so I didn’t really get to stop and really take in that moment, savour it, like Sam is doing here.
Even before Saruman is revealed to be evil, there are hints. Isenguard looks very dark and creepy. Sauramon looks at Sauron, and his armies, and he can find no logical way to defeat him. Faced with what he believes is inevitable defeat, he believes the only option left is to join Sauron, because it is impossible to oppose him.
Gandalf accuses Saruman of abandoning reason for madness. But it could be argued that Sauramon’s choice here is governed by pure reason. Cold unfeeling logic. Absolute pragmatism.
Gandalf has one thing that Saruman lacks. Faith. That there are forces in this world other than the forces of evil, that even in the face of seemingly impossible odds, there is still reason to hope. That even a hobbit, could, in fact, oppose the will of Sauron.
It’s illogical. It doesn’t add up mathematically. But choosing faith is a preferable option to him than giving in to the evil.
And I really love that about Gandalf.
Also, I gotta say, what was Tolkien thinking, naming Sauron and Saruman such similar names. And given that Saruman ends up working for Sauron. That’s really on the nose. One of the first things a modern author is taught is not to give characters names that will get confused with one another. Try not to even have two main characters whose name starts with the same letter.
Then we reach my second milestone, the encounter with the black rider.
The movie does an especially good job of this. It’s so creepy. Frodo senses something off about the black rider before he even appears. He is, of course, a ring wraith. It’s such a tense moment as it stops near the tree they’re hiding under and sniffs.
Frodo is really tempted to use the ring to hide. Even though Gandalf warned him not to. It takes Sam to keep him from doing it.
If he’d put it on, it would have all been over. The rider would have sensed the ring more strongly and kill them then and there.
My next walking milestone is a meeting with the elves at the 65 km mark. That’s a fair chunk of walking. And Frodo still hasn’t even left the borders of the shire.
At this point in the book, Frodo is getting worried about Gandalf, who was supposed to show up for his farewell party, but hasn’t been heard from.
In the movie, the encounter with the elves is brief, Frodo and Sam spy them in the distance but don’t actually make contact. They are already aware that the elves are heading to the harbour, leaving middle earth forever. This makes me think of, and is very likely the inspiration for, the first ones from Babylon 5, going beyond the rim and leaving our galaxy. It’s a powerful trope. It’s like all the magic is leaving the world.
Sam says it makes him feel sad. I get that. Sheridan expressed a similar feeling in Babylon 5. Delenn’s response was “now we make our own magic.”
The last milestone I’ll talk about in this episode is Farmer Maggot’s field.
In the movie, Farmer Maggot’s field is where they finally meet up with Merry and Pippin. Keep in mind that this is further than Sam has ever been from home. Keep in mind, they’ve travelled two nights and at least one and a half days. My Walk to Mordor app says it’s 98 km from Bag End. But they find Merry and Pippin casually here stealing crops. It doesn’t quite add up. Have those two travelled two days and slept under the stars two nights just to come here and steal some carrots? It sounds like they do this almost every week.
By the way, it says a lot about hobbits that they so love raw vegetables they rebellious young hobbits would steal vegetables with such glee. It’s not just junk food that they take delight in. They love their vegies too.
Of course, in the book, they go and have a drink with farmer maggot. The stealing of crops is just part of Frodo’s childhood backstory.
The main point of all of these encounters seems to be to remind us that the black riders are dangerous and to re-emphasise that they are actively searching for Frodo.
But there’s a little moment I like when Frodo says “I’ve been afraid of you and your dogs for over 30 years. It’s a pity as I have missed out on a good friend.”
And that’s so true, isn’t it. Fear can make us miss out on all sorts of things, including friendships with people who may not be at all as we feared them to be.
Also, I’d like to point out that while Frodo, Sam, and Pippin got to ride all the way to the ferry in Maggot’s wagon, I had to walk all that way!
Anyway, that brings us to the fifth milestone on my journey. Buckleberry Ferry.
So I’m going to leave it here for this time. It’s been a fun journey so far and there is plenty more to come.
Next time I do a Lord of the Rings Read, Walk and Watch, we’ll meet Tom Bombadil.
Until then, happy walking.
Feel free to add me as a friend on the Walk To Mordor app, if you’re using it.
And I’ll see you somewhere in Middle Earth.
Next time I do a Lord of the Rings Read, Walk and Watch, we’ll meet Tom Bombadil.
Feel free to add me as a friend on the Walk To Mordor app, if you’re using it.
Next time on Nerd Heaven, in two weeks time, I’ll be talking about Star Trek Generations, that epic meeting between captains Jean-Luc Picard and James T. Kirk. I’ve got plenty to say about the movie, so I hope you’ll join me.
Live Long and Prosper.
Make it so.