Mistakes in LoTR: Sam the Spy

galanx

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Even Jove nods?

C.S. Lewis had some slip-ups in Narnia, and Tolkien had a few in The Hobbit- tomatoes, a wind-up clock- but that great work of scholarship, The Lord of the Rings, is generally considered above reproach as far as details go.

However... the Fellowship, right at the beginning, when the hobbits are gathered in the small house at Crickhollow, Frodo reveals his secret about the Ring- only to discover that Merry and Pippin know about it, and that it is sought by the Enemy and that Frodo has to leave the Shire.

What is their source? Merry says though he knows of Bilbo's magic ring earlier they began to really investigate in the Spring , when Gandalf shows up again after an absence of 9 years (April 12, 3018) and, as Merry says, "things got serious". He says their chief source of information was Sam.

"And he collected a lot, I can tell you, before he was finally caught. After which, I may say, he seemed to regard himself as on parole, and dried up."

But Sam got caught at the very same time that Frodo learned what the Ring was, and that Sauron was looking for it, and that Gandalf said Frodo had to leave the Shire. What could Sam have revealed before that?

Nothing- because not even Frodo knew anything before then, or had any plans to leave. And Merry says he didn't reveal anything afterward- so what information could he have provided?
 

HareBrain

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Quite right. I've spotted this too each time I've read it. But the first several times were pre-internet, so I couldn't research the apparent anomaly, and the last few times I'd got so used to it, it no longer bothered me.
 

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Yes, I also saw that and thought it odd, if not the first time I read it, certainly the second and thereafter.

Although he may well have seen Bilbo disappearing, if memory serves Merry (or was it Pippin?) had seen that for himself, so that wouldn't have been of much help. He might have overheard Bilbo's conversation with Gandalf before Bilbo leaves the shire, I suppose, though there's no indication he leaves the party earlier than Frodo himself does, and that doesn't add a great deal to their sum of knowledge. The convoluted plotter in me wonders if Merry was actually fibbing about the on-parole bit (to avoid Sam getting into trouble) and in fact Sam told them all that Gandalf had said and everything Frodo did afterwards. But that really doesn't really fit with Sam's honourable character, of course, not to mention his fear of being turned into something unnatural.
 

farntfar

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It's very easy to assume that the chapter "The shadow of the past" follows on directly from the birthday party, but in fact it doesn't.
Although the interval is sort of brushed over on the first page of the second chapter with phases such as "remembered for a year and a day", and "Frodo kept up the habit of giving Bilbo's Birthday Party year after year",the interval doesn't register.

However, Frodo was 33 on the night of the birthday party, but he was 50 or so at the beginning of the quest.

The original Birthay Party was in 3001 Shire Reckoning and the discussion in Ch.2 and Frodo's move to Crickhollow were in 3018 S.R. so there was in fact plenty of time for Sam to spy and report on his observations before being caught, even if the details of the ring's origin were not yet disclosed. (and were news to the conspirators on that night in Crickhollow, I believe).
Check appendix B for the exact dates.
 

galanx

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The original Birthay Party was in 3001 Shire Reckoning and the discussion in Ch.2 and Frodo's move to Crickhollow were in 3018 S.R. so there was in fact plenty of time for Sam to spy and report on his observations before being caught, even if the details of the ring's origin were not yet disclosed. (and were news to the conspirators on that night in Crickhollow, I believe).
Check appendix B for the exact dates.

I did. Gandalf shows up on April 12, 3018, after a 9-year absence. Until the next day, Frodo knows nothing about the Ring except that it has the power to make one disappear- which Merry discovered independently- so what could Sam report?

There's nothing for Sam to spy about, because Frodo didn't know anything and wasn't planning to do anything except to continue living happily in Bag End.
 

farntfar

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Well perhaps not much, and after all they didn't know very much at Crickhollow. Fatty Bolger suggesting that the old forest was nearly as dangerous as the black riders shows how little they knew, but even Frodo had to wait until Strider told him (I think) that the black riders were in fact the ringwraiths.

They knew that he was leaving, because they had heard him mumbling "Will I ever gaze down this valley again" and suchlike.
They knew it was dangerous and that it had to do with the ring, and furthermore Sam only stopped spying AFTER he had been caught, so he may yet have been able to report quite a lot.
And "after a 9 year absence" still leaves 8 years when Gandalf was visiting, presumably fairly frequently before that.

I agree that the "chief investigator" title was something of an exageration, and was certainly said largely for dramatic effect by Merry. But these are the hobbit equivalents of late teenagers we're talking about.
My own teenage was way back in the mists of time, but I think I might have given my friends (and enemies) similarly grandious descriptions at times.
 

Adam Stubbings

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I always wondered how many mistakes there were inside LOTR after reading it, i just havent had the time or patience to scour through the entire trilogy and find the errors.

Tbh the leap in quality from the hobbit to LOTR is insane and he did a great job despite any inaccuracies or inconsistencies
 

Narkalui

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My other half always asks this question and I can never come up with an answer.

Why didn't they just ask very nicely if the eagles would be so kind as to take them from Rivendell to Mount Doom. Given the stakes, I'm quite confident that they would have obliged...
 

farntfar

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Would an eagle who wears a ring on it's talon become invisible?

Would he or she be corrupted by it and become the dark winglord?
 

lynnfredricks

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The eagles seem to me like many of the other 'powers' of Middle Earth. They are intelligent, but that doesn't mean they 'think' the same way people do. They are normally un-associated with the world of people, like Tom Bombadil or Ents. Both TB and the Ents were motivated by the hobbits, but within their scope of understanding.

There could also be things that they naturally fear about Mordor, or leaving the North. Don't forget that the "Lord of Eagles" was brought down by an arrow before.

And also consider when they've taken action before - only when Gandalf was involved and his life was threatened.

