Jun 26 2009 10:32am

LotR re-read: Two Towers III.3, “The Uruk-hai”

cover of The Two TowersTo make up for there being no LotR re-read post last week (I was having trouble accessing the back end), and to get a bit ahead, here’s chapter III.3 of The Two Towers, “The Uruk-hai.” The usual spoilers for all of LotR and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Pippin wakes up and remembers the breaking of the Fellowship, his and Merry’s ambush by Orcs, and Boromir’s defense of them. He hears arguments between Uglúk, the leader of Saruman’s Uruk-hai; Grishnákh, the leader of the Mordor Orcs; and members of the Northern Orcs. Uglúk and the Uruk-hai kill several Northern Orcs; the Mordor Orcs leave. Pippin uses the knife of one of the dead Orcs to cut his wrist bindings and re-tie them loosely.

Pippin and Merry are first carried by Orcs and then forced to run. When they come to an area of soft wet ground, Pippin runs away from the Orcs and drops his brooch to try and leave a sign for Aragorn. The Orcs run for some time, hoping to outdistance the Riders who will be coming because they let a scout get away. At daylight, most of the Northerners break for the forest, and Grishnákh and co. return. They also head for the forest.

At the end of the day, the Uruk-hai and Mordor orcs catch up with the Northerners and are encircled quite close to the forest by the Riders. Grishnákh covertly searches the hobbits; Pippin intuits that he’s looking for the Ring, and aided by Merry, tries to get him to untie them. Instead he grabs them and takes them toward the forest. He is killed by a Rider, and the hobbits end up outside the circle. They free themselves, eat some lembas, and head for Fangorn. They see the Riders attack at dawn and Uglúk nearly reach the forest. They flee deep into the woods and do not see the end of the battle or the burning of the Orcs’ corpses, though many others do.


Where to start? I guess with where the chapter does, which is after we last saw the hobbits but before the point where we left Aragorn and company; it sets up an asymmetry in the timelines that will, I think, have the effect of pulling the story along until they meet up again. Also, again, we don’t get Boromir’s fighting in any detail.

The other thing this starts with is Pippin’s POV, which I suspect is chosen over Merry’s because he has much more growth to do than Merry. And just in this chapter he definitely seems to be rising to the occasion, thinking quickly and taking calculated but useful risks.

(The opening is where he thinks of being “just a piece of luggage,” which if I recall correctly, Saruman will pick up on much later.)

* * *

I mostly don’t “hear” Tolkien’s invented languages, for all that I try, because I am not a phonetic reader and so words in other languages are difficult for me—I mostly work on shape recognition. That said, the phrase “pushdug Saruman-glob” jumped out at me from the middle of an Orcish (Northern? Mordor?) curse as . . . less “hideous” than “inadvertently comical.”

Speaking of Orcs and internal divisions, when later in the chapter we’re told that Grishnákh and co. have come back, I had to go and find where we’re told that they’d left: apparently the phrase “Grishnákh stepped aside and vanished into the shadows” is supposed to convey that. I also didn’t really follow the logistics of the Northerners’ leaving: they make a break . . . in exactly the same direction that everyone else is going? . . . and run fast enough that it takes hours to catch up with them, even though the Uruk-hai are bigger, stronger, and more comfortable in daylight.

Also, the chapter does a nice job setting up Grishnákh’s eventual power-grab, and Pippin and Merry’s attempt to manipulate him, not only through all the arguing but Uglúk’s perceptively noting to him that “You seem to know a lot. More than is good for you, I guess.”

Other Orcish bits: the revitalizing liquor reminded me of the miruvor of Rivendell, but twisted. I don’t say that it was created from the miruvor, just that it seemed a dark parallel.

The Uruk-hai call the Riders “Whiteskins.” I suspect that calling the Northerners “maggots” also is, among other things, an implicit reference to their skin color (which I’m presuming is lighter since they live in caves).

Overall I would say that this chapter shows the Orcs as self-willed individuals, fairly intelligent and comprehensible ones at that, though also cruel, crude, self-interested, and with varying degrees of self-control and foresight.

