Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 5

The Window On The West
"'I do not ask you to tell me more. I do not even ask you to tell me whether I now speak nearer the mark. But if you will trust me, it may be that I can advise you in your present quest, whatever that may be - yes, and even to aid you.'"
At 27 pages, this is the longest chapter of Book Four. Originally, Tolkien had written it longer but ultimately he had to excise much of the part where Faramir recounts the history of Gondor and Rohan. This material was moved to Appendix A. Like "The Council of Elrond", however, this chapter basically comes down to two meetings and the sharing of information. In fact we spend more time finding out about Faramir than we did about his brother.

After the skirmish with the Southrons, the force of Rangers gathers in a wide semi-circle and Faramir gives Frodo a decent grilling on the significance of his Quest, especially as it related to "Isildur's Bane". In discussing this hidden "thing" that he carries, Frodo reveals that if anyone has claim to wield it, that person would be Aragorn, the heir of Isildur. When Faramir asks about Aragorn's history and claim to the throne, Frodo insists that Boromir would vouch for him. At this point, remember, Frodo is not aware that Boromir has been killed. When Faramir reveals that he knows Boromir to be dead, Frodo is shocked at the news. And the Gondorian was hoping Frodo could shed some light on the manner of his death.

At this point, Sam gets a little snotty with Faramir over his line of questioning. But Faramir does not take offense. He is patient and tells the hobbits that he is Boromir's brother. At this point, he explains that eleven days earlier - on February 26, the day of the breaking of the Fellowship - he had heard the horn of Gondor blowing in the distance, a boding of ill will. Three nights later, along the shores of Anduin, he saw a strange boat floating in the river. He waded into the stream, and the boat approached him.
"[It] turned towards me, and stayed its pace, and floated slowly by within my hand's reach, yet I durst not handle it. It waded deep, as if it were heavily burdened, and it seemed to me as it passed under my gaze that it was almost filled with clear water, from which came the light; and lapped in the water a warrior lay asleep."
It was Boromir in the Elven boat that was set adrift by Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Faramir remembers a "fair belt, as it were of linked golden leaves, about his waist". Faramir insists it was not a dream because there was no waking. And for Faramir to have seen the belt that Galadriel gave to Boromir without having any knowledge of it would be a fair trick. Clearly the Elven boat possessed such properties that allowed it to survive the Falls of Rauros. Faramir feels he should take Frodo to Minas Tirith but is cautious not to decide in haste. He resolves rather to take the hobbits to a secret place nearby.

As they walk, Faramir recounts much of the dealings in Gondor and why there is no King. He explains about the Stewards and his memories of Boromir. He tells Frodo that he has guessed the secret of Isildur's Bane, that it was something that belonged to Sauron that Isildur took although he hasn't figured out that it is the One Ring. Frodo is getting nervous but Faramir assures him that although Boromir, anxious for the victory of Minas Tirith, must have been driven by desire for this thing he would not take it "if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin". He does not love weapons and battles, but only the City of Numenor that they would defend. Faramir shows himself to be in this way very much unlike Boromir.

Frodo and Sam are then blindfolded so that they will not be witness to the entrance of the hidden lair, much like the Elves did to them as they entered Lothlorien. They are brought to a place with the sound of running water. As their blindfolds are removed, they get their first view through the waterfall at Henneth Annun.
"They stood on a wet floor of polished stone, the doorstep, as it were, of a rough-hewn gate of rock opening dark behind them. But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstretched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire."
The view faced westwards towards Osgiliath and Minas Tirith but, symbolically, it also faced westwards towards the sea where Numenor once was as well as the lands beyond which were now no longer reachable.

The refuge of Henneth Annun was formed when the water that once flowed through the cavern and out of the "window" arch had its course changed to now flow over the rocks above, forming a waterfall in front of the open space. The only ways out where either through the one secret passage that they had entered or through the arch of the window-curtain down to a pool below filled with sharp rocks. From this secret place and others, the Rangers were able to find safety and hiding as they patrolled the land of Ithilien.

The men and hobbits share a meal and discuss further the decline of Gondor's civilization. Because of the Numenoreans continued hunger for everlasting life, they made tombs more elaborate and stately than houses of the living. They also became more focused on their past than their future. Unfortunately, the hobbits begin to feel too at ease and Sam unintentionally blurts out a reference to the Enemy's Ring. It is here that Faramir finally understands the nature of this "thing" that Frodo is carrying and it puts him in an interesting position. He deduces that Boromir must have tried to take the Ring by force and it led to his death. And now, Frodo finds himself in the control of his brother.
"And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality!"
Now almost everything up to this point was portrayed in the film much the same way, with the exceptions of Faramir's earlier declaration of not being interested in this "thing" that Frodo carried, his own guess that Boromir died trying to take it, and the condensing of the "interrogation" of Frodo into one scene at Henneth Annun. However at this point, Peter Jackson made a change that probably caused more uproar among fans than any other one he made. He has Faramir, upon discovering the Ring, initially decide to take the hobbits (and the Ring) back to Minas Tirith, something he was already considering earlier.

Many fans found this to be totally out of character for Faramir as he was written. And on the surface this is certainly true. But let's take a close look at this change for a moment. Faramir does not try to take the Ring for himself. Actually, at first he avoids having to make that decision - to take it or to let it go - by deferring to his father's wishes. Essentially, he is putting off the moment when he will rise to the occasion and "show his quality". By having Faramir head first to Osgiliath, Jackson is creating some character development that I think works pretty well in the film version.

In PJ's The Two Towers, Faramir is conflicted and, feeling no less passionate about the defense of his people than Boromir did, he is not completely sure about what is the right thing to do. His personal instincts are battling his desire to live up to the memory of his brother in Denethor's eyes. This makes him very human and as a character the audience is able to relate to him a little better. Now Tolkien had neither the time nor inclination to invent such a plot device but who's to say whether or not he would have approved? If his friend C.S. Lewis had suggested such a change, would Tolkien not have at least considered it?

And one thing that always bothered me about Faramir as written was that, despite the Ring's ability to temp wizards, an Elf-Queen and other men, he experiences no real inner turmoil about its power. Yes, Faramir did not desire power but neither did Bilbo or Frodo and yet the Ring still had a strong hold on each of them. Perhaps the fact the Tolkien never has Faramir actually see the Ring makes a difference. I'm not sure. But the bottom line is that I don't really have a problem with Jackson's change, especially when you consider that in the end the result is exactly the same. Faramir decides to let Frodo take the Ring to Mordor and Sam recognizes the strength of this decision, saying to him "[you] showed your quality: the very highest".

So is the change really all that significant? I would argue that it isn't but there are some Tolkien fans that will never be convinced. And that's fine. Each reader's relationship to the work is personal and unique.

But what happened to Smeagol?

[Chronology: March 7th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Forbidden Pool

(revised 10/1/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 4

Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit
"'What's taters, precious, eh, what's taters?'
'Po-ta-toes,' said Sam"

Smeagol and the hobbits head south along the main road through the land of Ithilien, "a fair country of climbing woods and swift-falling streams". Ithilien, the sindarin word meaning "Land-of-the-Moon", was the easternmost province of Gondor that lay between the river Anduin and the Mountains of Shadow. Founded by Isildur in the year 3320 of the Second Age, the city of this land was Minas Ithil which was now Minas Morgul. In the year 2002 of the Third Age, Ithilien fell to the Witch-King and the forces of Sauron after suffering assaults from all directions. Over the following millennium, however, guerrilla forces of Rangers kept a presence in Ithilien operating out of secret refuges. They were the first line of defense against any attack from Mordor.

Unlike the lands to the north, Ithilien was not wholly ruined. In fact, much of the northern portion remained unscathed. Sauron's forces remained mostly within the confines of Mordor and seemed to use only the north-south Harad road that Frodo, Sam and Smeagol now traveled. The most visible scars lay along that road. Signs of Orcs lay in the trees as marks made by their crude strokes and much of the land grew wild and untamed with briar and bramble creeping over the other plants many of which were unknown in the Shire. But in this more southerly part of Middle-Earth, spring was already settling in and the smell of new growth was refreshing to Frodo and Sam, though not to Smeagol.

Sam decides to put Smeagol to use and sends him off to get them something to eat. Smeagol is only too happy to comply and bounds off in search of something more appealing than the lembas bread. It isn't long before he returns with two young rabbits, freshly killed. Sam decides it's time to put his pots and pans to use and orders Smeagol to fetch some water. But Smeagol finally understands what Sam intends when he returns to see the hobbit stoking a fire. Smeagol is appalled, for he had intended to eat the meat raw. In his mind, cooking the rabbits would ruin them.

