54

At Weathertop, Frodo and the band are beset by the Ring-wraiths, at which point Frodo feels compelled to put on the ring, and he does.

When the Witch King attacks Frodo and just before Strider comes to help, this happens:

In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy.

— The Lord of the Rings — Book One: The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter Eleven (“A Knife in the Dark”).
[emphasis mine]

Why does Frodo cry O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!?

  • 2
    Nor was he singing - he was not quoting the song he had heard earlier, but rather invoking the Queen of the Valar. – Matt Gutting Oct 29 '14 at 21:23
  • 27
    He'd played Nethack, and remembered that most things fled from Elbereth. – Sconibulus Oct 29 '14 at 21:35
  • 8
    It's the Middle Earth version of a Catholic Hail Mary. – TylerH Oct 30 '14 at 1:51
  • 2
    To be honest at that point he’s basically tripping his tits off. – Paul D. Waite Apr 17 '15 at 16:31
83

This is a callback to Frodo's earlier meeting with Gildor Inglorion, where a Black Rider is approaching (and seems about to find) the Hobbits, but is disturbed by the arrival of the Elves:

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas

It's notable that even before the Elves arrive, Frodo is aware of the name Elbereth and what it signifies:

'These are High Elves! They spoke the name of Elbereth!' said Frodo in amazement...

At Frodo's parting from Gildor, following a discussion of the Black Riders (and Gildor's reluctance to divulge much information about them) we also see the following:

'Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?' answered Gildor. 'Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly. Ask no more of me! But my heart forbodes that, ere all is ended, you, Frodo son of Drogo, will know more of these fell things than Gildor Inglorion. May Elbereth protect you!'

It's also notable that Frodo invokes Elbereth again at the Ford of Bruinen when trying to stand off the Riders:

'By Elbereth and Lúthien the Fair,' said Frodo with a last effort, lifting up his sword, 'you shall have neither the Ring nor me!'

Finally, we see that Frodo is here also using the name of Lúthien, which follows on from Aragorn's earlier summary of the tale of Beren and Lúthien (before the attack on Weathertop).

The connection is therefore that Frodo is using names from tales he has heard and encounters he has had along the way. He knows from the encounter with the High Elves (Gildor & co) that the name Elbereth has some power, he has Gildor's blessing that Elbereth protect him, and he has recent memory of the tale of Lúthien.

  • 1
    I really like this answer, another good one from you mate! +1 – Möoz Oct 30 '14 at 2:51
  • 12
    +1 for an analysis based on the text instead of speculations about his Catholic faith – a_a Oct 30 '14 at 13:18
  • 1
    +1 for staying within the parameters of the story. Great collation of quotes and good reasoning. – Ian Lewis Oct 30 '14 at 14:55
47

Elbereth Gilthoniel refers to Varda Starkindler, one of the Valar.

Frodo's cry is comparable to a Catholic calling on an angel or one of the saints when faced with a supernatural evil creature. Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic and would undoubtedly have had this in mind.

It is unlikely that Frodo expected direct intervention from the Valar -- any more than a Catholic praying for help would expect an angel to appear and smite his enemies. Rather, calling the name of Elbereth was an act of defiance. It would affirm Frodo's faith and courage, and at least cause some discomfort to the Witch King.

Tolkien's essay The Hunt for the Ring referenced in this related question mentions in passing:

[Frodo] called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl. He was then in league with the High Elves of the Havens.

So the Ringwraiths are afraid of hearing the name spoken, in part because anyone who knows it is likely to be an ally of the High Elves.

  • 1
    I like the connection to real-world scenario. +1 – Möoz Oct 30 '14 at 2:48
  • 1
    But how does Frodo even know this name or that it would scare Nazgul? He, at the time of Weathertop, was not an Elf-friend, nor had he even seen an elf before his journey. – PartyKingThrandeezy Oct 30 '14 at 13:11
  • 3
    @PartyKingThrandeezy He probably knew all about the Elves and their history from Bilbo. By the time he was on weather top Frodo knew much of the Elven language already (though I'm not sure right now of what variety). – a_a Oct 30 '14 at 13:15
  • 2
    I don't have supporting quotes here now, but my interpretations is that in the cases where Frodo calls upon Elbereth, even he doesn't quite know why at the time. The phrasing in one case was something like "he found himself crying strange words aloud in a strange tongue" (in Shelob's Lair, or passing the Watchers). (I'm aware he had some fluency in the elvish languages). Maybe it was inspiration (from Illuvatar?). I don't include his defiant speech to the Nazgul after crossing the Ford of Bruinen. That instance was more 'rational' (rather than instinctive) than the others. – LAK Oct 30 '14 at 14:50
  • <comments deleted> Take the discussion on the nature of prayer, hope, and miracles elsewhere, please. – user1027 Oct 30 '14 at 15:24

protected by Praxis Mar 20 '16 at 7:11

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