. Alas, not me: May 2023

23 May 2023

Frodo, Too, Tips His Hand -- The Threat Outside the Black Gate (TT 4.iii.640)

When Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the Black Gate and Frodo declares that he must try to enter Mordor that way, a panic-stricken Gollum slips up and tells Frodo to give him the Ring rather than do anything so foolish. Frodo does not respond to Gollum's suggestion at first, not until he has learned that Gollum knows another way in. After grilling Gollum about it, he decides to trust him once again. Then and only then does he return to the suggestion Gollum had made about the Ring.

‘But I warn you, Sméagol, you are in danger.’

‘Yes, yes, master!’ said Gollum. ‘Dreadful danger! Sméagol’s bones shake to think of it, but he doesn’t run away. He must help nice master.’ 

‘I did not mean the danger that we all share,’ said Frodo. ‘I mean a danger to yourself alone. You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol!’

(TT 4.iii.640, italics mine)

Since Gollum is almost the last person Frodo would want to know that he was planning to throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, neither he nor Sam have told Gollum why they must get into Mordor. In fact earlier in this very scene Sam reflects on just this: "‘And it’s a good thing neither half of the old villain don’t know what master means to do,’ he thought. ‘If he knew that Mr. Frodo is trying to put an end to his Precious for good and all, there’d be trouble pretty quick, I bet'" (TT 4.iii.639). It was only the night before Sam had overheard Gollum's two sides talking to each other about, among other things, 'what's the hobbit going to do with it, we wonders, yes, we wonders' (TT 4.ii.633).

Somehow it never crossed my mind until yesterday that Frodo reveals himself here just as much as Gollum had by suggesting Frodo give him the Ring back. His threat about commanding him to leap from a precipice might well pass unnoticed, but 'cast yourself into the fire' draws attention to itself. What fire? What fire large enough to cast oneself into? Gollum doesn't reply, doesn't ask. Frodo's taunting and threatening him and invoking the power of the Ring thoroughly cows him for the moment. He'll figure it out, however, as he follows Frodo and Sam across Mordor towards the fire of Mount Doom. There, on the road to the Sammath Naur, Gollum will grasp what fire his wicked master had been talking about.


*It's interesting to note that the phrase, 'we wonders ... we wonders' pops up twice before this moment. 

When Gollum first meets the hobbits, he says 'And where are they going in these cold hard lands. We wonders, yes, we wonders' (TT 4.i.615).

After Gollum attempts to escape, Sam hurls the words back at him: 'And where were you off to in these cold hard lands, Mr. Gollum.... We wonders, aye, wonders' (TT 4.i.617).

20 May 2023

Detecting the Hand of the 'Translator' in The Lord of the Rings

Yesterday in my effort to catch up to Corey Olsen in Exploring the Lord of the Rings, I was listening to him talk about detecting the hand of the translator in The Lord of the Rings. Not the translator who turns Tolkien's English into German or French or Japanese, but the one who took the "original" Westron text and rendered it into English. According to the runes and tengwar on the title page, this is Tolkien himself of course. 

Corey was rightly noting that certain touches are obvious. For example, in Gandalf's pyrotechnic dragon which passes overhead 'like an express train' at Bilbo's party (FR 1.i.28), we encounter a simile that would have no meaning whatsoever to the inhabitants of Middle-earth. So clearly it is meant to communicate with us by the translator who is trying to get the meaning of the original across the language gap in a way in which a more 'faithful' and direct translation could not do.

I would like to suggest a few other types of clues. 

  1. If you hear an echo of the Bible, that reveals the hand of the translator. 
  2. If you hear an echo of Shakespeare or Chaucer or any writer of the Primary World, that reveals the hand of the translator.
  3. If you meet an image or symbol that has meaning in the Primary World, but for which none can be discerned in the Secondary World, that reveals the hand of the translator. 
Let's take a quick look at a few examples. 

