A Shortcut to Mushrooms #2: The Road Goes Ever On and Off

      Frodo finished his breakfast in silence. Then standing up he looked over the land ahead, and called to Pippin.

     'All ready to start?' he said as Pippin ran up. 'We must be getting off at once. We slept late; and there are a good many miles to go.'

     "'You" slept late, you mean,' said Pippin. 'I was up long before; and we are only waiting for you to finish eating and thinking.'

     'I have finished both now. And I am going to make for Bucklebury Ferry as quickly as possible. I am not going out of the way, back to the road we left last night: I am going to cut straight across country from here.'

     'Then you are going to fly,' said Pippin. 'You won't cut straight on foot anywhere in this country.'

     'We can cut straighter than the road anyway,' answered Frodo. 'The Ferry is east from Woodhall; but the hard road curves away to the left -you can see a bend of it away north over there. It goes round the north end of the Marish so as to strike the causeway from the Bridge above Stock. But that is miles out of the way. We could save a quarter of the distance if we made a line for the Ferry from where we stand.'



squire: Here is the map from the book to help us imagine Frodo’s plan. The blue is the Road. To reach it, they would retrace their steps somewhat from the Elven “hall” above Woodhall, and then follow it North around the Marish country, through Stock, to the Ferry. The red is Frodo’s short cut: the dotted line is how he imagines it will go, straight East to the Ferry, and the solid line is their actual path in the end.



squire: Here is a photo of the English Fens country, upon which I believe the “Marish” is based; and just for giggles, a redrawn 1600s map. If the Shire around Hobbiton is the green and hilly Midlands, the Marish is the low and flat wet country of Lincoln and Norwich.


squire: 1. Tolkien spent a lot of effort in his first drafts just imagining Frodo’s journey to Buckland, because he was inventing The Shire on the fly, starting only from The Hobbit’s simple Road east. He finally settled on this geography by making a map. Would The Lord of the Rings be readable without its maps? Are Tolkien’s maps better than the host of maps included in the host of ripoff fantasy romances ever since?

mad6986: The Maps are Great! I constantly find myself looking back to the maps as I'm reading to get a good sense of where exactly the characters are.

drogo_drogo: The road less traveled Tolkien knew the importance of maps, I suspect, from his wartime experience when they had to navigate through the wilds of France.  And like any good Englishman, a walking stick is a vital part of one's daily ritual.  The level of detail he gives to the geography is what sets Tolkien's fantasy apart from other writers who don't have as close a tie to the contours of the land and the shape of terrain.  Most other writers tend to envision geographical places that bear little resemblance to their own land or to lands they have experienced, but Tolkien used lands he knew firsthand as the basis for his imaginary landscape, and that give them a much better illusion of reality.

NottaSackville: I think I do Tolkien a disservice All the maps in the book could be blank for all I care.  When I read a book, I have only the vaguest notion of where things lie, where they are going, and how far it is from one place to another.  "Northeast to Isengard" is just fine with me, because it tells me that the orcs are going to Isengard.  The fact that Isengard isn't actually to the NE would never have occured to me.

Part of this, I suppose, is because when I read fantasy, I'm much more of a "story" person and much less of a "detail" person, which is very much unlike me in real life. 

But there is a second, much more concrete reason.  Because in fact, I have a personal creed specifically AGAINST looking at maps when I read a book.  Too often I found that maps foreshawdoed too much of the story.  Maps tend to show only the (and all the) locations important in the story, so if something was or wasn't on the map, it strongly indicated where the story was, or wasn't going.  Tolkien, is, of course, a bit of an exception here in that his maps contain considerable extra information.

However, in reading the HOME volumes on the writing of LOTR, it has become clear to me just how much work and care Tolkien put into his maps and distances and dates.  So while I'm not likely to begin to care deeply about these things on the next reading of LOTR, I'll probably pay a bit more attention to them.

squire: Nice point You're right: lots of places and names besides those needed for the story is what distinguishes his maps from so many others. Another triumph of the "unexplained vista" theory of realistic fantasy.

CelebornsMirror: Tolkien maps vrs. Real Life Maps To me they are both the same:  Nonsense!  I don't really understand them, nor do I want to.  Somehow I don't think maps ever *really* tell you whats going on.

Aunt Dora Baggins: One thing the map ruined for me was being able to internalize the idea that it took Sauron so long to figure out where the Shire was.  Why didn't he just look on the map?  Of course I didn't voice this as a real concern, but I have to force myself to realize that the map is for us, and that the players don't have access to it.  My sister recently bought me a LotR board game at a garage sale.  One thing I love about it (though I haven't played it yet) is that you start with a very small board, and only add new parts of the map as you arrive, which is the way the participants would have experienced it.  Of course Elrond had a map, but even so it's not clear how complete it was.

