~ 12 July 2022 ~
The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts
This week we begin Book 2, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond.
Frodo wakes feeling refreshed and hoping he might find the time to go for a walk and explore the valley. Gandalf explains that it might be impossible as the council set for that morning has much to cover.
A bell rings out and the council is called. Bilbo and Frodo follow Gandalf, and Sam, forgotten for the time being, follows behind. Introductions are made, and it appears that men (Boromir from Gondor), elves (Legolas from Northern Mirkwood, Galdor from the Grey Havens) and dwarves (Gloin and his son, Gimli from the Lonely Mountain) have all travelled to Rivendell for counsel from Elrond, on matters which are related.
Gloin begins by saying a messenger from Mordor arrived at the Lonely Mountain, asking after Bilbo and the ring he found. Elrond then gives a history of the ring spanning thousands of years, from its forging to when it went missing after Isildur’s death. Then Boromir explains the dream which brought him to Rivendell, and how Gondor, almost alone (apart from the men of Rohan) fight to keep the Enemy at bay, but it is a battle they are starting to lose. Aragorn reveals the Sword that was Broken. Elrond reveals that Aragorn is Isildur’s heir. Frodo reveals the Ring.
Bilbo gives a true account of how he came across the ring when playing a dangerous game of riddles against Gollum. Frodo then gives an account of all their adventures since the ring came into his possession.
Galdor, wishing to be certain that this is the Great Ring, asks for proof, as well as an explanation as to why Saruman, an expert on ring lore, isn’t at the council. Gandalf then explains how the ring, when thrown into fire, reveals an inscription which Isildur made a note of, written in the language of Mordor. He then says that after speaking with Gollum, Sauron knows the One Ring has been found, and that it was in the Shire, which itself is confirmed by Frodo’s tale of being pursued by the Ringwraiths.
This chapter is one of my favourites in The Lord of the Rings, as here we have major overlapping with and interconnection between The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. The scale of information is vast, as is the timeframe being covered.
Interestingly, I thought this is the first chapter where the setting played a lesser role than in previous chapters. Once we get past the opening passages, our focus no longer remains in Rivendell but instead, follows the different narrators as they add their stories to this great narrative. Again we are reminded that there are so many different threads woven into the one storyline.
Next week we will finish reading The Council of Elrond.
Middle Earth Musings and Meditations
As Elrond shared his part in the tale of the Ring, he quoted Isildur’s attempt to justify the keeping of the ring:
“This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother,” he said.
Weregild. Unless your interests lie in Anglo-saxon, Norse or Germanic history, weregild is something you might not have come across before. But fifteen hundred years ago, to around the early medieval period, it was a concept enshrined in law. It was an agreed sum representing the value of a person which, should they be injured or killed, was then owed to the family by the person responsible. This legal compensation and form of restitution was supposed to prevent family feuds from breaking out as wronged parties sought revenge for crimes against them and theirs. These blood feuds could last for generations.
Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Germanic stories often told of these blood feuds, and the payments ascribed by the law courts to prevent them, for example in the Icelandic epic Njal’s Saga (see my review for it here). And perhaps the most famous reference in literature to weregild is to be found in Beowulf, a translation of which Tolkien himself wrote.
Speaking of Beowulf, The Tolkien Society, on their FAQs page, has a couple of book lists that might appeal to those who have wondered what might have inspired Tolkien’s writing.
The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:
Why do you think Aragorn wears his travel-worn clothes to such an important meeting?
Aragorn, as Bilbo’s poem explains, is a lesson in what you see may be misleading. Dressed as a ranger rather than Isildur’s heir, he blends in and is missed, rather than stands out and commands attention. Overlooked, he has the opportunity to study those around him and analyse how they react to certain things.
But also, and this especially important given Boromir’s arrival, playing at being a king before he is crowned a king makes for some very blatant antagonism at a time when you want people to pull together. And besides, such behaviour, I would think, is outside of Aragorn’s nature…