In Shelob's Lair we learn of Gollum's relationship with Shelob in a phrase that seems to evoke the words of the 23rd psalm, in a nightmarish antithesis:
  • '...and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and regret...' (TT 4.ix.723).
  •  'yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'
In The Shadow of the Past the allusion to Chaucer is obvious:
  • 'there were several meals at which it snowed food and rained drink, as hobbits say.' (FR 1.ii.42)
  • 'It snewed in his hous of mete and drink' (Cantebury Tales, General Prologue line 345).
'Mete' in Chaucer just means 'food.' Tolkien also adds to the humor by claiming the phrase as the hobbits' own. (Of course Chaucer may have been a hobbit. Do we have any idea how tall he was?)

In The Stairs of Cirith Ungol a nod to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar warns us (as if we needed the warning at this point) that Gollum is no one to be trusted even in the moment in which he comes closest to repenting of his plan to betray Frodo and Sam.
  • 'A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face' (TT 4.viii.714).
  • 'Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look' (Julius Caesar 1.ii.195).
Anyone who knows Macbeth will easily think of quite a few others which I won't detail here.

The two references Frodo makes to 'the wheel of fire' he sees in his mind I have discussed at length elsewhere. The image has many connections in the Primary World, but none at all in the legendarium.

There's a lot of ground to be explored here.

19 May 2023

A Long-expected Parenthesis -- Textual Clues to How Much of The Lord of the Rings Bilbo Wrote


This essay first appeared back in November and December of 2021 as five separate posts, which I have now decided to combine into one, while adding a sixth part with some conclusions in it. When I first got the idea for this post, my idea was to write it up quickly. The more I looked at the evidence I had gathered (with the welcome support and feedback of Joe Hoffman1), the clearer it became that a longer post was in order. The divisions reflect the original posts.

Part One

For some years now I have been inclined to believe that Bilbo is the narrator of the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings. But how far he carried on with the story remains hard to say. I had also heard that Michael Drout had a similar opinion, which he was kind enough to confirm for me, but we didn't have the chance to discuss details. Recently, however, I noticed something about the text that looks very much like it might be a clue. First let's look at what we know.

Bilbo's conversation with Frodo and Sam in Rivendell in Many Partings makes clear that he didn't get very far.

The evening deepened in the room, and the firelight burned brighter; and they looked at Bilbo as he slept and saw that his face was smiling. For some time they sat in silence; and then Sam looking round at the room and the shadows flickering on the walls, said softly:

'I don't think, Mr. Frodo, that he's done much writing while we've been away. He won't ever write our story now.' 

At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard. Then he roused himself. 'You see, I am getting so sleepy,' he said. 'And when I have time to write, I only really like writing poetry. I wonder, Frodo my dear fellow, if you would very much mind tidying things up a bit before you go? Collect all my notes and papers, and my diary too, and take them with you, if you will. You see, I haven't much time for the selection and the arrangement and all that. Get Sam to help, and when you've knocked things into shape, come back, and I'll run over it. I won't be too critical.'

        (RK 6.vi.988)

It has also been long observed that the narrator of the earliest chapters of The Lord of the Rings starts out sounding much like the narrator of The Hobbit, but that changes before too long. Further, we have Tolkien's remarks in letter 151 of September 1954.

Frodo is not intended to be another Bilbo. Though his opening style is not wholly un-kin. But he is rather a study of a hobbit broken by a burden of fear and horror — broken down, and in the end made into something quite different. None of the hobbits come out of it in pure Shire-fashion. They wouldn't. But you have got Samwise Gamwichy (or Gamgee).

In the Letters Tolkien uses 'style' many times, but almost invariably he is speaking of words -- of narrative, diction, and language -- when he does so. It's little likely then that his reference to Frodo's 'opening style' refers to anything but his writing style, a remark he offers as a concession of some regard in which they were a bit alike. We might expect Frodo, then, to begin in a style similar to Bilbo's, but to develop his own reasonably soon. But when does his portion of the narrative 'open'? And when does his style begin to diverge from Bilbo's?

I would suggest that the punctuation gives us a clue. During a recent reading of A Long-expected Party I noticed, not for the first time, that the narrator made an awful lot of parenthetical remarks. I found myself relishing the marvelous running social commentary the narrator was offering on his fellow hobbits. 'For what do we live', we might almost hear him ask, 'but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?' That so much of this commentary is nested in and around parentheses made me wonder. On reflection I could not recall it as a conspicuous feature of the entire work. 

