In an alternate universe where the nine members of Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring did not assemble for the purposes of deciding what to do with an unfathomably evil Ring of Power, and instead came together solely to partake in holiday merriment, they might have opted to participate in a White Elephant gift exchange. Or, as would be more accurate in Middle Earth, a White Oliphaunt. View their results here.
Frodo Baggins chooses first. He picks a rectangular package, wrapped in brown paper and string. Before he has a chance to unwrap it, Sam shouts excitedly, “That’s from me, Mr. Frodo!”
Frodo smiles, and unwraps Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked--and Fried, Too!: A Celebration of Potatoes in 75 Irresistible Recipes.
“I can come over and cook some of ‘em for you, if you like,” Sam says eagerly.
Samwise Gamgee is a little bit tempted to steal back the cookbook from Mr. Frodo -- after all, he could make much better use of it than his friend -- but decides instead to unwrap a thin, square package, wrapped in beautiful silvery paper.
He opens it to reveal a cardboard sleeve that reads Greenleaf Unplugged. “It’s me performing some of my favorite songs,” Legolas volunteers. “On vinyl, obviously.”
“Obviously,” agrees Sam, turning the record over and examining it. He’s not sure what vinyl is, and while he does agree that Legolas has a very pleasant singing voice, he doesn’t know that he wants to listen to him alone in his hobbit hole. Ah well, Sam thinks to himself, perhaps I can use it as a platter for cheese.
To everyone’s surprise, Meriadoc Brandybuck picks the least attractive gift in the pile -- a heavy object rolled up in a haphazard bundle of paper and twine. He tears it open and crows in glee at the heavy glass pint glasses inside.
“Those are from me, Merry!” Pippin exclaims, giddy with joy.
Later, when no one is looking, Merry admits to Pippin that he knew what the gift was before he opened it, as Pippin had left it sitting out on his dining table for days before the party, and had picked it on purpose.
Peregrin Took isn’t sure which gift to choose, and spends so long hemming and hawing that Merry finally yells, “Oh just pick one, Pippin!”
Startled, Pippin rips open the first package his hand touches, a long, thin box bound with blue ribbon. He gasps as he lifts the lid to find a gleaming sword. “I can’t accept this,” he says, looking to Merry for confirmation that he, in fact, cannot. Merry nods his agreement. “Who brought this?” Pippin asks.
“Um, I did,” Aragorn says, his face turning several shades of red. “But if you don’t want it, I also brought a cake?”
“Oh good,” Pippin says, relieved. “I do love cake.” As if on cue, his stomach rumbles.
It turns out that Aragorn was confused about what sort of gathering this was, and is relieved that the hobbit gave him back his sword, as he’d intended it to be a symbolic gift indicating loyalty, and not an actual present. He probably should have paid more attention to the invitation, and is glad that he’d brought a cake to share, as it is always polite to bring a dish to a party.
Aragorn opens a gift wrapped in grey cloth, which turns out to be a book of riddles. He meets Gandalf’s eyes, to find the old man watching him intently. “Yours?” Aragorn guesses, though it isn’t really a guess.
“Yours now,” Gandalf smiles.
Gandalf considers unwrapping one of the few remaining mystery gifts, but, feeling rather peckish, decides to steal Pippin’s cake instead.
There being no other baked goods available, Pippin decides on the next best thing, and steals Frodo’s potato cookbook.
“It’s all right, Mr. Frodo,” Sam says, looking more disappointed than Frodo. “I can still cook some taters for you.”
“Thanks, Sam.” Frodo frowns at the remaining presents, and selects a small but heavy box, wrapped in gilded paper. He opens it to reveal a solid gold ring, intricately carved, and looks up in alarm.
“Dwarf made, from the finest Moria gold,” Gimli speaks up quickly. “I probably should’ve written that somewhere on the box.”
“Oh good,” Frodo breathes in relief, not wanting to admit how nervous he’d been. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Boromir watching him with interest, and predicts he will not be in possession of the ring for long.
Legolas opens a rectangular box wrapped in white, to find a simple but handsome dagger. He examines it closely, then looks to Boromir. “This is an excellent blade.”
“One does not simply bring any old gift to a White Oliphaunt,” Boromir answers.
Gimli strides over to Sam and plucks Greenleaf Unplugged from his hands without a moment’s hesitation.
Sam, somewhat relieved he no longer has to pretend to appreciate the confusing vinyl, grabs the present nearest to him, the only one in a gift bag filled with brightly colored paper. He pulls out a large aromatic tin containing a healthy quantity of Longbottom Leaf.
“I can help you use that up, if you’d like,” Merry offers hopefully.
“Thanks, but I’m sure I’ll be all right,” Sam says, already looking forward to tonight’s pipe.
Boromir steals the ring from Frodo, as Frodo suspected he would.
Frodo steals the cookbook back from Pippin.
Pippin steals the cake from Gandalf.
Gandalf steals the Longbottom Leaf from Sam.
Sam, who has done the math and knows that the final gift must be from Frodo, is not too upset about Gandalf’s thievery. He opens the only remaining package, a slightly padded rectangular package wrapped in green paper, to find a beautiful leather-bound book, its creamy pages blank. “Oh, Mr. Frodo, it’s lovely,” Sam says, running his fingers gently over the stitching of the soft leather cover.
“To write about your adventures, Sam,” Frodo says.
“Beg your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but the only adventures I intend to have are of the culinary variety,” Sam says, his mind already filling with recipes. “Perhaps I will write a cookbook instead.”
“I think that is a most splendid idea, Sam,” says Frodo, and everyone agrees.