It was Chapter One, and it was not wholly disappointing.

Sam’s character is the strongest in the first chapter, thanks perhaps to the tavern scene with Sandyman.  A good-souled, down-to-earth, thick-pated clod is Samwise Gamgee… and we know it as soon as he parts his rough lips.  Gandalf, on the other hand, appears in all the abruptness of disappointing the Hobbit children of early fireworks (an instructive comparison with the recent film, no doubt), and just as abruptly does he spare no syllables in any conversation.

 Bilbo is… his old self, as I remember him from The Hobbit, and he seems the picture of the middle-aged gentleman who can take 111 years with humor.  He is the vehicle of most of the chapter’s jokes.  But Frodo?  Perhaps he has too little action to himself in the first chapter.  Perhaps Tolkien wishes him to be the character with whom everyone identifies.  But he is washed out.   He has no distinctive tone of voice, as Sam and Gandalf clearly do, and as even Bilbo has to a lesser degree.

 Why does Tolkien start by creating a weak character for the one that is supposed to be strongest?  Perhaps the Quest is what we learned in college to call a “Bildungsroman.”  Frodo will grow with the story.  Perhaps it is significant that the tale begins when he is 33, the “coming of age” for Hobbits.  Perhaps it is significant that this is the age at which Christ died.

Perhaps we shall see.

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