A quick search revealed my impression was correct. The entire Lord of the Rings (removing the appendices) contains 158 parenthetical remarks, 20 percent of which (32/158 = 20.25%) occur in A Long-expected Party. If we discount the 25 instances in the Prologue, which we know was written by a Man rather than a Hobbit, the portion in A Long-expected Party approaches a quarter (32/133 = 24%). Numbers aren't everything of course, but this compares rather well with An Unexpected Party, which contains 25 parenthetical remarks out The Hobbit's total of 120 (25/120 = 20.08%) in The Hobbit as a whole.2

Two thirds (22/32) of the parentheses in A Long-expected Party occur before or during the party up to the reactions of the guests to Bilbo's disappearance (FR 1.i.31: 'with a few exceptions'). Of these 22, 14 are funny per se or in their context, and eight simply add information (e.g., 1.i.22: 'the Old Took himself had only reached 130'). There is, however, not a single parenthesis in all of Bilbo's argument with Gandalf about the Ring or in Frodo's brief conversation with Gandalf after Bilbo has gone. The remarks resume again the following morning in very much the same generally humorous vein. Only two of these ten comments are strictly informational ('two Boffins and a Bolger' and 'old Odo Proudfoot's grandson', both at 1.i.39).

Surely it is noteworthy that a long (5+/21 pages), centrally located, and thematically crucial section of this chapter has none of the types of comments we find on almost every other page of it. True, the two scenes found in these pages (31-36) are much more dramatic, more dialogue than narrative, which leaves less scope for parenthetical remarks; but it is also true that there is nothing that either the characters in these scenes or their narrator found in the least amusing. It is a bitter, uneasy darkness at the heart of the chapter, bracketed, as it were, by the far brighter sections on either side (pp 21-31, 36-42).

Part Two

After the 32 parentheses in A Long-expected Party, the number in The Shadow of the Past plunges to five. Of these one occurs in direct speech (Gandalf: 1.ii.53). Three present genealogical information, always of interest to hobbits (all on 1.iii.42). A fifth wryly signals that Frodo had a bad feeling about the 'significant (or ominous)' approach of his fiftieth birthday (1.ii.43), the age at which 'adventure had suddenly befallen Bilbo.' Since Tolkien always uses 'befall' of evil or at least strange and unpleasant events, this explains the rather proleptic 'ominous' as well as pointing to Frodo as the author of this comment. For Bilbo did not regard his adventure as an evil, even when he came to understand that the Ring was; and Frodo, whatever he may have genuinely felt about 'adventures' before Gandalf told him about the Ring, certainly did not want the 'adventure' he got. It would be no surprise then, though it need not be so, if as narrator Frodo took his disquiet as he neared fifty as ominous.

Three is Company contains seven parenthetical statements, of which four are purely informational (1.iii.65, 68, 70, 81), two are humorous comments on Hobbits (1.iii.71, 77) and one again suggests uncertainty in Frodo's attitude towards something that made him uncomfortable (1.iii.70), namely the conversation he overhears between the Gaffer and a stranger later discovered to be one of the Black Riders.

In A Shortcut to Mushrooms one pokes fun at Sam's disappointment about missing the beer at The Golden Perch (1.iv.88) and the other at the way farmers complain about their prospects (1.iv.92).

A Conspiracy Unmasked provides five, three informational (all at 1.v.98), one showing Sam's mixed emotions about leaving the Shire (1.v.99), and one Frodo's about seeing his and Bilbo's things in the house at Crickhollow (1.v.100).

All three in The Old Forest suggest uncertainty. Merry isn't confident that it is the bonfire glade ahead of them (1.vi.111); Frodo doubts it's even possible to turn back (1.vi.113); and Frodo and Sam think the words Old Tom is singing are 'nonsense', but they aren't entirely sure (1.vi.119).

