Good points, Lindariel! Of course the first thing Gandalf says to Frodo after his long absence is 'You look the same as ever, Frodo!'.
There so much back history to get on top of in this chapter. I don't know any other author who could have put such a halt on events at this early stage of a book in order to 'fill us in' and gotten away with it. It's only chapter 3 and we have 20 pages (in my copy) of converstion between two people. It's such a bold move and yet essential. The only reason it works is that the huge depth of Tolkien's creation makes it 'real' and therefore totally absorbing, and the stories we and Frodo get told by Gandalf are just so good. There is also the overwhelming sense of unease, followed by fear followed by excitiment at the fantastic journey we now know it ahead:
'There is only one way: to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths if Orodruin, the Fire Mountain, and cast the Ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the graps of the Enemy forever.'
At that point we somehow know that Frodo will be going there himself, to the Fire Mountain - how exciting is that!!! And then the whole chapter ends with Sam bursting into tears because he is finally going to see Elves. And we want to see them just as much, don't we
? Are we just as excited as Sam and as aprehensive as Frodo?
I found this chapter riveting when I first read it - but do some fail to be taken up by the long narration? Is this the point where a few people give up on the book althogther and never get to the story?