Nevertheless, Sam is calling the shots and cooks up a stew for his Master, who is fast asleep. The exchange is classic and Peter Jackson's The Two Towers recreates it quite well. Sam tells Smeagol to root up some 'taters to go with it. Smeagol asks "What's taters, precious, eh, what's taters?" Sam replies in mock exaggeration, "Po-ta-toes". In the film, however, Sam muses over some tasty taters and filches the line from The Hobbit of the trolls who were deciding how to eat Bilbo and the Dwarves: "Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew." Frodo wakes to have the first hot meal he's had in quite some time.

While he may not have been aware of it, Sam was trying to lure Smeagol back towards the characteristics of the hobbit-like creature that he once was. If the obsession with the Ring degenerated him into his current state, perhaps his association with Frodo and Sam could to the opposite. Surely at one time Smeagol relished a good hot home-cooked meal instead of scrounging for raw meat. He rejects Sam's overtures, however. At this point the reader may begin to wonder if there is any hope for Smeagol or if he is simply too far gone into wretchedness. In fact, Sam's response is "Oh you're hopeless." But if Sam can't help Gollum, he's certainly going to do everything possible to keep his Master connected to the life that he left behind in the Shire and prevent him from a heading toward a similar fate.

Later, as Sam goes off to the stream to wash his cooking gear he notices that he unintentionally left the fire smoldering. Alarmed, he heads back to the camp and he thinks he hears a strange whistling. There are also voices. When Sam gets back to Frodo, they suddenly see four men emerge from the woods. They were hooded and all dressed in green. Frodo thought of Boromir, for they were much like him - especially one in particular. Having never seen hobbits before, they are curious yet cautious. The leader introduces himself as Faramir, Captain of Gondor. He asks them who they are and Frodo tells them briefly of the Fellowship, which included a man of Gondor named Boromir. All of the men react, for they know this name.

Faramir is curious to know more of their journey but he must depart and tend to other pressing matters. He leaves two of the men, Mablung and Damrod to stay with the hobbits. Frodo and Sam listen to their conversation and learns that the men are on guard against Orcs and Men of the south who are journeying north towards the gate of Mordor. Frodo is surprised to hear them speak in a language similar to the Elven-tongue and deduces that they are Dunedain of the South, men of the line of Westernesse.

The introduction of Faramir will take Frodo and Sam on a detour that was unforeseen by Tolkien. As he wrote out his original draft, the character just sort of sprang out of his imagination without any clue as to his relevance. As Tolkien writes in a letter to his son, Christopher on May 6, 1944 (Letter no. 66):
"A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but here he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, brother of Boromir"
Because of Faramir, all that takes place in the following two chapters in a part of the story that was never part of the author's outline. And before Tolkien finally decided on making Faramir Boromir's brother, he had named him Falborn, son of Anborn. Andborn actually becomes the name of the fourth man that come upon Frodo and Sam. But of course, the inclusion of Faramir becomes an extremely important one involving several crucial plot points.

All of a sudden, there is a great cacophony off in the distance that Sam describes as being "like a hundred blacksmiths all smithying together". An army of dark men were being pursued by many more of the green-clad Rangers. One of the southerners, dressed in scarlet robes with hair braided with gold, comes crashing through the trees at Sam's feet. This is Sam's first view of a battle and he looks upon the dead face of the man.
"He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind."
Here Tolkien touches again upon the concept of free will and considers how much that played in this man's presence in a foreign land, rallying with his army to Sauron. Originally, the man was to have been a Gondorian but Tolkien made the change to allow for this speculation. There is nothing mentioned in anything that I have read about Tolkien's life, but I've often wondered if these very thoughts passed through his mind about the soldiers of the German army that he fought back in WWI. In any event, these words are given to Faramir in the film version of The Two Towers.

In the midst of the battle Sam sees something else that he can't believe. Lumbering towards him is a huge Mumak, which is basically a giant elephant. Sam's only experience with these creatures are from legend, where back home they are called Oliphaunts. A huge war tower strapped to its back, the Mumak shakes off the arrows fired at him, most of which bounce off its tough hide. It stampedes through the woods and is soon lost to Sam's view. He never finds out what becomes of it. As the Rangers regroup, Mablung tells Frodo and Sam to stay with them, for more forces of the enemy will be looking for them. Not to mention that Faramir would like to spend a little time with them.

[Chronology: March 5th - March 7th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Window On The West

(revised 9/30/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 3

The Black Gate Is Closed
"'Well, here we are!' said Sam. 'Here's the Gate, and it looks to me as if that's about as far as we are ever going to get. My word, but the Gaffer would have a thing or two to say, if he saw me now.'"
Before dawn on March 5th, Frodo, Sam and Smeagol (note: going forward, unless this character specifically assumes the "Gollum" persona, I will refer to him as Smeagol) hide on top of a slag hill in sight of the Black Gate of Mordor. When Tolkien looked ahead to this part of the story, he had intended for the hobbits to actually enter Mordor at "Kirith Ungol" - the Pass of the Spiders. Considering however that the outline he had written of the Western story still had a couple of weeks to go he was left with a dilemma. It also occurred to him that walking in through the main entrance to Mordor, even if by a hidden passage, seemed implausible. So he came up with the idea of a "crossroads" further south that would lead to Minas Tirith if one turned right, the south lands of Harad if one continued straight on and to Minas Morgul (formerly Minas Ithil) if one turned left, toward the Ephel Duath. So the pass of Cirith Ungol was moved to that new location (and Kirith changed to Cirith though still with a hard "C" sound).

The main entrance now had a huge gate called the Morannon. And the entrance to the Black Lands that lay behind it was now called Cirith Gorgor. Tolkien describes the view of Frodo looking toward the gate:
"High cliffs lowered upon either side, and thrust forward from its mouth were two sheer hills, black-boned and bare. Upon them stood the Teeth of Mordor, two towers strong and tall. In days long past they were built by the Men of Gondor in their pride and power, after the overthrow of Sauron and his flight, lest he should seek to return to his old realm. But the strength of Gondor failed, and men slept, and for long years the towers stood empty. Then Sauron returned. Now the watch-towers, which had fallen into decay, were repaired, and filled with arms, and garrisoned with ceaseless vigilance. Stony-faced they were, with dark window-holes staring north and east and west, and each window was full of sleepless eyes."
Just as Tolkien was vexed at this point as to how he would have his characters enter Mordor, Frodo and Sam watch helplessly as they ponder a way in.

Smeagol agrees that the gate is not passable but when Frodo admits that he nevertheless means to enter Mordor, he begs his new master not to take the Precious inside, to Sauron. He even goes so far as to ask Frodo to give the Ring to him to "keep it safe". Frodo says if there is only this one way, he must take it, but Smeagol tells him that there is indeed another way. Neither Frodo nor Sam are convinced that Smeagol is completely trustworthy, but after watching armies of men from the south marching to the Morannon, Frodo feels he now has not choice. "I will trust you once more," he tells Smeagol. But he is firm with him. Frodo reminds Smeagol of the promise he swore on the Precious and tells him to put away his desire for the Ring because he will never get it. Here he says something prescient:"If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire."

Frodo's threat unnerves Smeagol. He is quite compliant and tells Frodo and Sam about the crossroads that lay south. To the east there are stairs that go up to a pass above Minas Morgul and then to a tunnel that leads into Mordor. He explains that while that way is not without risk, Sauron's forces are likely to be concentrated at the front gate where he most anticipates an attack. Considering that Ithilien - the lands West of Mordor that stretched to the Anduin - was under the Dark Lord's control, the security of the pass above Minas Morgul was not considered by Sauron to be in an danger of an attack by Gondor. Frodo has concerns about this tunnel Smeagol speaks of and asks if it is guarded. All Smeagol would say is yes, perhaps but the only choice was to try it or go home.

Later that day, as evening drew to a close, they see three Nazgul upon their flying steeds; "The winged shapes wheeled, and stooped swiftly down, speeding back to Mordor". They were returning from their reconnaissance in Rohan. Frodo, Sam and Smeagol wait for the dark of night before they proceed south through the early morning hours of March 6th.

Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
Theoden reaches Helm's Deep while the Ents complete the destruction of Isengard. Saruman's forces are defeated at the Battle of Helm's Deep. The victors head north to Isengard and the two factions of the broken Fellowship meet again at the outer wall. Gandalf parlays with Saruman, drives him out the Order and acquires the Palantir.