While the first parenthesis In the House of Tom Bombadil conveys details about the house itself (i.vii.124), the other three highlight Frodo's ambivalence regarding the Ring. Indeed these three seem to work together to accomplish precisely that in the scene with Bombadil and the Ring (all at 1.vii.133). When Old Tom returns it, Frodo suspects trickery '(like one who has lent a trinket to a juggler)'. Having put the Ring to the test by donning it, he is 'delighted (in a way)' and 'laugh[s] '(trying to feel pleased)'. It is as if on some level Frodo wished it were not his Ring, even though compelled to prove that it was. Bombadil's imperviousness to the effects of the Ring seems important to Frodo only in so far as it makes him doubt the Ring.

Fog on the Barrow-Downs is reminiscent of A Long-expected Party, which lacks parenthetical statements in the parts in which no one would find anything amusing. Here the scenes telling of the hobbits' capture by the Barrow-wight have no parenthetical remarks until the narrator reaches the moment when he recounts the awakening of Frodo's courage, a virtue 'hidden (often deeply it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit', and informs the reader that 'though [Frodo] did not know it, Bilbo (and Gandalf) thought him the best hobbit in the Shire' (both at 1.viii.140). There is a gentle humor in the humble concession of the first and the citation of Gandalf as an authority in the second, which suggests a resolution in Frodo we have not seen before, and the narrator's faith in that resolution. As such it marks a strong contrast with the uncertainty we've seen before. 

Once Old Tom appears to rescue them the more broadly humorous commentary returns. just as it does in A Long-expected Party once Bilbo has let go of the Ring and left it to Frodo. The next five parenthetical comments, including one in direct speech by Bombadil (1.viii.144), are either amusing themselves or embedded in an amusing context (1.viii.142, 144, 145). Yet as the hobbits are about to return to the road, ending the passage through Faërie they had begun when they entered The Old Forest, even Bombadil makes a remark parenthetically that could be taken to express uncertainty (1.viii.147): 'Tom will give you good advice, till this day is over (after that your own luck must go with you and guide you)'. As always with Tolkien, however, what is called luck or chance is often far more. Bombadil's mention of luck here nicely balances his answer to Frodo's question upon their first meeting (1.vi.126) and thus bookends their acquaintance:

‘Did you hear me calling, Master, or was it just chance that brought you at that moment?’

Tom stirred like a man shaken out of a pleasant dream. ‘Eh, what?’ said he. ‘Did I hear you calling? Nay, I did not hear: I was busy singing. Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you. We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering.'

Consider also consider that even as Old Tom tells them they must trust to their luck, Strider -- unbeknownst to the reader and the hobbits (and Bombadil?) -- is on the other side of the hedge dividing the Downlands from the road (1.x.163-64): Strider, whose role and arrival had been foreshadowed that very afternoon outside the barrow in Bombadil's conjuring of visions of the 'sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless' (1.viii.146). He, too, had heard news and was waiting for them, though it was no plan of his to find them here (1.x.163-64). 

When Frodo steps out into the larger world and takes on the task of saving the Shire, he leaves behind the place which defined him, where he was 'the Mr. Baggins of Bag End'; and he does so on the very night when it becomes clear -- to the reader if not immediately to Frodo the character -- that this identity is not quite the advantage it had long seemed to be, even within the Shire. Farmer Maggot's attitudes towards Hobbiton show this, as do those of most of the hobbits who discuss the 'queerness' of the Bagginses in the evening at The Ivy Bush and The Green Dragon. Mr. Baggins may find them 'too stupid and dull for words' at times, but behind their deference they have their own opinions of how strange he and Mr. Bilbo are. When Maggot links Frodo's present troubles to Bilbo's adventures, he is doing no more than voicing to Frodo's face the longstanding common opinion that no good could come of adventures to the 'queer' folk who went on them. 

The larger world in which such adventures take place is far more dangerous in fact than even the most parochial hobbit imagines. Even the more broadminded Mr. Baggins of Bag End fails to grasp that not only is he 'quite a little fellow in the wide world after all', but that the wider world, whether it is the Faërie of The Old Forest, Bombadil, and the Barrow-wights, the world of History, or that blending of both in which a man might walk, will not be fenced out forever. The Ring, which threatens Frodo's identity because he already cannot do with it as he wishes, compels him to leave the place that helps define that identity. 