* * *

Pippin dropping his brooch reminded me that someone once explained that proper cloaks didn’t actually get their edges pinned together at the neck, because the weight would drag back and choke you? Or something like that. I didn’t really follow it then, but if anyone cares to explain or has pointers, I’d appreciate it.

* * *

Another weak-supernatural-good example: the arrow that kills Grishnákh is “aimed with skill, or guided by fate.” The horse also jumps over the hobbits either because it saw them “or because of some other sense,” though this may be less supernatural and more excellent natural, as it were.

Horse people: if your horse jumped for no reason that you could tell, after your comrade just killed an enemy with a spear, would you go and check what it was?

* * *

I admit I smiled at the description of Pippin and Merry eating “thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby,” and yet I found it easier to imagine than I expected.

I am not at all surprised that Merry spent time at Rivendell with maps, because he previously struck me as the most practical of the hobbits.

* * *

The Riders attacking the Orcs at dawn now seems to me a precursor to the Pelennor Fields, which is not a connection I’d drawn before. I admit that the movies are an influence here.

The end of the chapter is interesting for its shift of point-of-view. I don’t even remember the last time we had an explicit omniscient narrator section:

So it was that they did not see the last stand, when Uglúk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn. There he was slain at last by Éomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark, who dismounted and fought him sword to sword. And over the wide fields the keen-eyed Riders hunted down the few Orcs that had escaped and still had strength to fly.

Then when they had laid their fallen comrades in a mound and had sung their praises, the Riders made a great fire and scattered the ashes of their enemies. So ended the raid, and no news of it came ever back to either Mordor or to Isengard; but the smoke of the burning rose high to heaven and was seen by many watchful eyes.

The shift wasn’t strictly necessary to conclude the arc of the Orc raid, since we know its ending from prior chapters, but I think the flow benefits from a specific reference back. In addition, this allows the chapter to end on an ominous note.

« Two Towers III.2 | Index | Two Towers III.4 »

1. clovis
Pippin has more than one brief vision of Strider tracking them. A sign from Tolkien or above that Aragorn has made the right choice, or is the professor setting us up for the return of Gandalf? Is it just me or are there more of these small incidents of visions/foresights now?
2. DemetriosX
This and the next chapter may be my favorites in the whole trilogy. I like your suggestion the Pippin is the viewpoint character because he has the most growing to do. OTOH, since Merry tends to take the lead, using Pippin allows Tolkien to observe the leadership decisions from the outside. Also, we have flirted around the edges of Pippin as a viewpoint character in Moria, when he drops a rock down the well.

As someone who occasionally wears a cloak (at medieval markets, basically the German version of a RenFair), I can tell you that a cloak is usually pinned about where the top button on a shirt is (not the collar button, but the one under that). The weight of the cloak is on the shoulders. If you want both arms free (so that the weight wouldn't be on the shoulders and the cloak might choke you), you're better off taking it off and carrying or storing it.
3. Jormengrund
Some cloaks are also pinned to the side, near the collarbone.

However, most of these are decorative, and not really functional. The most useful ones are pinned low, and leave the arms mobile and leave the throat clear.
4. DBratman
1) I like the complexity of the timelines. It adds to the realism of the story. A task I've never undertaken, but should, is to re-read the book with all the sections in chronological order of the events.

2) Hobbits seeing themselves as useless luggage is a point that comes up again later and, I think, earlier.

3) Dark parallels, like the Orkish liquor. There are others of these around, too. Treebeard tells the hobbits that trolls are counterfeit Ents, as Orcs are counterfeit Elves. (I'd have thought trolls were counterfeit Dwarves, but that's Treebeard's view.)

4) Shippey has some interesting things to say about Orcs' free will and worldview, mostly in connection with the Mordor scenes later.

5) Merry's preference to spend his time with maps endears him to me greatly.
Soon Lee
5. SoonLee
The maggot reference I took more as a slur on their prowess. Maggots feed on carrion rather than hunting down their own prey like the 'mighty' Uruk-hai would. And for some reason, I always get a nautical resonance - 'maggoty ship's bread'.
6. Brian Barker
Did you know that Tolkien also learned Esperanto.

It's unfortunate, however, that only a few people know that Esperanto has become a living language.

After a short period of 121 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook.

