Reading “The Lord of the Rings:” “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” and “A Conspiracy Unmasked”

I’ve decided to do two chapters in one post today, not just because the two chapters are both rather short, but also because I’m finding that my reading is quickly outpacing my writing.  It always surprises me just how difficult to put down this novel really is!

Anyway, on we go.

I know I mentioned that the last chapter was one of the most frightening moments, but I realized after reading these two that the frights continue.  I remember being a youth of around 9 and reading the passage with the long-drawn wail echoing down the wind and being absolutely terrified of what was going to happen.  Likewise the scene in which the hobbits espy one of the Black Riders lurking on the other side of the Brandywine, a dark and shadowy reminder of the very real threat that has come all the way to their doorstep.

Thankfully, the chapter is not all unrelieved terror and horror.  Even as Sauron’s evil has begun to infiltrate even into the Shire, the hobbits find a measure of succour with the lively and earthy Farmer Maggot.  Though he is as simple as most hobbits, the novel takes great pains to show us that he is also much sharper than he might at first appear, and that there is a genuine goodness to his heart that leads him to help those in need.  This is, in a way, the spirit of the Shire and its many hobbits distilled into its finest and purest form.

That, to me, is one of the most brilliant things about these two chapters.  They manage to keep the tension going for just the right amount of time before allowing us a respite from it all, either through the brief sojourn in the house of Farmer Maggot or in the relative warmth and comfort of the house at Crickhollow.  Furthermore, it highlights the commonplace, everyday strength of friends, of hearth and hollow, that lie at the moral and ethical heart of the novel as a whole.  Though threats from outside may emerge and try to overcome their good, wholesome ways, such threats will be met and overcome through these cardinal virtues.

Further, these two chapters also allow us to see a little of that iron and inner strength that sits at the core of all of the hobbits of the Shire.  These are a people that have known no small amount of hardship–as the passing reference to the Fell Winter somewhat later makes clear–and yet they have persevered.  As Tolkien himself notes at several places, it is precisely the awareness of the fragility of the peace of the Shire that makes the hobbits so willing to protect it.  It would be a mistake, the novel reminds us again and gain, to view them as foolish or soft, no matter how much they might appear so.

And yet, there is still a sense of sadness in these chapters, particularly as Frodo begins to realize that it may be quite some time before he is able to return to his beloved homeland.  The events that have swept him up care little for whether or not he wants to leave his home.  And as readers who are familiar with the novel know, even the Shire will not remain unchanged.  However, it is also equally clear, even at this early point, that no matter what comes, the good, simple, noble hobbits will survive whatever the outside world has to throw at them.  Fortunately, the same can also be said of the company of four, and even of Fatty Bolger, as the forthcoming chapters will amply demonstrate.

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