I hosted a group read over the summer of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings called Puttin' the Blog in Balrog. It was a lot of fun and many people participated. Condensed below are my posts for this book. If you'd like to read the rest (or see what the other participants posted), you can find links to everything here.Not to imply that The Hobbit is inferior, but there's probably a reason I've read it only 20-30 times instead of the 50+ I've probably read LotR. Dunno. Also, don't you judge me for my multiple re-reads. When I lived in NW Montana from the ages of 10-17, our library was a two mile bike ride away and only open two days a week during the summer. I had to do a lot of re-reading of things to avoid having to carry my own damn books home all the time. Plus, I love this book, so that helped.Here's a funny thing, though. I grew up reading the copies my dad had bought when he was a kid. I just checked this morning, and they're the second editions from 1965. What, you wanna see? FINE. Are you happy now? Jeez.Lest you think I'm trying to show off or anything, I'm saying this for a reason. The above editions ARE NOT what I'm reading now, and apparently were riddled with typos. I'm currently reading the 50th anniversary ebook editions which have ALL THE INTROS, ZOMG! Normally I would have skipped the foreword and stuff cos I've read it a bunch, but this was NEW TO ME so I was all kinds of excited. I know, I'm lame. Shut up.Past the intros we get a little bit about the history of hobbits, the Shire and why they weren't mentioned in the Silmarillion, a nice little summary of how Bilbo came upon the Ring AND an amusing little history of pipe-weed. Because of course, that's super important. Hee! This is the map from my book. I figure you all have it, but still.When the story starts, we hear a little about how Bilbo has been pretty much ostracized by the more uppity hobbits since his return from the adventures we just read about, but has been friendly with some of the younger crowd. He's adopted his nephew/cousin, Frodo, which really pissed the Sackville-Bagginses right off. Of course it did. There's going to be THE HUGEST PARTY THE SHIRE HAS EVER SEEN for Bilbo's ELEVENTY FIRST birthday. That's pretty old, even for a hobbit, so people have been talking about that, and casting furious side-eyed glares his way. It's just not proper to live that long and look exactly the same as he did on his 50th birthday, who does he think he is?Um, he's the guy that's about to blow your socks off, that's who.BIG PARTY! WITH GANDALF! AND FIREWORKS! AND BLACKJACK! AND HOOKERS! AND...disappearing Bilbo? After he insults everyone? Huh. They weren't expecting that, were they? There is a huge uproar, and we (with our omniscient narrator) get to see that Bilbo is sneaking off in the night with his dwarf caterers. He leaves the Ring on the mantle along with his will and the papers regarding his estate. Oh, wait. No, he STARTS to leave the Ring on the mantle, then absentmindedly puts it in his pocket. Gandalf shows up to see him off and IMMEDIATELY calls him on his shenanigans. Bilbo engages in a small bit of Ring lust before conceding that Gandalf is right. He leaves the Ring behind and heads out the door.The following day, people come banging on the door to find out WTS happened to old Bilbo. They find that he's gone forever and has left them some lovely snarky parting gifts. Tell me you didn't giggle imagining Lobelia's face when you saw this:For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT; on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had acquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons.Hee! Priceless.17 years pass. During this time, Gandalf and Frodo become quite close, and Frodo spends a lot of time tramping around the Shire with his besties, Pippin, Merry and Fatty. Gandalf spends a lot of time hanging out at Bag-End, but waits A LONG TIME to go find out anything about/tell Frodo what, exactly, the Ring is. Then he shows up one night, throws it into the fire, and we learn that it's the Ring of Power. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN.So, since Sauron has been missing his favourite accessory for THOUSANDS of years, and our old friend Gollum (whose backstory we also learn) couldn't keep his mouth shut about BAGGINSES! SHIRE! he's set the Nazgûl on the trail. Yeah, Frodo, GTFO of the Shire, you dummy. Oh, what's that? You want to wait SIX MONTHS until your birthday? Well, I don't see why there could possibly be a problem with that. Hey, who's listening at the window? Why it's Samwise Gamgee! A faithful servant and gardener at Bag-End, who was there before Mr Bilbo left. He's a good little hobbit. You'll find out why.Frodo spends the next six months convincing everyone he's decided to move to Buckland, and finally agrees to sell Bag-End to the Sackville-Bagginses. Too bad Otho died before he could get his greedy mitts on it, amirite?The night that Frodo, Sam and Pippin are to head off to Buckland (Frodo and Bilbo's birthday, September 22), Frodo overhears someone questioning ol' Gaffer Gamgee (Sam's da) about his whereabouts. This can't be good, right? Turns out, it's terrible. They learn while they're on the road that they're being searched