It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook. Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include George Soros, World Chess Champion Susan Polgar, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet.

Further arguments can be seen at Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at
Kelly McCullough
7. KellyMcCullough
There's also a style of cloak that uses a cord that goes from the neck on either side under the arms and ties around the back to support the weight of the cloak and prevent choking while the button(s) merely serve as a closure against weather.
Andrew Foss
8. alfoss1540
Before I rip into this - NOTE that it is one of my favorite points in the whole series - BUT

The Quote of all Quotes to consider- Kate and DBratman touched it - But its time to think:

"What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the orcs. I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us."

Now let's consider where Pippin could have come up with this thought. Hmm - last time he was on the Misty Mountain Express??? You might even think it would be possible to have some sort of stage coach system in the Shire. BUT WITH LUGGAGE CHECKS REQUIRING CLAIMS???

And as DBRateman notes, that it continues - I do not know about Saruman, but definitely while Pippin is riding with Gandalf to Minas Tirith - and I believe with Merry riding there also, the luggage comparison continues.

There are few places in this piece where reality based comparisons happen. I picked upon this about 4 readings ago, and now it sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact it was probably what got me interested in this reread in the first place last December.

Other thoughts

Grishnakh - "Why my little ones.Enjoying a nice nap? . . . Little people should not meddle in affairs that are too big for them. . . . We shant hurry the enquiry. Oh dear no!

Tolkien is English and LOTR is literature - But Orcs, while rasping in Common tongue just to understand each other, might not have quite that eloquent a grasp of the King's English.

In considering the descriptions of Orcs here, I am missing the connection to the Southerans (slant eyed guy in Bree). It was thought about there being some connection to Saruman's Orc Breeding with the Southerans. I am not seeing the connection - as the descriptions of these orcs are so far from Human. I cannot imagine a cross breeding that would be anything other than monsterous.

Another note: This is reading #14 for me. Every other time I had my mental compass messed up. My visualization was that the river (entwash) was north of them. Same end result getting to the forest, but the perspective is all different. Thanks to the reread for making me look at it all - comparing the maps again and again - to get it right.

Kate - I also Loved the Hobbit Interplay at the end - stopping for Lembas and talking through everything that happened. One of the many defense mechanisms Hobbits have for survival I would guess.

For Character Development - Pippin sure acted beyond his years in Wisdom and survial here - We have pointed out his youth - still 30 by the time this ends and not yet of age. He gets dogged again later for foolishness, but pretty much saves both their asses at this point.
9. DavidT
alfossi1540 @ 8:

Tolkien said explicitly that the conversation of the orcs is rendered inaccurately, to avoid unnecessary ugliness. I think that's an interesting choice -- as the critical world was moving toward more and more lavish praise of 'realism', Tolkien chose to tell his readers that there was enough ugliness in the world already, thank you very much. He notes that his readers are probably all too aware of what orcs (and "orc-minded men") *really* sound like, but he saw no reason to soil the pages of his book with a slavishly accurate reproduction of that speech.

As for Pippin in this chapter... .

Brian Barker @6

Mi ne scii ke Esperanto estas la lingvo de mal?entileco. Please take your soap box elsewhere. The only comment by Tolkien on the subject of Esperanto that I have ever seen is:

"Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends." -- draft of a letter to a "Mr. Thompson", an unidentified reader, 14 Jan. 1956
10. Dave Menendez
Grishnákh's speech has a hint of the insincere friendliness of Smaug and Saruman, but with less contempt and more menace. His arugments with Uglúk are full of insinuation and indirect threats, but with the Hobbits he's full of false endearments like "My dear tender little fools".

I'm not familiar enough with the military to say for certain, but I have the impression that Uglúk talks like a sergeant and Grishnákh talks like an officer.
11. Firefly
alfoss1540@8: I always thought Grishnákh sounded too sophisticated for an ordinary orc soldier. Is he some kind of spy or secret agent from Mordor? He was specially brought across the river, and is liaising with a Nazgúl, no less.