And at this moment, Pippin has just looked into the Palantir and attracts the gaze of Sauron from Mordor. He and Gandalf ride east towards Minas Tirith. It is March 5th and from this point forward, Frodo and Sam's story surpasses the others chronologically.

[Chronology: March 3rd - March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit

(revised 9/27/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 2

The Passage Of The Marshes
"Far away, now almost due south, the mountain-walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea."
Well, at this point Gollum has successfully navigated the razor-sharp rocks of the Emyn Muil and has led our two hobbits to the bottom of the precipice. However, what greets them stinks to high heaven. Gollum is quite familiar with this area as he used it to hide from Orcs as he followed the call toward Mordor. As they make their way through the nasty bogs, they stop for a bite of lembas. While they offer some of the Elven weybread to Gollum, he finds it disgusting and can't stomach it. Gollum seems to have a loathing of both the yellow face (the sun) and the white face (the moon). He prefers to travel at night but seems at his best when either the sun or the moon is hidden behind clouds.

At one point, Frodo and Sam agree that they need to ration their store of lembas. Frodo, however, has begun to come to the realization that they likely will not make it back, if they ever make it to Mt. Doom at all. He says to Sam, "Are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not. If we can nurse our limbs to bring us to Mount Doom, that is all we can do." Despite his own optimism, Sam realizes too that this is probably the case and gets a little emotional. He then notices Gollum, who had gone off to seek his own nourishment, still crunching on goodness knows what, probably some worms or beetles.

Frodo asks Gollum if they must really cross these foul-smelling fens. Gollum explains that while it is more difficult, it is easier to hide from the Eye. So they continued single file: Gollum, Sam & Frodo. It is a hard journey and Gollum keeps a quick pace. As the evening falls over the lands, Sam notices something odd:
"When lights appeared Sam rubbed his eyes: he thought his head was going queer. He first saw one with the corner of his left eye, a wisp of pale sheen that faded away; but others appeared soon after: some like dimly shining smoke, some like misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands."
Gollum warns the hobbits not to look at them or follow them. For they are "candles of corpses". Sam trips and falls face first into the bog and he sees a frightening sight. "There are dead things, dead faces in the water." he says. Yes, says Gollum, the faces are of dead Men, Elves and Orcs who died in a great battle upon this site. These were the casualties of the years of battle along the plain of Dagorlad when the last alliance of Men and Elves fought the forces of Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Over time, the waters trickling down into the valley crept across the plain and the over the graves of the dead. These were the Dead Marshes.

While it is clear that the faces are not real - Gollum himself tried once to touch them, anticipating a tasty morsel - it is rather the ghostly memory of the dead that appears to them. Is this some trickery of Sauron? We are not sure. But one thing is clear to anyone who has studied Tolkien's life. The image of the Dead Marshes comes directly from his experiences in WWI. In a letter to his publisher, Rayner Unwin, explains that "The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme" (Letter No. 225).

WWI was the last war before weapons were developed that could inflict large numbers of casualties from far away. And on these battlefields, it was a common sight to see bodies of fallen soldiers lying face up in trenches filled with rain water. Perhaps many of these soldier's eyes stared up at the sky. The fact that such a horrifying life experience of Tolkien would make it into his writings should not be surprising.

Sometime on the fourth day of their journey through the Marshes, each of the travelers notices a change in the air. There seemed to be a break in the clouds and a wind coming through from afar. The lights were blown out. At this time the Ents were attacking Isengard and Saruman in his fear must have attempted communication with the Dark Tower of Barad-dur. For at this moment, a Nazgul on a fell beast flies overhead: "It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, out running the wind in its fell speed." It is March 3rd. The battle of Helm's Deep will soon be underway.

As Frodo gets closer to the Land of Shadow, he feels the Ring becoming a heavy weight around his neck, as if it were actually dragging him downwards. As the fifth morning since Frodo and Sam met up with Gollum dawns, they approach the slag-mounds on the edge of the Desolation of the Morannon. They grow closer to the Gates of Mordor and that evening they take a rest in a pit, taking cover to avoid the view from Mordor. They fall asleep but Sam awakens to hear the Smeagol personality debating with the more hissing voice of the Gollum personality. "A pale light and a green light alternated in his eyes as he spoke." In the film, The Two Towers, Peter Jackson distinguishes between the two personalities by changing his eyes as well. Except that in the film, when Smeagol speaks his pupils are larger and when the Gollum voice comes through his pupils become more constricted.

Smeagol wants to hold to his promise but fears what the Master will do with the Precious. Gollum insists that "they" must take the Ring. But Smeagol is fearful of the consequences. He knows that Sam is always watching him. Gollum definitely "wantsss it", meaning the Ring. And he suggests that "she" might help them get it. This allusion to Shelob, however, will not come to pass until much later. Originally Tolkien's drafts placed the crossing of the Pass of Cirith Ungol where the Morannon was. But he decided to include much more material before this happened so he moved the "Kirith Ungol" scene much further into the story, located along the North-South range of the Ephel Duath (Mountains of Shadow) almost directly across from Minas Tirith in the west.

A third time the cry of the Nazgul comes: "But now it seemed more remote, as if it were passing far above the clouds, rushing with terrible speed into the West." This was in response to Pippin's looking into the Palantir at Dol Baran. The Nazgul that they heard the day before was likely the one that had already arrived at the camp, searching for word from Isengard. This one was desperately headed west in search of the hobbit whom Sauron believed had the Ring and was a captive of Saruman. Despite Gollum's fear to proceed because of Sauron, Frodo commands him to lead them further.

Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
During these three days of travel across the Marshes, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet Gandalf the White in Fangorn. They proceed to Edoras where Theoden is pulled out of his funk by the White Wizard. From there, the King leads his people towards the refuge of Helm's Deep.

In Fangorn Forest, the Entmoot takes place and on the third day Merry and Pippin march on Isengard with Treebeard and the Ents begin their attack on the fortress of Saruman in the first battle of the War of the Ring.

[Chronology: February 30th - March 2nd 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Black Gate Is Closed

(revised 9/26/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 1

The Taming Of Smeagol
"Frodo looked straight into Gollum's eyes which flinched and twisted away. 'You know that, or you guessed well enough, Smeagol,' he said, quietly and sternly. 'We are going to Mordor, of course. And you know the way there, I believe.'"

In 1944, after a year-long break and having written as far as what would be Chapter 3 of Book Five ("The Muster of Rohan"), Tolkien decided to finally turn his attention back to Frodo and the Ring. One of the difficulties he faced was in synchronizing the chronology of the two story threads so that - in his mind - he could visualize what was happening to both at the same time. As a reader, we are deprived of lots of information and are left to focus on one thread at a time. Having gone through so much plot development with Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, Theoden, Treebeard and Saruman we now have to go back in time to the breaking of the Fellowship. Chapter One actually picks up three days after the Orc attack at Parth Galen and Amon Hen. It is February 29th by Tolkien's reckoning (remember that in Middle-Earth calendar all months have thirty days).

Frodo and Sam have been going back and forth across the Emyn Muil trying to find away down to the valley below. As they stare across to Mordor in the distance, Sam observes, "That's the one place in all the lands we've ever heard of that we don't want to see any closer; and that's the one place we're trying to get to!" Frodo is a bit despondent and feels that "all my choices have proved ill." This is exactly the way Aragorn feels before they set out to find Merry and Pippin. In fact, back in Chapter One of Book Three, he uses pretty much the same words. They both know that they're being followed by Gollum.

I used to wonder why Gollum chose to follow Sam and Frodo. How did he know that they had the Ring? After reading Chapter Nine of The Fellowship of the Ring this last time around, it occurred to me that once when Frodo was asleep on the banks of the Anduin, Gollum approached him, getting within a couple of yards. It must be that at this point Gollum actually sees "his precious" around Frodo's neck. In fact, Frodo may even have been fingering the Ring on its chain while he slept. Anyway, Gollum is able to keep up with the hobbits all through the Emyn Muil. And he is getting closer to them. The sounds of his hissing and flappy feet on the rock alert them to his proximity.

As they munch on lembas bread, Sam thinks wistfully of bread and beer. He wishes he could prepare them a proper meal, being as he's lugged all his cooking-gear all this way. Tolkien's development of Sam Gamgee in this role of caretaker to Frodo comes from his experiences during World War I. In the British Army each officer was assigned a soldier, called a batman, who acted essentially as his personal servant and valet. The batman was always from inferior social standing, but his loyalty and devotion to the officer who depended so much on him created a bond that Tolkien tries to reflect in the relationship of Frodo and Sam. The Baggins family enjoys a much higher social standing than the Gamgees. And Sam's role in hobbit society was as Frodo's servant, specifically his gardener.

