A Shortcut to Mushrooms #3: The Crooked Short Cut

      It was already nearly as hot as it had been the day before; but clouds were beginning to come up from the West. It looked likely to turn to rain. The hobbits scrambled down a steep green bank and plunged into the thick trees below. Their course had been chosen to leave Woodhall to their left, and to cut slanting through the woods that clustered along the eastern side of the hills, until they reached the flats beyond. Then they could make straight for the Ferry over country that was open, except for a few ditches and fences. Frodo reckoned they had eighteen miles to go in a straight line.

     He soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared. There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast. When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles. Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen. They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wet, scratched, and muddy. They halted, wondering what to do. 'First check!' said Pippin, smiling grimly.

squire 1. Isn’t Pippin being kind of nasty here? Again, is this in character?

N.E. Brigand: Pippin's character... is being revealed to us as we move along; at this point we've only known him for about a chapter, so little would yet appear out of character, but I do think, after the fact, that he is presented fairly consistently:  within the Shire and the bounds of his own experience he's comfortable and assertive; in the wider world, or here in the presence of Black Riders and Elves, his inexperience begins to show.

And "first check" doesn't rise anywhere the level of "nasty" to my ears—at worst it's a very mild "told you so," but it feels more like “Whew!” to me, and it’s believable even after only a few minutes of sweat, scratches and mud.

Celeborns Mirror: Pippin and Hobbits This is something that really irritates me about the movies:  Pippin is not a moron.  When I had reread FOTR aloud with another friend who had only seen the movies she responded, "It really bothers me that the hobbits are intelligent and likeable in the book, and the movie makes them out to be imbeciles." (or something to that flavor) And I of course agree.  I find the characterizations in the movie irritating whereas in the book, the hobbits are not prettied up children with curly hair- they can be sarcastic, biting, funny, interesting, curious, etc., not merely childlike and hungry.

hatster: I love the interaction between Frodo and Pippin. Pippin isn't nasty. He is a bit competitive and I think the adjective "grimly" here suggests a note of seriousness we have not seen in him yet. He doesn't taunt Frodo, merely notes that they are in a bad spot. Remember, he does know of the seriousness of the situation. He does know that they are not out on a leasurely stroll, but he can't let Frodo know it.

dernwyn: You're right about Pippin: he's aware of far more than Frodo can suspect.  Knowing they were approaching more habited areas, he may have wanted to take the road so that they would meet other travellers, and have less chance of facing a Black Rider alone.

an seleichan: dialogue from real life experience? Something in this exchange seems like real life, to me anyway. This, and the comment earlier from Pip that he and Sam had thought Frodo was off getting water and that he had "better go now", and the comment about thinking "good heavens! at breakfast?" seem like comments of ordinary hiking and camping buddies on a long trek. Maybe Tolkien was drawing on real life, since he liked hiking, didn't he?

I don't think it seems nasty, just an irritating little thing a friend might say, a sort of "told you so!"

Pip is sort of oblivious and flippant, but not nasty. The little whippersnapper.

drogo_drogo: Pip the Griper Pippin's whining but I don't thing we should it nastiness.  He is really a late adolescent, in human terms, and we all know how they can sometime sound (I was very good at "Moooooommm"!).  He is frustrated and out of his element, so he's reacting in a way that doesn't always follow the dictates of social niceties.

That's as much as I'm capable of today, it's been a day that would make Pippin moan till the cows come home! :)

hatster: aw... sorry about the day, drogo. About the "griper" your subject line made me think of the old Bob Newhart routine called "The Griper." His theory was that every military unit had a "griper" who had specific lines to deliver in any given situation. Pip certainly fits the description here!

Canto di Númenor: Tookish I think it's very in character for Pippin.  It's the otherside of being a Took that doesn't get displayed quite as often.  [And for the better!]

Elostirion74: Elves and Black riders No. I consider it to be just a "what did I tell you" kind of revenge.

I see Pippin as more spoiled than the other hobbits throughout and more addicted to his usual comforts (beer, hot water etc.), so he wouldn't take a more difficult route without voicing his disagreement several times.

And by the way, isn't Pippin also younger than the other two?

Grammaboodawg: 'First check!' said Pippin, smiling grimly. I love it!  It's because he's a bit out of character (as far as we know at this point) that makes it so funny... and its bluntness!  Tolkien loves to give great exposition... but these occasional WHAMS crack me right up every time!


squire 2. This sequence: a deep cutting or stream across the path, which if followed sideways gets easier, and eventually ends up as a wide but shallow stream leading to a larger water, anticipates several other similar episodes, later in the story. Where? And more interestingly, why?

N.E. Brigand:  Tolkien's presentation of the bramble-and-stream obstacles is very realistic, by the way:  I’ve been in that frustrating situation many times.  The scene is repeated at least twice more in the LotR:  in the Old Forest, the four hobbits are diverted off their chosen course to the Withywindle valley; and in the Emyn Muil, Frodo and Sam, blocked by a high wall, must follow a gully down to the cliff edge, which turns out to be low enough to climb down, and with stumps near enough the edge to attach a rope.

The Old Forest misdirection is clearly presented as the work of other forces, and maybe the parallelism that the other two incidents also are?  That idea has been expressed here before for this short cut; I never thought about the possibility for the hills above the Dead Marshes (the Marish gone bad?)  I wonder if Frodo has noticed the repetition, as he takes the later obstacle in stride:  learning to trust his fate?

FarFromHome: Struggling through the bushes by the stream does indeed anticipate later episodes, in particular, to my mind, the way the hobbits are forced along the Withywindle.