There are many reasons why the eagles would not have done it, and why they were not asked. The One Ring was a problem for the "free people" of Middle Earth, 'recreated' by the failure of Isildur to destroy it when he could. Ultimately, the free people (humans and remaining elves) have to be the instrument of either the doom of Middle Earth or its salvation.
 

HareBrain

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There are many reasons why the eagles would not have done it, and why they were not asked.

Even so, it seems strange that no one raises the question of asking them, not even at the Council of Elrond where they discuss other things like pawning the ring or dropping it down a storm-drain. (That might have been Bored of the Rings, come to think of it.)

It seems most likely to me that Tolkien just never thought of it before the book was published.
 

Dan Jones

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It seems most likely to me that Tolkien just never thought of it before the book was published.

He spent something like 17 years on the book, right? You'd think one of his editors or advance readers (I assume he didn't call them betas back then) would have picked it up.

My hunch is that he just couldn't bear to kill off Frodo and Sam, but there was no other way they could be realistically saved at that point other than by Eagles Express Airlift.
 

Narkalui

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And it remains the one reason why my other half doesn't like the story, because, let's face it, it is deus ex machina. Don't get me wrong, she loves the rest of the story but that part sticks in her throat. She tells me whenever I bring it up that she doesn't understand why there couldn't have been a few extra portions of weybread and an extra canteen of water to give Sam the strength to carry Frodo clear, perhaps along a raised spur of Mount Doom, away from the lava. And then Gandalf finds them riding on Shadowfax. She feels that would have been more believable.

Personally, I would have had Gandalf state at the council of Elrond that the Eagles where unprepared to play any further part in the war and then have them arrive at the battle led by Radagast who had talked them round.
 

lynnfredricks

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And it remains the one reason why my other half doesn't like the story, because, let's face it, it is deus ex machina. Don't get me wrong, she loves the rest of the story but that part sticks in her throat. She tells me whenever I bring it up that she doesn't understand why there couldn't have been a few extra portions of weybread and an extra canteen of water to give Sam the strength to carry Frodo clear, perhaps along a raised spur of Mount Doom, away from the lava. And then Gandalf finds them riding on Shadowfax. She feels that would have been more believable.

It is a good thing she passed on directing LOTR movies, because that would have been more horrible than Aragorn fighting Sauron, and more like the video game playback which was The Hobbit movie(s).

Personally, I would have had Gandalf state at the council of Elrond that the Eagles where unprepared to play any further part in the war and then have them arrive at the battle led by Radagast who had talked them round.

The absence of something doesn't mean it was a mistake of the author or it was actually necessary to move the plot forward.
 

lynnfredricks

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Even so, it seems strange that no one raises the question of asking them, not even at the Council of Elrond where they discuss other things like pawning the ring or dropping it down a storm-drain. (That might have been Bored of the Rings, come to think of it.)

Or, Gandalf had already dismissed it as a solution before that.

The Council of Elrond was a council of the Free People of Middle Earth - elves, dwarves and humans (and hobbits!). Clearly, there are a lot of intelligent beings in Middle Earth, and some did play a role, but scaled to their own 'stories'. TB helped the hobbits vs the barrow wights and Old Man Willow, but his relationship with Middle Earth wasn't like that of the Free People, and he didn't 'get it' as Gandalf says. Same for the Ents and the eagles.
 

Stephen Palmer

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And it remains the one reason why my other half doesn't like the story, because, let's face it, it is deus ex machina. Don't get me wrong, she loves the rest of the story but that part sticks in her throat. She tells me whenever I bring it up that she doesn't understand why there couldn't have been a few extra portions of weybread and an extra canteen of water to give Sam the strength to carry Frodo clear, perhaps along a raised spur of Mount Doom, away from the lava. And then Gandalf finds them riding on Shadowfax. She feels that would have been more believable.

Personally, I would have had Gandalf state at the council of Elrond that the Eagles where unprepared to play any further part in the war and then have them arrive at the battle led by Radagast who had talked them round.

I don't think it's a true deus ex machina, as by then they had destroyed the Ring - by their own efforts. I agree with you though that having Gandalf state that the Eagles were out of the frame would have been the thing to do. But Tolkien wrote the book over many years, and at that point likely had little idea of how the whole thing would pan out, apart of course from the basic notion of the Ring being destroyed.
 

Bick

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A couple of points on this, as I'm currently re-reading LOTR and just re-read The Silmarillion.

Re: Sam spying - I don't see a problem at all, and agree with fantfar's post of 18th Jan. Sam learned a lot when listening to Gandalf explain the ring to Frodo, and Merry and Pippin were able to draw many conclusions in the 17 years between Bilbo and Frodo leaving the Shire. Merry says that Sam rather clammed up after that event, but he doesn't say he didn't tell him what he heard at all - he surely did. They also had the many months between Sam's information and actually leaving during which time they all kept a close on eye on things. I don't see a problem, to be honest.

Re: The eagles saving Frodo and Sam - this wasn't out of the blue in the larger context, as last minute rescues by the great eagles happened to key characters all the time in The Silmarillion. In that book they turn up at the eleventh hour to pick folk off mountains in their dire need, but they rarely went out of their way to help at all until it was absolutely necessary to foil Melkor (with the one exception of keeping guard over Gondolin). So, what happens in LOTD is consistent with their background mythology. Remember also that the great eagles are Maiar (I think). They could not carry the great ring to Mt Doom any more than the remaining Eldar (e.g. Galadriel) or the Istari could - it corrupts and seduces whoever bears it. So, again, I never had a problem with the end - its entirely consistent and in keeping with the internal logic of the books.

Enjoying the re-read btw. I've just read the discussion the hobbits have about the 'conspiracy' at Cricklewood.
 

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