In spite of a cranky computer, stomach, and child, it’s time for another chapter of the Lord of the Rings re-read, Two Towers III.9, “Flotsam and Jetsam.” As always, spoilers for the entire book behind the jump.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli remain with the hobbits for food, pipe-weed, and stories. Merry and Pippin tell their experiences from the breaking of the Fellowship, which we hear in detail from when the Ents arrive at Isengard, where they see Saruman’s army leave. The Ents destroy the gates and nearly catch Saruman, who escapes to Orthanc and begins sending up fires. After several Ents are injured or killed, Treebeard brings the rest to their senses and has them spend the rest of the night and the next day diverting the nearby waterways.
That evening, Gandalf rides up for a hasty conference with Treebeard, seeking his help with the Orc army. During the night Merry and Pippin hear the Huorns leave and see the drowning of Isengard. Later, the morning that the Helm’s Deep party arrived, Wormtongue came to Isengard and was sent by Treebeard to Orthanc.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are satisfied by the story, except that Aragorn wonders how pipeweed from the Shire came to Isengard. The chapter ends with them about to enter Isengard.
Yay, hobbits! And Ents!
This is a surprisingly visual chapter for me, especially since I am not usually a visual reader, as I’ve said before. It’s not just the movie, either, because I remember thinking that these scenes didn’t translate very well to the screen: but when I was reading this chapter, the Ents’ attack on Isengard and the water pouring in and even Gandalf riding up were all very vivid to me. It helps that the logistics are simpler than Helm’s Deep, but it may also be the less formal way the hobbits talk than the “default” narration.
(Looking over my notes, I particularly like Pippin’s comment that Treebeard “began to pull down a bit more of the walls, in a leisurely sort of way, just to amuse himself.” It’s funny and it says a lot about the two of them to me.)
Though, speaking of narrative voices, I will say that though both Merry and Pippin tell large chunks of this chapter, I can’t tell their narrations apart. They’re very hobbit-characteristic, especially the underplaying of “the whips and the filth and stench and all that,” but not to me individually-characteristic: indeed, I had to go back carefully and look to make sure that they both did speak, not just one of them. What about you all?
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Other than that, I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter. Some scattered thoughts:
The first external observation of the Incredible Expanding Hobbits (with bonus curly hair). Merry and Pippin grow, Frodo diminishes, and Sam . . . doesn’t change externally at all, that I can remember. Hmm.
(And Gandalf’s face “seemed to shine” when he rode up at night during the battle of Helm’s Deep.)
I had never considered pipes a “dainty” before; can anyone comment on the skill involved in making one? I wouldn’t think it that difficult, but then I have never carved anything, knowing the limits of my coordination and my preferences for having ten fingers (speaking of Frodo . . . ).
Aragorn offers what sounds like a proverb and answers any lingering question about what he thinks about the overall plan, here: “One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.” There we go, then.
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There was some discussion, last post, about the Huorns’ nature, so here we have Merry’s opinion:
Treebeard won’t say much about them, but I think they are Ents that have become almost like trees, at least to look at. . . . They still have voices, and can speak with the Ents — that is why they are called Huorns, Treebeard says — but they have become queer and wild. Dangerous. I should be terrified of meeting them, if there were no true Ents about to look after them.
I don’t recall that we get anything more authoritative on the topic, but I could be wrong.
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We get a preview of next chapter, when Merry doubts the basis of Saruman’s reputation, and Aragorn says,
. . . he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. That power he certainly still keeps. There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him, even now when he has suffered a defeat. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, perhaps, now that his wickedness has been laid bare, but very few others.
Which makes me wonder if Aragorn knows that those are the wielders of the Elven Rings. Also note the “alone,” which is where Saruman will fall down next time. (Has Aragorn met him before, somewhere outside of Isengard? I don’t remember getting that impression from the next chapter; his authority on the subject may well be second-hand via Gandalf or Elrond.)
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I really enjoy the character interactions in this chapter: the hobbits unashamedly keeping the others company over lunch, Gandalf being very hasty at Treebeard and gruff then happy at the hobbits, and Treebeard making Wormtongue squirm just by staring at him.
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Finally, I’m of two minds about the setup for the Scouring of the Shire here. I can see that something that major ought to be at least hinted at ahead of time, and yet to my re-reading eyes the way it’s done here seems inelegant or obvious, as the last thing in the chapter but one paragraph:
‘All except one thing,’ said Aragorn: ‘leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard. The more I consider it, the more curious I find it. I have never been in Isengard, but I have journeyed in this land, and I know well the empty countries that lie between Rohan and the Shire. Neither goods nor folk have passed that way for many a long year, not openly. Saruman had secret dealings with someone in the Shire, I guess. Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Théoden’s. Was there a date on the barrels?’
‘Yes,’ said Pippin. ‘It was the 1417 crop, that is last year’s; no, the year before, of course, now: a good year.’
‘Ah well, whatever evil was afoot is over now, I hope; or else it is beyond our reach at present,’ said Aragorn. ‘Yet I think I shall mention it to Gandalf, small matter though it may seem among his great affairs.’
I can’t put my finger on it, but this section jumped out at me on this re-read. Maybe it was the last line, which—again, from my re-reading perspective—says “look, dramatic irony!” Anyway, it’s not that big a deal.
Next time, Saruman up close and personal.