I noticed in the earlier thread that marsh-passages recur, and here is the recurring image of trying to get away from a valley and being forced back by the vegetation. Each time such images recur, they tend to be more developed. It's as if Tolkien is reworking central images from his own imagination to suit the level his story has reached. Here the bushes may or may not have any 'will' of their own, but by the time we reach the Withywindle, there's no question that the hobbits are sensing that there are 'other powers' at work.


     Sam Gamgee looked back. Through an opening in the trees he caught a glimpse of the top of the green bank from which they had climbed down.

     'Look!' he said, clutching Frodo by the arm. They all looked, and on the edge high above them they saw against the sky a horse standing. Beside it stooped a black figure.

     They at once gave up any idea of going back. Frodo led the way, and plunged quickly into the thick bushes beside the stream. 'Whew!' he said to Pippin. 'We were both right! The short cut has gone crooked already; but we got under cover only just in time. You've got sharp ears, Sam: can you hear anything coming?'

     They stood still, almost holding their breath as they listened; but there was no sound of pursuit. 'I don't fancy he would try bringing his horse down that bank,' said Sam. 'But I guess he knows we came down it. We had better be going on.'


squire 3. Do Sam’s “sharp ears” ever reappear in the story? Why is Sam the hero of this particular moment?

N.E. Brigand: Pippin says Sam has sharp ears, but Sam is only described as looking back, not hearing a noise above—maybe he was just being careful.  It's Frodo who will first hear Gollum following in Moria; Sam sees Gollum on the Anduin.  Sam's hearing, aided by the Ring, does play a big part in the story after Frodo's capture by the orcs.

Estelwyn: Sam's ears and eyes You wrote: "Pippin says Sam has sharp ears, but Sam is only described as looking back, not hearing a noise above—maybe he was just being careful."

Actually it was Frodo who made the comment about Sam's hearing, which makes more sense to me -- Pippin doesn't know Sam half as well as Frodo does, and is unlikely to know something like that about Sam.

Also, I read Frodo's statement to refer to what's about to happen (ie. a question about whether they're being pursued), not to what's just happened, (ie. a comment implying that Sam heard the Rider).  Since they are now down in the brambles etc, thanks to Sam's "sharp eyes" as you say, they now have to rely solely on Sam's "sharp ears".

N.E. Brigand: Ah, I see. Thanks for the correction on Frodo vs. Pippin, and I agree with you about the meaning of sharp ears:  I misunderstood the line.

hatster: Sam's sharp ears come up at various times but never in any way that truly moves the plot the way it does here. For instance, he is the one who hears the whistle that comes from Faramir's group.

I do believe nature plays a part, but not as overtly as some might want. The hobbits are, after all, off the beaten trail not because of nature, but because of Frodo's decision to stay off the road and take the short cut.

dernwyn: Sam also hears the faint sound of trickling water in Mordor - at a point when they had none left.  I don't think this "moves" the plot,  but it is crucial to it!

What puzzles me, is if Sam has such good hearing, why he did not hear Gollum padding after the Fellowship in Moria?  I would have thought, he'd at least make some mention to Frodo.

Elostirion74: I do not remember Sam's sharp ears in other parts of the story than this chapter and the preceding, where he is the first to hear the sound of hoofs on the road behind. I'm not sure why Sam should be "the hero" here, but till now only Frodo has actually seen the Black Riders and now Tolkien wants to let another of the company see them.

Grammaboodawg: Sam's sharp ears!?  Listening through the blocked entrance in Shelob's lair and hearing the Orcs coming down the stairs after Frodo's fall come to mind right quick!


squire 4. Not to beat a dead horse (much), but check out paragraph #5 in N.E. Brigands’ essay proposing that Nature itself (i.e., the intervention of the Valar) is consciously aiding the Hobbits in their travels through the Shire, by hiding them from the Black Riders. Here we are in the “thick” of things. Does the argument seem more compelling while reading this part of the chase?

N.E. Brigand: No comment about my (and Curious') dead horse.

Beren IV: Favor of the Valar I always prefer a much more fantastical vision of Arda than what is, I guess I should say "normal", since what I prefer is generally possible by the books, but not the most common. As a result, I don't see any problem with the blessings of the Valar on the Hobbits as they scrable to avoid the Black Riders, and probably Melkor is trying to stop them, as well, but isn't able to.

FarFromHome: Whether there really are 'other powers at work' in the nature of the Shire (or anywhere else) seems to me to be a question that we can't, and indeed don't need to answer. I'm sure everyone has experienced the feeling that someone or something unseen is inspiring, or protecting, or threatening them at some particular moment. Whether we believe it literally is down to personal interpretation - but the feeling is still real, either way.

Elostirion74: I can only answer no. I don't think one should read "neat" design too readily into any story, except if it's obviously allegorical. And I think there are several other more practical explanations at hand.


squire 5. The hobbits have been discussing their route while standing in the Elves’ “hall” with its view of the valley below, then they descend the slope into the thickets. The black rider appears above them almost immediately. Where has he been all night? Wouldn’t the Elvish quality of the hilltop have baffled or repelled him even after the hobbits left it?

N.E. Brigand: I was just wondering about the Rider’s untimely appearance; perhaps the elves’ magic lingers only until their guests depart.

Beren IV: As for the Black Rider being where the Hobbits had been, it seems possible to me that the Elves put a spell of sorts on the Hobbits while in their "hall" to protect them, but that spell left when the Hobbits left.

Elostirion74: Interesting question. My instant response would be that the Rider is not repelled by the hall being an elvish place, but by the Elves themselves.

The Riders are probably aware that the Elves are powerful and too dangerous to face when the Riders are on their own and the Elves are numerous.

Grammaboodawg: As to residuals from the Elves the night before affecting the Rider's hunt.. I'd say yeah!  If nothing else, it would throw him for a loop wondering if the Elves were still about, if the hobbits went with them, and/or if they got the Ring!