N. E. Brigand: That's a neat idea! Maybe Tolkien could've presented "facsimiles" of the maps available to the characters, rather like he tried to do with the Book of Mazarbul.

drogo_drogo: Well, Sauron's AAA map of Eriador was a bit outdated :) He was too busy looking for the old Fornost Stuckey's and that nice little Motel 6 on the Greenway that was torn down in T.A. 1974.

Aerlinn: Well, I can say for fact - that LotR is quite readable without reference to the maps, because I rarely used them in the beginning, and I still don't very often. I’m living proof of the theory that women aren’t as adept at spatial abilities as men are; I like exploring maps, but only occasionally refer to them, because I’m afraid I tend to zone out over details of direction and distance in the text as many do the poetry. (One of the things that drives me to distraction in HoMe is the concentration on how the Road originally was plotted thus and such, and was shifted *so* to meet up with something else. I know it’s important - just not to me. ;)  )

Aunt Dora Baggins: Maps When I dream about LotR, which I do fairly often, the landscape frequently looks rather like the map in the book.  I always refer to the map when reading the book, and have for thirty years, so my mental image of Middle Earth is colored through and through by the map.  The scenery in my LotR dreams is often scaled down, or I can see farther than is realistic, as though it were taking place on a large map.  The book would be very different for me without it.

Finding Frodo: Thanks for the excellent map, Squire!  I really need things spelled out for me, and have rarely referred to the maps in the past.  I'm trying to study them during this reading since I have the nice big fold-out ones, but I can't keep them in my head the way I can memorize a poem, and have to constantly go back and forth whenever a place or a direction is mentioned.  After a while I give up.

Arquen: Bravo, Squire I shall have to brush up my toes to draw even, now.  Gently are you revenged for my interminable photos and geographizing.

While of course the book is perfectly readable without the maps, to those of us whose lives are devoted to maps, his maps just sing.  Perhaps the problem many have is that they have been subjected to bad maps for so long that they have learned to avoid 'em, while some of us, who must soldier on despite horrible maps, weep for joy when we find a good one.  Maps are like wine, they vary from cheap red throw-down to exquisite bordeaux.  The maps are yet another part of world-building, and are part of the glue that holds the narrative structure together.  

Speaking of vintage maps, confess:  where is that 1661 map of the marsh country from?  I was unable to rummage out a reference.  *peers suspiciously at pixellated screen* Did YOU do that?

Unhhhn, what was the question?

squire: Gently are you revenged on my gentle revenge to flatter me, and share my love of maps, and then not answer a single question.

Snap to, Arq.

Below is the link to the older map. It is not attributed, but I suspect it is connected to the 1951 text noted on the web page: H.C. Darby's "The Medieval Fenland".

I had no idea maps were so traumatic for people. That's the beauty of this forum; everyone comes to Tolkien from a different place.

Map of the UK Fens

Estelwyn: Map trauma "I had no idea maps were so traumatic for people."

As someone who loves maps, but who has worked in outdoor programmes trying to teach reluctant teenagers to read them, I was very aware of this.  Which is why I get such a thrill out of finding people here who share my love of maps.

BTW, don't you just love that line in the movie where Bilbo is decribed as "poring over old maps"?  I know that, in context, it's meant to imply his Ring-induced restlessness, but I still love the image of the old Hobbit as someone whose sense of adventure is tied up with old bits of parchment!

Kimi: "He [Bilbo] loved maps, and in his hall there hung a large one of the Country Round with all his favourite walks marked on it in red ink." From The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party".

Even in his homebody days Bilbo loved maps. Perhaps those of us who love maps (and that includes me) are also susceptible to itchy feet, even if it takes a wizard to set some of us off.

Lúthien_Rising: The evocation of maps is, I think, a result of their near-unique combination of visual imagery (particularly in the old-style maps that accompany LOTR) and words. In our real experience, we perceive with all our senses and process that experience through language in thought; that visceral experience is perhaps more vividly recalled by a source that is suggestive (but – and I think this is key – indirectly) of more than one of those factors, rather than visuals or language or whatever other sense-impression alone.

Estelwyn: Ooh, more maps!  :-) As I've mentioned before, I've spent a lot of time backcountry hiking, much of it off-trail.   One of my chief joys in that is the intellectual challenge of navigation, in which map-reading plays an essential part.  I like the sense of how-this-relates-to-that which a good map gives me, both in RL and within a story.

