Aug 24 2009 1:21pm

LotR re-read: Two Towers III.9, “Flotsam and Jetsam”

cover of The Two TowersIn 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.


What Happens

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?

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.)

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

« Two Towers III.8 | Index | Two Towers III.10 »

Kate Nepveu is, among other things, an appellate lawyer, a spouse and parent, and a woman of Asian ancestry. She also writes at her LiveJournal and booklog.

1. DemetriosX
The scene where Aragorn and company ride up, worn out after their battle, and find Merry and Pippin lounging about on the rubble and smoking is one of my favorite scenes in the whole trilogy, hands down. And, of course, they've managed to track down food and drink.

Aragorn's comment about the pipeweed is actually the second foreshadowing of what's going on in the Shire. We also had Sam's vision in Galadriel's mirror. But I think this is also the last we will have. Events are going to turn east and the only time anyone thinks about the Shire will be as a fond remembrance of peace and goodness.

This chapter is probably meant as a breather. A bit of lightness before the confrontation with Saruman, the palantir, and then war. This is pretty much the last moment of peace that any of these characters will have until after the Battle of the Black Gate.
2. DavidA
Merry doesn't make the connection, but it seems obvious to me that he has already encountered a Huorn -- the Old Willow in Book I -- and was nearly devoured. No Ents around, but Tom Bombadil was luckily there to save the day.
3. SusanJames
Before Aragorn joined up with Frodo, he and the other Rangers watched over the borders of the shire. I'm no good with dates, but do you suppose that as they became distracted with the Fellowship, open warfare, etc, the watch on the Shire slipped?

DavidA- good point about the Old Willow. I bet Tom Bombadil would know if any Entwives were still around- but getting him to give a straight answer would be difficult.
4. EmmaPease
The other rangers continued to watch until Galadriel sent a message to Elrond (probably about Feb. 14) and the Grey Company went south. They met Aragorn on March 6 (a bit over 20 days since the message came to Elrond). Their route was probably Rivendell to Bree to Tharbad to the fords of the Isen and not cross-country (they had horses). At Bree they probably picked up those guarding the Shire and left messages for the others suggesting they return to the women and children to guard them. So the Shire was left unguarded from March onwards.
Michael Ikeda
5. mikeda
DavidA@2, SusanJames@3

I don't think Old Man Willow is a Huorn. I think he's a tree that's become more "Entish".
Soon Lee
6. SoonLee
Re:Aragorn mentioning Elrond, Galadriel & Gandalf

I think coincidence. They are also the most powerful & trusted people on *his* side. There aren't many other candidates for holders of the three elven rings. Apart from these three, the only others who spring to mind are Cirdan & Glorfindel. Maybe Celeborn, Elladan & Elrohir.

OTOH, insightfulness is a trait associated with Aragorn, so though he might not have been told who the wielders of the Three were, he might have puzzled it out for himself.
7. JoeNotCharles
I'd say the third foreshadowing of the Scouring of the Shire, since the "squint-eyed southerners" talking to Bill Ferny in Bree were singled out as being similar to Saruman's orcs.
j p
8. sps49
Ha. I never caught the other meaning of the "in fetters" bit.
Terry Lago
9. dulac3
I think when the pipes are referred to as "dainties" it's more in the sense of a treat or luxury ("Anything pleasing or delicious to the palate; a choice viand, a delicacy" as the OED has it).

I think that the Huorns are not evil, but they are wild and uncontrollable. Even the Ents view the other sentient species (aside from Elves) with a pretty ambiguous view and consider "no one to be on my side", so it's not surpising that a particularly wild entish creature, more like an animal than a person at this stage I think, would be dangerous for anyone who wasn't an Ent to meet, regardless of whether they were evil themselves or not. It's not very safe to meet up with packs of wild animals either, but they're not evil in themselves.
Geoffrey Dow
10. ed-rex
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...

I'm with you on Merry and Pippin, Kate; not just here, but throughout the book (trilogy). Weirdly, I'm very fond of both of them and, with others here, this chapter is one of my favourites, but after reading TLOTR easily more than 20 times over the years, I still can't tell them apart.

