“Where Am I, and What is the Time?” Frodo Awakes in the House of Elrond.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.213-219

I think that I shall be spending the next few weeks with Frodo and Gandalf in the flat ceilinged room with “dark beams richly carved” in the House of Elrond. This is partly because there are few feelings more pleasant than to awaken safely in a comfortable bed after a time of trial. Frodo is so well rested that he has no desire to do anything other than to continue in that state. At first he is so content just to be that he has little or no curiosity about his whereabouts but at last he speaks aloud and says,

“Where am I, and what is the time?” he said aloud to the ceiling.

“In the House of Elrond, and it is ten o’clock in the morning,” said a voice. “It is the morning of October the twenty-fourth, if you want to know.”

Where am I and what is the time?

And that is another pleasure for me. Few people tell the time, ‘o’clock’, anymore and it is a pleasure to hear that word. But it is a greater pleasure to hear the voice in my head and imagination of the one who speaks in reply to Frodo’s question, for it is Gandalf, and just like Frodo I am always delighted when Gandalf turns up. All my life I have sought the company of men like Gandalf. I have liked many older men but I have met few elders, few truly wise old men. O truly fortunate Aragorn, to have been fathered by two such men, by Elrond and by Gandalf, but then Aragorn was being prepared to become a king, to be the father of his people.

Frodo too has been prepared for a great task and both Bilbo and then Gandalf have been fathers to him. And please note that none of the men mentioned here were biologically fathers to either Aragorn or Frodo. That is a relatively simple task, accomplished in a few moments. To be a father like Gandalf is the work of long years and requires much wisdom. Fascinatingly, in the baptism service of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the priest addresses only the godparents and not the birth parents. If only we had more godparents like Gandalf or Elrond or Bilbo today, men or women who are teachers of wisdom.

Frodo and Gandalf Speak Together

In a relatively brief conversation Frodo and Gandalf will say much to each other and their speech will be of great importance. That is another reason why I will gladly spend a few weeks thinking about what they say. They will speak of Frodo’s journey, of Aragorn and the Rangers of the North, of Frodo’s close shaves with death, or with something worse even than death, and with his healing by the skill of Elrond, and they will speak of the danger that lies ahead for all the free peoples of Middle-earth. There will be much for us to think about. But here I will end with a thoughtful speculation on Gandalf’s part as he looks upon the hobbit who appears to be healed.

“Gandalf moved his chair to the bedside, and took a good look at Frodo. The colour had come back to his face, and his eyes were clear, and fully awake and aware. He was smiling, and there seemed to be little wrong with him. But to the wizard’s eye there was a faint change, just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand lay outside upon the coverlet.”

What can the wizard see that is hidden from those who cannot see as he can? Does this hint of transparency denote Frodo’s journey towards becoming a wraith as was the intention of the one who left the splinter of the Morgul blade within his body? Gandalf ponders this and other possibilities.

“To what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.”

Two kinds of transparency are considered here. One is that shared by the ringwraiths who have rejected their bodies in return for a miserable form of immortality. The other about which Gandalf ponders must surely remind Tolkien’s readers of the glass that Galadriel will give to Frodo in Lothlorien that contains the light of the Silmaril borne by Eärendil in the heavens a light in dark places “when all other lights go out”.

A Light When All Other Lights Go Out

9 thoughts on ““Where Am I, and What is the Time?” Frodo Awakes in the House of Elrond.

    • Thank you. I had never pondered the final destiny of Frodo’s soul until I read Verlyn Flieger’s, The Splintered Light, over the summer in which she devotes a section to the question. Then I read Gandalf’s words, “not to evil, I think” and realised that these words, combined with his observation about Frodo’s transparency were exactly that. Will Frodo turn ultimately to good or evil? The question has to be in doubt both for him and all of us for it to have any meaning. But I am comforted by Gandalf’s words.

  1. Right before ‘Where am I, and what is the time?’ comes

    “He lay a little while longer looking at patches of sunlight on the wall, and listening to the sound of a waterfall.”

    I think this sentence is central to Tolkien’s ideas. It is the state of Wonder, the mental state we all have on waking. Shapes and sounds come to us without meaning. Then the world rushes in

    • Thank you so much for this thought and for drawing my attention to it. I agree that wonder is at the heart of Tolkien’s legendarium and the sound of the waterfall and the patches of sunlight on the wall are a wonderful expression of it. But is the world of Rivendell that rushes in really so bad?

  2. Thanks for your reply Stephen. I discussed this idea once with Patrick Curry, who had commented on Frodo’s “wonder” at Cerin Amroth. I think he at least understood it. I also think this just-waking state was important to Tolkien, as he implies it was in such a state that he hit on the idea of ‘Leaf by Niggle’ (letter 241).

    Wonder is one half of “strangeness and wonder”, the famous prescription for Fantasy in ‘On fairy-stories’. It’s fun to look for Tolkiens’s use of these words. E.g. as Merry rode down in to Harrowdale with King Theoden he “looked out in wonder upon this strange country” (‘The Muster of Rohan’).

    Actually “wonder” is not named in the passage we are discussing, but I think it’s an example all the same. By “world rushing” in I meant simply the ordinary process on waking, without any sort of pre-judgement about the place we are in — which we (and Frodo) don’t know much about — except for the richly carved ceiling, which does seem promising,

    • Thank you so much, Patrick, for taking the time to go further with your thoughts on Frodo’s “wonder” and for introducing me to Patrick Curry. He will now be on my reading list for 2021. I will also gladly take up your suggestion of looking out for Tolkien’s use of the word. It is one of the many things that I have learned since beginning to blog on The Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien is NOT a lazy writer. He uses words intentionally unlike myself, at least in conversation. And thank you too for clarifying your idea of this state of wonder as existing before we begin to assess the place that we are in.

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