A Knife in the Dark

From Tolkien Gateway
A Knife in the Dark
Chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring
EventFatty is attacked at Crickhollow; Frodo and Strider leave and are attacked at Weathertop.
Date30 September-6 October 3018
LocationCrickhollow, Bree, and Weathertop
<  Strider (chapter)
Flight to the Ford  >

A Knife in the Dark is the eleventh chapter of the first book in The Fellowship of the Ring.

In this chapter, Fatty Bolger is attacked by Black Riders at Crickhollow, but the Bucklanders scare them away. The Black Riders attack the Prancing Pony, but cannot find the Hobbits. The Hobbits lose their ponies, but purchase Bill the Pony to replace them. They make their way to Weathertop together with Strider, where Black Riders attack them in force. Frodo is stabbed with a Morgul-knife.


Back at Frodo's new "home" in Crickhollow, Fatty Bolger has been having an uneasy sensation all day. That night, he sees dark shadows in the trees, and his gate opens and closes of its own accord. Three dark figures arrive at the house, surrounding it on all sides. One figure demands he open the door, and then all three break inside. Suddenly, a horn blows in the distance.


Fatty had escaped the house before the Black Riders broke in, and ran a whole mile to call for help. The Bucklanders, fearing an invasion from the Old Forest, sounded the alarm for the first time in a hundred years. The Black Riders flee Crickhollow, and we are told that they now realize The One Ring has already left the area.

Back in Bree, Frodo has trouble sleeping. He dreams again of a wind in the east, and the gallop of hooves. He wakes up just before dawn, hearing a horn blowing far off in the distance.

Strider leads the Hobbits to their rooms, where they discover that the doors have been bashed in and their beds have been slashed and ransacked. They wake Barliman Butterbur, who is appalled at this turn of events. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin prepare to leave with Strider as soon as possible, skipping breakfast. Barliman goes to fetch their ponies, but discovers that the stable doors had been opened and the ponies are gone. Strider reassures them that ponies would not have sped up their journey by much, on the roads he intends to take.

Frodo inquires whether more ponies could be purchased in the village. Barliman replies that the chances are low, but sends his assistants out to look anyway. Strider laments that they will no longer be able to leave Bree unnoticed, but the Hobbits are glad to have a chance to eat breakfast while they wait. The wait lasts three hours.

Barliman's assistant Bob finally returns with bad news: He could find only one pony for sale, at a very steep price, belonging to Bill Ferny.

A poor old half-starved creature it is, but he won't part with it for less than thrice its worth, seeing how you're placed, not if I knows Bill Ferny.

Frodo worries that the pony would bolt right back to Bill Ferny with all their belongings. Strider is confident that no animal would want to return to Bill Ferny. Bill's price is 12 silver pennies, which Barliman Butterbur offers to pay out of his own pocket, giving Merry another 18 silvers for his lost ponies. We're told that Merry's lost ponies were later found by Tom Bombadil, one having been stolen and the others having wandered across Bree-land. Tom collected them and returned them to Barliman, who ultimately benefited from his generosity.

The other guests at the inn are outraged to find that some of their animals had also escaped. However, they soon discover that the southerner who had conferred with Bill Ferny has also disappeared, and the blame quickly falls on him. When Barliman chastises the southerners for bringing a thief with them, it turns out that none of them had actually arrived with him nor knew who he was.

Due to the events and commotion of the previous night, many people come to see the Hobbits leave Bree. Strider decides to lead the Hobbits out the main road, as leaving into the wilderness would only arouse more suspicion. Frodo gives a heartfelt farewell to Barliman Butterbur and his loyal assistants.

The Hobbits make their way out of Bree. In the window of the last house on the road, Frodo spots the southerner peeking out at them. Outside the house is Bill Ferny, who sneers at Strider, calling him "Longshanks". He warns the Hobbits not to trust Strider. Strider does not reply, but Sam throws an apple he'd been eating at Ferny's face.

