Winter is flying, as if to put the lie to my complaints that it is never-ending. I had hoped to post this series before Christmas, when the Fellowship is still in Rivendell, but here we are in February. Well, I will pretend it is yet December.
Bilbo's Gifts Pt. 1
The scene between Frodo and Bilbo capped here is another place where the film diverges significantly from the book. The film scene combines two Rivendell book episodes, compressing the time and putting them in opposite order. In the book, it is on Frodo's first day out of bed that he has his fleeting but alarming vision of Bilbo. After they have spent months delighting in each other's company and the Fellowship is about to leave, Bilbo presents Frodo with the treasured mementoes of his Adventure, Sting and the mithril shirt. In the film, nothing darkens the joy of Bilbo and Frodo's first meeting. The intervening scene (Frodo and Bilbo under a loggia looking through the Red Book ) suggests that Bilbo and Frodo's meetings continued to be a pleasure, if shot through with a sense of nostalgia and regret. Only in this scene, after Bilbo has given the gifts of the sword and shirt, does a shadow fall between them.
The scene of Bilbo's demonic transformation and subsequent remorse is nearly the last audiences see of Frodo and Bilbo together. They don't share the screen again until they ride to the Grey Havens, Bilbo fond and doddering, Frodo affectionate but distanced by introspective melancholy. I think the changes to the second half of the Rivendell scene alter the tone of their relationship significantly, especially as it comes just before the two are separated, possibly for ever. I will mull over some of the implications in the third post in this series.
Although I don't understand the adaptors' reasons for doing what they did in the second half, I think the first part of the scene, the gift-giving, is story-telling perfection. The acting, the art design, the lighting, the score, the camera work, the beautiful props all contribute to the creation of a scene that is cinematically satisfying and very faithful to the book. The giving and receiving of gifts is important, if not vital, everywhere in LotR. Whether the gifts are intangible (benedictions, guidance, prophecies, dreams, visions) or tangible (food, clothing, arms, equipment), gifts are crucial to the characters' survival and well-being and thus to the success of the mission. Here, on the eve of Frodo's departure, Bilbo gives Frodo the most treasured tokens (apart from the Ring, which Frodo already has) from his personal "adventure", the quest through which Bilbo grew to full stature as a person and a character. He gives them not only as practical aids to Frodo (which they certainly are), but as expressions of his love, good will and hopes for Frodo. They are tangible blessings. In a way, the blessings they convey go further back than Bilbo. In receiving the mithril corselet and Sting, it is as though Frodo is receiving the blessing of all who have carried or won them since they were made.
I love it that the corselet came from Thorin. The Dwarf gave it to Bilbo out of Smaug's hoard before he knew Bilbo had taken the Arkenstone he so coveted, it is true. And Thorin's feelings were murderous when he found out. But on his deathbed, Thorin found the grace see why Bilbo had done it and to forgive him. To my mind, the handing on of the mithril shirt to Frodo conveys the protection not only of marvellously hard mail, but the power of friendship hard-tested, which is the fruit of understanding, mercy and forgiveness.
Even more, I love that Sting is an heirloom of Gondolin. The tale of the fall of Gondolin, Tolkien told his son, was the first tale of the First Age he committed to paper. He was serving in France in 1917 when he started to write it down on bits of paper. Having Bilbo give Frodo Sting, a weapon rescued from Gondolin, makes me feel as though Tolkien is giving Frodo a special place in his literary heritage, rooting his hobbit hero in a line of heroes that goes all the way back to the First Age.
All the gifts the Fellowship receive are special and unique. They are useful in themselves, examples of technical excellence, but they also carry within them intangible blessings, because of their long heritage. Anduril is made from Narsil, which was made by the Dwarf smith Telchar in the First Age. Sam's box of soil, even though Galadriel presumably gathered it up shortly before presenting it, might have included grains trodden upon by Yavanna, before there was a Lórien and Middle-earth was young. The light in the phial Frodo receives goes all the way back to the Two Trees.
Other gifts are not as ancient, being made specifically for the Fellowship. Yet they, too, are made by ancient craft and possessed of wondrous properties. The boats, the rope, the cloaks: all are unique and special. So is the food. Lembas, the waybread of the Elves, might be gobbled up and casually tossed about in the films, but it was not until the Elf-warrior Beleg offered it to Túrin that a mortal first tasted it. The lembas of Beleg was made by Melian the Maia, the Lady and keeper of Doriath. The lembas the Fellowship receives was made by Galadriel, Lady and keeper of Lórien. The secret of its making was passed to her by Melian in the First Age. Thus, although the lembas is fresh, the secret of its making is ancient, and the receiving of it a rare honour.
