The fellowship turns back from the mountain pass and must move on from their first defeat. The southern passes are closed to them and Gandalf proposes the dark path of Moria. An attack on the company by wolves of the Enemy forces the hobbits, Legolas, and Boromir to take the unchosen road through Moria.
They make their way to the doors and are again pushed forward by more immediate dangers, into even greater danger under the mountain. A flight of curiosity from Pippin stirs something in the depths of the mines but the tension here tightens more slowly than in the films. Gandalf has a smoke, Frodo keeps his mithril secret, and a single pair of pale eyes stalk the darkness.
Hopes, fears, and hobbits
Before ever seeing a wolf, Pippin despairs of the howls that ring around them and wishes he’d taken Elrond’s advice. “I am no good after all,” he declares, unable to remember a time he’s ever felt so wretched. Pippin allows fear to determine his value to the company. He says the howls freeze his blood, and he is not wrong to fear wolves, but he is wrong to frame the danger as his weakness against the wolves — he is not alone, after all.
Sam the gardener has some folksy wisdom with which to put courage back into Pippin.
“‘My heart’s right down in my toes Mr. Pippin,’ said Sam. ‘But we aren’t eaten yet, and there are some stout folk here with us. Whatever may be in store for old Gandalf, I’ll wager it isn’t a wolf’s belly.’”
Sam is rightfully afraid, just as Pippin is, but Sam recognizes that while he may have to draw his sword there are greater swords around him — and power greater still than swords. Earlier, Sam perks up at the mention of returning to Rivendell in defeat. He has no desire to face wolves, much less the path of Moria, whose dark name chills even Aragorn’s heart. Instead, Sam desires to serve Frodo and, of course, save the Shire. With those necessities before him, Sam is able to look around and acknowledge his smallness but he is also able to accept his small role in facing the darkness.
Sam draws his sword and stands shoulder to shoulder with the hobbits, because there will come a time when their lives will depend on their care for one another. And so Sam is proved right when the wolves are turned back by sword, arrow, and Gandalf’s fire: “‘What did I tell you Mr. Pippin?’ said Sam, sheathing his sword. ‘Wolves won’t get him.’”
A Blessing for Bill
I doubt the simple sincerity of Sam’s love for Bill the Pony would’ve played well on screen, but I’m thankful for every small detail of Sam’s relationship with the company’s pack animal in Fellowship.
Back in Book 1, Chapter 11: A Knife In The Dark I described how Bill the Pony is rescued out of oppression into joyful service and how even his name, Bill (after his former owner), hints at the redemptive impulse in Sam. Now, faced with abandoning Bill against his will to the wolf-infested mountains, Sam grieves for his simple friend.
Desperate for an alternative and loathe to choose between staying with Bill and continuing with Frodo, Sam gets upset. But Gandalf gently addresses Sam’s closely ordered loves and fears:
“‘He’d follow Mr. Frodo into a dragon’s den, if I led him,’ protested Sam. ‘It’d be nothing short of murder to turn him loose with all these wolves about.’
'It will be short of murder, I hope,’ said Gandalf. He laid his hand on the pony’s head, and spoke in a low voice. ‘Go with words of guard and guiding on you,’ he said. ‘You are a wise beast, and have learned much in Rivendell. Make your way to places where you can find grass, and so come in time to Elrond’s house, or wherever you wish to go.’
'There, Sam! He will have quite as much chance of escaping wolves and getting home as we have.’"
With some final reassurance from Bill himself, Sam says his goodbyes. But this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Bill the Pony. Tolkien has a way of imbuing seemingly insignificant moments and characters with weight, making them linger much longer in my mind than I’d expect. I love Bill, and it’s good he is loved.
The fellowship is almost through the long dark of Moria but they’re about to go from the frying pan into Khazad-dûm.