Weary Travellers in a Weary Land. The Hobbits and Strider Journey Through Rhudaur, Hiding From the Nazgûl.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 194-98

In The Tale of Years as recounted in the appendices to the final volume of Tolkien’s tale, the time fourteen days during which the hobbits and Strider journey through the wasteland of Eriador, hiding from the Ringwraiths, is a part of the time known as The Great Years, and indeed these years are great. They are the years of The Lord of the Rings whose readers go back to its pages again and again. But the reality for those who live in such times is that they do not know that the times are in any sense, great. Not even Strider, the one who bears the hope of his people, even as he bears the Ring of Barahir, a gift to the father of Beren by Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond in the First Age of Arda, not even he is able to step away from the suffering and, from the vantage point of his greatness, see the days of that miserable trek as merely a brief period before he finally enters into his kingdom.

Aragorn leads the hobbits through the wild lands

This, of course, is how we all have to live, none of us knowing the significance of otherwise of any particular event. It may be that we are living in “great years” but as we live them we are not able to discern what kind of years they are and in our living of these years our experience may be that of the weary travellers.

“Frodo’s heart was grieved as he watched them walking beside him with their heads down, and their backs bowed under their burdens. Even Strider seemed tired and heavy-hearted.”

Frodo, as we see here, has some perspective but it gives him no comfort because he is wounded and carried by Bill the Pony while his friends have to carry on their weary backs all their supplies for the journeys. He does not even know if he will live to see Rivendell and neither do his friends.

Fifth Day After Weathertop, by Ted Nasmith

All the way through the story Tolkien takes us through a mythological landscape in which the lands that we journey through alongside the protagonists of the story tell us something of the history that they have witnessed and so it is in the wastes of Eriador. The October weather is cold and wet and the land through which they pass is barren and lifeless.

“Here and there upon heights and ridges they caught glimpses of ancient walls of stone, and the ruins of towers: they had an ominous look.”

They are in Rhudaur, once a glorious part of the northern kingdom of Arnor, a land of the Dúnedain, a people descended from the Edain, the ancient allies of the Elves in the wars of the First Age of the world against Morgoth. As a reward for their faithfulness they were granted permission to live upon the great Isle of Númenor in the mighty ocean and in sight of the Undying Lands. Strider bears the Ring of Barahir in token of the memory of that faithfulness because Barahir saved Finrod Felagund’s life in the battle of Dagor Bragollach. That is a noble memory but the presence of the ominous towers and walls tells a different story. They tell of the corruption of the people of Rhudaur, first mingling with a people who had no memory of Barahir or Beren, of Númenor, or of Elendil and Isildur, and then falling under the influence of Angmar and its Witch-king, the lord of the ringwraiths who has wounded Frodo and who, even now, seeks him and seeks the Ring in this barren land.

These are the words that describe both the corrupted kingdom through which the travellers pass and the travellers themselves. Weariness, barreness, suffering, fear. Only after these days are ended will anyone speak of them as great. Frodo will be assailed by memories of his wound and the long miles in which the poisoned fragment of the Morgul blade worked slowly but inexorably towards his heart. It will take both the realisation that without these days the liberation of Middle-earth could never have taken place and Frodo’s slow long years of healing to give to these days a new name, to know them as truly a part of The Great Years.

The Travellers Make Camp on a Weary Journey by Aaloei

9 thoughts on “Weary Travellers in a Weary Land. The Hobbits and Strider Journey Through Rhudaur, Hiding From the Nazgûl.

  1. Thanks as always Stephen for an interesting reflection.
    The defensive works in the old North-Kingdom (especially the Cardolan boundary dike near the East Road) remind me of the Devil’s Dyke near Cambridge, UK. It is one of many features which bear this name, but this one is thought to be of Anglo-Saxon date. It runs for about 7 miles, dead straight and up to 30 feet high.
    It is sited to block east-west passage between the Fens to the north and forest to the south. One theory is that the Dyke was made by the East Angles as a defence against the Mercians. The East Angles adopted Christianity early while the Mercians remained pagan and aggressive.
    It makes for a very interesting walk!

