Jan 1, 2018

Let's Read Tolkien 40: The Great River

Frodo was roused by Sam.

The Fellowship drifts down the Great River. On their left, the Brown Lands stretch out; on the right, grass grows between the river and the Misty Mountains. They all gradually become more uneasy as they float through the barren landscape, with Boromir muttering to himself and occasionally glaring at Frodo. He's not the only problem, either: Gollum has found the Fellowship's trail again.

Soon the landscape starts becoming steeper and rockier: the Fellowship is approaching the rapids of Sarn Gebir. Traveling by night, they almost ends up in the rapids, and gets shot at by orcs before they make it to safety on the western shore.

Ashore, Sam tries to work out how long they spent in Lórien, because by his reckoning, the moon was the same when they left as when they arrived, but he remembers spending several days there. There is debate on the nature of time and its passage in Lórien, and Aragorn maintains an entire month passed outside while the Fellowship spent maybe a week inside.

Boromir argues that the Fellowship should abandon their boats and head for Gondor, but no-one agrees with him. Instead they portage the boats and their supplies past the rapids, and carry on downstream. The river narrows into a gorge, which takes them past the pillars of Argonath: stone statues of Aragorn's ancestors, the brothers Isildur and Anárion. Aragorn is delighted to see them and return to his kingdom - and torn by his responsibility to Frodo in Gandalf's absence.

Beyond the Pillars is Nen Hithoel, a long lake beyond which lie the falls of Rauros. To the south stands the peak of Tol Brandir, with two tall hilltops below it: Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw, the Hills of Sight and Hearing. Here the Fellowship stops. The falls are impassable, and a decision has to be made: where do they go next?


This chapter is another excellent Tolkien travelogue, and one of my favorites - which probably explains my improbable liking for the Hills of Emyn Muil quest in the Lord of the Rings living card game. But I continue to maintain that travel and geography are Tolkien's strengths, and they're on display here in the parallel journey from the desolate Brown Lands to the northern reaches of Gondor, and from uncertainty to decision. The pillars of Argonath bring history into geography, and connect the Fellowship and especially Aragorn to the land around them.

The conversation on time in Lórien pretty much seals its status as Faerie: we've hit most of the other tropes, and now we also get accelerated time.

Other than that, though, we're still busy building up to the end of the book and volume. Next time: decisions.