Several people follow the Hobbits a short way out of the village, but quickly turn back. The party passes the Hobbit village of Staddle, and shortly after that Strider takes them off the road and into the wilderness. Pippin complains about short cuts, citing the troubles they'd caused the Hobbits previously. Strider reassures him:

Ah, but you had not got me with you then. My cuts, short or long, don't go wrong.

At first, Strider leads the Hobbits on a winding path to throw off any pursuit. The next day, he straightens their course eastward, and soon they reach the Midgewater Marshes. Midges begin tormenting them as they make their way slowly across the marsh. The incessant bites and the sound of unknown bog-creatures keeps them up at night.

On the night of 3 October, Frodo wakes up to see flashes of light far away in the east. Strider has no idea what they are, describing them only as "lightning that leaps up from the hill-tops". He maintains a vigil over the camp that whole night.

On 4 October, the party leaves the Marshes and spots in the distance a strange, conical hill with a flat top. Strider calls it Weathertop - the halfway point between Bree and Rivendell. Strider considers heading straight towards it, though he's unsure what they might find there. Frodo says he assumed that Gandalf would be waiting for them there, but Strider says that this is unlikely. He points out that the chance of both Gandalf and the party reaching Weathertop at the same time is slim; and also that the Black Riders will likely make their way to the hill if they can't find the Hobbits elsewhere. He warns that some birds may have been employed as their spies. He concludes that the safest course would be to approach the hill from an unexpected direction.

On the morning of 5 October, the Hobbits have a relatively meager breakfast. Pippin notices that Frodo seems "twice the Hobbit that he had been". Frodo, however, feels much thinner, and worries that if he continues thinning he might "turn into a wraith". Strider is very disturbed by this, and urgently commands him not to speak of such things.

That night, the party reaches the Weather Hills north of Weathertop. On the morning of 6 October they turn south, following a path leading down to Weathertop that seems to have been specially designed to keep travelers hidden from view. The boulders lining the path remind Merry of the Standing Stones in the Barrow-downs. This prompts Strider to explain the history of Weathertop. He says that the hill was once a magnificent watch-tower built by Men of the West as part of their defensive lines against Angmar. He names the tower "Amon Sûl", and says that it was almost completely destroyed. He demonstrates an impressive knowledge of ancient lore, reporting that Elendil was said to have stood there watching for the coming of Gil-Galad in the days of the Last Alliance.

Merry asks who Gil-Galad was. Strider seems to be lost in thought about this, but suddenly Sam begins singing part of a song about Gil-Galad, amazing everyone. Sam says he learned the song from Bilbo, who had also taught him how to read. Sam claims that Bilbo wrote the song himself. Strider corrects him, saying that the song was originally written in an ancient tongue, which Bilbo must have translated; he is pleasantly surprised. Sam adds that he wouldn't learn the rest of the song because it was about going to Mordor. Pippin hopes aloud that they won't have to go to Mordor. Strider commands him not to speak that name out loud again.

The party finally reaches Weathertop, and locates a sheltered dell on its western side. Sam and Pippin remain there with the pony, while the others make their way to the top. As Strider said earlier, the watch-tower is burnt and ruined, and there is no sign of Gandalf. Strider says that Gandalf rides very fast, and might have reached Weathertop before they did. Indeed, Strider soon finds an unusual rock bearing small scratches, which he interprets as the Angerthas rune for "G" followed by the number 3 - indicating that Gandalf had been there on 3 October. Since Gandalf has left only a few cryptic marks, Strider concludes that he must have been in quite a hurry to leave the tower, and worried that someone sinister might find the message.

Strider observes fresh burn marks upon the stones, and speculates that Gandalf must have fought something in the tower on 3 October - explaining the lights they had observed in the east that night. He says the party will have to make its way to Rivendell without Gandalf. Merry asks how far Rivendell is. Strider is unsure; he estimates that it would have taken him about 12 days to reach the Ford of Bruinen by road, but since the party will likely have to stay off the road, it might take at least a fortnight.

Frodo feels homesick as he looks at the road headed back west from the tower. Suddenly, he notices two black specks on the road, moving westward, and three other black specks moving eastward to meet them. He tells Strider, who drops quickly to the ground, pulling Frodo with him. They creep up to the edge of the hill to observe the specks as evening falls.