I love the gift-giving scenes in the films, including the expanded EE version in Lórien, but also this one. The suppressed excitement with which Ian Holm's Bilbo produces his gifts, his obvious eagerness to share his treasures and instruct Frodo in their merits, makes my heart expand with pleasure. The palpable wonder and gratitude of Elijah Woods' Frodo does the same. Their interactions are perfect because the scene itself works so well, and because it is so faithful to the spirit of the book. Gifts matter, to the giver and to the receiver.
No hero in LotR gets anywhere without gifts. True, each character is expected to do his or her utmost to further the Quest, but that gifts are crucial permeates the text. The concept rings true in the story because it rings true in real life. The sort of people we are, like the protagonists of LotR, comes from a whole history of benefits and gifts. What is crucial to happiness is whether people recognize this fact or not. If they do, they can experience gratitude, wonder and joy. Sauron (and Morgoth before him) does not experience gratitude. Although, like all the Maiar, he sprang from the creative thought of Eru, he behaves as if he were self-made, as if the powers and talents he has were not first given to him. What Sauron receives he considers his due. What he gives—when he gives—is not gifts, but payment for services rendered (or punishment for services not rendered). Thus Sauron experiences no gratitude, no wonder, and no joy. His consolation is his illusion that, sufficient unto himself, he owes nothing to anyone.
Tolkien's good characters all seem to know that they are formed and live by the giving and receiving of gifts. The scene capped below celebrates that. Bilbo gives what he has first received—marvellous, unlooked-for boons—and Frodo receives them as such. The old hobbit's wonder begets wonder anew, and the legacy continues.
As with previous entries, I will be including the film dialogue that goes with the caps, as well as the book scene, if there is one, or a related scene that complements the images.
Also, there is a poem. Jan-u-wine's Finely Crafted is written from Frodo's point of view after the War. It's a dark poem, but when I read it and scroll back up to look at the caps, Frodo's innocent wonder and delight seem all the more poignant and piercing. I can't see him holding the beautiful, storied weapon aloft in the same way again.
More than the small bright blade of Gondolin is finely crafted.
Book scene: from The Ring Goes South.
On the morning of the last day Frodo was alone with Bilbo, and the old hobbit pulled out from under his bed a wooden box. He lifted the lid and fumbled inside.
‘Here is your sword,’ he said. ‘But it was broken, you know. I took it to keep it safe but I’ve forgotten to ask if the smiths could mend it. No time now. So I thought, perhaps, you would care to have this, don’t you know?’
He took from the box a small sword in an old shabby leathern scabbard. Then he drew it, and its polished and well-tended blade glittered suddenly, cold and bright. ‘This is Sting,’ he said, and thrust it with little effort deep into a wooden beam. ‘Take it, if you like. I shan’t want it again, I expect.’
Frodo accepted it gratefully.
In Rivendell, in the bedroom where Frodo recovered from the knife wound, Bilbo is removing a sword from its cloth wrappings.
Bilbo: My old sword, Sting! Here, take it, take it!
Frodo takes the sword from its sheath, holds it up and turns it in the light, admiring it.
Frodo: With wondering admiration:It's so light!
Bilbo: Yes, yes—made by the Elves, you know. The blade glows blue when Orcs are close. And it’s times like that, my lad, when you'll have to be extra careful!
~ by jan-u-wine
It is finely crafted, 'tis said.....
I shall not wear it again,
raise my hand
The beauty of Elvish
like runnelled water,
down the face of the blade,
its silvered flowers
upon my dishonored
It pains me now,
pains me to look
how beautiful I once
It *is* beautiful,
it is only I
who have changed.
of a Ring-bearer....
who might bear such a burden....
the bitter mettle which
in twain at the last,
running liquid with fear
I do not wish to remember this
I do not wish to see red,
to meet the crimson of my own
I do not wish to recall
rent by desire,
until I could not say with certainty
of us had gone into the fire.
I only know
I wished for it to be me.
Even as you,
fair blade of the West…..
~ Riv. 11: Council of Elrond 5 – ‘We're coming, too’, plus jan-u-wine’s 'On Being Part of a Grand Story'.