If so, we have to assume there are orcs sufficiently intelligent and educated for that kind of work. Sauron must have some minions at a level between Ringwraiths and standard orcs, and humans never appear except as recruits arriving from the east and south, so orcs seem to be elected. Can they be enhanced in some way for special duties? Are there orc spy-schools, where they learn high-level Westron (needed for intelligence gathering, even if they don't get much chance to speak it)?

On the Uruk-hai, it's interesting that Tolkien seems to have more respect for them than he gives to any other orcs. They have more group-loyalty, they can hold together and drive forward resolutely against a superior force when the rest break and run, and Uglúk is even worthy of single combat with Éomer. Is this because they're part-human, as Treebeard suspects, and Saruman hasn't yet succeeded in making them as degraded as the original Morgoth strain?

Going back to the description of Boromir blowing his great horn till the woods rang, does anyone else crease up when it goes "Poop-Poop-Poop!" in the film? I'm sure this was an authentic noise made by an internationally respected hornblower, but it doesn't exactly smite the hills in a mighty shout. No surprise the orcs were dismayed, they probably fell down laughing.
Tony Zbaraschuk
12. tonyz
>Uglúk talks like a sergeant and Grishnákh talks like an officer.

Hmm... Ugluk strikes me as a better officer, for a small command. Certainly he seems to have genuine concern for his folk (if not for anybody else) -- perhaps Tolkien's way of showing that Orcs aren't entirely evil? And the final touch, with Eomer dismounting and fighting Ugluk sword-to-sword, that's a good touch too: some sort of honor among enemies, at least, or a mark of respect.

As far as the Orcish conversation goes, I suspect that Tolkien was drawing on his memory of soldiers during the Great War. Add an obscene, scatological, or profane adjective before every noun...
Bill Reamy
13. BillinHI
Firefly@11: I agree with you on the movie horn. OTOH, I just finished listening to the BBC dramatization of LotR and they went _way_ over to the other side with Boromir's horn: It not only sounds like an orchestral horn (which it is, of course, but I couldn't begin to tell which one), but almost plays a (short) tune! Something in between would have been much better. I assume that his horn probably had some special properties, probably from Numenorean days, so that it could actually be heard over long distances.
Kate Nepveu
14. katenepveu
clovis @ #1, I'm not sure if there are more little visions, but it wouldn't surprise me as a way to link the characters.

(I would check but SteelyKid is sick and I am squeezing out ten minutes to answer comments here before addressing everything else necessary.)

DemetriosX @ #2, I've already read the next chapter and found myself saying, gosh, I really enjoy this!

Thanks for the cloak information--weight on the shoulders makes sense.

DBratman @ #4, I will have to dig out Shippey and remind myself of what he says.

SoonLee @ #5, oh certainly the maggots insult is multi-dimensional.

Brian Barker @ #6, please come back when you have something to contribute to the ongoing conversation, rather than an advertisement.

alfoss1540 @ #8, ouch! Good point about the left luggage metaphor. Goes with the express train comparison re: Gandalf's fireworks, right?

And I'm not sure what we're supposed to understand with regard to the orc-resembling man in Bree and the Uruk-hai. You'd think there'd be no point in giving Men (sic) just a tinge of Orc.

I have nothing to add to the discussion of Orcs, language, and military roles at present, but I'm enjoying it.
15. Michael S. Schiffer
"You'd think there'd be no point in giving Men (sic) just a tinge of Orc."

Why, just to see what would happen!

I have no reason to think that was Tolkien's specific intent behind that particular half-orc, but it certainly fits the characterization of Saruman as pursuing inquiry beyond the bounds or morals. Presumably it would be necessary to try different breeding lines and proportions before getting to the Uruk-hai, and in any case some of the other mixes might be useful to him in different ways.

(And while Tolkien probably wasn't aware of it, compare the near-contemporary Soviet experiments reported in the Scotsman a few years back at: (PDF link) )
Geoffrey Dow
16. ed-rex
I admit I smiled at the description of Pippin and Merry eating “thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby,” and yet I found it easier to imagine than I expected.

That's a lovely scene and a good example of something I think people often forget about Tolkien - his sense of humour. Though this one made me smile, the conversation among the Three Hunters in (I think) the next chapter, as Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas ponder the Mystery of the Disappearing Hobbits, still makes me laugh right out loud.

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