sartorias: (JRRT)
[personal profile] sartorias
Theoden is delighted to see Gandalf again, but when he and his men eye that unnervingly sudden forest, and Theoden says, “You are mighty in Wizardry, Gandalf the White!” Gandalf says they haven’t seen anything of wizardry from him yet, and the trees are a very old power.

Theoden then says he needs rest because he’s old—it’s not just Wormtongue, but an ill “that no leech can wholly cure, not even Gandalf.”

That he calls doctoring ‘leeches’ is a grim commentary on medical practices in Middle-earth. (Which, I suspect, might have still been in force some places Tolkien lived. Though calling medical practitioners ‘leeches’ was an idiom that lasted long after leeches were no longer in use. In fact, sometimes I hear that now, though the meaning has entirely changed: it is interchangeable with bloodsuckers. For example, a bill we just received for over two thousand dollars for an emergency visit the son made after a covert bean attack that lasted roughly two hours, and all they gave him was more benedryl. Turns out we can't afford epic-pens, because they expire fast, and now the price has been jacked up to nearly a grand for three--you can't order one--which expire at the same time. Bloodsuckers!!!)

Back to the book. The orcs are all dead, but the wild men of Dunland are disarmed and put to work—in direct contrast to the lies that Saruman told them when he raised them as an army.

But what to do about the great mounds of dead orcs, too many to bury or to burn? Gandalf says to let them lie for the nonce. They bury their own, then ride out, following Gandalf through that mysterious forest.

After a hot, weird ride through the uncanny forest under creaking, groaning boughs that create impenetrable shadows (which even Legolas finds disconcerting) they discover no sign of the orcs who had escaped the battle to hide. Creepy!

As they ride away, Legolas and Gimli—still sharing a mount—converse, and here is one of my favorite bits in this entire sequence.

They discuss the weird forest, then Gimli exclaims, “Strange are the ways of men, Legolas. Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in time of war, to store fodder in!”

Legalist comments that he would give gold to be excused going into them and double to be let out, if he strayed in. Gimli replies earnestly that he would forgive the joke because the elf has no idea what he's talking about.

And then comes one of the loveliest descriptions in this book:

And, Legolas, when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls. And the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-colored floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities, such as the mind of Durin could scarcely have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! A silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber and another dream.

There is chamber after chamber, hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair; and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains' heart. Caves! The Caverns of Helm's Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.”


Bur he is not done.

When Legolas comments that there is little for dwarves to do there, and “Maybe the men of this land are wise to say little: one family of busy dwarves with hammer and chisel might mar more than they made."

Gimli cries out, ”No, you do not understand. No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the spring time for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them.

With cautious skill, tap by tap — a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day — so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock.

And lights, Legolas! We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Kazad-dum; and when we wished we would drive away the night that has lain there since the hills were made; and when we desired rest we would let the night return."


It's interesting, how much a role light plays in the narrative: here it is again in good earnest.

So Legolas makes a bargain: if they survive they are going to travel together, visiting Fangorn and Helm’s Deep.

They get deeper into the forest, and Legolas exclaims that he sees eyes peering out from the trees, and he wants to go explore. Gimli, the tough warrior who took out 42 orcs, says he wants to get down—“Let me see no eyes!”

Ents stride past, and vanish, and Gandalf points out to Theoden that he has allies, “even if he knows them not.”

The countryside gets nastier, and they come across wolves slinking away. Theoden protests—he doesn’t want to see wolves devouring his fallen men. But Gandalf points out that they are feasting on orcs, adding, “Such is the friendship of their kind.” Does he mean that orcs ate wolves and wolves orcs?

Anyway, they find a great mound raised to the fallen Rohirrim, and as they pass, things get even weirder. First, the horizon is full of fume, then with an eerie mist and susurrus, they are passed by moving shadows—Ents on the way to take care of the rest of the orcs below Hornburg.

Gandalf and company approach Isengard, which was once impressive, but now it’s a wreck. The pillar of the great white hand is bloodstained.

And finally they encounter two hobbits picnicking on the top of a rubble heap. One hops up and declaims,

“We are the door wardens. Meriadoc son of Saradoc is my name; and my companion, who alas is overcome with weariness—” here he gave the other a dig with his foot “—is Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the house of Took. Far in the north is our home. The Lord Saruman is within; but at the moment he is closeted with one Wormtongue, or, doubtless he would be here to welcome such honorable guests.”

It turns out that Treebeard is in charge, and ordered the hobbits to tender the new arrivals a proper welcome. Gimli loses his temper when he spots the tobacco. “Hammer and tongs! I am so torn between rage and joy, that if I do not burst, it will be a marvel.”

Thereupon Merry and Theoden get into a discussion of hobbits, which strays into the history of tobacco. As a young reader, I loved the banter here, after the anxiety of the battle, and I pretty much ignored the tobacco blather (with prejudice, as in the mid-sixties when I first read this book, I was surrounded everywhere there were adults with the stench of cigarette smoke, either fresh or stale every time you sat down on a piece of naugahyde or fabric covered furniture, or entered a room that had been closed off, so the “qualities” of smoking were utterly lost on me.)

