We were glad when Frodo finally got chased across the Ford of Rivendell. We’d been getting pretty Bored of the Rings, actually, what with all the walking, waiting and worrying the hobbits had been doing since Bree. In fact I’d been forced to read two Hardy Boys and a Bone before we–and by “we” I mean my 11-yr-old, whose recent panoply of psychological tests is pointing to the possibility of ADHD and making me desperate to keep the bedtime ritual alive–were ready to commit to Tolkien again.
But then, at last, Gandalf came back! And I could see it all over the kid: the pleasure of reunion. His face tilted towards me a little, his eyes slid closed for a moment, and then he gazed up at the ceiling with lashes aflutter and the hint of a smile. Where have you been, Frodo demands, and boy did we ever want to know the answer to that one.
And then, gift upon gifts, Glóin appears at the feast. “He’s the one from The Hobbit!” Yup, and he’s here for a hug, basically. Catching us up, filling us in. Reuniting us with the characters we’d left behind.
This son of mine has always preferred things he knows well to new things. Mastery over novelty has been his mode since he was old enough to beeline for the marble-tumble maze in the children’s museum and elbow the other toddlers out of the way. I knew better than to plan a playdate at that venue: the other mom and her charge would invariably move on to another display, as you’re meant to do in a museum, while I was left to the paperback and travel-mug cappuccino I’d laid by in my purse (not a bad timekiller, pre-smartphone).
Dr. Tolkien knows these joys of repetition. He knows the boy-reader’s desire not just to chart new territory but to visit old haunts. It’s closure, I suppose. When I teach closure I remind my students that it’s not just the tying up of loose plot threads but an emotional thing–the reader’s sense of satisfaction, of the story having paid off (and too much tidiness can be as dissatisfying as ragged ends, can provoke a feeling of cheapness or having been patronized).
There was lots of closure in The Hobbit already but we get more denouement still in Fellowship, not just in the plodding catchup with Bilbo at the start but each time a forgotten character like Glóin pops in to share his news, or Gandalf returns with more gossip. Hearing from old friends offers respite from the relentless quest. The reunion scene promises that no disaster will befall Frodo in the next few pages, at least (maybe an important assurance, at bedtime?). And it plumps up the fictional world most deliciously, suggesting that each group in the hero’s past has continued to live an evolving and three-dimensional existence, whether narrated or not.