"Bilbo must have translated it. I never knew that."

Blad The Inspirer

New Member
I was hoping we would get to this line in the last class, and we got so close!

I'm never able to tune in live, so I thought I would post this question and hope you can cover it in the next lesson. It is the biggest question I have about this chapter.

When Strider says, "Bilbo must have translated it. I never knew that," it seems to me that Frodo (along with any first-time reader) should respond by asking, "Wait... do you know Bilbo?" So, why doesn't Frodo say anything?

It seems very clear that Strider's "I never knew that" has a tone of surprise. If Bilbo had done something like translate the The Fall of Gil-galad, Strider would expect to know about it. That must mean that Strider and Bilbo are at least acquaintances, if not friends. Maybe it's possible that Strider knows of Bilbo, but has never met him, but in that case I don't see why he would expect to have such an intimate knowledge of his translations.

So, why wouldn't Frodo ask about his relationship with Bilbo? I'm not sure, but I can think of three possible reasons. One: Frodo does ask, but it is not stated in the text. Two: Frodo already knows at this point, because Strider has already told him, in which case, once again, it was not mentioned in the text. Three: He just doesn't think to ask.

Reason one and reason three are both pretty unlikely. I can't imagine why Frodo wouldn't ask about this, and if he did ask about it, why would it be left out of the text?

I have always been reluctant to accept reason two (or reason one, for that matter) because of something that happens later. When Strider joins Bilbo and Frodo in the Hall of Fire, Frodo is surprised. I have always assumed that Frodo is surprised not only to find that Strider has yet another name (the Dunadan), but also that Strider and Bilbo know each other. However, looking at the passage more closely, I don't see any evidence to suggest that Frodo wasn't already aware of Bilbo and Strider's relationship. Frodo is clearly surprised to see Strider, but the following conversation is all about his name, so that may be the only reason Frodo was surprised.

However, that still leaves us with a problem: If, at any point between Frodo meeting Strider and seeing him in the Hall of Fire, Frodo found out about his relationship with Bilbo, wouldn't it be important enough to mention in the text? Also, wouldn't he ask Strider if he knows where Bilbo is now? That seems like an important conversation.

For a long time, I also thought that there was another problem: If Frodo had asked Aragorn about Bilbo already, why would he be surprised to see Bilbo at Rivendell? However, I now guess that Aragorn may not have known Bilbo was there, since it may have been many years since Aragorn has been in Rivendell. Also, even if he did know, Aragorn may not have said anything, but that would seem kind of cruel.

So, in conclusion, I am still very confused. I can't think of a fully convincing explanation. I really hope someone can solve this riddle for me in the next lesson!


New Member
I also thought it was a bit curious that Frodo doesn't question that remark, and it does seem to imply that Frodo knows at that point that Strider knows Bilbo. As to how, well, it would seem reasonable to think there was idle talk among them during the 2 or 3 days they were travelling cross-country after leaving Bree. Surely they didn't walk all that time in total silence. Given that, it's also reasonable that the hobbits might have chatted a bit about their families with Strider, or at least Frodo might have, so also reasonable to think that Strider might have mentioned the he knew Bilbo, or at least knew of him. All of this is the sort of idle talk that wouldn't make for very interesting reading generally speaking so it's understandable why Tolkien wouldn't have included it. Most of it wouldn't have been very relevant to the story he was telling I'd imagine.

As for Aragorn/Strider, I tend to think he'd likely not offer up much information about his relationship with Bilbo (or anyone for that matter at this stage), and also think he'd likely refrain from mentioning that Bilbo is in Rivendell (if he knows, which I think we have to presume he does, if only via Gandalf) out of respect for Bilbo's wishes. I don't think Bilbo really wanted his whereabouts known, at least not to Frodo. Maybe he thought it was kinder or something, who knows. At any rate, I can see Aragorn/Strider feeling like it wasn't his story to tell that Bilbo was now residing in Rivendell as a permanent guest of Elrond.


Well-Known Member
Excellent observation. I've been thinking for a few weeks now that Strider has been showing too little of his relationship with Bilbo (surely he could have volunteered enough material that only Bilbo would know to convince Frodo they were besties, which they have been for 70+ years off and on lol).