But like Tolkien, Frodo considers a person's worth beyond his social standing and he always treats Sam with the same level of respect that he would anyone else. While Sam appreciates this he maintains his deferential role to Frodo, whom he considers to be his Master and his superior. And like the fiercely loyal batmen of the British Army, he takes his job of caretaker very seriously. Just as Frodo's quest is to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sam's quest is to see his Master safely there and back again. Their friendship will endure their own "World War" and Sam's protectiveness of Frodo will be all the more zealous once Gollum enters the picture.

Eventually, Sam and Frodo reach a cliff face that is much lower than the ones they encountered before. The slope seems safe enough to climb down so they make the attempt. Part-way through their climb they are suddenly taken by surprise by a clap of thunder, and more:

"Then came a blast of savage wind, and with it, mingling with its roar, there came a high shrill shriek. The hobbits had heard just such a cry far away in the Marish as they fled from Hobbiton, and even there in the woods of the Shire it had frozen their blood. Out here in the waste its terror was far greater: it pierced them with cold blades of horror and despair, stopping heart and breath."
It was the call of a Nazgul, now mounted on a flying fell beast.

At this point, Grishnakh had already met a second time with the Nazgul to give him an update of the Uruk-Hai's journey across the plains of Rohan. This particular Nazgul was probably on his way back to Mordor with a message to Sauron. Now a storm that Frodo and Sam have seen off in the distance has arrived. The rain pours down upon them in blinding sheets. But Sam remembers a coil of Elvish rope that he had stowed in his pack and they use it to reach the bottom of the cliff. Now this storm that Tolkien inserts into the adventure is the same one that ultimately rains down on Theoden at the battle of Helm's Deep. But in the constant rewriting of the chronology of this part of the story, Tolkien had to make an adjustment.

Originally, the storm was to continue westwards and hit the battle the next evening. But because of logistical problems in the way he wrote the several plot threads Tolkien had to stretch out the period of time that it took the storm to travel. In the final draft, the battle of Helm's Deep doesn't take place until March 3rd. And the storm doesn't arrive until just after midnight on the early morning of March 4th. So by the time Tolkien had worked it out, it took the storm four additional nights to reach the battle. Instead of a swift-moving storm, he rewrote its course as follows:

"With that he stood up and went down to the bottom of the gully again. He looked out. Clear sky was growing in the East once more. The skirts of the storm were lifting, ragged and wet, and the main battle had passed to spread its great wings over the Emyn Muil, upon which the dark thought of Sauron brooded for a while. Thence it turned, smiting the vale of Anduin with hail and lightning, and casting its shadow upon Minas Tirith with the threat of war. Then, lowering in the mountains, and gathering its great spires, it rolled on slowly over Gondor and the skirts of Rohan, until far away the Riders on the plain saw its black towers moving toward the sun, as they rode into the West."
The way this passage is written gives that impression that Sauron is the force behind the storm's progress. In any case, the device makes for a convenient unconventional path that implies it is searching for something - much like the way that the Eye of Sauron does.

As Frodo and Sam rest at the bottom of the gully, they spy a figure climbing down, head first, towards their position. Clearly, it is Gollum though his progress confounds them. He seems to be crawling like an insect along a slope that would be impossible for them to navigate. Just before he approaches their camp, Gollum falls from a point about a dozen feet from the ground. Sam is waiting for him. He pounces on the creature, but underestimates his strength. Gollum puts Sam in a hold from which he cannot escape.

Frodo draws out his sword and positions it just below Gollum's chin. "Let go, Gollum," he said. "This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you'll feel it this time! I'll cut your throat." The iconic image created by Alan Lee is masterfully recreated in Peter Jackson's' version of The Two Towers. Gollum collapses and frees Sam. Immediately he begins to grovel and beg for mercy. He appears to Frodo to be a pathetic wretch. Frodo reflects upon the words of Gandalf that describe Bilbo's pity for him. Frodo, who once wished death upon this creature, feels the same pity and resolves not to kill him. This same pity will prove to be important in the ultimate fulfillment of the Quest.

They are not sure what to do with Gollum. Frodo and Sam keep him under guard while they ponder this. At one point, when it seems the hobbits are resting, Gollum tries to run off. Sam captures him with the Elvish rope, which causes great pain to Gollum. The creature begs Frodo to remove the rope. But Frodo senses that they are in need of guidance. He tells Gollum that he will remove it if he promises to show them the way to Mordor. Frodo makes him swear a promise on the Ring - on "the Precious" - and to Frodo who is Master of the Ring.

"Smeagol," said Gollum suddenly and clearly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. "Smeagol will swear on the Precious."
Now it's probably important to point out the that there is a duality to Gollum's personality. Smeagol, the creature's true name going back to the time when he was a hobbit-like creature, likely of the Stoor race, is the more docile and passive personality while Gollum is the more aggressive one, and certainly more focused on recovering the Ring. Throughout most of this part of the story, it is the Smeagol part of the creature that interacts with the hobbits. His desire to please and to serve his new "master" is his primary motivation. But Sam is very careful in his observations of Smeagol, for he does not fully buy into the idea that this creature is harmless. With good reason. It is important to note that he says "Smeagol will swear on the Precious", there is no mention of Gollum making the promise and this distinction in his mind is relevant.

Because Gollum/Smeagol has made this trip to Mordor before, he is familiar with the easiest way to get there. And the easiest approach is through an evil place that he will help the hobbits maneuver their way through.

Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
At this moment, Merry and Pippin have escaped the Uruk-Hai and have met up with Treebeard. The Rohirrim attack the band of Orcs and destroy them. The Three Hunters are on their third day of pursuit and growing weary, but they will soon come upon the Rohirrim, and they will turn toward Fangorn Forest. Gandalf, having spent some two weeks recovering in Lothlorien in his new body, has been searching for signs of the Fellowship on the wings of the great Eagle, Gwaihir.

[Chronology: February 28th - February 29th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Passage Of The Marshes

(revised 9/25/06)


Book Three Chapters

Introduction to The Two Towers

1) The Departure Of Boromir

2) The Riders Of Rohan

3) The Uruk-Hai

4) Treebeard

5) The White Rider

6) The King Of The Golden Hall

7) Helm's Deep

8) The Road To Isengard

9) Flotsam And Jetsam

10) The Voice Of Saruman

11) The Palantir


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 11

The Palantir
"'Nazgul!' he cried. 'The messenger of Mordor. The storm is coming.'"
As they rode out from Isengard, Merry asks if they are riding far. Amused at his inquisitiveness, Gandalf tells him that their original plan was to return to Edoras, but because of the danger of Sauron they have decided to make haste to Dunharrow, by way of Helm's Deep. Merry says he thought that the battle there was already won. Gandalf acknowledges that it was but one battle in a larger war, and because he fears that the Enemy knows much because of Saruman that they must make ready for yet another battle. He says "The Eye of Barad-dur will be looking impatiently towards the Wizard's Vale, I think; and towards Rohan. The less it sees the better."

After the sun set in the west, they come to the slope of a great hill called Dol Baran. Here they make camp. Later Merry and Pippin discuss the "new" Gandalf. Merry has noticed some changes. "He has grown, or something" he says. Pippin talks of his obsession with the glass ball cast down at them back at Isengard. He desperately wants to know more about it. Merry counsels him to forget about it and go to sleep. But Pippin's curiosity gnaws at him. He cannot sleep and he goes to where Gandalf is sleeping. Replacing the Palantir in Gandalf's arms with a stone wrapped in a blanket, he sneaks off to have a closer look.
"The air seemed still and tense about him. At first the globe was dark, black as jet, with the moonlight gleaming on its surface. Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it held his eyes, so that now he could not look away. Soon all the inside seemed on fire; the ball was spinning, or the lights within were revolving."
After a few moments, the hobbit collapsed and blacked out. Gandalf wakes and tries to revive him. Pippin comes out of his trance, terrified. Looking into the Palantir he saw Sauron, who spoke to him. Thinking Pippin was imprisoned at Isengard and forced by Saruman to look into the stone to torment him, Sauron tells the hobbit, "Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once." Gandalf insists that Pippin try and remember if he said anything to the Enemy anything important. He can see in his eyes that he didn't. Gandalf comforts him, "I forgive you. Be comforted. Things have not turned out as evilly as they might". He muses over the irony that Sauron will now think that Saruman has betrayed him by holding the hobbit captive and refusing to further communicate with him through the Palantir. Avoiding Sauron's wrath was exactly the reason that the wizard refused to assist the Dark Lord's enemies in the first place.

