Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Pippin, the Fool of a Took!

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week’s installment takes a look at Peregrin Took, the beloved Pippin whose clueless wonder lightens the heart in many dark places.

Pippin always seems to be an obvious choice for favorite among the hobbits, especially for young readers of The Lord of the Rings. He’s funny, naïve, endlessly loyal: rash with a dash of Tookish bravery (or foolishness) that often lands him in unfortunate situations. His endearing relationship with Gandalf is another point in his favor, for though the wizard only grudgingly accepts Pippin’s energetic, youthful failures, he also slowly comes to bond with the young hobbit in a grouchy, grandfatherly sort of way. Pippin plagues the ancient wizard, and they both know it. But it’s not as if Pippin remains a stagnant character who experiences no growth or maturity over the course of the narrative.

In fact, he is growing wiser and more competent all the time, perhaps taking a page out of his cousin Merry’s book. He still makes mistakes, of course, but they can be categorized less and less as mistakes of thoughtlessness and more and more as mistakes of a generous spirit. By the time he reaches Minas Tirith with Gandalf on the eve of the Siege of Gondor, Pippin has come so far that he impulsively throws himself on his knees before a man of whom he knows next to nothing, and pledges to him his entire life in service. It is hard to imagine the Pippin who pouted over missing “the best beer in the Eastfarthing” doing such a thing (LotR 88).

As it turns out, however, we very nearly missed out on Pippin altogether. Pippin does not appear in the drafts until what Christopher Tolkien refers to as “the fourth phase” of the writing process, which roughly corresponds to the sixth version of Chapter 1 and the fourth of Chapter 3, which is where “Peregrin Boffin” makes his initial appearance. (Chapter 2 had undergone many unnumbered and substantial revisions at this point; CT says it was “ultimately one of the most worked upon in all The Lord of the Rings” [The Treason of Isengard, hereafter TI, 21].) Later, in the same manuscript of Chapter 3, the name Peregrin Boffin was scribbled out and replaced more or less consistently with Peregrin Took (TI 30). Pippin’s name does not appear as the text was being written (rather than being a correction inserted afterwards) until a complete re-writing of Chapter 5 (TI 30).

Prior to this, there were what might be called “hints” of Pippin’s character present in the drafts. In The Return of the Shadow [RS], before he had successfully gathered all the drafts that would become The Treason of Isengard in the History of Middle-earth series, Christopher Tolkien remarked that “it made be said simply that ‘Odo’ became ‘Pippin’ while Frodo Took disappeared: of the individual speeches in this chapter which remained into FR [The Fellowship of the Ring] almost ever remark that was made by Odo was afterwards given to Pippin. But,” he adds somewhat wearily, “the way in which this came about was in fact strangely tortuous, and was by no means a simple substitution of one name for another” (RS 70). On the road to Bree, for instance, many of the characteristics, actions, and speeches later identified with Pippin are spread about between a few hobbits who were later themselves transformed or discarded entirely (see especially 324, 328).

Even when the text reached Rivendell, Pippin was still absent: the party then consisted of Frodo, Sam, Merry, Odo, and Folco (RS 365-366). Odo was present, in fact, because he had been kidnapped in Crickhollow and later rescued by Gandalf and brought to Rivendell (we can see here a vague suggestion of Fredegar Bolger’s later role).

The names Peregrin and Paladin (as son and father, respectively) do appear in a note appended to a new opening of the text, but not in relation to the characters who would inhabit the published Lord of the Rings (RS 386). In fact, for a short time Tolkien assumed that “Peregrin Bolger” was the true name of Trotter, the hobbit-in-disguise with wooden shoes who slowly and tediously evolves into Aragorn, son of Arathorn.

It was not until Peregrin “Pippin” Took entered the drafts as an individual, substantial character that Christopher Tolkien could properly chart the serpentine course of his evolution. Pippin’s is not as straightforward as that of others. Christopher writes that it is helpful to see in the proliferation of drafts and hobbits “a single or particular hobbit-character, who appears under an array of names: Odo, Frodo, Folco, Faramond, Peregrin, Hamilcar, Fredegar, and the very ephemeral Olo,” who is “cheerful, nonchalant, irrepressible, commonsensical, limited and extremely fond of his creature comforts” (TI 31). But again, it’s not all that simple, and ultimately too tortured to be properly laid out here. The curious should see page 70 in The Return of the Shadow and pages 30-32 in The Treason of Isengard for more information.