And now he tosses one out casually and nobody bites. I'd guess it's because Frodo is distracted, has other things on his mind. And it maybe shows just how strongly the hobbits have accepted Strider as "one of them" by now. Of course he will casually name drop Bilbo - he's one of them. It's not worth noticing. Nobody would think twice if Pippin casually mentioned Bilbo.


Active Member
Great post!

Certainly one would think that any of the Hobbits here would inquire about Strider's relationship with Bilbo after that ....very interesting ...or at least certainly following up with whether or not Strider has seen or heard anything about Bilbo since his departure from Bag End.

I am of the belief (as has been brought up multiple times in multiple classes) that certainly Frodo and Strider must have the "elf-friend" connection going on. Gildor clearly names only Frodo, "Elf-friend." This would point to the comfortability Frodo has for Strider therfor not invoking the follow up question? (...though that is not strong enough, I believe. I think Frodo would still follow up just to possibly find out anything about Bilbo.)

Even though Sam stays up all night talking with Gildor and company, we don't get the "elf-friend" for Gamgee. I only bring this up to reinforce the suspicion Sam would still be holding over Strider which would seemingly inspire a follow up Bilbo question from Sam because Sam's been (a) relatively perceptive and alert so far (i.e. saving Frodo from drowning near Old Man Willow) and (b) a follow up Bilbo question would quite possibly either quell Sam's suspicions of Strider or confirm them.

An interesting connection to this is when Frodo awakes at Rivendell..... and how from Sam to Gandalf to Elrond, essentially everyone that talks to Frodo does not say Bilbo is there. Gloin and Frodo talk about Bilbo during their meal but Frodo is still joyously surprised to find Bilbo when he finds him.

Maybe, being a burglar after all, the element of surprise is always connected to Bilbo ;)
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Active Member
For what it's worth, I was discussing this post with my uncle and he has always read Aragorn's comment as having never "heard" that Bilbo had translated it.

Lincoln Alpern

Active Member
"Bilbo must have translated it - I never knew that"

(Typed out this comment before the latest class recording, and meant to post it then, too, but Signum forums once again prevented me from logging in on two different browsers, for reasons known only to itself.)

I find this part of the exchange fascinating as well, and you raise some good points - I hadn't noticed that about the ambiguity with Frodo and Bilbo's reunion. I always just assumed this was when Frodo first learned that Strider and Bilbo were buddies. And frankly, I have enough faith in Tolkien as an author to trust that, if indeed Strider revealed the connection sometime before they reached Weathertop, he could have slipped that scene in at some point without it being boring or shoehorned in. I know it's not definitive, but my suspicion is still that Frodo was unaware of their relationship, prior to seeing Bilbo in Rivendell.

What, then, are we to make of Frodo's and the other Hobbits' failure to follow up with Strider and ask what he meant by that comment? Personally, I don't see that it needs much of an explanation.

Remember we have certain advantages the Hobbits lack. We're reading out of a book, which of necessity contains only the most crucial passages from their adventures. We cover in mere minutes what for them takes days - over which time they've no doubt heard any number of queer (to them) comments by Strider, some of which they probably asked about, most they probably just wrote off as just a weird thing Big People Say. Moreover, not only are we reading this as a condensed version, but we're doing a close reading at that; how many times have I read through this passage before and just skipped over Strider's remark without pausing to consider the implications. We also realize we're reading a book, and so are on the look out for certain conventions which the Hobbits aren't necessarily. Also, we're reading about all this from the comfort of our own homes, whereas, as someone upthread pointed out, the Hobbits are rather distracted by life and death matters going on around them.

Given all this, I have no problem going with option 3, with the explanation being that the significance of Strider's comment didn't hit Frodo at the time. (A little later, of course, they're all going to be very distracted by other stuff, which could easily drive this offhand remark by Strider out of their minds.)


Well-Known Member
Given all this, I have no problem going with option 3, with the explanation being that the significance of Strider's comment didn't hit Frodo at the time. (A little later, of course, they're all going to be very distracted by other stuff, which could easily drive this offhand remark by Strider out of their minds.)
And even further, Frodo will recall the incident after the fact, when he's writing it out. So he remembers the significance of it later, even if he didn't see it at the time.