One of my biggest frustrations with my otherwise-much-loved-for-years paperback copies of LOTR is the maps.  When I started rereading LOTR post-TTT movie it drove me to distraction that the scale was so small as to make the maps almost unreadable, and that I couldn't have them open and read the text at the same time (the flipping back and forth scenario, argh!).  I wasted invested many, many hours in trying to find a decent M-e map online, which search was largely unsuccessful (although one of the things I found along the way was TORn *grin*).  I tried to buy a copy of the John Howe illustrated map, but at that time it was out of print and scarce as hen's teeth, at least here.

All of which is to say that I would have enjoyed LOTR very much less without the maps.  It would have been readable, of course, but wouldn't have felt so real.  That there are details on those maps that don't ever enter into the story, gives the sense of there being so much more in Tolkien's world than just the arena of the main characters.

To my mind the maps are an essential part of building the world of LOTR.  They add depth and realness to that world in a similar way to the untranslated lines of Elvish, or the unexplained references to ancient times; the snippets of old tales and legends out of half-forgotten history.  All of which (maps included) combines to give a sense of something much bigger that what is right in front of me as I read.

After reading Tolkien's Letters recently, and learning how much he struggled over the maps I now treasure them even more.  Thank heavens for the assistance of Christopher, pulling it all together at the eleventh hour, or we might not have them at all!  Which would be make it a lesser book IMO. 

And no, the few other fantasy novels I have read don't come close in the quality of their maps -- that is they may be prettier, or easier to read, but in terms of accuracy, or believabilty, or that tantalilsing sense of there being more out there, they fall well short.

FWIW, I do now have a recent hardback edition of LOTR with a large fold-out map (aaah), and the full set of John Howe illustrated maps, which I absolutely adore.  :-)

Beren IV: I love the maps I have a sort of a mindset where hard facts, like maps with real scales on them, appeal to me more than just simple descriptions, although the descriptions themselves give a much better idea of what the various portions of the map really represent.

Lúthien_Rising: As do I but for different reasons, and I find that with each reading I look at them less — except for their own sakes (they are admirable in and of themselves). But at first I was dreadfully confused about where they were, with all those twisting and turnings, and afraid I might be missing something significant in the detail. I now think I should have just let myself be lost along with them, and sometimes now I can just manage it.

An seleichan:  I shall be telling this with a sigh :-)

Once upon a time, I had two poster sized maps of ME. They hung on the wall of my first apartment, and then as a newlywed in my first home and then...I got rid of them in some move or other. Sigh.


Readable, yes, but better with the maps. I think Tolkien understood maps a lot better than I do. For instance, I wouldn't really have a clue if you told me you covered X amount of the map in X number of days. I would just smile and nod. But someone who really understood maps, like Tolkien, could actually sit down and plot how long it would take to walk from point A to point B over X kind of terrain, etc. Or how long by horse. This adds immeasurably to the reality of the storyline, even if it's invisible to me.

OTOH, I love to look at the maps in the book. Like others here, I still take the map out and refer to it every time I read. They are now inseparable from the book reading experience.

Kimi: I love maps, and Tolkien's are a delight - certainly a cut above the run-of-the-mill. (An aside: Mr Kimi bought me a set of John Howe's illustrated maps for an anniversary present, and I enjoy "poring" over them in Bilbo-like fashion.) Middle-earth would be less vivid for me without the maps.

N.E. Brigand: Is the map wrong? Or the case of the missing road—more on that subject after your questions.

I love maps.  I’ve spent many hours poring over a big book map of Ohio that shows every stream and woodlot, trying to find the locations described in Roger Conant’s wonderful 1951 natural history monograph, Reptiles of Ohio.

I’d love to see a study as to which elements appear only on Tolkien’s maps and not in the texts, and a discussion of how those elements work to support the story.  One important thing about Tolkien’s maps is Tolkien’s names, and how he gives meaning to location.

TheLotR is readable without maps, but Tolkien did note that he needed the maps to write it.

Nice work on the discussion (and the maps) by the way—very impressive, especially considering you stepped in after the last minute.

Finally, there’s some difficulty with the map:

1.  In the previous chapter, when the hobbits reached the fork in the road after sunset, we read:  “At that point it bent left and went down into the Lowlands of the Yale, making for Stock; but a lane branched right, winding through a wood of ancient oak-trees on its way to Woodhall…‘That is the way for us,’ said Frodo.”

2.  When the elves agree to take the hobbits to their hall, Gildor says:  “It is some miles, but you shall have rest at the end of it, and it will shorten your journey tomorrow.”