By the revision of “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony,” however, “‘Pippin’ was firmly established” (TI 76), though he plays little role in events or conversation until the small company reaches Rivendell.

At this point, however, we nearly lose our friend Pippin again. Tolkien planned to leave the young hobbit behind in Rivendell. In fact, Gandalf says that Pippin “would go with [Frodo] out of love for [him], if he were bidden […]; but his heart is not in such perilous adventures,” despite the fact that he loves Frodo dearly (TI 115). Thus Pippin, like Merry, was to be left behind at Rivendell, not to be seen again: as Christopher notes, “For a brief while my father evidently suspected that Meriadoc and the [then-named] Faramond/Peregrin would be superfluous in what he conceived to be the last stage of the Quest” (TI 115). (Of course, it’s important to note that the “last stage of Quest” was at this point only another few chapters or so, as Tolkien didn’t suspect the “Hobbit sequel” to be any longer than its predecessor.) In fact, Tolkien thought that perhaps Pippin might stay behind and ultimately return to the Shire even after he had decided that Merry would accompany the Fellowship (TI 162). He made the final decision before moving forward on the draft, however—though even then he little suspected that Pippin and Merry would become central to the salvation of the West.

Again, Pippin plays a markedly small role in the drafts up to Moria, as he does in the published tale. However, when Tolkien reached Moria he paused to write a projection, a sort of outline, of what he thought would come next (which just goes to show you how little authors know of what they’re actually doing)—and here we almost lose Pippin once again. “Somehow or other Frodo and Sam must be found in Gorgoroth,” he wrote. “Possibly by Merry and Pippin. (If any one of the hobbits is slain it must be the cowardly Pippin doing something brave. For instance–” And here the outline ends, tantalizing us with never-recorded imaginings of Pippin’s brave self-sacrifice (TI 211).

This idea was, of course, rejected. Before moving forward, Tolkien made an important decision. He determined that it would be Merry and Pippin who would meet Treebeard, rather than Frodo, and thus “Merry and Pippin now move into a central position in the story,” as “through them Treebeard […] comes to play a part in the breaking of the siege of Minas Tirith” (TI 214). It would eventually be Isengard, not Minas Tirith, to which Treebeard would march; regardless, this signals the growing significance of the two hobbits who until now had been rather insignificant side-characters, very much the sort of baggage Merry would later protest against being lumped in with. Indeed, there is a small indication in an outline, “on a small, isolated scrap of paper,” that “Merry and Pippin become important” (TI 286). No further details were offered.

Stopping once again to look ahead, this time in Lórien, Tolkien suggest that Merry and Pippin, becoming separated from the Company, “are lost—led astray by echoes—in the hunt [for Frodo], and wander away up the Entwash River and come to Fangorn” (TI 329-330). But the narrative was still in flux. Later, Tolkien jotted down (but also later crossed out) the note that “it could be Merry and Pippin that had adventure in Minas Morgul if Treebeard is cut out” (TI 339). But clearly Treebeard wasn’t going anywhere; he had haunted the tale too long for that. Once this point was established, Tolkien plowed forward with little resistance: most of the changes made to Merry and Pippin’s narrative from this stage forward are minor equivocations and quibbling with details, insofar as we can be aware.

I say this here because the early drafting process for “The Uruk-hai” chapter has been lost; for Tolkien wrote it first in pencil, then the new draft over the old in pen, after which he erased the penciled draft beneath (TI 408). The draft we do have is “astonishingly close to its final form,” but this is likely only the case because we can no longer access the ambiguities and experimentation of the earlier draft (TI 409).

