It is odd that the fifth chapter of the Fellowship begins with Frodo leaving the Shire proper, and it ends with him leaving Middle Earth.

The chapter begins with the Hobbits floating across the Brandywine into Buckland.  Tolkien takes the occasion to pursue a rabbit trail on the history of the Brandybuck family.  The digression, practically speaking, serves to slow down the reader’s experience of the trip across the river, and after the scare of the Black Riders, it hushes the action for a bit.  But the digression also signals an important change of place.

Tolkien is shifting his story-telling from the faerie- and folk-style to the mythic.  He does this, interestingly, in stages that correspond to the stages of the Hobbits leaving the Shire.  First the Hobbits leave Hobbiton and encounter Elves for the first time.  Then they leave the Four Farthings and enter Buckland, the queerest and otherest place connected with the Shire.  Soon after, they will leave the Shire altogether in favor of the Old Forest, thence to finally emerge into the world of Men.  (And an odd emergence it is, since their first encounter with this world involves the first man, Tom Bombadil, and a dead man, the barrow-wight).

What follows immediately after the Hobbits land in Buckland, of course, is more firming up of their individual characters.  Pippin sings and plays around, while Frodo hesitates.  Merry (whom we meet properly for the first time) prudently and practically sets all in readiness.  And most importantly, Sam turns out to have more about him than meets the eye, having functioned as an unexpected informant for the other two younger Hobbits.  Together they form a conspiracy, with the result that Frodo takes Gildor’s advice, offered the night before:  “Do not go alone.  Take such friends as are trusty and willing” (94).  Through the eyes of these four trusty friends, we encounter the rest of the wide world of Middle Earth.

If I am right about this progression, and the stages that Tolkien develops in his story-telling as the Hobbits travel Eastward, I wonder very much about the timing of Frodo’s dream at the end of Chapter 5.  The dream at Crickhollow is the first of several dreams to haunt Frodo on his flight to Rivendell.  And the odd thing is that it concerns the West instead of the East:  it is a dream of longing, not for the world of Men or even for the Shire, but for the Sea.