3.  And from the passage you cite:  “’We can cut straighter than the road anyway,’ answered Frodo.  ‘The Ferry  is south-east from Woodhall; but the road curves away to the left—you can see a bend of it away north over there.  It goes round the north end of the Marish so as to strike the causeway from the Bridge above Stock.  But that is miles out of the way.  We could save a quarter of the distance if we made a line for the Ferry from where we stand.” [emphasis added]

Using the routes shown on your map, it looks to me like Frodo’s short cut (dotted red line) would be less than half as long as walking back to the road to Stock and around (solid blue line).  And Frodo had already made the choice to take the Woodhall road before meeting the elves.  And Gildor said that going east along the Woodhall road would shorten the hobbits’ later journey, which it would not if they had to retrace their steps back to the Stock road, with no dissent from the hobbits.

I think there’s a road missing from the map, that leads from Woodhall to Stock; this road would parallel the Stock road a few miles to the south, still out of the way, but not nearly so far.  This missing road is the one Frodo refers to.  It’s seems quite unlikely, anyway, that Woodhall could only be reached by a side road from the west, with no direct access to the next nearest town.

squire: Very astute. I too thought the "dead-end" character of the road to Woodhall was odd.

Originally, in the first draft, the road east out of the Woody End was a single way that headed south of west, across the flats to the River, in distinction from the very first map which always showed the fork and the dead end. Tolkien failed to correct this discrepancy until the second edition of FotR, at which point the text finally was changed to note the fork in the road, with the main way veering north, and a little lane going down to Woodhall. "Finally", because the published map had shown this arrangement just as the first one did. (see HoME Vol. VI, p. 66 and p. 107 for notes on the Shire map and the Woodhall lane.)

Since that particular feature of Frodo's route was fixed from the beginning, one must conclude that had the Elves not come along Frodo would have gone cross-country to get to the River in any case. Also, since there was never a road between Woodhall and the River in Tolkien's mind, that country must be too wet ("bogs"?) to support wheeled traffic. Thus Frodo had a difficult, wet cross-country route awaiting him by his own choice, and the argument about the short cut, which he seems to have decided upon while thinking during breakfast, is moot; it seems he decided upon it the moment he took the right-hand turn at the fork ("'That is the way for us', said Frodo." -- p. 75).

Ataahua: I first read LOTR without looking at the maps, and it honestly made the story difficult to follow as I didn't have a visual aid detailing how one country related physically to another.

On my second read I made an effort to follow the story by keeping track of the action on the maps, and that made the book *much* easier to follow and understand.

Aerin: I'm sure the books are readable without the maps, but not by me! I always have the relevant map unfolded next to me while I read, and consult it frequently (and also Fonstad's Atlas of ME). But then, I love maps! I used maps a lot while doing my field work, collect maps of every place I visit, and download old maps from the Internet to aid in my genealogical research. I find them endlessly fascinating and often beautiful.

FarFromHome: On Roads and Maps I'm not much of a map person, and never really bothered with the maps (maybe because the cheap paperbacks I've always owned have such small, blurry ones) but the movies made me see Middle-Earth as a concrete place and got me interested in the geography. Now that I have a pretty good idea of where everything is, I've realized how much the geography adds to the story - I guess I just never knew what I was missing.

Owlyross: I don't have the time to rely... but Whhat a fantastic start to the presentation of this chapter! Excellent!

Atlas: The road goes ever on LOTR would, of course, be readable without a map, but a map is very important to what Tolkien was trying to do. He wasn't merely writing a story; he was "sub-creating". He was trying to create a world that was as real and deep as it was possible for him to make. The languages, the histories, the maps, the consistent phases of the moon, all of that was worked on by Tolkien to make his world seem real. And while a fantasy could be readable without a map, it wouldn't be as good.

Silent_Watcher: Maps are certainly the main reason why I stuck to the story when I first read LotR. In fact I can't dissociate my first reading from the maps and I still refer to them.

Hence my wallpaper.

HobbitLoveR*M-e: Very late arrival here, but have to say to those who are indifferent to the maps that I feel they are as intergal to the story (for me) as the prose of the story. I love them! They help me visualize  landforms and distances and where one place is located in relation to another, which I can only do by seeing it on a map. Besides all that the most fun thing about the maps are the names. It all has value to the story for me.

I too pour over the maps and wouldn't think of reading the books without Barabara Strachey's, Karen Fonstad's, and John Howe's maps.

Ibo: Maps, posters and social identity I have always liked maps, but these days I have to use not only my ”office glasses” (for reading and computing) but also a strong lamp and my fathers old magnifying glass… But your map, Squire, was readable. Thanks.

I think maps, especially old maps can be used as art, and in my office at work i have one large in blue, green and red on the wall. Since it’s an old map of our town, most visitors comment on it and are interested to show places they know well, or point out differences to ”the real world”. I’m sure that all who see that map, also make an (unconscious) reflection on my personality.