The enemy is here!

Strider, Frodo and Merry return to the dell. Meanwhile, Sam and Pippin have explored the area, and found signs of a recent campsite next to a spring, with fresh boot marks and bundles of firewood. Strider examines these, concluding that Rangers had been there a few days earlier and left that firewood, though the tracks have mostly been ruined by Sam and Pippin. He also notices many heavy bootprints, which disturb him.

Sam suggests leaving Weathertop as soon as possible. Strider considers this, but concludes that there is nowhere better to go, especially at night when they will surely be spotted leaving. At the Hobbits' inquiries, he explains that the Black Riders can "see" vague shapes, except in the bright light of the sun; can smell the blood of living creatures; and can feel them in their vicinity as keenly as the Hobbits had felt unease at the presence of the Riders. He rues his mistake of wandering carelessly on the hill-top. Finally, he adds that The One Ring attracts the Riders. Frodo seems to lose hope of ever escaping the Riders.

There is still hope. You are not alone. Let us take this wood that is set ready for the fire as a sign. There is little shelter or defence here, but fire shall serve for both. Sauron can put fire to his evil use, as he can all things, but these Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it. Fire is our friend in the wilderness.

The party sets up a campfire deep in the dell, and sits down to eat. Frodo is worried that their food stores won't last until Rivendell, but Strider reassures him that food can be gathered from the wild. He bids the Hobbits think of the tables at Elrond's house.

As the night darkens, Strider begins telling the Hobbits tales of times long past. They wonder how old Strider really is. They ask him again about Gil-Galad, and he replies that Frodo might actually know some of the story. Frodo confirms that he had heard it from Gandalf, and begins telling the tale. Strider quickly stops him, saying that he should not speak of it while servants of the Enemy are nearby, bidding the Hobbits wait until they reach Rivendell.

Instead, Strider tells the Hobbits the tale of Tinúviel, though he claims that only Elrond now remembers the tale properly. After a long pause, he sings the Song of Beren and Lúthien. After completing the song's many verses, he explains the tale in plain words, telling of the meeting between the mortal man Beren and the elvish princess Lúthien during the First Age; the war against the Great Enemy; and the retrieval of one of the stolen Silmarils. He tells of how Beren died at the hands of the Wolf of Angband, and how Lúthien gave up her immortality in order to join him in the afterlife. Their union, Strider adds, gave birth to a Half-elven lineage from which Elrond is descended, as well as Eärendil who sired the kings of Númenor.

Strider seems greatly affected by his own story. As he finishes, the moon rises behind him, and the Hobbits spot a small, dark shape at the top of the hill. They suddenly feel very uneasy. Sam and Merry scout the edge of the dell, but soon return and report that they suddenly felt very afraid and that Merry spotted two or three dark shapes moving towards them. The party prepares for a fight, as Strider commands them to pick up longer sticks from the fire.

As the party huddles around the fire, facing outwards, dark shapes begin appearing around the lip of the dell. Soon, the party is surrounded by four tall black figures, seeming darker than the darkness behind them. Pippin and Merry cower on the ground in terror, but Sam stays close to Frodo. Frodo suddenly feels a powerful temptation to put on the Ring. Despite remembering every reason not to, he puts the Ring on his finger.

Now under the Ring's effect, Frodo can see the Black Riders in their true form: five tall figures with white faces, merciless eyes, and grey hair, wearing long robes and silver helmets, and wielding swords. Three Riders rush towards him, and he pulls out his sword, which seems to burn bright red. Though two stop in their tracks at this sight, one continues to advance: a taller figure wearing a crown, holding a long-sword and a knife.

Frodo throws himself on the ground, crying "O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!", and swinging his sword at the crowned figure's feet. The figure shrieks in pain, and then stabs Frodo in the left shoulder.

Before passing out in pain, Frodo glimpses Strider leaping at the figure with flaming brands of wood in each hand. Frodo drops his sword, grabs the Ring, and pulls it off his finger, holding it very tightly.