As Gandalf ponders the significance of this contact with the Dark Tower, he entrusts the keeping of the Orthanc-stone to Aragorn. He feels he must leave with great haste, and he should take Pippin with him. His fears are confirmed when high above a Nazgul rides on a Fell Beast, a messenger sent to find out what was going on with Saruman. It was too soon for a Nazgul to be sent because of Pippin's revealing himself in the Palantir. But another would follow shortly looking for the hobbit.

Gandalf and Pippin ride Shadowfax swifty towards the East. As they ride, the wizard tells Pippin more about the seeing stones and their history. The Palantiri were eight stones crafted in Valinor, probably by the Noldor Elf, Feanor (who also wrought the Silmarils). In the Second Age, when Sauron convinced the Numenorean King Ar-Pharazon to sail west to the land of Aman, a group of Numenoreans connected by blood to the line of kings sailed east to Middle-Earth. Led by Elendil, the "Faithful" men of Numenor escaped the wrath of Eru and the Valar and the destruction of Numenor. Bits of this lore are muttered by Gandalf as he tries to recall the legends of old:
"Tall ships and tall kings,
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land,
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones,
And one white tree."
In nine ships, they carried seven of the eight Palantiri to the lands that would become Arnor and Gondor, the realms in exile - the eighth remaining in Valinor. One was kept in Osgiliath, which was the master stone and could communicate with the other stones at the same time. It was much larger than the others. But when the Dome of Stars destroyed during the times of the kinstrife, it was lost. Two others were kept at Annuminas and Amon Sul. These two were lost when King Arvedui, fleeing the attack of the Witch-king of Angmar, was lost at sea. One stone, which only looked westward toward Valinor was kept at the White Tower of Avallone, in the hills just east of the grey havens. As such it was of not much value in relation to the other stones. The remaining three were kept at Isengard, which was abandoned by Gondor, Minas Anor (which became Minas Tirith) and Minas Ithil (which was captured by the enemy and renamed Minas Morgul).

So Sauron had the Ithil-stone. Aragorn was now in possession of the Orthanc-stone. And what Gandalf did not know for sure, but suspected, was that the Anor-stone was locked away in the Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith and could very well be in the hands of Denethor, the current Steward of Gondor. Gandalf reveals to Pippin their destination, "To Minas Tirith, before the seas of war surround it."

Shadowfax gallops at a speed swifter than any horse in Middle-Earth through the night, making for the White City.
"As he fell slowly into sleep, Pippin had a strange feeling: he and Gandalf were still as stone, seated upon the statue of a running horse, while the world rolled away beneath his feet with a great noise of wind."
The War of the Ring was about to explode in full force upon all the peoples of Middle-Earth.

[Chronology: March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Here ends Book Three of The Two Towers. The story continues in Book Four with Chapter One: The Taming Of Smeagol

(revised 9/24/06)


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 10

The Voice Of Saruman
"'Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death.'"
Up until this point, the reader has yet to be introduced to one of the most important antagonists in the entire story, Saruman the White. Oh sure, we had a taste of him in a flashback courtesy of his Istari brethren, Gandalf. But Saruman has always been a force of evil off in the background. One of the biggest changes that Peter Jackson made in his film version was to greatly expand his screen time. Perhaps this was necessary cinematically because we never really see Sauron at all, other than as a disembodied eye. When Jackson cast the part, he knew he wanted Christopher Lee. Now Lee has been a huge Tolkien fan for decades and he has even had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tolkien. In fact, Christopher Lee is such a fan of The Lord of the Rings that he reads it every year. Now, if you consider that he is currently in his eighties, that's a lot of times reading these books.

When Lee got the call, he was at first disappointed that he was not offered the role of Gandalf, but he graciously accepted the part of Saruman. Clearly, his talents are best used for the "bad guy". And for the most important characteristic of Saruman in the novels, his voice, Lee's deep baritone was perfect in bringing the character to life on screen. I'm also pleased that such notable directors as Jackson, George Lucas and Tim Burton have been able to introduce this icon to a whole new generation of moviegoers. I can remember watching Christopher Lee in the old Hammer "Dracula" horror films on television as a kid. And, honestly, just as Sir Ian McKellan was the perfect Gandalf, Lee was the perfect Saruman.

The context of this chapter, regrettably, did not make the theatrical cut of Peter Jackson's Return of the King. But thankfully, it has been put back into the Extended Edition. It is not only presented in a much shorter form than it is in the book, Jackson also was able to bring some closure to Saruman's part in the story by moving his demise from "The Scouring of the Shire" to this point. In the book, the three hunters and the two hobbits join Gandalf, Theoden and Eomer on the doorstep of Orthanc. Gandalf had asked Treebeard to make sure that Saruman was confined but unharmed. He needed whatever information he could extract from him to prepare for the war against Sauron. They were wary. For Gandalf understood that "a wild beast cornered is not a safe approach."

Gandalf calls for Saruman to come forth. At first Wormtongue opens the window and acts as the wizard's receptionist. But the host demands that Saruman show himself. Suddenly they hear a voice. A voice so pleasing to the ear that to listen to it is a delight. This was the remaining power of Saruman, to influence the perceptions of his audience. He speaks as someone wrongly put-upon, as a victim of sorts.
"They looked up, astonished, for they had heard no sound of his coming; and they saw a figure standing at the rail, looking down upon them: an old man, swathed in a great cloak, the colour of which was not easy to tell, for it changed if they moved their eyes or if he stirred. His face was long, with a high forehead, he had deep darkling eyes, hard to fathom, though the look that they now bore was grave and benevolent, and a little weary. His hair and beard were white, but strands of black still showed about his lips and ears."
His first appeal was to Theoden, his old ally. Saruman spins a temptation of counsel and peace. Eomer reminds his uncle of the wrongs and treachery that the wizard has done against his people, even the death of his son. Here we have a real gut-check moment. I have no doubt that Tolkien reflected on the appeasement that Europe lavished upon Hitler when he considered Theoden's response. What Saruman offered was "peace in our time" that would require the people of Rohan to overlook the past. The King could easily have resorted to appeasement, a la Neville Chamberlain. After all, Saruman seemed no longer to be a threat, being locked up in the tower. The easy choice was to accept his offerings. But very often the easy thing to do is not the right thing. Theoden sees Saruman for what he really is, evil and not to be trusted.

Theoden says "We will have peace" to the delight of many of his men. But he continues, "When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows. I will have peace with you and Orthanc." Needless to say, Saruman is caught off guard by this insolence and his true nature is briefly revealed. He hisses insults to Theoden before he regains his composure. Next he tries to work on Gandalf. He appeals to their kinship as Istari. He even restates his original offer to join together as rulers of men. Even Theoden is concerned that this offer may be too much for Gandalf. But the new white wizard laughs at Saruman. He tells him "you should have been the king's jester and earned your bread."

This, of course, enrages Saruman. When Gandalf's offer of pardon and cooperation are rejected, he asserts his dominance over him by using his powers to break Saruman's staff. As the wizard retreats back into the confines of Orthanc, Grima fires a missile down in Gandalf's direction. It is a glass ball that misses the wizard and shatters upon the steps...

Wait a minute. That's not what happens. Actually that is what originally happened in Tolkien's first draft. For at the time he had no idea what it really was that Wormtongue hurled from the tower. After careful reflection, Tolkien realized the object's importance as a plot device. He knew it should be important and that having it shatter would not do, for as Christopher Tolkien writes in The War of the Ring: "What further significance for the story could it have had if it was immediately destroyed?". In Tolkien's letter to W.H. Auden of 7 June 1955 (letter no. 163), the good professor writes:
"I knew nothing of the Palantiri, though the moment the Orthanc-stone was cast from the window, I recognized it, and knew the meaning of the 'rhyme of lore' that had been running in my mind: seven stars and seven stones and one white tree."
Tolkien had now formulated the idea of the Palantiri and their function as "seeing stones" that would be used as a mode of communication between Saruman, Sauron and - ultimately - Denethor. Now these three stones each had their place, in Isengard, Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith. Of course, he would have to account for another four in order to total "seven stones". So in the next chapter we shall see that he came up with the idea of having one at Osgiliath and three others at various location in Arnor. All four of these stones were lost somehow or another and it was accepted the other three were not accurately accounted for. So as we all know, in the final version the glass ball stays intact but only Gandalf suspects its significance

Wormtongue pays for his mistake, as evidenced by a shriek coming from the tower. This is no doubt that this is Saruman taking out his wrath on poor Grima. But I wonder. Did Grima knowingly throw away his master's device for communication with Sauron to escape any further unpleasantness? Tolkien doesn't really address this. But my guess is that if Wormtongue spent any meaningful amount of time with Saruman that he would have known the significance of this stone. Perhaps he tossed it to free Saruman of his addiction to it. We can only speculate. Anyway, despite Pippin's' zealous retrieval of the stone, Gandalf makes sure that it is safe in his own possession.