But it was later that I realized here was a strong foreshadowing of the Scouring of the Shire: it hints that Saruman was very familiar with the hobbits’ home country, and nothing was beyond reach of his malice. Especially a land that had long been kingless and without army protection.

The next chapter, Flotsam and Jetsam, I remember skimming and skipping partway through as a kid: more about smoking, and catch up as we get summaries of what we've already seen, but then comes the hobbits' vivid description of the Ents taking down Isengard.

Through the middle of the ruin Gandalf pops up—(remember, the hobbits don't know that Gandalf is alive)

Pippin has taken a turn at speaking: Suddenly a great horse came striding up, like a flash of silver. It was getting dark, but I could see the rider’s face clearly: it seemed to shine, and all his clothes were white. I just sat up, staring, with my mouth open. I tried to call out, and couldn’t.

There was no need. He halted just by us and looked down at us. “Gandalf!” I said at last, but my voice was only a whisper. Did he say, “Hullo, Pippin! This is a pleasant surprise!” No, indeed! He said, “Get up, you tom-fool of a Took. Where, in the name of wonder, in all this ruin is Treebeard? I want him. Quick!”


and, a bit later: "But Gandalf," I cried, "where have you been? And have you seen the others?"

"Wherever I have been, I am back," he answered in the genuine Gandalf manner.


Light again—and humor—after the smashing awesomeness of the Ents’ solution to the Saruman problem. Merry finishes the story, including describing the arrival of Wormtongue, whom Treebeard sends inside the tower.

In the next chapter, Gandalf says he has to pay a last visit to Saruman. “Dangerous, and probably useless, but it must be done.”

He doesn’t tell the hobbits why--not until it's over--but sternly tries to get them to be serious, warning them of the dangers of Saruman’s voice, and powers “you do not guess.”

And indeed, Saruman’s voice is enchanting. They might not remember his words, Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in their hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them . . .

the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled, but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. . .


So in trying to be Sauron, was Saruman mimicking a seductive voice? Somewhere, I think it was Gandalf, said that Sauron’s form was once fair. I wonder if Sauron wove magic into his voice, too, to enthrall his hosts. This entire question reminds me of Milton’s Satan.

Saruman does his best to torque everyone there to his will, and Gandalf stands there silent. He gets especially nasty with Theoden after the latter snarls, “When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc.”

Last Saruman turns on Gandalf, who throws back his twisted arguments, and Saruman at last betrays not just doubt, but anguish. For that one moment, in that one word, we can get a glimpse of the good man that was. Unfortunately, when the great fall, they fall hard. As Gandalf says a little later, “He will not serve, only command.”

Gandalf breaks Saruman’s staff—and in retaliation, something is thrown out the window at them, to fall harmlessly down.

“Here, my lad, I’ll take that,” Gandalf says Gandalf crisply to Pippin, who picked it up.

The party begins to break up, with a delightful moment of meeting between Treebeard, Legolas, and Gimli—Legolas speaking up for Treebeard, who gives Gimli’s axe the hairy eyeball.


The next chapter—The Palantir—is the last of the Isengard sequence, and the last chapter in Book Three. It is one of those rare chapters that are character-focused from beginning to end. Not that there isn’t action and landscape. We get both. But we get great moments between the hobbits, between each hobbit and Gandalf respectively, and between Aragorn and Gandalf.

It begins with a ride. Merry gets to go with Gandalf. He’s tired, and asks if the small rag-tag dangling behind Gandalf will get some rest.

“So you heard that, did you?” Gandalf asks. “Don’t let it rankle. Be thankful no longer words were aimed at you. He had his eyes on you. If it is any comfort to your pride, I should say that, at the moment, you and Pippin are more in his thoughts than all the rest of us."

Dire warning!

Merry doesn’t get much out of Gandalf, but promises to tackle Aragorn, who is “less testy.”

When they camp, Merry and Pippin have a good gossip about Gandalf, but Pippin is obsessed with that glass ball that Gandalf took away so nippily.

Knowing he’s doing something that is surely stupid, and probably dangerous, Pippin sneaks up on Gandalf, replaces the palantir with a rock, and then nearly gets nailed by the Eye. After which Gandalf hands off the palantir to Aragorn, and the two have an interesting talk.

Merry waxes sarcastic when Pippin gets to ride with Gandalf, “instead of being turned into a stone himself to stand here for ever as a warning.”

As they ride, Gandalf tells Pippin the history of the palantiri, after which Pippin promptly begins another question.

”Mercy!” cried Gandalf. “If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?"

What follows is my favorite bit in this chapter—and incidentally one of my proofs that Pippin is not an idiot. Just young.

He says: “The names of all the stars, and of all living things, and the whole history of Middle-earth and Over-heaven and of the Sundering Seas.” Stupid people are content with ignorance, sometimes even grasp and hold it tight.

Gandalf explains where they are going, and Pippin begins to fall asleep to a strange feeling, that “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.”
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