for by the Nazgûl and there are a few near misses.After one such near miss, they meet a group of wandering elves led by Gildor. Now, maybe this isn't of utmost importance to most of you, but I feel it needs to be mentioned that Gildor is a Noldorian elf, specifically of the House of Finrod. Finrod was son of Finarfin, who was the brother of Fëanor that turned back, instead of sailing to Middle-Earth with his traitorous jerkwad brother. I talked about all of that here. It isn't strictly necessary to know all of this, but real Tolkien nerds lose their ish over the interconnectedness. [ahem]MOVING ON! Frodo, Sam and Pippin spend the night with these Noldorian elves, Gildor gives Frodo some advice that isn't really advice (in the manner of elves, natch) - but does impress upon Frodo the need to GET OUT OF THE SHIRE, head to Rivendell and if Gandalf doesn't show up, then he needs to take some friends with him. And Sam (who has always dreamed of meeting elves) has this to say:Sam could never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night, though it remained in his memory as one of the chief events of his life. The nearest he ever got was to say: ‘Well, sir, if I could grow apples like that, I would call myself a gardener. But it was the singing that went to my heart, if you know what I mean.’Oh, Samwise. There's a reason you're one of my favourites. <3The following morning, they awaken to find their new elf-friends gone, but breakfast is left for them. They try to take a shortcut to Crickhollow (the location of Frodo's new home), but end up far off course - on Farmer Maggot's land. Frodo's a bit frightened because Farmer Maggot caught him stealing mushrooms when he was young (hobbits LOVE mushrooms), and his dogs are supposed to be familiar with Frodo's scent - and they know to attack if they smell him again. LUCKILY Farmer Maggot has seen some strange Black Riders inquiring after the young Mr Baggins and is aware that he should offer some assistance. Our three hobbit friends get a decent meal and a ride to the ferry, where dear Merry is waiting for them - with news that Gandalf still hasn't shown up.At Frodo's new home, everyone has a nice hot bath and ANOTHER dinner (accompanied by more of Mrs Maggot's mushrooms, aw) and Frodo worries how to tell his friends that he's taking off on his own. He knows his mission is far too dangerous to ask them to accompany him, but it turns out he needn't worry. They all know, and have been preparing/spying/making arrangements for quite some time. Fatty will stay behind and pretend to be Frodo, and Pippin, Merry and Sam will go along. There's no way they'd let their dear friend head off to danger by himself, and they have EVERYTHING ready to go.They leave the next morning, thinking to take a shortcut through Old Forest. Old Forest is thought to be a bit haunted, there are rumours that trees once moved to the edges of the hedge and attacked passersby, so the hobbits cut down the nearest trees and had a huge bonfire. The Paths seem to have minds of their own, and before long, our little group is quite lost. They sit down on the bank of a stream under a large willow and are lulled into sleepiness. Luckily, Sam suspects something is up, and is proven correct when Frodo is tipped into the stream (and held down by a root) and Merry and Pippin are swallowed up by the tree. Frodo and Sam think to burn them out, but Merry yells (from inside the tree) that they'll be squished in half if they continue. Frodo (not thinking) starts running around shouting for help, and a strange little man in a blue hat with a "face as red as an apple" shows up to sing the tree into acquiescence. Old Man Willow, from the 1978 Tolkien calendar.TOM BOMBADIL! Aw, you guys, I heart Tom so much. For some reason, Mr Bombadil seems to be the subject of a ton of hate from the general LotR community. This wasn't something I was aware of before. I've read all kinds of theories recently about him (ranging from Tom's the Eldest Evil to Tom is the Witch-King) most of which I think are complete BS.Now, listen. Tolkien himself said that he purposely left Tom somewhat of an enigma, but to him he was a "nature spirit of the English countryside."None of that really matters to me (although, I think the nature spirit/hippie thing is kind of cool), here's why I really enjoy the chapter with Tom and Goldberry before they get to Barrow-Downs. Their time spent at Tom's house is pretty much their last moments of peace before all hell breaks loose. I mean, you've all read these chapters by now, right? You know that the stuff that is about to happen gets progressively darker (and hoo! just wait til the next few sections!), but while they're hanging out here, it's just a happy, peaceful, joyous time, with stories and friendship before the heavy ish starts to happen. I think our hobbit friends needed that, and I think we (as readers/fellow travellers) needed that too.Moving on! Our wonderful hobbits are warned by Tom to avoid the Barrow-Downs because of the Barrow-Wights. What are the Barrow-Wights? Well, it seems they're spirits placed there by the Witch-King to prevent resurrection of Cardolan, a destroyed kingdom of the Dúnedain. I can hear you now, "Wait, who the snape are the Dúnedain?!" Um...well, remember when we I talked about the sinking of the island continent of Númenor? What, you skipped that? Go read, I'll wait.