sartorias: (JRRT)
[personal profile] sartorias
There is not much action in this chapter, but it is so deeply satisfying in so many ways that at least in my mind it stands alone.

There is one biggie, but I discovered on later readings a whole lot of other zing moments.


It opens with Aragorn showing off his badass Ranger snooping skills as he and Legolas and Gimli examine the battleground by light of day. Also, Legolas mentions that the horses that ran away sounded as if they were greeting a friend. So that was a strike against the mysterious old man being Saruman.

But no sooner are they on the trail than they spy an old, bent man wearing tattered gray rags, and Gimli yells at Legolas to shoot first. Aragorn, as usual says wait, and they do, noting that the oldster wears a hood and a hat. All they can see is his gray beard.

The old man seems to lose his weariness, and Gimli and Legolas find themselves unable to raise their weapons as the man joins them, then asks who they are. A flash of white is seen among his tatters, and all the evidence points to it being Saruman.

But when they as for his name, we get this curious passage:

“ . .As for my name!” He broke off, laughing long and softly. Aragorn felt a shudder run through him at the sound, a strange cold thrill; and yet it was not fear or terror that he felt: rather it was like the sudden bite of a keen air, or the slap of a cold rain that wakes and an uneasy sleeper.

“My name!” said the old man again. “Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before. But come now, what of your tale?”


He tells them who they were seeking, and invites them to talk, but when Gimli attacks, calling him Saruman, he throws off the tatters and stands there in white. Gimpli’s axe falls to the ground, Aragorn’s sword flares with light, and Legolas shoots an arrow into the air, which bursts into flame.

It’s Gandalf! Or, Mithrandir—Legolas greets him with his elven name, and Gandalf recognizes it, but when Aragorn calls him Gandalf, he says,

“Gandalf,” the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. “Yes, that was the name, I am Gandalf.”

He makes a kind gesture to Gimli, who is sorely abashed to have drawn on him, then he says he is now Gandalf the White. I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. . . . I have passed through fire and deep water since we parted.

When I was a kid reader, I couldn’t figure out why he was so cagey about his name, and then that business about remembering it. But in later readings I wondered if he fell altogether out of the world, and was sent back in to finish the job. At any rate, he seems less human than he ever did, and his humanness becomes more in question with each reading. I mean, he clearly has human form, but that glimmer of white between the rags of lordship, as it were, represents a lot more than the tatters of old clothes.

Another really important point occurs to me as they begin catching up on each other’s news: Gandalf tells them that the eagles told him of Merry and Pippin’s captivity. I think every mention of the eagles is important: it demonstrates their independence, their alliance rather than their obedience, and so supports what happens at the very end.

And here is where I think he admits that he was helping Frodo to take off the ring in the nick of time, though the wording is vague, and it passed me by on countless readings:

“ . . .The Ring has now passed beyond my help, or the help of any of the Company that set out from Rivendell. Very nearly it was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower, and the Shadow passed. . .”

Another bit that always escaped me, but stands out now. I haven’t wanted to talk about the Peter Jackson films, as I don’t want to derail a reading of the books, but I will say this: when Gandalf says it was a pity about Boromir, but he was glad that he escaped his peril in the end (the peril of being enslaved by the ring, obviously, to which even death is preferable), “It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.”

I think in the book that is fairly oblique, but Jackson took that single line and did an excellent job with it, filling out Boromir’s character admirably.

Gandalf catches them up on bigger events, and then tells Aragorn and company that the hobbits are with the Ents. And as they set out together, he fills them in on what happened after his fall in Moria, and his meeting up again with Gwahir—who came at the behest of Galadriel, who has some words in poetry to pass on to the three. The best, by far, was her warm message to Gimli, “wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee.”

The horses catch up with them, and when they see smoke on the horizon, “Battle and war,” said Gandalf. “Ride on!”
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