Part Three

As we saw in Part One and Part Two, the number of parenthetical comments rapidly declines from the first chapter onwards. Thirty-two parentheses in A Long-expected Party alone are followed by thirty-four all told in chapters 2 through 8 of Book 1, from 1.5 parentheses per page (32/21) in chapter one to 1 every three pages (34/107) in the next seven chapters. 

In the section of text I will be discussing here in Part Three, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony starts us off with fifteen in thirteen pages, but from Strider through Flight to the Ford we find only eight in the next fifty-two pages. After At the Sign of the Prancing Pony we find only one more chapter that has a comparable number of parentheses, namely Treebeard, with fourteen. But these two chapters are aberrations. For in the balance of the book only once more do we find as many as five (Window on the West), and only three times do we encounter as many as four (A Knife in the DarkThe Ring Goes South, and The Grey Havens). By contrast there are thirty-four chapters with none at all, and seven with only one. At this point a simple chart (not a single logarithm, Joe) makes all perfectly clear: 

The fifteen parentheses in At the Sign of the Prancing Pony are indeed anomalous as far as the trend of the numbers goes, but not without an explanation as far as Hobbits go. As we saw in A Long-expected Party, the comments are good humored until something unpleasant happens, in this case, until Frodo puts on the Ring. Of the fourteen parentheses in the body of this chapter,3 only one is strictly informational -- 1.ix.151: '(mostly dwarves)'. The rest smile upon the various characteristics of hobbits, touching upon their love of food, drink, genealogy and song as well on their peculiar relationship with the Men of Bree and those who pass through the town. If we bear in mind that the lighthearted parentheticals in Fog on the Barrow-Downs follow the horror of the barrow and round out the chapter on a (generally) much more positive vibe than it had at the start, we can see that At the Sign of the Prancing Pony begins emotionally where the previous chapter ended. This provides us with a story that sweeps more or less happily along from the moment when Frodo does precisely the right thing in the barrow to a moment when he does absolutely the wrong thing at the inn, leading to the rescue of his friends from the wight in the former, and plunging them into grievous danger in the latter.

These two moments help define his relationship with the Ring for Frodo as well as the reader. The decision Frodo faces in the barrow mirrors Bilbo's beneath the Misty Mountains, where he had Gollum's life in his hands. For Bilbo the choice to use the Ring to escape was correct, but for Frodo it would have been wrong; for Bilbo the choice to strike would have been wrong, but for Frodo it was right. Each passed the test. To choose otherwise was to become another Gollum. This is why Gandalf considered the experience in the barrow so crucial. Frodo's situation at Bree also mirrors that of Bilbo at his party. Bilbo, however, put the Ring on intentionally and meant to cause the consternation his disappearance provoked. How the Ring came to be on Frodo's finger in Bree is unclear in the moment, even to Frodo, and draws precisely the sort of comment and attention that Frodo had most wished to avoid. In both cases dark, unpleasant conversations follow, with friends suspected of being enemies. By disappearing, however, Frodo has revealed himself to friends and enemies alike. In fact the two parenthetical comments in the following chapter, Strider, occur in the context of Gandalf's letter, which serves to demonstrate that Strider is a friend despite his rascally looks and Sam's wariness (FR 1.x.167, 169). Once the hobbits have survived the night thanks to Strider, a bit of humor returns with the parentheses in A Knife in the Dark, which smile wanly at Butterbur's insistence that he hadn't slept, Pippin's declaration that he can carry as much as he must, and the hobbits' leaving the 'evil relatives of the cricket' behind in the Midgewater Marshes (FR 1.xi.177, 178, 183). A fourth comment, recounting the happy fate of Merry's ponies who found their way back to Bombadil and thence to Butterbur, hints at a broader happy ending while reminding the reader that the ponies were more sensible when it came to danger than the hobbits (1.xi.179 ; cf. 1.viii.144), a truth which makes quite clear how lucky the hobbits were to meet Strider, just as they had been to meet Bombadil earlier. Strider, as Gandalf and Frodo will both say, is the one who saved [them] from disaster (FR 2.i.220).