When I was a teenager I bought posters of maps from LotR, large enough to hang on the wall, and with illustrations of, I think, Pualine Baynes. Over the actual map, there was a border with the fellowship and the horse Bill walking away from you. I hung the posters on the wall wherever I moved, until they were so worn and shabby, I had to throw them away. I kept them as long as I could, not only because I found them pleasing to the eye, I also wanted to ”warn” visitors, that this was the home of a nerd.

Once we were several students who did a work at the home of one of us. He lived alone in a one-room apartment, so there was not much room on the walls. So this young man had put two posters on the bathroom wall, so that they were clearly seen from his ”relaxation spot” in the bath tub. One was a poster-map from LotR, the other was Niel Armstrong walking on the moon. To me, not only were the posters beautiful, they were clearly put there together like a sort of sign, telling those who could decode the message, that this was a person who really liked new technology, and did not see the future like a threat, but at the same time, apreciated that, which is magic, mythological and I’m sure you know what I mean. 

In some of the Dungeons & Dragons-moduls, there are beautiful city-maps, with each house, tempel or castle painted, as a picture, instead of just squares representing on or many houses. They are really nice, and if I owned one of those, I would imediatly hang it on the wall. To those who write fantasy, I’m sure it could be an unfailing sorce of inspiration! Each house a new story.

Myself, I only write about the hardships and shames of having to live with a dog like mine…

Grammaboodawg: Frodo's shortcut! I always find this part amusing where the Took is being logical and practical and the Baggins wants to take hasty shortcuts!  He just wants to get away from the road and get the trip over with asap!

Oh... the maps are such a gift!  Tolkien is genius at describing the land and surroundings in detail, but to have a map in which to place them is delightful!

CactusWren: Another map lover here Maybe it's because of my upbringing, but I have always loved maps.  As has been pointed out, those tiny-format maps in the 1970s Ballantine editions were hard to read, and I found them frustrating because in reading as well as in life, I like to know where I am.  (I grabbed Fonstad's Atlas the minute I saw it.)

And as has also been mentioned, that's one thing that's often disappointing in other works, particularly fantasy:  inadequate or nonexistent maps.  When I was going through my Darkover phase, one source of constant frustration for me was that there seemed to be no "map" of Darkover:  I don't mean only "no map in the books", but "no map in Marion Zimmer Bradley's mind".  She wrote the Darkover stories over a period of some forty years, and never bothered to establish any kind of consistency beyond place-names and the notion that the land was mountainous:  it seemed not to trouble her in the slightest that the same two places might be a day's easy journey apart in one book, but separated by a week's hard travel in another.

Grammaboodawg: "No map in her mind" Well said!  The depth of Tolkien's love and respect for this world he's created never ceases to amaze me and never seems to end.  Discovery... I've experience more discovery through his works than anythings else I can think of.  Maps keep us on track... and guide us home.



squire: 2. Is it plausible that the hobbits walk from Hobbiton to the Marish without meeting anyone except Elves? Just how populous and well-cultivated is the Shire?

mad6986: I understand what your saying about not meeting anyone else and I have to agree I don 't know how they can walk and not see anyone.

drogo_drogo: The Shire is probably like rural England, a land dotted with farms and homes, but open spaces for people to walk through in comparative peace.  Although England is very densely populated, their love of walking and the ideas of right of way, etc., have allowed them to keep fields and woods open.  Thus the Hobbits, being little Englishmen in a fantasy England, are not straining credibility by avoiding detection, even though the Shire is the most populated part of otherwise rather empty Eriador.

Aerlinn: The film set it fairly well as I’ve pictured it: farmland, fields, open countryside. They’re trying to avoid being seen, by anyone, so they’re purposely choosing a path that will allow that.

Estelwyn: Now that you mention it, it does seem odd that the hobbits don't meeting anyone else on their walk.  However, they did set out at night, which got them through the most populated areas and although they've been following a road, I had the impression they weren't always walking on it.  Wasn't there a reference too, several pages back, to them being on seldom-used roads over the day before meeting Gildor?  I think I've always imagined other nameless hobbits going about their business in the background -- across a field, or something.  Or do I have that image in my head becasue of the movie?  Hmm.

N. E. Brigand: On and off the road. "although they've been following a road, I had the impression they weren't always walking on it"

The first night out, they went cross-country, first south for about four miles, then southeast for several more, then they reached the road that runs from Tuckborough to Stock and travelled several miles east on it until they rested in a fir-wood for the night.

The next day they continued east on the same road until they reached the fringe of the Woody End in late afternoon and were overtaken by a Black Rider.  After the Rider left, they walked a few more hours parallel to, but out-of-sight of, the road.

