Over the next three weeks, Gandalf helps Frodo make plans to leave the Shire and set out for the elf-haven Rivendell. To conceal this plan, Frodo makes a pretense of merely moving to a different house, selling Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses and buying a cottage in the sleepy village of Crickhollow, which is situated in Buckland just beyond the Shire. After staying with Frodo for two months, Gandalf suddenly departs south to gather news on a worrying matter that he does not elaborate on. The wizard promises Frodo that he will back for his birthday party, which will also mark his farewell to Bag End.
Gandalf takes on the role of guide for Frodo before the wizard suddenly leaves the Shire without explanation (yet again). Alongside Frodo, readers are not yet privy to the preoccupations of the wise.
As autumn sets in and the party approaches, Frodo grows anxious at Gandalf’s failure to return. He celebrates his birthday with a small dinner with his friends Merry, Pippin, Fatty, and Folco, who over the past few days have been helping him pack for the move to Crickhollow. All four hobbits are good friends whom Frodo has known since he was a child growing up in Buckland. Frodo has decided that he and Sam will travel to his new cottage and then quietly leave for Rivendell in order to avoid rousing suspicion. Despite his friends’ merry company through dinner, Frodo is melancholy at the thought of later parting with them.
This is not the last time that Gandalf will disappear in the novel. He is such a powerful leader and warrior that Tolkien needs to remove him from the plot to let other characters develop their own skills and talents. In this case, Frodo will be forced to set off on his travels alone. Before leaving he starts to feel the burden of the Ring weigh heavily as he misleads his friends about his intentions. Frodo’s secrecy is not to advantage himself, but to protect his friends, demonstrating a strong sense of courage and service as he sacrifices his own wellbeing for the good of the Shire.
The next morning, Folco returns home while Merry and Fatty drive a cart of belongings ahead to the cottage at Crickhollow. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin intend to follow on foot, enjoying the Shire’s beautiful countryside as they walk and camp from Hobbiton to Buckland. Just before they leave Bag End, Frodo overhears a strange voice talking to Sam’s father, the Gaffer, next door. The voice is asking for “Baggins,” but the Gaffer incorrectly replies that Frodo has already left for Buckland. Frodo hears the stranger walk away, and he swiftly dismisses the strange incident; shortly thereafter the three hobbits shoulder their packs and take leave of Bag End. They begin their journey, traveling on the road in the quiet, almost invisible manner that hobbits innately seem to possess.
The narrator reveals that Frodo, Sam, and Pippin are unusual hobbits who can wander the countryside without the homely comforts of hobbit holes and houses. The almost magic stealth that hobbits seems to possess will certainly come in handy during their travels. They walk down the road, a motif that signals transition: like Bilbo before him, Frodo departs Bag End to greatly impact the world through the saga of the Ring. The direct echoes of history emphasize the continuity of the world and show that core patterns of events rise and fall repetitively through time.
On their second day of crossing the Shire’s countryside, the hobbits hear hoofbeats approaching behind them. Frodo feels a sudden urge to hide, and so they conceal themselves in long grass, planning to surprise Gandalf if it is the wizard searching for them. Instead, Frodo sees that it is a Black Rider coming down the road—a tall figure astride a large black horse and shrouded in a black cloak and hood—and the Rider seems to be sniffing for a scent on the air.
The narrative soon demonstrates the unpredictable, even dangerous nature of the road. The injection of evil Black Riders into the Shire frightens the hobbits and showcases Tolkien’s tendency to represent good and evil through color: the Black Riders are clearly malevolent creatures because of their dark clothing and horses. The intrusion of adversity into the predictable Shire demonstrates that the hobbits’ home is no longer safe for them.
Frodo is frightened by the appearance of this strange Black Rider, and is considering putting on the Ring when the Rider suddenly moves away down the road. Frodo describes the stranger’s appearance to Sam and Pippin, who were hidden further back from him. Sam recalls that his father, the Gaffer, had spoken to a similar Black Rider the day they left for Buckland. Frodo realizes this must have been the strange voice he overheard before leaving Bag End.
Frodo almost falls to temptation to wear the Ring due to the Black Rider’s sinister presence. The threatening omnipresence of evil imposes on the good-natured Shire as Frodo realizes he almost encountered a Black Rider outside of Bag End. Chance, or fate, seems to have ensured that Frodo departed in the nick of time.
The hobbits continue their journey, walking along the road by starlight, when they are again frightened into hiding by the sound of an approaching horse. It is another Black Rider, and once again Frodo feels a strong urge to use the Ring to disappear. However, the sudden sounds of song and laughter drive the Black Rider away.
This scene again highlights the unpredictable nature of journey and adventure—travelers are just as likely to stumble upon allies as adversities. Readers also recognize that the Black Riders are somehow connected to the Ring, and likely Sauron, as Frodo is increasingly influenced by the Ring’s temptation in their presence.
The hobbits are relieved to stumble across a company of wandering elves; their leader, Gildor, offers the hobbits safe company for the night after hearing of their encounters with the Black Riders. While Sam is particularly delighted to meet the elves (he has long dreamed of meeting them), Gildor and his company are especially taken by Frodo—they name him “Elf-friend” for his knowledge of their language and customs. The hobbits enjoy a feast with the elves, and Gildor guesses much about Frodo’s journey, advising that he carry on without Gandalf and avoid the dangerous Black Riders. Gildor also promises to send word of Frodo’s journey to other allies he may encounter on the road, although Frodo learns that the elves of Middle-earth are increasingly departing its shores to travel West over the sea. That night, the hobbits sleep peacefully in woodland tree roots in the safety of the elves’ company.
There is a stark contrast between the hobbits’ first impression of the evil Black Riders compared to the virtuous elves. The latter have noble faces, light clothing, and bright and clear voices as opposed to the Black Riders’ dark, shrouded garb and hissing speech. That the elves are safe allies is also made obvious by their joyful singing. They offer fellowship and hospitality when they comprehend the hobbits’ danger. The elves take their power from the natural world. This is the first of many instances in which the hobbits experience protection by other powerful and wholesome characters. During their meeting, the elves also acknowledge the power of knowledge and language—they are much taken by the respect Frodo shows through his mastery of some of their customs and tongue. Frodo begins to show a skill that he will rely on as he develops into the hero role.