The Fellowship of the Ring
Strength and Skill Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"You were beginning to fade," answered Gandalf. "The wound was overcoming you at last. A few more hours and you would have been beyond our aid. But you have some strength in you, my dear Hobbit! As you showed in the Barrow-downs. That was touch and go: perhaps the most dangerous moment of all. I wish you could have held out at Weathertop." (2.1.10)
Once more, we learn that Frodo is stronger than he looks. But beyond Gandalf's admiration for Frodo's unexpected toughness, we are struck by this suggestion that the Barrow-downs were the most dangerous part of this whole enterprise. Do you agree with Gandalf's assessment? Why might the Barrow-downs have been particularly dangerous? What role does the history of the Barrow-downs (as related by Tom Bombadil in Book 1, Chapter 7) play in their danger to the Ring-bearer, if any?
"Slow should you be to wind that horn again, Boromir," said Elrond, "until you stand once more on the borders of your land, and dire need is on you."
"Maybe," said Boromir. "But always I have let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night" (2.3.66-7).
Even at the start of Boromir's adventures with the Company, we can see signs of the fatal flaw – pride – that is going to bring his downfall at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. He is a good man, but he also believes absolutely in his own strength. He sounds his war-horn even though they are trying to set out in secret, because his pride will not permit him to "go forth as a thief in the night." The fact that he will not listen to counsel from men like Elrond suggests that he is too headstrong to follow the wisdom of people like Aragorn and Gandalf – to his peril, later in the novel.
Gimli took his arm and helped him down to a seat on the step. "What happened away up there at the door?" he asked. "Did you meet the beater of the drums?"
"I do not know," answered Gandalf. "But I found myself suddenly faced by something that I had not met before. I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that ind rightly requires time, and even then the door could be broken by strength. […]
"What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me!" (2.5.53-4, 56)
Gandalf is not a particularly flashy Wizard, and we don't often see him doing obvious magic. Even so, in The Hobbit, he seems mostly invincible. By contrast, The Fellowship of the Ring really starts to explore the limits of Gandalf's power, first in his confrontation with Saruman, and now with the Balrog. Not only does he not recognize the Balrog, but he also honestly fears that he has met his match. His magic, which has proved so useful against Orcs and Wargs in both The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, appears to have run out of usefulness in Moria. We'll come back to this theme in The Two Towers, but for now, we will just say that it is necessary to the narrative of The Fellowship of the Ring that Gandalf has to fail. Otherwise, his superior skills would hold the Company together, and there would never be a need for Aragorn and co. to go one way and Frodo and Sam to go another. The whole later structure of the book depends on the loss of Gandalf's superior leadership; if Gandalf survived Moria, the rest of the Lord of the Rings would change profoundly.