After sunset they reached a fork in the road:  the left branch ran to Stock while the right branch went to the village of Woodhall.  They returned to the road, taking the right branch, and had gone a little ways when they were again overtaken by a Black Rider and then by the elves.  The elves led them "some miles" farther along this road toward Woodhall, then took them right into the trees and up onto a ridge that overlooked that village and the Marish.

Estelwyn: Ah *pulls out map* Thanks for that.  Nice summary!  Sounds like they could easily have avoided running into anyone, since they didn't spend a lot of time on the road/s except after dark.  Still begs the question  (squire's) of how densely populated that area of the Shire is, though, doesn't it?  Have to give that one some more thought.

Kimi: What drogo_drogo said.

N.E. Brigand:  Tolkien tries to make the lack of roadside encounters plausible, when he writes, “So far they had not met a soul on the road.  This way was not much used, being hardly fit for carts, and there was little traffic to the Woody End,” and also, “It climbed away from the main road in the Water-valley, and wound over the skirts of the Green Hills toward Woody End, a wild corner of the Eastfarthing.”  They’re passing through an uncultivated backcountry.  I’ve been on paths, only a few miles from small towns, where I’ve walked all day and only met other recreational backpackers, a class of people who are probably fewer in the Shire than in the real world today.

FarFromHome: I think you could walk for miles on country roads in England without meeting anyone, before the motor-car changed the world - especially in the days of Tolkien's youth, when rail travel had taken most of the horse-drawn traffic off the roads.


      "'Short cuts make long delays,'" argued Pippin. 'The country is rough round here, and there are bogs and all kinds of difficulties down in the Marish -I know the land in these parts. And if you are worrying about Black Riders, I can't see that it is any worse meeting them on a road than in a wood or a field.'

     'It is less easy to find people in the woods and fields,' answered Frodo. 'And if you are supposed to be on the road, there is some chance that you will be looked for on the road and not off it.'

     'All right!' said Pippin. 'I will follow you into every bog and ditch. But it is hard! I had counted on passing the "Golden Perch" at Stock before sundown. The best beer in the Eastfarthing, or used to be: it is a long time since I tasted it.'

     'That settles it!' said Frodo. 'Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones. At all costs we must keep you away from the "Golden Perch". We want to get to Bucklebury before dark. What do you say, Sam?'

     'I will go along with you, Mr. Frodo,' said Sam (in spite of private misgiving and a deep regret for the best beer in the Eastfarthing).

     'Then if we are going to toil through bog and briar, let's go now!' said Pippin.


squire: 3. Why does Pippin argue against leaving the Road? Has he been this assertive before?

mad6986: Pippen really hasen't been assertive before but I think that he just wants to have clear path ahead of him. But, I believe if they really knew what the black riders were they would have no disputes about leaving the road.

drogo_drogo: Pippin here is first experiencing the shock of leaving the familiar, so this is the point at which he finally speaks up.  He also really wanted that beer (he is like a spoiled frat boy in contemporary American terms!).

Aerlinn: I keep being surprised at how assertive Pippin can be. And if you are worrying about Black Riders, I can't see that it is any worse meeting them on a road than in a wood or a field.' I believe his point may be that facing these Black Riders in the middle of a cornfield or meadow would be at least as dangerous as meeting them on the Road; at least on the Road you might see them coming, whereas in wilder parts it might be easier to be taken by surprise.

Finding Frodo: The best beer in the Eastfarthing I agree with drogo_drogo that Pippin was arguing the case of the Road just so he could get his beer he was looking forward to.  The conspiracy has been mostly a game for him so far.  He won't start to grow up until later.

Kimi: Pippin's thinking of that beer. He's used to getting his own way, but he stays cheerful even when he doesn't.

N.E. Brigand: Pippin argues against leaving the road because of the Golden Perch and because he’s right about the off-road obstacles, as they find in the undergrowth at the bottom of the hill and the confusing belt of trees beyond.  However, they don’t seem to have much trouble with bogs.

FarFromHome: Pippin's not keen on fighting his way through the bogs and brambles, and he is very keen on trying the legendary beer of the Golden Perch. He's still pretty naive about what's going on, and at his most 'unquenchable'.

Owlyross: I think Pippin argues against leaving the road because he is not fully aware of the danger involved, nor does he take the necessity of secrecy seriously enough.


 squire: 4. Does Sam really have a vote in this decision?

mad6986: Sam I believe does have a vote but no matter what he would always vote with Frodo even if he wanted to do the opposite just like in this situation.

drogo_drogo: Sam's role at this stage is more that of the servant, so I don't see him having gained an equal footing with the others just yet.