[taps foot impatiently]Oh, you're back? Okay, so the Númenoreans that escaped? The Dúnedain were descended from them. Make sense? Good. All right, so the Barrow-Wights inhabit the corpses of the Dúnedain that are buried in these mounds (or, Barrows). Frodo and friends make the mistake of stopping on a shady rock and wake up to fog. Now they can't find the road and go wandering where they shouldn't. Of course they get knocked out and captured and wake up in the Barrow, about to be slain by a Wight. Frodo calls for Tom's help, and good ol' Tom comes to the rescue.See? Not a bad guy.Tom finds their wayward ponies and even brings one of his own to accompany them. He takes them as far as the road to Bree, but can't go any further - Goldberry is tied (no, not literally) to the River Withywindle, and he won't leave his OTL. Awwww. <3There's a little suspicion from the gatekeeper at Bree, but they're allowed in and head for the Prancing Pony, where they hope to meet Gandalf.Gandalf isn't there of course (but where IS that Wizard? Hmpf), but they're given nice rooms and have a huge dinner, then head out to the common room to socialize. Well, all except for Merry, who decides to hang back and maybe take a walk later.Frodo has warned everyone to remember to use only his name of Underhill, but Pip gets a little toasted and starts talking about Bilbo's awesome disappearing act at his birthday party (jeez, they can really milk a story, can't they? This happened SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!), and to distract everyone Frodo hops up on a table and starts to sing and dance. He's kind of caressing the Ring in his pocket for courage (which makes me wonder what everyone standing around thinks he's doing?) and when the table is bumped, he goes flying, breaks a bunch of crockery and the Ring "slips" on his finger.There is much shoutery and Frodo sneaks under the tables to go sit back by his new friend, Strider. Hey, that post you read that I linked to up there? What did it say about Rangers? Yeah, Strider's a Ranger. Woo for interconnectedness!SO - everyone leaves, all whispering and grumbling about Frodo's mysterious disappearance. They have a chat with Mr Strider, who offers to help them. Sam is especially suspicious (good boy, Samwise), BUT then the owner of the tavern comes in all apologetic because he's had a letter from Gandalf for the last SIX MONTHS that he was supposed to deliver, but did not. Um...wow. So, my whole "yeah, smart to stay in the Shire" comment wasn't so stupid now, was it? AND the letter is all "you might meet my friend Aragorn, who goes by Strider, he's a good dude, trust him." And then they do.That night, someone sets all of the horses and ponies free AND there's an attack on the room the hobbits should have been staying in. One of the Asshats of Bree was working with the Black Riders, but they DIDN'T KILL ANY HOBBITS, BOOYA!Luckily, that Asshat happens to have the last pony in the whole township and they buy it from him for more than it's worth, but it turns out to be good for our friends AND the pony.Strider informs them that they're heading to Weathertop, so they can get a good 360° view of the surrounding countryside. While there, they notice what MAY be Gandalf's mark, but it also might not be. BUT THEN they're accosted by 5 of the 9 Nazgûl. Frodo is injured, but he fights back, so they run away.Now it's pretty much just a race against time. Can they make it to Rivendell and ACTUAL help before Frodo succumbs to the poison in the Nazgûl blade?C'mon, of course they can. It wouldn't be much of a story if the protagonist died halfway through the first book, would it?That's not to say it's easy going. They have to take a circuitous route, and just when things are at their most dire, MY buddy Glorfindel shows up on his majestic steed.Look, Glorfindel...he's kind of special. Remember back when I was talking about the Silmarillion and I told you that elves only die in battle or of grief? WELL. Glorfindel was around for the Fall of Gondolin, and was one of those that escaped with Tuor, Idril and Eärendil. Here's the thing, though. They were ambushed by Morgoth's armies and badass Glorfindel manages to kill a Balrog, but is also killed and buried in rubble. Thorondor ('member, King of the Giant Eagles?) lifts him from the rubble, and (like all dead elves) Glorfindel travels to the Halls of Mandos. Part of the awesome mythology that was created was (even if it did have to be retconned, SHUT UP) after a period of time in the Halls of Mandos (um, kind of like a purgatory type dealy) the spirits of the dead elves can be re-embodied. So, yeah. Glorfindel is pretty effing awesome. </fangirling>ANYWAY - as they're on their way to Rivendell, they are surrounded by the Nazgûl and it's time for Frodo to go on ahead on Glorfindel's awesomely fleet steed. It looks like things are going to end badly as they get to the river, but ALL THE WATER COMES RUSHING DOWN and sweeps them away. Frodo's pretty sure he sees the shapes of horses in the foam, but surely he's hallucinating, right?...once again, I've run out of room. The next section can be found here.