But the lure of the Palantir will prove too much for the curious hobbit, as we will see in the next chapter.

[Chronology: March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Palantir

(revised 9/22/06)


TTT, Bk 3, Ch 9

Flotsam and Jetsam
"'An angry Ent is terrifying. Their fingers, and their toes, just freeze on to rock; and they tear it up like bread-crust. It was like watching the work of great tree-roots in a hundred years, all packed into a few moments.'"

As Gandalf and Theoden ride east along the circuit of the outer wall to meet with Treebeard, the three hunters are anxious to interrogate the two hobbits as to what happened to them after they were seized by the Uruk-Hai. But first things first. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were pretty hungry and weary having just journeyed some forty five miles after fighting an exhausting battle. Merry and Pippin lead them to the stores of food and tobacco that they found and after a hearty meal, they all light up (except for Legolas, as Elves weren't big smokers). As Pippin lends Gimli a spare pipe, all his agitation has been appeased. The remainder of the chapter is the account of their journey across the plains of Rohan, their experiences with the Ents in Fangorn and - most importantly - the attack of the Ents on Isengard which happened simultaneously with the excitement of Helm's Deep.

Before they start their story, Aragorn returns to the hobbits their Westernesse blades that they found on the Orc battlefield outside of Fangorn. Merry explains that Ugluk had taken them away from them: "At first I thought he was going to stab me, but he threw the things away as if they burned him". This gives the reader some forshadowing of the power these blades have over evil creatures. Pippin is also given back his Elven brooch, which proved so important for Aragorn to be able to track them.

When the tale reaches the point where they came within sight of Isengard (this would be in the wee hours of March the 3rd, some two nights ago), Merry and Pippin report that they watched as the great army of Saruman marched out of the Ring of Isengard. The Ents waited patiently until the fortress appeared empty. At that point, a great herd of Huorns turned south to follow them. Some Huorns remained as did most of the Ents. Treebeard exclaimed: "My business is with Isengard tonight, with rock and stone." And the Ents continued their approach.

When they reached the outer wall, the remaining Huorns formed a barrier all the way around it to block the escape of any Orcs. Arrows were fired at them, but they were of no use against them. Saruman, who was at the gate (presumably overseeing the departure of his army) had to flee to the safety of Orthanc. The Ents tore down the southern portion of the wall, stone by stone, and threw open the steel gates. Saruman attempted to fight back with fire and fumes belching from the shafts that were dug into the ground and one Ent, Beechbone, caught fire. This further enraged the Ents who began to do as much damage as they could. Pippin describes the scene:

"Round and round the rock of Orthanc the Ents went striding and storming like a howling gale, breaking pillars, hurling avalanches of boulders down the shafts, tossing up huge slabs of stone into the air like leaves. The tower was in the middle of a spinning whirlwind. I saw iron posts and blocks of masonry go rocketing up hundreds of feet, and smash against the windows of Orthanc. But Treebeard kept his head. He had not had any burns, luckily. He did not want his folk to hurt themselves in their fury, and he did not want Saruman to escape out of some hole in the confusion."

When their rage was somewhat satiated, they set a watch on the tower. At that moment, Gandalf arrived having just left Theoden. He had quick words with the hobbits who couldn't believe their eyes. They asked where he had been, to which he replied "Wherever I have been, I am back." He had no time to elaborate. The wizard was in a tremendous hurry, but he quickly huddled with Treebeard and rode off again south. Later that evening (just about the time the Orcs had arrived at Helm's Deep), the Ents broke the dams that diverted the River Isen from its source out of the mountains and allowed the waters to flood the circle of Isengard. It quickly began to fill up even as it poured down into the shafts and spoutholes that now belched out steam and smoke. Theoden's company, riding to Isengard from the victory at Helm's Deep, noticed the change in the Isen. However, once the fires were quenched and every cave was filled, the Ents repaired the dam and restored the river to its normal flow.

And whatever happened to Wormtongue? Well, Tolkien wasn't quite sure when he would have him arrive. According to Christopher Tolkien in The War of The Ring, Theoden's advisor was originally supposed to ride up to Isengard before the first time that Gandalf got there but his father later changed this to have him show up just after the flooding of Isengard. In the final version, he gets there that same morning that Merry and Pippin were "guarding" the gate. Shocked by what he finds, he tries to flee but Treebeard seizes hold of him. Gandalf had already warned the Ent that this wretch would be arriving soon. He makes Grima wade through the water, which is about up to his neck, and enter the tower of Orthanc. Here Tolkien makes some notes in his original draft. He writes: "Shall Wormtongue actually murder Saruman?" At this point, he is considering what Saruman's fate will be. It is not clear at what point he decided to advance this plot point to the end of the story.

Another item that Tolkien includes here is the observation about the store of pipeweed that Merry and Pippin found - Longbottom Leaf from the Shire, dated 1417 (some two years prior). The hobbits believe that, unlike the food that was shared with the men of Saruman's forces (though not the Uruks), the tobacco was "imported" to Isengard for the wizard's benefit only. So it would seem that for at least a couple of years, Saruman has had contacts in the Shire. You can follow the link and scroll down to the end of this post for an account of his first encounter with and lingering fascination with pipeweed. Aragorn speculates that there may have been some treachery of Saruman's at work in the lands surrounding Hobbiton. Bill Ferny and the squint-eyed southerner that they saw in Bree were likely spying for him. Here Tolkien had clearly been formulating in his mind what the hobbits might find when they finally return home.

Now they decide to head over to the tower to meet Gandalf and Theoden as it was time for them to confront its prisoner.

[Chronology: March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Voice Of Saruman

(revised 9/22/06)


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 8

The Road To Isengard

"'To Isengard?' they cried.
'Yes,' said Gandalf. 'I shall return to Isengard, and those who will may come with me. There we may see strange things.'"

Standing together along the Deeping Comb, Gandalf, Theoden, Aragorn and Legolas look to the woods in wonder when out of the Deep comes Gimli, Eomer and Gamling. Fresh from their victory, Gimli declares to Legolas that his count is 42 which surpasses the Elf's count by one. Theoden asks Gandalf if the forest that was now before them was his doing. Gandalf replies that it is the result of a power far older than he. And to find out the answers to that and many other questions, he tells them they must now ride to Isengard. Theoden points out that they are weary from battle, but the wizard says they have time to rest for they are going to a parley, not a fight.

Erkenbrand commands the captured Dunlendings to dig graves for the dead. When their work is done, he tells them that they are free to go as long as they swear an oath to never again cross the Fords of Isen. Later that day, the party sets out and as they approach the forest, it parts for them. Gandalf and Theoden enter with Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and twenty men of Rohan following behind. There is no sign of Orcs. As they ride, Gimli tells Legolas of the beauty of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond that lay in the mountains behind Helm's Deep. He speaks of them with such reverence that Legolas is moved to promise to visit them one day as long as Gimli first accompanies him to revisit Fangorn so that he may appreciate the beauty of that forest in a time of peace.

As they exit the woods, they are surprised to see three Ents who joined the Huorns on their journey, and were now leading them back to Fangorn. Theoden is surprised to see such creatures as he had heard of them only in legend. They followed the northwestern road, passing the Fords of Isen and they see that river bed is almost dry. Something has altered the river's flow out of the Misty Mountains. As they camp that night, a mist gathers about them and they see a great shadow moving past them. Gandalf advises them to stay where they were and not to worry. It was the herd of Huorns traveling back northwards from whence they came.

The next morning, they continued on and soon they were in sight of Isengard. Smoke and steam seemed to drift out of the valley ahead. The river was now rushing again. It had resumed its course. They saw a great stone on which was set a carved likeness of a white hand, its finger pointing north. As they got close they could see that it was stained with blood. Surrounding Isengard was a great thick wall; a ring of stone. It had one entrance through a gated tunnel in the wall.