    • There can’t be too many defensive dykes within England such as the one you mention. Obviously the one I know best here at the heart of the Kingdom of Mercia is Offa’s dyke to the west of my Worcestershire home. I haven’t read John Garth’s book on the sources of Tolkien’s geography yet. Have you?
      Penda of Mercia is most definitely one of the great villains of Bede’s History. There must have been times when Christianity must have felt very fragile in these lands.

      • Thanks for your reply Stephen. I never worked it out till now, but plainly the dike to the south of the East Road was made by Arthedain. It is “a deep dike with a steep wall on the further side” (‘Fog on the Barrow-Downs’). You put the wall on the side you are defending and the ditch on the attacker’s side. (Confusingly “dike” here means ditch). This is the way the Cambridgeshire dike has always been understood i.e. made to defend attackers from the west.

        John Garth’s book ‘Worlds of JRR Tolkien’ looks great. When means allow…

        As you say Bede gives various snapshots of the horrible Penda, King of the Mercians, starting with the attack on Northumbria, AD 633. In the battle one of the Northumbrian king’s sons was killed before his father, very like the Gladden Fields.

        My interest in the East Angles was sparked by visiting the magnificent cathedral at Ely. It descends from the convent founded by Etheldreda, daughter of the East Anglian King Anna, who also met his death at the hands of Penda.

      • It seems appropriate, somehow, to be having this conversation on the day on which the martyrdom of King Edmund of the East Angles is commemorated.
        Thank you for that clarification of the nature of the dyke better Arthedain and Rhudaur. It seems appropriate that the descendants of Númenor should have been on the defensive against the corrupted ally of Angmar.

      • Actually the dike along the East Road, which Tom and the hobbits encounter, is on the border of Arthedain and Cardolan. We don’t know why Arthedain needed to fortify itself against Cardolan, which for most of its history had been friendly.

        Your comment reminded me of the Abbey gardens at Bury St Edmunds, named after the saint — a place of peace and rest

      • Appendix A says Cardolan was bounded by the Brandywine, the Greyflood and the Great Road. Arthedain lay mostly west of the Brandywine, but extended north of the Road as far as the Weather Hills. So the Road as far as Weathertop was the boundary of Arthedain and Cardolan.

        The Appendix says that for many years Arthedain and Cardolan maintaned a frontier with Rhudaur along the Weather Hills, the Road (i.e. the stretch east from Weathertop) and the lower Hoarwell (which flowed into the Greyflood). Evil spirits entered the Barrows after the Plague in 1636. Maybe in its last days Arthedain did face attack from the former Cardolan, but there doesn’t seem to be any further information

  2. I love that last picture – beautiful! Love these reflections, so much like Frodo and Sam on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol realizing they are in a story but tired and not sure how it will out. And so true for us too, especially this crazy year. Wish I could be in the Shire.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • It is lovely to hear from you again, Anne Marie, and thank you for posting the link to your blog. I hope that people will find their way from my blog to yours. I loved that picture of the travellers setting up camp while Strider scouts about as you do. It conveys such peace and tranquillity. It is the kind of landscape that I would enjoy exploring and yet because they are always in danger all they can see is unfriendliness about them. I am reminded of being on a Christian camp in Zimbabwe some years ago now. The majority of the participants were young men, many of whom had been soldiers in the brutal war for independence there. One day we were all sent out into the bush, the wilderness, just to be alone with God. On returning we were invited to speak of our experiences. One young man stood up and spoke of how he had seen beauty around him for the first time in years, how he had always seen a tree or bush as a threat because of the dangers they might conceal. Do we see beauty in the picture because we are not in danger ourselves?
      Thank you for your thoughts on Frodo and Sam on the stairs to Cirith Ungol. I was thinking of that moment too. One of my favourite moments in the story. And that moment when Frodo laughs and the very stones of Mordor listen to the sound.
      Perhaps, just for the briefest of moments, in that terrible place the hobbits bring the Shire with them. May you find it about you too, and not at the time when Saruman is trying to destroy it!

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