At the end of the previous chapter, everyone was talking about Frodo and his mysterious “magic trick”. The mysterious ranger, Strider, by some trick of his own, beats the hobbits to the parlour where they left Merry and surprises them with his presence and a request. Strider wants to accompany the hobbits on their journey.
Frodo is appropriately reluctant and still unnerved by Strider seeming knowledge of his errand. Soon the innkeeper, Butterbur, confesses his oversights and informs the hobbits of a message from Gandalf. Frodo eventually gives Strider the benefit of his doubt because of his faith in Gandalf, and because of the broken sword Strider carries, which was referenced in the wizard’s letter.
While Sam is laying out his doubts, Merry returns from an encounter with a Black Rider. With certain danger outside and potential danger sitting by the fire with them, Frodo takes Strider at his word: “If by life or death I can save you, I will.”
I don’t know if I would trust Strider. He’s suspicious; he’s disreputable; and he’s rough looking. But he could just as easily be reserved and disreputable only to the overly cautious and pedestrian; a diamond in the rough. That both sets of interpretations fit show how difficult (and often useless) it is to assess people through quick observation. Even more, it shows the importance of being charitable—although charity always carries a risk or cost—in dealing with people.
When Strider is revealed as Gandalf’s friend, Aragorn, he admits to desiring the hobbits’ trust on his own merits and distills this human need beautifully:
“A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But there, I believe my looks are against me.”
He shouldn’t need to cut his hair and iron his shirt to have fellowship extended to him, but it doesn’t matter because the hobbits aren’t given the luxury to choosing who their help comes from. The Black Riders are in Bree and information about Frodo’s disappearing act has been sold to the Enemy. Aragorn’s opposition to the way of the Enemy is demonstrated in how he behaves in opposition to them. He says, “In darkness and loneliness [the Black Riders] are strongest…their power is in terror” and then encourages them to stick together under his protection. And Frodo also intuits Aragorn’s nature:
“I believed that you were a friend before the letter came, or at least I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would— well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”
The king is here and the king is coming.
Keep Reading Middle-earth
Next up is Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark and it’s a long one. And it’s got songs and poems, and I’m not going to ignore them!