Aerlinn: I think Sam does have a vote; if he had had strenuous and reasonable objections to leaving the road he would have been listened to, especially knowing the area as he does. But I also think that Frodo had a pretty strong feeling he would *not* object, and was mainly asking Sam’s opinion to outvote Pippin.

Finding Frodo: Frodo is asking Sam to back him up and Sam complies.  Anyway, he had his beer when he said good-bye to the barrel at Bag End!

Kimi:  Sam's agreement with Frodo is a foregone conclusion.

      N.E. Brigand:  If Sam spoke against him, Frodo would at least listen, but Sam won’t do that.

FarFromHome: Yes, I think Frodo is genuinely asking for Sam's opinion, and I think Sam is giving it - he'll have harder decisions to make for Frodo's sake than giving up a chance for beer. (And he'll be rewarded for his forbearance when they meet Farmer Maggot, who IIRC serves very good beer himself.) Frodo, it seems to me, always treats Sam very much as an equal, and it's Sam who 'knows his place' (he's been well trained by the Gaffer) and doesn't presume on Frodo's courtesy.

Silent_Watcher: Sam has no choice. The line " deep regret for the best beer in Eastfarthing" says all.

Owlyross: And Sam does have a vote; he's asked for his opinion. But not all votes are equal. Frodo is clearly the person in charge of this expedition and he can outvote the others 1 to 2 if need be. Sam is not the equal of Frodo and Pippin, but they do value his opinion and advice. I usually find it helpful to think of Frodo and Sam in military terms. Frodo is the officer and Sam is the sergeant. The sergeant may have valuable input, but the decisions are up to the officer.


squire: 5. This is the first time Frodo has gone “off the Road”, but it will not be the last. Bilbo’s lore and songs emphasize the importance of sticking to the Road, but he too constantly left it in The Hobbit, with many an adventure in consequence. What is the purpose, or meaning, of “The Road” in Tolkien’s fiction?

drogo_drogo: Big question, especially considering the "Straight Road" to the Undying Lands that is blocked to mortals!  The Road is the accepted path, the correct direction to follow on a journey, but going off the beaten path entails making decisions, taking risks, accepting responsibility.  That's what we saw Bilbo do earlier, and especially see Frodo (and Sam) do throughout this novel.  They have the courage to deviate, to risk being lost, but still go forward to seek, to strive, yada, yada.  Aragorn does this too when he deviates from his intended "straight path" to Minas Tirith and gets there through a circuitous route (which Gandalf tells him was the best path to take).  All the characters take paths they don't intend, but in the end all paths lead to... (Rome, or insert their final destinations here).

Aunt Dora Baggins: *mods up* Great observation about the Straight Road!

CelebornsMirror: Short cuts make long delays I always found this an immensely charming line, and think of it often.  Someone once posted all of the Gaffer's similiar sensibilities here, and those are equally as amusing.

Silent_Watcher: A glimpse of Frodo's wisdom.

Estelwyn: I think drogo_drogo pretty much nailed the Road symbolism, but I'll just add that I think Tolkien is also playing with the reader here a little.  The suggestion to go "off the Road" makes us wary.  It takes us off into the unknown -- the thing most of us are most a-feared of deep down, or so we're told.  The suggestion of the "shortcut" makes us sit up and go "Uh-oh, now what's going to happen?", especially with the mention of the Riders.

an seleichan: The Road is Way. The Tao of Middle Earth. Fate, destiny, the journey of life

      Kimi: "Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them." (Galadriel to the Fellowship.)

Having remembered that quote, I'm not sure what to make of it in this context. Is there a difference between Roads and Paths? Roads tend to be created by Authorities; to be larger, and more suited to vehicles and large parties. A path might be no more than a route worn down by a pair of feet that often walks that way. It might be a hidden path that runs West of the Moon and East of the Sun. Frodo chooses to leave the Road, but he still must take a Path.

lucia: Road wanderings... Your question about the role of The Road in LOTR has got me thinking and what I've come up with is a slight variation due to Kimi's comment that roads are built by 'Authorities': the Road is the accepted path to get from one point to another. It is generally perceived as most efficient: it will go around difficult terrain and have bridges. It reminds me of Frodo and Bilbo's interaction with hobbit culture and social expectations: they did not automatically follow 'the Road' of marriage and family. They picked and chose what they were going to participate in, though we know much more about Bilbo in this regard. We know he wrote letters and gave away all his gold for example. And then they did other things like have adventures, that were completely off 'the Road', if you catch my meaning. So, I don't see 'the Road' as destiny as much as I see it more along the lines of major cultural pathway.