Earlier the parentheses helped us see the ambivalence with which Frodo looks down the road ahead of him. We will do well to recall here Bilbo's own inability to make up his mind about the Ring and then to stick to the decision he had made to give the Ring to Frodo, and which he had at least in part arranged his party to enforce. Now they help to illuminate a range of behaviors seen in Frodo and Bilbo alike. These behaviors are at times intentional, at times accidental, at times even heroic. Yet a bad ending is not far off, as we see when Bilbo threatens Gandalf with his sword the night of the party, and when Frodo by betraying his identity and location to the Black Riders endangers the lives of the very friends his courage had saved only the day before. 

The inconsistencies of Frodo's behavior are of a piece with the ambivalence of his feelings, and in these the earliest days of his quest the two give the measure of his burden. What comes next at Weathertop, at the Ford, and in Rivendell will take Frodo further down this road while adding new dimensions to his struggle. He will show courage and insight, hatred of his road and of his enemy, defiance and a wish to dominate those who would dominate him, a willingness to take on the quest to save Middle-earth and the desire to strike even his dearest kin when he reaches for the Ring.

Part Four

Unsurprisingly, given what we've seen in Parts One, Two, and Three of this post, the narrator includes no lighthearted parenthetical comments once the Witch-king stabs Frodo on Weathertop. The only such remark in Flight to the Ford describes the rather grim state, doubly grim for Hobbits, of their provisions by the time they met Glorfindel: 'stale bread and dried fruit (which was now all they had left)' (FR 1.xii.211, emphasis mine). Once Frodo is recovering safely in Rivendell, the commentary picks up again slightly, with one parenthetical in direct speech (Gandalf: FR 2.i.221, sourcing an idiom), one strictly informational (the age of Dáin: 2.i.229), and one in which Frodo, himself just out of his sick bed, curiously wonders whether anyone is 'ever ill in Rivendell'(FR 2.i.230). Again unsurprisingly the serious matters of The Council of Elrond leave no room for such commentary, but once more in The Ring Goes South we find four hobbitish asides of a humorous bent (FR 2.iii.277, 280 twice, 288). Once the fellowship sets out, however, another 48 pages pass before the next such item appears, in Lothlórien (FR 2.vi.346), which notes the hobbits' approval of the food shared with them by the elves on their first night in the Golden Wood. Two hundred and twenty pages then pass before we come to another, in the chapter Treebeard, to which we now turn.

Here we encounter the last significant spike upwards, with fourteen parenthetical remarks. No chapter after Treebeard has more than five. Now Joe Hoffman over at Idiosophy has made several excellent observations and -- what is not necessarily the same thing -- has been quite complimentary of my analyses of these texts. Treebeard does sound like an old hobbit dispensing advice to the young, and Merry and Pippin must have been Frodo's sources for this chapter as well as the preceding chapter, The Uruk-hai (where regrettably neither Uglúk nor Grishnákh sounds like the gaffer or even Ted Sandyman). That eleven of the fourteen parentheses annotate descriptions of Treebeard and the other ents bears out Joe's observation (TT 3.iv.465, 470, 471, 472, 478, 480 five times, 483), which receives further support from the three such comments Treebeard makes himself (TT 3.iv.465, 473 , 476). So, too, and more directly does Pippin's quoted reminiscence about Treebeard's eyes, which the narrator makes clear derives from a later time (TT 3.iv.463): 'often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them.'

With Merry and Pippin in these two chapters we see again much the same as we have previously seen with Bilbo and Frodo. Painful and frightening experiences close down the good humor on display in the parentheses. The quarrel with Gandalf, the horror in the barrow, the terrible mistake with the Ring at the Prancing Pony, the abduction by the orcs shows that the Hobbit tendency to make jokes even in serious situations has it limits (RK 5.viii.870). Some experiences are too dreadful for asides. But we can also see their resilience. Once they have left the barrow behind once they have escaped the orcs, their spirits quickly revive. 