"One who passed in and come at length out of the echoing tunnel, beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat hollowed like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim. Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful trees, watered by streams that flowed from the mountains to a lake. But no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman."
At this point, one might wonder what exactly Saruman was doing living in this fortress. He did not create it and he was not the original tenant. The fortress of Isengard and the great pillar of Orthanc was built by the Numenoreans in the early days of the South-kingdom. It was formed by the Dunedain as the northernmost bastion of Gondor's power, protecting the strategic passage of the Gap between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains. In the tower was placed one of the four Palantirs of Gondor. However, as the events of the Third Age unfolded, Gondor abandoned the fortress and locked up the tower. Dunlendings sometimes occupied the Ring of Isengard though they weren't able to enter Orthanc. In the end, they were driven out.

In the year 2759 of the Third Age, Saruman asked permission of Gondor and Rohan to live there and, being a friend of these lands, was granted the keys to Orthanc. It was here, locked away in the tower, that he poured himself into gaining whatever knowledge he could about the Rings of Power, especially the One Ring. He desired to make himself a great lord of Men and later he discovered the seeing-stone that was left there. Eventually Saruman abandoned all pretense of custodianship of Isengard and claimed it for his own. Within the confines of the Ring of Isengard, he constructed pits and armories where his servants, Orcs and Men of Dunland, built a great army. He greatly misjudged the situation, however, and allowed Isengard to go undefended at exactly the moment that Treebeard and the Ents arrived.

When the riders reach the gates of Isengard they see that the inside is filled with water, the iron doors are twisted on the ground and the crumbling wall had many breeches. They come upon Merry and Pippin, lying on a heap of rubble and serving as gatekeepers awaiting the arrival of Theoden's party. The Men of Rohan are amazed to see the little hobbits for they had never seen one before. But there they were, enjoying the spoils that they discovered, stored in the rooms within the interior of the wall. Gimli cannot contain himself and calls out "Hammer and tongs! I am so torn between rage and joy, that if I do not burst, it will be a marvel!"

Gandalf wishes to see Treebeard and the hobbits direct him to the northern side of the wall. Saruman is locked away inside Orthanc and Quickbeam sat watch outside the stairs to see that he didn't escape. But before he is dealt with, the reader needs to be caught up on all that has happened, which is done in the following chapter.

[Chronology: March 4th - March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Flotsam and Jetsam

(revised 9/22/06)


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 7

Helm's Deep

"Aragorn looked at the pale stars, and at the moon now sloping behind the western hills that enclosed the valley. 'This is a night as long as years,' he said. 'How long will the day tarry?'
'Dawn is not far off,' said Gamling, who had now climbed up beside him. 'But dawn will not help us, I fear.'
'Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,' said Aragorn."

This has always been the part of the book that most confused me. You have a tremendous amount of action to keep track of while at the same time there are events taking place "off-screen" so to speak that make the action all more difficult to follow. Tolkien of course doesn't tell us about these events in order to make the chapter more exciting and give the reader a surprise or two. But in order to tell take stock of events having to do with the Battle of Helm's Deep in a coherent manner, I think it's necessary to be aware of the big picture. Plus, at this point I think we all know what's going to happen by the end. So my narrative here will include things that are not written about in this chapter, but are revealed later on.

To keep a little perspective, Tolkien had a little trouble himself keeping everything chronologically correct. At the end of Chapter Five "The White Rider", Legolas sees a great smoke and Gandalf says it is "Battle and war." Originally, by that point this was supposed to be a tell-tale sign of the defeat of Erkenbrand's forces at the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen. However, when Tolkien revised the timeline, this event was supposed to happen a day later. Through all of the revisions, this was never corrected. Most people just assume the smoke is generated from the evil-doings at Isengard. In "The War of the Ring: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part 3", Christopher Tolkien writes:

"It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that the end of the chapter 'The White Rider' (Legolas' sight of the smoke in the Gap of Rohan on Day 2, January 30) escaped revision when the date of the (Second) Battle of the Fords of Isen was changed to January 31."
Note that these dates were eventually pushed forward a month when Tolkien revised the amount of time that the Fellowship stayed at Rivendell.

So, if you follow the sequence of events as a whole, the events leading up to this chapter take place as follows:
  • March 2, 3019 (TA): The Entmoot breaks and Treebeard leads the Ents on a march towards Isengard (the Huorns follow closely behind). Gandalf and company arrive at Edoras and later Theoden begins a journey with one thousand men towards the Fords of Isen
  • March 3, 3019 (TA): Just after midnight, ten thousand Orcs and Men from Dunland empty out of Isengard towards Helm's Deep to capture the stronghold while the Men of Rohan are scattered. Later that day, the Ents arrive at Isengard and start working their mojo against Saruman, who is now undefended
On that same day, the host of Rohan continues on the second day of its journey towards the Fords of Isen hoping to meet up with the forces of the Westfold, led by Erkenbrand. They are unaware that Erkenbrand's forces have just been defeated by the advancing Orc army. They camp for the night, and the next morning they come across Ceorl, one of the defeated at the Fords of Isen, who tells them of the events that had just taken place. Erkenbrand was scouring the Westfold, trying to assemble every able-bodied man to join him on his journey back to Helms' Deep. At this time, Gandalf advises Theoden to take his men to the fortress and await his return. He then rides off quickly with Shadowfax.

The host turns southwards towards Helm's Deep which lay in front of a crook in the White Mountains. As they approach the cliffs, they see the stronghold:
"At Helm's Gate, before the mouth of the Deep, there was a heel of rock thrust outward by the northern cliff. There upon its spur stood high walls of ancient stone and within them was a lofty tower. Men said that in the far-off days of the glory of Gondor the sea-kings had built here this fastness with the hands of giants. The Hornburg it was called, for a trumpet sounded upon the tower echoed in the Deep behind, as if armies long-forgotten were issuing to war from the caves beneath the hills. A wall, too, the men of old had made from the Hornburg to the southern cliff, barring the entrance into the gorge."
They find that Helm's Deep is defended by one thousand old and young men, left behind by Erkenbrand to defend the fortress. With the forces that Theodon has brought, they number two thousand in total - against Saruman's force which is advancing toward them and numbered five times their strength.

In the film, the character of Gamling is a fit warrior who comes from Edoras. But here he is an old man, left to lead the men that defend Helm's Deep, which is the tactical command post of Erkenbrand's forces. Gamling tells Theoden that seventy-five percent of the Westfold's population is hiding back in the Glittering Caves under the White Mountains behind the fortress. Theoden knows the army of Saruman is coming and orders his armies to take defensive positions in the Hornburg and along the Deeping Wall.

While all this is happening, what the reader does not know is that Gandalf has arrived at Isengard to witness the destruction of Isengard. He confirms that Saruman's forces have emptied the stronghold to march on Rohan. He also learns that a large group of Huorns is following the Orc army to Helm's Deep. Now the idea of Huorns has always thrown me. Are they trees? Are they tree-like beings? How the heck are they able to move across land? According to "The Complete Tolkien Companion" by J.E.A. Taylor, Huorns are "sentient trees (or possibly regressed Ents) of Fangorn Forest, who dwelt only in the deepest dales of that land." When Treebeard says that many Ents have become "treeish", I take this to mean that they have become what are known as Huorns - not exactly Ents but not completely trees. In any case, they harbored a hatred for Orcs and at this time they seem bent on exacting their revenge against them.

The defenders of Helm's Deep can see the torches of their enemies approaching. "It was now past midnight" on March 4 when Saruman's army assault the outer defenses at Helm's Dike and advance toward the fortress. The Orcs, huddled beneath shields, advance up the causeway that leads to the gate of Helm's Deep. Eomer and Aragorn lead an assault out of the side door to drive them back (no, there is no "dwarf tossing" with Gimli here). The Orcs use ladders to try and scale the Deeping Wall but they are fought back by the defenders. Gimli saves Eomer's hide by cleaving the heads off of two Orcs attacking him.

Thus begins the contest. "Two!" cries Gimli. Legolas says he has killed twenty with his arrows.
There is a bit of a competition going on between the Elf and the Dwarf that Peter Jackson thoughtfully included in the movie. Many Orcs break upon the wall but they are able to exploit a weakness in the defenses. After the battle had raged throughout the night and just before dawn, "there was a crash and a flash of flame and smoke". The Orcs had used an explosive device, crafted by Saruman to blow a hole in the Wall at the spot of the culvert where the Deeping Stream emptied into the valley below. Orcs streamed through the opening into the Comb. Gimli leads Eomer, Gamling and a host of Men to pursue the Orcs that where heading toward the Glittering Caves.

