Before we pick up The Two Towers with chapter III.2, “The Riders of Rohan,” a note: I have an highly idiosyncratic list of books related to The Lord of the Rings over on the new Tor.com store. Unfortunately the list and the store were developed separately, so there are some things on the list that, uh, you can’t actually get there yet (it’s a work in progress); but you may find it interesting all the same. Note: I did say highly idiosyncratic!
And now, the usual spoilers for all of LotR and comments.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli continue to pursue the Orcs. They find several Northern Orcs dead, apparently victims of a quarrel. Later Aragorn sees Pippin’s tracks and concludes that he deliberately ran away from the path and dropped his elven brooch as a sign for pursuers. He reluctantly decides they will rest at night, fearing to miss more such signs. They fall far behind the Orcs and, on the fourth day, meet the Riders of Rohan who are coming back down the trail.
The meeting gets off to a rocky start, with the Riders’ leader Éomer nearly coming to blows with Gimli and Legolas over Galadriel, but Aragorn intervenes and then reveals himself as the heir of Elendil. They trade news: Aragorn tells of coming war and Gandalf’s and Boromir’s deaths, and Éomer tells of the Riders’ destruction of the Orcs (and not finding anyone else), Saruman’s increasing demands, and Gandalf’s angering Théoden when he escaped from Orthanc. Éomer lends them horses, though the law does not permit him to let them go, and asks Aragorn to present himself (with horses) before Théoden so that his judgment may be confirmed.
The three come to the battlefield but find no trace of Merry and Pippin before dark. They camp at the edge of Fangorn, where an old man, possibly Saruman, silently appears and disappears by their fire. As they search, Legolas realizes that their horses have gone. The rest of the night passes without further event.
So, I guess we’ll do the journey first, with some numbers and logistics geeking (because, hey: geek). Google claims that 12 leagues is 41.4 miles or 66.7 kilometers, which is how far they marched from dawn to dusk on the first day of the chase. They did 45 leagues (155 miles, 250 km) from the start to their meeting with the Riders, in less than four days. Which is pretty damn impressive: I could keep up that pace for an hour or two, but not more than that. Especially with Saruman setting his will against me.
(I believe I have seen someone, possibly Jo Walton, say that this is based on some historical thing or another, but Jo is off traveling and I don’t know if she’ll see this.)
* * *
There’s that eagle again! At least according to Legolas. But if he can count riders and see hair color from 5 leagues (17.25 miles, 28 km) away—well, for one thing, we can work out that the hill they’re on must be about 200 feet high for the riders not to be over the horizon (which is high for my conception of “downs,” but as an American I have only the haziest idea), and for another, I guess he can pretty well see any darn thing he pleases.
* * *
Okay, finally for logistics geeking, I’m thinking hobbits weigh about . . . a hundred pounds, maybe? Not very heavy, no shoes, on grass . . . so how awesome a tracker does that make Aragorn, to see Pippin’s trail?
Aragorn says, when it’s time to decide whether to continue through the night, that they “give the choice to an ill chooser.” As we’ve already said, whether or not you call it a choice, he did screw up with regard to Boromir; but his choice to rest at night seems quite reasonable to me, for the reasons given in the text. What do you all think?
(And yet when they meet Éomer, he doesn’t identify himself by lineage the very first thing, but doesn’t hesitate to bring it out pretty soon after, which strikes me as significant. Partly I think it speaks to his familiarity with the Rohirrim and his viewing Éomer as a whippersnapper; but partly I think it’s the relief of having chosen Minas Tirith and aiding Gondor as an ultimate mission, after they do what they can for Merry and Pippin.)
* * *
I think this is the most explicit statement we’ve had yet about Elves having foresight/other perceptions, when Legolas says, “Strange things await us by the eaves of the forest. Good or evil, I do not know; but we are called. Awake!” I take the “called” as a general reference to fate or big events looming, as I don’t recall any textual evidence that they were literally being called by Gandalf. Or Saruman, for that matter.
* * *
And now, the Riders.
Aragorn calls them “wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs,” which strikes me as a bias that the author almost certainly, and rather understandably, shares, but which is nevertheless a bias.
Éomer here is introduced as someone who trusts his own instincts on immediate concrete choices over obedience to authority, but is less certain about the wider picture and how to navigate the changes in the world he knows: “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. . . . How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” To which Aragorn says, “As he has ever judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear.” Which is true in the context presented, at least, so perhaps we can skip the changing standards of morality discussion?
I doubt his statement here, though: “the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived.” I mean, it may be so, but one does not necessarily follow from the other.
Finally, the whole thing about fighting over Galadriel. Even as a kid I remember finding this weird—even stated ironically, the idea that one might “learn the praise of a fair lady under the loving strokes of a Dwarf’s axe” was just, are you serious? Today, my reaction is pretty much the same—unsurprising, since my reaction to chivalry is, at best, “ugh.”
* * *
Éomer calls Galadriel a “net-weaver,” which I thought was interesting because it brought Shelob to mind and thus reminded me that spiders are a default-female monster, unlike most animals.
Elvish sleep: not only with their eyes open, but while walking too. My permanently-sleep-deprived self is jealous.
Word looked up this chapter: “rede” (oft is found at the rising of the Sun): advice or counsel.
* * *
The structure so far of this book:
We know, or can reasonably rely on Aragorn’s conclusion, that Pippin at least was alive and mobile and quick-thinking a couple days ago. But we don’t know where they are now—the Riders’ news is not good—and we have the mystery of the old man and the horses. So we end on a still pause with cliffhanger: “The night passed slowly. Legolas followed Aragorn, and Gimli followed Legolas, and their watches wore away. But nothing happened. The old man did not appear again, and the horses did not return.”
Next time, we’ll get confirmation of Aragorn’s guesses but also action that he didn’t know, which should keep us from feeling that things are too repetitive while still maintaining suspense about and interest in the other thread. I often have a hard time with narratives that are split like this, in terms of keeping a constant level of interest and attention, so I’ll definitely be paying attention to this structure.
(The worst for that is when there are two parallel stories that go a long time without meeting or giving an indication that they will meet. I’m almost guaranteed to lose interest in one in this situation—the one that always comes to mind is Dave Duncan’s Past Imperative, the first book in what I always think of as his grammar trilogy (actually The Great Game); I don’t remember which thread I stopped reading now, but I never bothered with the rest of the series. It’s been keeping me from reading Peg Kerr’s Emerald House Rising, too.)