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Welcome, dear readers, as always. In our last post, we had turned our attention to water-crossings in The Hobbit. In this, we want to continue our study with The Lord of the Rings.
We were first prompted to look at such crossings by something Boromir said, almost in passing:
“Four hundred leagues I reckoned it, and it took me many months, for I lost my horse at Tharbad, at the fording of the Greyflood.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 8, “Farewell to Lorien”)
Tharbad had once been famous for its elaborate defenses and bridge, but, symbolic of so much of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, it had fallen into decay and was abandoned, the water of the Gwathlo, the Greyflood, spreading wide—an easy place to lose a horse—or a man.
And perhaps Boromir’s loss is also symbolic of the higher level of stress involved in crossing water in the later work. The most Bilbo and the dwarves had to deal with was a water of forgetfulness, whose effect wore off in a relatively short time. There is much worse to come.
The first crossing (after The Water in Hobbiton)
has danger attached, but it’s a danger which pursues the hobbits at the Bucklebury ferry. Here, pursued by one—or more—wraiths,
they cross over by what is a kind of do-it-yourself ferry, where the ferry runs on a cable, which keeps it available and on course, while the passengers pole to add propulsion.
There is a puzzle at their next crossing—because the hobbits don’t appear to have crossed at all! This is the River Withywindle, on whose bank the hobbits meet up with Old Man Willow (not as in the film, where he’s been pulled violently out of context and replanted, for no good reason we can see, in Fangorn’s forest).
Until we began to study water-crossings, we had never really thought about what happens then. The hobbits come to the river, having become lost in the Old Forest. Pippin and Merry are swallowed by the tree. Tom Bombadil comes to the rescue: but how do they cross the Withywindle? We just couldn’t remember! So we went back to the text, saw Tom lead the four hobbits through the forest, where they almost lose him, then they hear: “Hop along, my little friends, up the Withywindle!” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 6, “The Old Forest”)
And so they never actually ford across or are ferried across. Instead, they walk up its course to Tom’s house, which seems to be near the source.
The next crossing is many miles away—over the Barrow Downs, through Bree, past Weathertop, to the Last Bridge, over the Hoarwell. Although Aragorn is anxious that the Wraiths will have gotten there before them, they pass safely and keep moving southwards, towards Rivendell, until, near the ford over the Bruinen, the Nazgul catch up with them at last.
There is a bridge, of course, at Khazad-Dum, although, as far as we can tell, there is no water even in the depths far below it.
Escaping from Moria, the Fellowship reaches two streams in a row and, as far as we know, none of the prominent illustrators has given us pictures, either of the tributary Nimrodel or the main river, the Celebrant, so we provide a rather generic picture to offer a rather general idea.
The Nimrodel is shallow enough to wade across, but the Celebrant is wider and deeper and the Elves provide a rather iffy method of transport: a single line of rope to balance on, making us imagine something like the famous Blondin crossing Niagara Falls in 1859—well, a little!
The next crossing is almost inadvertent, or, at least happens sooner than expected: the Fellowship has been paddling down the Anduin, but, putting in at Amon Hen, things go disastrously wrong. Boromir tries to take the Ring, the orcs appear, Boromir is mortally wounded, and Merry and Pippin are carried off (in our edition—the 50th Anniversary, One Volume Edition—this takes all of 12 pages—quite a narrative feat for JRRT!), before Frodo (and Sam) cross the river to the east and story begins its major split.
[We might insert here, although, in The Lord of the Rings, it’s only a footnote that at the crossing of the Isen, during this time, Theodred, son of Theoden, is killed.]
After this, there is only one more crossing of any significance, but it’s not by the main characters: rather, it’s by the orcs, who use boats to assault and capture west Osgiliath, which is the subject of one of our earlier postings.
To which we would add the return crossing, days later, of the Forlorn Hope of Gondor and Rohan, on their way to challenge Sauron (and to distract him from Frodo and Sam).
To finish up this posting, we provide a chart below (clearly now one of a series, after the earlier one on doorways and passages) of the water-crossings found in the two books.
|Tharbad||Boromir||Loses horse||The Lord of the Rings|
|The Water||Bilbo||Joins Dwarves||The Hobbit|
|An unnamed river||Bilbo, Dwarves, and Gandalf||Lose baggage||The Hobbit|
|Rivendell||Bilbo Dwarves, and Gandalf||Helped by Elves||The Hobbit|
|Anduin||Bilbo, Dwarves, and Gandalf||Transported by eagles||The Hobbit|
|Enchanted River||Bilbo and Dwarves||Bombur drugged||The Hobbit|
|Underground river||Bilbo and Dwarves||Using barrels, Bilbo and Dwarves escape||The Hobbit|
|The Long Lake||Bilbo and Dwarves||Gain help from Esgaroth||The Hobbit|
|The Brandywine (Bucklebury Ferry)||Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin||Escape Wraith||The Lord of the Rings|
|Withywindle||Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin||Reach Tom Bombadil’s house (never actually cross river)||The Lord of the Rings|
|The Bruinen||Frodo and Wraiths||Elrond causes river surge, Nazgul driven off||The Lord of the Rings|
|Khazad-Dum||Balrog and Gandalf||Gandalf defeats Balrog, but falls down with him||The Lord of the Rings|
|Fellowship and Elves||Fellowship brought into Lorien||The Lord of the Rings|
|Anduin||Frodo and Sam||Set out on journey to the east||The Lord of the Rings|
|Isen||Rohirrim and Orcs||Rohirrim driven back, Theodred, son of Theoden, killed||The Lord of the Rings|
|Anduin||Gondorians vs Orcs||Gondorians driven back from West Ogsiliath||The Lord of the Rings|
This is our last posting for the year 2016 and we close the year with thanks to all who follow our blog or simply stop in for a visit. In 2017, we plan to continue our Tolkien travels, sometimes employing the Sortes Tolkienses, as well as to use Tolkien’s world to visit others, beginning with a posting on “Famous Bridge Battles”, from Boromir and Faramir jumping off one to escape the orcs, to Napoleon at Arcola, and beyond. Here’s a taste…
We also plan to explore other worlds and perhaps to add a review section for books and films we think you might enjoy.
In the meantime, thanks, as ever, for reading. Happy New Year!
What sad and surprising news! Princess Leia is no more– but no– Princess Leia will always be with us, just like the Force.