As with Frodo in the barrow, the seeds of Pippin's courage begin to grow when things looks darkest for him and Merry as captives of the Uruk-hai. Pippin here started to be less the 'fool of a Took' Gandalf had called him (FR 2.iv.313), just as Frodo there became less one of the 'ridiculous Bagginses' (FR 1.ii.49). We also learn from Pippin that Merry had displayed exceptional bravery when the orcs first attacked them (TT 3.iii.444), though he had not had so far to go. The parallel between Frodo and Pippin here, and through Pippin's recollection to Merry, is maintained by the resumption of parenthetical comments once the danger is behind them. The emergence of Pippin and Merry in book three will be followed by Sam's in book four where he begins to carry the narrative burden, i.e., the tale is told increasingly from his perspective as Frodo becomes more isolated in his lonely struggle with the Ring. The parallel thus signals a shift which I shall follow up on in my next post. 

Part Five

Previously we have noted that parenthetical commentary appears and disappears as the story grows lighter and darker by turns, and that this in general follows the relationship of Bilbo and then Frodo with the Ring. We have also just seen a very similar dynamic occur with Merry and Pippin in Book Three. Though neither of them ever possesses the Ring, it is nevertheless Saruman's lust to acquire it and Sauron's to regain it that motivates their kidnapping by the orcs, thus directly causing the darker and lighter turns the narrative takes in The Uruk-hai and Treebeard. Indeed Merry and Pippin perceive the role the Ring is playing in their captivity, and with desperate audacity play upon Grishnákh's mistaken belief that they have it, wagering their lives for a chance at escape. So here, too, the Ring is intimately connected to the dynamic at work and the parentheses. Since it transfers so smoothly from Bilbo and Frodo to Merry and Pippin, and, as we shall presently see, to Sam, it should also be evident just how closely concerned with the hobbit voice these asides are. 

After the cluster of parentheses in Treebeard a long gap of 155 pages follows (TT 3.iv.483-4.iii.638), empty except for the somewhat knowing comment on the sinister multiple meanings of Orthanc (TT 3.viii.555). An even longer gap of 177 pages before Treebeard (3.iv.465) extends back to The Ring Goes South (FR 2.iii.288), also interrupted only once (2.vi.344). This lack of parenthetical comments elsewhere in Book Three coincides with the general absence of the hobbits from this book despite the crucial role played by Merry and Pippin, a dynamic to be repeated in Book Five. Something similar holds true also in Book Two, where the narrative attends more to the Company as a whole than to the hobbits or Frodo specifically. So darker turns in the narrative connected to the Ring may be the most striking reason for the absence of parentheses, but not the only reason.

In Book 4 parentheses reappear in The Black Gate Is Closed. As I noted in Part 4, in this book Sam begins to carry the burden of the narrative as Frodo becomes increasingly preoccupied by his struggle against the Ring. It is Sam to whom the three parenthesis in The Black Gate Is Closed refer, at least two of which give us Sam's commentary on his own thoughts at the time (TT 4.iii.638, 640), and the third almost certainly does, too (4.iii.647). This last is perhaps the most remarkable since Sam's behavior in the tale here is as lighthearted as his comment on it, recalling Frodo from the darkness of his cares and purpose by this recitation of 'the old fireside rhyme of Oliphaunt' outside the Black Gate of Mordor, and recalling for the reader an earlier such moment where Sam did the same thing in the same way, hands behind his back and all (FR 1.xii.206-208). Consider also the comment in Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit where we learn that Sam is 'a good cook, even by hobbit reckoning' (TT 4.v.653), an art hobbits 'begin to learn before their letters (which many never reach)'. Here we must remember that Sam was called out by name a full chapter and seventeen years before we met him as a hobbit who had learned his letters. As with his pose while 'speaking poetry', the narrator is using the parentheses to remind the reader of how special Sam is. Not only could he cook the cabbages and potatoes which his Gaffer thought he'd be better off minding, but he knew his letters and poetry and great tales, which repeatedly helped to sustain him on the long road into darkness he and Frodo had to walk. His sense of mission comes from his learning his letters. Sam Gamgee had read all the right books.

