Friday, 8 February 2013

Tolkien nods: The saga of Trotter's feet


In reading The History of Middle Earth, and the early drafts of Lord of the Rings, there are some 'cold sweat moments' when you realize how horribly wrong it all might have gone - or perhaps it is just that a genius needs to make mistakes en route to a masterpiece.

Many of these relate to the character called Trotter - a friend of Gandalf whom the hobbits met at the Prancing Pony in Bree and who guides them to Rivendell.


Trotter eventually became the noble Numenorean heir to the throne of Gondor and Arnor we know as Aragorn - but he began as a brown skinned hobbit who wore wooden shoes.

The wooden shoes - whose clopping sound on the road explains the nickname of 'trotter' - seem (for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom) to have been taken by Tolkien as an immovable necessity to the story, and he expended considerable ingenuity in devising explanations for why a hobbit should be wearing clogs...


These matters come to a head in the draft chapter for the Council of Elrond (page 401 of The Return of the Shadow - volume 6 of The History of Middle Earth) :

Gandalf spoke long, making clear to those who did not already know the tale in full the ancient history of the Ring, and the reasons why the Dark Lord so greatly desired it.

Bilbo then gave  an account of the finding of the Ring in the cave of the Misty Mountains, and Trotter described his search for Gollum that he had made with Gandalf's help, and told of his perilous adventures in Mordor. 

Thus it was that Frodo learned how Trotter had tracked Gollum as he wandered southwards, through Fangorn Forest, and past the Dead Marshes, until he had himself been caught and imprisoned by the Dark Lord.

'Ever since I have worn shoes,' said Trotter with a shudder, and though he said no more Frodo knew he had been tortured and his feet hurt in some way...  

[Reference 20]


Well, all this is bad. After all this build-up about the clogs we get the phrase 'Hurt in some way...

Lame, one might say


But worse is yet to come.

The real, twenty-four carat cold sweat moment comes in Reference 20, where Christopher Tolkien reveals:

My father bracketed the passage from 'Ever since I have worn shoes' to 'hurt in some way', and wrote in the margin (with a query) that it should be revealed later that Trotter had wooden feet.

Go back and read that last sentence again...


Clogs would have been bad enough; but instead of the noble Aragorn, we very nearly had a mahogany-footed halfling.

Phew! (Wipes brow with large spotted handkerchief.)



Deniz Bevan said...

I remember the first time I read this, I was so shocked! On rereads now, and I've reached the fifth book. Can't wait to reach the Lord of the Rings bits and be surprised all over again :-)

Deniz Bevan said...

Still, it's fun to be able to see Tolkien's writing process!

Bruce Charlton said...

I suppose it was thing like the changes in Trotter where we most clearly see the 'Hobbit sequel' evolving into the Lord of the Rings.