Not to make this into an allegory, but it is interesting to note that decisions about on or off Road include issues of safety, destination, speed and potential cost. And also, to get where one is going, often includes a large section of 'pathless' travel.

I can relate.

N.E. Brigand:  I’ve only skimmed Paul Kocher--doesn't he talk about the Road as a metaphor for life?

an seleichan: not Kocher but Shippey Well, that is, I can't find a reference in a very cursory look through Kocher; maybe someone else can.

But Shippey in "Road to Middle Earth" says The Road is a metaphor for Life ("an image of life") and further, a metaphor for Providence.

He is discussing the variation in the "Road goes ever on" poem, and says:

"It depends on how one sees 'the Road'. The most obvious thought is that if the 'lighted inn' means death [Bilbo's version about weary feet he recites in Rivendell in ROTK/a.s.] then 'the Road' must mean life. It need not be an individual life, since in Bilbo's second version others can take it up and follow it in their turn; however, in Frodo's and Bilbo's first version the image of the traveller pursuing the Road looks very like a symbol of the individual pursuing his moment of consciousness down the unknown road which is everyone's future life, to an end which no one can predict."

And further, discussing Frodo's remarks (quoting Bilbo) about how the Road can be dangerous business, can carry you along to anywhere, he says:

"...one might well think that besides an image of life 'the Road' has crept up to being an image of Providence. After all, Bilbo is right about the road outside Bag End leading all the way to Mordor. On the other hand there are on that road, which Frodo takes, thousands of intersections, as also thousands of choices to be made or rejected. The traveller can always stop or turn aside...Accordingly, when Bilbo and Frodo say they will pursue it, eagerly or wearily, till it is intersected by other roads, lives, wishes, and will then continue into the unknown, if they can, they are expressing a mixture of doubt and determination...Indeed it is not too much to say that the traveller walking down the branching road becomes in the end an image of 'the Good' in Tolkien, and one opposed to the endless self-regarding circuits of the Ring..."

In other words, not only is the Road the path you are taking through life BY CHOICES YOU MAKE, it is also Providence itself laying out the road always one step ahead of your feet.

N.E. Brigand:  Thanks.

Arquen: On different roads. Bilbo's journey in the Hobbit involved staying on the road.  The dangerous parts of the journey occurred when he left the road:  to sneak up on the Trolls, in the cave on the Mountain, leaving the road in Mirkwood, going cross-country on the east side of the MMs and being rescued by the Eagles.  In that adventure, the challenge was staying on the road and finding the way back to it.

In LOTR we have just about the opposite from the very beginning:  Frodo leaves by the back fence, stays off the road, goes cross-country from Bree to Rivendell with only one bit on the Road, and that the worst bit.  They come down the Anduin, again off the road, and take a side road into Mordor.  Frodo has a 'way' but it it seldom a road.  

I think the difference in the metaphor is that Bilbo's adventure was a there and back again journey, and Frodo's was a one-way flight from danger to danger.   Bilbo could be optimistic about roads, because he associated them with Adventure.  Frodo has little reason to associate them with anything but weariness and dread.

FarFromHome: I think the Road, in Bilbo's terminology, is not just the paved Road; it's everywhere your feet take you: “Bilbo often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary." Every path, no matter how small, is linked to the great, flowing river that is the Road. It's a metaphor for life, really, isn't it?

By the way, this is the first of 3 times (unless I'm forgetting any?) that Frodo avoids the obvious road by cutting across marshland. There will be the Midgewater Marshes with Strider, and of course the Dead Marshes with Gollum. I think one could find a number of examples of this kind of repetition throughout LOTR - often, as in this marshland example, with each reoccurrence more developed and serious than the last

Elostirion74: I can only say.. amazing presentation and beautiful photos and images. They made me forget the questions completely. How did you come by the photo?

I don't think the road always is a symbol in Tolkien's work. It's clearly a symbol of life and its connection with culture and tradition and personal choice in the "Road goes ever on" poems. At other occasions I interpret it more as "just" the mark that history and culture has made on the landscape, which is interesting and suggesting in itself and adds to the depth of Middle-Earth, but doesn't need to symbolize anything. Of course, Frodo's need for secrecy makes the Road menacing and treacherous and his way of perceiving it as a consequence all the more suggestive.

Owlyross: It's a very broad question. Sometimes a road is just a road. But I think that "The Road" in Tolkien's fiction is a way of referring to journeys, whether physical or otherwise. After all, no road goes literally "ever on and on".

Grammaboodawg: I think staying "on the Road" in Tolkien's stories means more than just sticking to the literal road... but also sticking to convention and an established path.  Once you stray from what you know, you're in for danger, getting lost, or changing forever!