Will it be Merry or Pippin who picks up the palantir and so travels to Minis Tirith with Gandalf? Er, Pippin - I think.

They're kind of like a benevolent version of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, actually delightful as types (young, enthusiastic hobbit types, but types nonetheless), but just about indistinguishable from one another to a reader such as myself.

It's never really bothered me before, but now that you've made it explicit I can't help but think Tolkien dropped the ol' characterization ball on the pair.
11. DemetriosX
While I do agree that there is frequently very little difference between Merry and Pippin as far as narrative voice goes, I must disagree with ed-rex@10 on their characterization. Pippin is more adventurous and impetuous, more given to jokes and complaints; Merry, on the other hand, is somewhat more mature, thinks more, knows more (having paid more attention, remember he is the source of exposition in Fangorn), and while still youthful is generally the more mature of the two. Pippin drops the rock down the well in Moria, Pippin picks up the palantir, Pippin sneaks a look into it later. Merry studied maps in Rivendell, Merry manages to drop his brooch as a sign, Merry figures out what's going on with the orcs and makes use of it. There's a definite difference.
Geoffrey Dow
12. ed-rex
DemetriosX @11: I agree that there are significant differences between Merry and Pippin in terms of what they do and I hope I didn't imply otherwise. But for me at least, the (eg) impetuous vs. mature actions didn't translate into characterizations that helped me to remember which was which.

For instance, as a reader I don't think it would have might the slightest emotional difference to me if it had been Pippin instead of Merry who will later ride with the Rihirrim to the rescue of Minas Tirith.

To me, they were always Frodo's Young Friends Who Came of Age In Battle, not Pippin and Merry about whom I cared as individuals, as real people.
13. SusanJames
Oh, this is great/interesting-how different readers view the same book. I adore Pippin and Merry and never confused them. One of my favorite Pippin lines is way back in the beginning- when he's so concerned about the Black Rider's "sniffing." My kids and I have a joke about that.

And then one of my favorite scenes- when fear makes them mistake little Merry on a pony for a Black Rider. After all the wierd events of that day (and realizing he knows much more than we think he does), its quite brave of Merry to be out alone looking for them. And he did it again in Bree.

One of the things I hated about the movie was how it simplified these two and, as with Gimli,played up the baffoon factor.
14. Marc Rikmenspoel
I find it interesting to read all this love for Hobbits. I know they are a major part of Tolkien's appeal for many readers. But for me and some others, they often take away from the grandeur of stories of High Elven kings and wars and tragedies, as found in The Silmarillion (and going back to Tolkien's original vision of Middle Earth in The Book of Lost Tales).

I liked Hobbits fine as a child, reading The Hobbit and LotR for the first time. But as I now approach 40, I start to become more sympathetic to Michael Moorcock's assessment of Sauron: "Anyone who hates Hobbits can't be all bad..."

Of course Moorcock intends that as a cynical joke, but it is still noteworthy that some readers can only really enjoy Tolkien's stories with Hobbits as "mediators" that bring the high and mighty down to more ordinary levels (as Tom Shippey has explored in his Author of the Century book), while others find them a detriment. I'm somewhere in the middle, coddling up to both sides ;-)
Kate Nepveu
15. katenepveu
Hi everyone--sorry for absence, cranky stomach decided to go for round 2.

I also think Old Man Willow was a tree that woke up, rather than a Huorn, but that's just my sense.

DemetriosX @ #11, technically Pippin dropped his brooch. => But I agree that they _are_ shown to be different people, I just can't hear that they narrate differently--maybe that they talk differently in more usual dialogue, I haven't really looked and will now.

Marc Rikmenspoel @ #14, I used to be all about the big grandeur and I'm finding myself much less so on this re-read, which is quite the surprise to me.
16. DBratman
Many readers have trouble telling Merry and Pippin apart. I don't, even when they're just talking (it's Merry who can't shut up, and Pippin who puts his foot in his mouth), but they're not particularly distinctive in this chapter.