These parentheses also further mark the shift we saw earlier with Merry and Pippin, a shift away from Frodo as his hobbit comrades step forward and begin to take up the roles they will play until the end of the book. This is not to say that Frodo is becoming less important. Far from it. But his are now not the only small hands that turn the wheels of the world while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. Sam in particular becomes critically important, and increasingly the story of Frodo's journey is seen through his eyes because Frodo's eyes are elsewhere.

Part Six

It seem quite clear then that parenthetical asides are an essential element of hobbitry. When the narrative grows more serious or the hobbits are less central, the down-home folksiness of virtually disappears. This is consistent with the much greater density -- roughly 4 times as much -- of parenthetical comments in The Hobbit, which either is or is based on the memoir written by Bilbo alone. (See note 2 below.) It is also consistent with Tolkien's remark, quoted in part one, that Frodo's style was at first somewhat like Bilbo's, but as the Quest took its toll on the spirits of all the hobbits, the similarity to Bilbo and his style fades.

So how much did Bilbo write? In view of all we've seen above a piece of evidence from the Prologue is quite suggestive (FR 12-13). There we are told that even after Bilbo had admitted to Gandalf, Frodo, and all the Council of Elrond, that story he had put about winning the Ring from Gollum was a lie, he never went back and changed it in his memoirs. The true story was preserved by Frodo and Sam and included as an alternative to Bilbo's original tale, but they did not rewrite his story either. Considering this together with the sudden stop in humorous parenthetical comments as A Long-expected Party shifts from the lightheartedness of the leadup to the party to the darkness and anger of Bilbo's argument with Gandalf about the Ring, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Bilbo got no farther than the moment he put on the Ring at the party and vanished. Consider also that Bilbo suddenly came to a new and painful understanding of the Ring in the moment he looked into Frodo's face at their first meeting in Rivendell. For he saw the look in Frodo's eyes when Frodo wished to strike him for reaching for the Ring. He confesses as much:

The music and singing round them seemed to falter, and a silence fell. Bilbo looked quickly at Frodo’s face and passed his hand across his eyes. ‘I understand now,’ he said. ‘Put it away! I am sorry: sorry you have come in for this burden; sorry about everything. Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story. Well, it can’t be helped. I wonder if it’s any good trying to finish my book? But don’t let’s worry about it now – let’s have some real News! Tell me all about the Shire!’
            (FR 2.i.232)

And even if he tries here to change the subject with a joke, as hobbits do, the next morning at the Council he again says he understands when he disavows and apologizes for having lied about the Ring before:

But I will now tell the true story, and if some here have heard me tell it otherwise’ – he looked sidelong at Glóin – ‘I ask them to forget it and forgive me. I only wished to claim the treasure as my very own in those days, and to be rid of the name of thief that was put on me. But perhaps I understand things a little better now. Anyway, this is what happened.’

(FR 2.ii.249)

Given this, I would suggest that Bilbo either wrote nothing at all, or he stopped with his disappearance from the party. If he couldn't bring himself to change his memoir to reflect the truth he had now admitted and apologized for, that he could write an honest account of his ugly confrontation with Gandalf that night is hard to imagine. If either of these suggestions of mine is correct, then his only written contribution to Frodo's story would be his poems and the snarky notes he left with the gifts for his friends and relatives. 

I have found Joe's friendship, humor, and commentary invaluable for some years now. He is also my second if I am challenged to any duels. 

The Hobbit is also far more densely packed with parentheses: 120 in 95356 vs 158 in 481,103. The Hobbit also raises its own questions about narrators, which we shall examine elsewhere in connection with the narrators of The Lord of the Rings. The interested reader should look to Paul Edmund Thomas' 'Some of Tolkien's Narrators' in Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, edd. V. Flieger and C. Hostetter (2000).

3 The one parenthesis not in the body of the text is in a footnote on 1.ix.160 which explains that 'Elves (and Hobbits) always refer to the Sun as She.'