In the middle part of The Fellowship of the Ring, how did Strider find and interpret that rock message supposedly from Gandalf?

Literature Asked by Hurst on November 15, 2021

Maybe this is explained later, and if so, please don’t mention the resolution. However, if it’s never mentioned again, I’d like to hear some reasoning.

Basically, Strider leads the hobbits and that mistreated pony to a place where it seems like they (or he) had agreed to meet with Gandalf. Although I can’t remember reading that, even though I’ve been so careful and really tried to follow every detail.

Anyway, let’s assume that they did arrange to meet Gandalf there. Even if so, it strikes me as bizarre that Strider would notice and turn around a random little rock in that area, find some minor scratches and immediately assume that they mean:

Gandalf was here at the third day of this month.

It’s clear that he just guesses and that they didn’t have some kind of secret agreement to communicate using special rocks which they place in a specific way and use a secret code language. He just draws this conclusion based on… something?

If it indeed turns out that it was Gandalf who etched those lines into the bottom of that rock, and if it really meant what Strider guessed it means, that almost stretches the story beyond my suspension of disbelief even in spite of all the supernatural elements. It just seems too strange, unless they indeed have such a "system" agreed upon between them two.

Maybe I’m being too impatient, and should finish the books before I draw any conclusion about this, but it makes me feel uncomfortable due to how far-fetched it seems.

One Answer

I'm going to attempt to answer this from the perspective of the reader at that point in time.

Your question is regarding this passage in Book 1, Chapter 11, "A Knife in the Dark"--

On the top they found..., a wide ring of ancient stonework, now crumbling or covered with age-long grass. But in the centre a cairn of broken stones had been piled. They were blackened as if with fire. About them the turf was burned to the roots and all within the ring the grass was scorched and shrivelled, as if flames had swept the hill-top....

At this point, the reader has only one way of knowing what could have happened here. Earlier in the chapter, we read

As Frodo lay..., it seemed to him that far away there came a light in the eastern sky: it flashed and faded many times.... The dawn... was still some hours off.

'What is the light?'....

Strider answered, 'It is too distant to make out. It is like lightning that leaps up from the hill-tops.'....

For a long while Frodo could still see the white flashes....

Weathertop lies to the East of where Strider and the hobbits set up camp. (Anytime Tolkien mentions a direction, check your map!)

The reader, with this shred of evidence, is forced to rely on the superior tracking and observation skills of Strider, who notices that one rock in particular sticks out like a sore thumb!

Suddenly Strider stopped and looked at the stone on top of the cairn; it was flatter than the others, and whiter, as it had escaped the fire.

Now, as for that translation - It's a bit of a stretch, and somebody more familiar with Tolkien languages/writing may be able to chime in -

But Strider already knew something supernatural happened here on October 3rd.
Strider arrives at Weathertop on October 6th, TA 3018

It's easier to solve this clue when you already have a confirmation bias!

We get some closure on this later on in Book 2, Chapter 2 "The Council of Elrond," where

Answered by Aww_Geez on November 15, 2021

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