But we can talk about Gollum later.
This is a good chapter for character moments as we see the last of the Company of the Fellowship. First, Legolas. So far, Legolas has been appreciative of wood, stone, field, and of course mallorns. We get a hint of Legolas’s prowess in this terrific bit:
Frodo looked up at the elf standing tall above him, as he gazed into the night, seeking a mark to shoot at. His head was dark, crowned with sharp white stars that glittered in the black pools of the sky behind. But now rising and sailing up from the south the great clouds advanced, sending out dark outriders into the starry fields. A sudden dread fell on the company.
. . . a dark shape, like a cloud and yet not a cloud, for it moved far more swiftly, came out of the blackness in the South, and sped towards the company, blotting out all light as it approached. Soon it appeared as a great winged creature, blacker than the pits in the night. . .
Suddenly the great bow of Lorien sang. Shrill went the arrow from the elven-string. Frodo looked up. Almost above him the winged shape swerved. There was a harsh croaking scream, as it fell out of the air, vanishing down into the gloom of the eastern shore. The sky was clean again. There was a tumult of many voices far away, cursing and wailing in the darkness, and then silence.
Later, he talks about how elves perceive the passage of time. That’s the final melancholy note, a coda to Lorien, before things start hotting up, first with Boromir trying to do his best to get the company—and the ring—heading for Gondor.
They proceed further down the river, Sam miserable as the boats whirl underneath the mighty sentinels of Numenor. Here, Aragorn briefly shows himself as the king who will return as he salutes the statues of Isildur and Anarion, but then he is Strider again as he ponders which way to go.
As it happens, that is decided for him, as The day came like fire and smoke. Aragorn turns to Frodo, who says he needs time to think.
Frodo is alone, but not for long. Boromir confronts him, in a terrific, tense scene—and just when I thought Boromir had turned evil, the influence of the ring passed, and
He rose and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. “What have I said?” He cried. “What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!” he called. “Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!”
Frodo runs off with the ring on his finger. Everywhere he looks he sees war. His gaze is inexorably drawn toward Barad-Dur, and he feels the Eye. And while he struggles within himself—a harbinger of what we’re going to see in Gollum, who was been struggling with his two natures for centuries—a third voice pierces his turmoil, Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!
For years I thought that was a third inward voice of his, but now I believe that is Gandalf, who also could tell when Frodo had put on the ring. That sounds like Gandalf at his crustiest.
He pulls off the ring a heartbeat before Sauron finds him; the shadow passes overhead, searches westward, then fades.
And Frodo knows he has to go on alone, as the influence of the ring is increasing the dangers already besetting the company.
Aragorn briefly confronts Boromir, everyone scatters to search for Frodo, but it’s Sam who knows Frodo best, and who is so desperate, and so loyal, that he risks the hated water, and nearly drowns.
Frodo has to come back to find him—and so he is not alone after all. Which is just as well, because there are actually three hobbits on the final trek to Mt. Doom.