Aragorn's curiosity about Shire pipeweed in Isengard is there from the early drafts, at which time the Scouring was still an amorphous concept, and Saruman was not to be personally present in it. I think as a heavy-handed foreshadowing this is entirely retrospective in the reader's mind ("Now that I know, it's obvious.")

On the other hand, it's interesting to see in the drafts that the Huorns are trees made Entish, rather than the other way around. I think the Old Forest trees are ones who woke up by themselves, and have no direct connection with the Ents, at least not a contemporary one. When they shift, as Merry notes at the time, they at least are not shooting out feet and shuffling around whenever the hobbits aren't looking.
17. DBratman
PS: Would it be possible to keep the index page updated? I use that to search for new posts, and it's always way behind: right now it's missing the last two posts. I missed this one's passage through the site's "Latest Posts" list, which is why I'm a couple days behind in commenting.
Andrew Foss
18. alfoss1540
Agree on the index page. I have been watching for this all week, only to search it out today.

I get a kick out of Merry and Pippin and smoking - after our noting Pippin not yet of age and both of them so young - just baggage. And then, we are hit with old English gentlemen and their smoking habits. As a former smoker, I cannot figure how they can be away from it for weeks or months at a time and then come back at it nostalgically. I would have been going nuts - and coughing uncontrollably at the first puff.

I love that the Hobbits' initial appearance everywhere such an overwhelming shock or wonder to all that see them. They are the stuff of legends in the world of Men. Frodo and Sam, being off on their own and in secret, have lees of this experience. It is usually Merry a

Kate - Thanks for pointing our that Gandalf mentioned the Elven ring bearers as the worthy adversaries for Saruman. Had not ever put that together before.
Fragano Ledgister
19. Fledgist
What's most interesting to me about this chapter is the fact that, after having gone through horrors that most people would find unspeakable, and after having roused the Ents to go to battle, not to mention having nearly drowned after being almost trapped in a flooding ruin, the two young hobbits response when reunited with their companions is to josh them. This is a rather intriguing way to deal with what was, after all, a horrific set of experiences.
20. DaveT
I have to agree with DBratman @ 16 that, while Merry and Pippin are usually quite distinct, you don't much see that in this chapter. I wonder if that's in part because both are in "storytelling mode", which tends to give them more similar diction than usual.

As far as their personalities go, I'm really surprised by the people who think they're mostly interchangeable. I have always empathized strongly with Merry, and only grudgingly came to like Pippin at all as he grew up over the course of the books.

Flidgist @ 19, I think the jocular, dismissive reaction to horrors is very much a British idealized response -- gallows humor, stiff upper lip, and all that. Tolkien would have been intimately familiar with it from his war experiences.
Kate Nepveu
21. katenepveu
Hey guys, sorry about the index page; the person who'd been responsible for it was on vacation. I am now going to try and remember to do it myself, so you can yell directly at me if I forget. =>

alfoss1540, is this a point in favor of pipe-weed not being tobacco?

Fledgist, I wonder how much Tolkien had to exaggerate the hobbits' responses out of his own experience and how much it was just straight-up modeled on people he knew.
22. TA Widman
Regarding the foreshadowing of the Scouring of the Shire: It is said in the appendices that Saruman took up smoking after Gandalf. Saruman could not accept Gandalf's liking for the Shire/hobbits...he believed Gandalf must have some alterior motive for guarding them. Which led Saruman to get involved. Also his envy and insecurity regarding Gandalf led him to take up smoking as well. He would always remember that Gandalf was first to be nominated as head of the White Council.

Some random thoughts;) But I think this whole episode begins to reveal this in Saruman...though you're does seem a bit too spelled out.
Kate Nepveu
23. katenepveu
TA Widman, I'd forgotten that about the smoking, but the not believing in a lack of ulterior motives is, alas, very Saruman, isn't it?
Chris Meadows
24. Robotech_Master
Wonder if I'm the only one to be pulled out of immersion a bit by the phrase "misty, moisty morning."

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