All seems lost. Though the Hornburg is still intact, the Orcs are close to breaching the gate. Theoden and Aragorn decide to ride forth in a last assault upon their enemies. They sound the horn which echoed throughout the Deep. Both the Orcs and Dunlandings tremble at its sound. The charge of Theoden throws them off guard and the Rohirrim are able to drive them back towards Helm's Dike. At that moment, charging down over the western ridge of the valley is Gandalf, leading the army of Erkenbrand with a thousand men on foot. While the Men of Dunland fall on their faces and surrender, the Orcs are driven out of the Deep. However, as the sun rises they see that the land has changed.

All escape has been cut off by a forest of Huorns. The Orcs nevertheless run into a gap in the forest and the Huorns take their revenge on them. The army of Isengard is engulfed. Not a single Orc emerges from the forest.
"Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again."
[Chronology: March 2nd - March 4th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Road To Isengard

(revised 9/20/06)


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 6

The King Of The Golden Hall
"There was a silence. The old man did not move in his chair. At length, Gandalf spoke. 'Hail, Theoden son of Thengel! I have returned. For behold! the storm comes, and now all friends should gather together, lest each singly be destroyed.'"
The four friends rode on to Rohan into the night, stopping only for a few hours rest. Soon they came upon a lonely hill in the middle of the plains. It was surrounded by a fence and upon it were set houses and a great hall of Men. The hall's thatched roof glistened and shone golden in the sunlight. This was Edoras, the capital city of Rohan and the great hall was called Meduseld (a place name right out of the Old English epic, Beowulf). Gandalf cautions them against haughty words and drawn weapons. For the Men of Rohan are wary of strangers at a time of war. Gandalf was last here when Gwaihir rescued him from the tower of Orthanc and he borrowed Shadowfax for the first time to fly with great speed to Rivendell. He was not popular then and he anticipated a cold reception this time around.

They pass between two rows of burial mounds, covered in the white flower Simbelmyne. Here lay the ancestors of King Theoden. Aragorn is inspired to sing a part of a song in the language of the Rohirrim. In the Common Speech, it's words are familiar to anyone who watched Theoden prepare for battle at Helm's Deep in the film: "Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?" The rider to whom he refers is Eorl the Young, the first King of Rohan. Some background of these people is given in the Appendix A under the title "The House Of Eorl". Their complete history is much longer and complicated that I present it here, which I have condensed for simplicity's sake.

Eorl the Young was leader of a race of men that lived north between the source of Anduin, in the corner of the Misty Mountains and the west to east range known as the Grey mountains, and the northernmost parts of Mirkwood. They were descended from a people who lived in Rhovanian, east of Mirkwood. They had a distant kinship, through marriage, with the line of Kings of Gondor. After the defeat of the Witch-King of Angmar in the year 1975 of the Third Age, these people, known as the Eotheod which means "horse-people", stretched out their territory westward towards the Misty Mountains and south along the Anduin, past the Carrock.

In the year 2501, Eorl's father Leod captured a wild horse and was killed trying to tame him. Eorl, however, was able to tame the horse, who was descended from the Mearas. Eorl succeeded his father as leader of the Eotheod. Nine years later, Gondor came under attack by Orcs and a race of wildmen from the East called the Balchoth. The army sent to contain this invasion was overrun by the wildmen and was facing defeat in the land between Fangorn and the western bank of Anduin, known as the Field of Celebrant. Out of the north, Eorl and his horsemen came in the knick of time to turn the tide of battle with a mighty cavalry charge and help the forces of Gondor scatter and drive out the invaders.

In return for their heroism, Cirion the ruling Steward of Gondor gave to the Eotheod the land that was known as Calenardhon, between the southern end of the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains of Gondor. This land was then renamed Rohan and Eorl became its first King. This alliance benefited both realms and they pledged assistance to each other against their common enemies. This first line of the Kings of the Mark lasted until the death of Helm "the Hammerhand". As Helm left no heirs, a second line began with his nephew that continued through to Theoden. The two rows of burial mounds that Gandalf and his companions rode between held the remains of the Kings of the two lines.

They arrive at the Golden Hall of Meduseld and are told by Hama, the gatekeeper, that they must leave their weapons outside by decree of the King. At the prospect of having to surrender Anduril, Aragorn actually tries to pull rank over Theoden's command declaring himself as Elendil's heir. I hadn't remembered reading that before and found it a little out of character from the Aragorn that I always remembered. But these days I've gotten so familiar with Viggo Mortensen's version that I guess I just couldn't imagine Aragorn acting this way. In any event, they leave all of their weapons, although Gandalf convinces Hama that as an old man, he was in dire need of his staff.

They enter and take in the sight of the great building:

"The hall was long and wide and filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upheld its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams fell in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of issuing smoke, the sky showed pale and blue. As their eyes changed, the travelers perceived that the floor was paved with stones of may hues; branching runes and strange devices intertwined beneath their feet."
Quite a place. And I have no doubt that Tolkien's familiarity with Medieval tapestries contributed to this description. This chapter very much has a "Shakespearian" feel to it, especially when reading through the exchanges between Gandalf, Theoden and Grima which are much longer here than how they are presented in film version of The Two Towers. King Theoden is described as being old and bent with age; with white hair, long and thick. At his feet is the pale face with heavy-lidded eyes that belongs to Grima Wormtongue, his advisor. Brad Dourif does such an excellent job as Grima in the movie that he almost steals the show.

Gandalf greets Theoden, who is not very welcoming. Through Grima, we learn that five days prior, Theoden's son, Theodred was slain in a battle with Orcs and he taunts Gandalf as a perpetual bringer of ill news. The exchange continues back and forth between Grima and Gandalf until at last the wizard casts aside his cloak, revealing a tall and white figure now more powerful than before. He commands Wormtongue to "keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls." There is a roll of thunder and darkness falls about the hall, making the white light from Gandalf show more brilliantly. There is a flash then all falls silent.

He commands Theoden to rise and come to him; "no counsel have I to give to those that despair." In Peter Jackson's version, Theoden is literally controlled from afar by Saruman through some sort of spell. This all makes for a very dramatic effect. But for Tolkien, the spell under which Theoden has fallen is one of despair - gut-wrenching and paralyzing despair. This is what makes the King seem so old and down-trodden. So when Gandalf helps him "snap out of it", he is still an old man but he is strong and vital for his age. Jackson's Theoden, also played superbly by Bernard Hill, literally sheds the years that Saruman's spell has weighed on him and he appears to my eyes much younger than I ever imagined him to look like.

Gandalf takes Theoden out into the sunlight and his encouragement gives him hope. He says, "look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again." Think back to a time when you may have fallen into a melancholy state when you felt hopeless or stuck in a kind of funk and someone has helped you see the bigger picture and appreciate what you had around you. This is indeed the very effect that Gandalf's counsel has upon Theoden. For Tolkien, fear and despair were an evil that only courage and hope could conquer. The wizard says to him later in the chapter:
"And ever has Wormtongue's whisperings in your ears, poisoning your thought, chilling your heart, weakening your limbs, while others watched and could do nothing for your will was in his keeping."

Gandalf helps Theoden to realize the treachery of his servant who indeed was serving another master - the wizard of Isengard. For too long, Grima had provided Saruman with valuable inside information about the goings-on at Meduseld and followed his instructions on how to advise Theoden. The King gathers his men to fight Saruman. He tells Grima that he will ride into battle as well. Of course, Grima is appalled at the thought and begs Theoden to allow him to stay at his side. When Theoden tells him that he will in fact lead the fight, Grima is dismayed and then asks that he be allowed to stay at Edoras and look after things in his absence. Grima's cowardice betrays his faithlessness and the King commands him to leave and ride away to be with Saruman if he will not stay and prove his loyalty to Rohan.

While under Wormtongue's counsel, Theoden had forbade Eomer from pursuing the band of Orcs that was seen on Rohan's Northern borders. The King had Eomer imprisoned for disobeying his orders. Now Gandalf tells him that were it not for Eomer's disobedience, the Orcs would have returned to Isengard at that point (and carrying Merry and Pippin with them). The King reconciles with Eomer and names him his heir in place of his slain son. He directs Eomer's sister, Eowyn, to lead the civilians of Rohan to the safety of Dunharrow in the White Mountains. Now that Theoden is "back in the saddle" so to speak, he musters the host of the Rohirrim thundering into the west, towards Isengard.

[Chronology: March 2nd 3019 T.A.]

Next: Helm's Deep

(revised 9/18/06)