This is not the case with the “Treebeard” chapter, which Tolkien once boasted “did indeed very largely ‘write itself’”—at least once he had determined that it would be Merry and Pippin who fell in with Treebeard rather than Legolas and Gimli, as it was in an earlier draft (TI 411).

At this point, however, the significance of Pippin and Merry once again curiously recedes. In a set of notes which Christopher Tolkien labels “The Story Foreseen from Fangorn,” JRRT notes that after a battle along the Isen, rather than one at Helm’s Deep, “the horsemen of Rohan ride East [to the siege of Minas Tirith], with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry and Pippin” (TI 437). So in this version, we actually lose the whole story of Pippin’s transgression with the palantír and his subsequent conveyance to Minas Tirith post-haste on the back of Shadowfax.

The addition of the palantír came only gradually, especially as Tolkien found himself coming up against brick walls multiple times around this point in the story, and in response took breaks from the writing process that, in one case, lasted nearly two years.

Tolkien’s work on the chapter “The Palantír” is thus rough and uncertain; Christopher notes that his father clearly didn’t know exactly where the story was headed from Isengard, nor was he aware that Pippin’s actions would set into motion the beginning of the End (The War of the Ring, hereafter WR, 68). For instance, at one point, Gandalf takes out the “globe” to make sure it remains dark by night and “shows little”: he is reassured by what he finds, but the companions do catch a faint glimpse of Osgiliath in its murky depths (WR 69). Gandalf’s later caution in handling the palantír is remarkably absent, as Tolkien did not yet know the extent of the stones’ power. A bit later, for example, Tolkien notes that Gandalf “could not make out [how] to use it,” finding it “capricious” (WR 71). Again, at this point, Pippin’s role is not only absent, but entirely unforeseen. In fact, the whole issue is introduced by a rather innocuous phrase in an outline: “Then [i.e., next] episode of Pippin and Stone” (WR 72). The outline offers no further information save a seemingly (at this point in the narrative evolution) non sequitur remark by Gandalf: “Gandalf says this is how Saruman fell. He studied such matters” (WR 72).

As the drafting process continued, Gandalf’s vision of Osgiliath is absorbed into Pippin’s experience (WR 73), and once the idea was conceived, the entire episode closely resembles the published version of events, being “achieved all at once in all essentials,” not considering, of course, minor revisions of phrasing and details (WR 73).

Here, as Gandalf and Pippin left Edoras for the White Tower, Tolkien halted once more. “Foresight had failed,” he later wrote, “and there was no time for thought” (WR 77). He quit work on the manuscript for over a year, and upon taking it up again noted that “it is a painful sticky business getting into swing again” (WR 78). It seems he was uncertain of just how far-reaching and influential the actions of Peregrin Took would turn out to be. In the published version of The Lord of the Rings, Pippin’s foolhardy theft of the Stone prompts Sauron into action before he is fully prepared, leaving open the smallest chance of victory for the beleaguered West. The drafts are notably silent on this point.

Once he did start working again, Tolkien repeatedly found himself mired in problems of chronology and purpose, which explains many of the complexities Christopher notes in the drafts (for an example of this, see WR 140-143). The resolution of these issues is primarily marked in the text by small details like moon phases, storms, and of course, as Tom Shippey has noted, the crossing of the Nazgul back and forth over the heads of the sundered Fellowship.

According to the original beginning of Book V, Pippin and Gandalf were to have been present in Minas Tirith when Gondor was defeated in the great siege (WR 231). This was, obviously, later abandoned, but suggests quite a different outcome for the young hobbit than he otherwise got.

And this continues to be true. Tolkien, much like the Big People of his tale, consistently underestimates Pippin’s influence. For example, Christopher explains that there exist “half a dozen outlines sketching the content of” the fifth book. Tolkien “was determined that The Lord of the Rings should extend to one further ‘part’ only” (WR 255). The story is therefore in many places shrunken compared to its published and final stage even where the major evens remain the same. One major point is absent, however: Denethor’s mad attempt to burn his son alive is not intimated in any way, and thus Pippin’s rise to heroism is also missing (WR 260). Pippin still swears his impulsive oath to the granite-faced Steward, but this allegiance came with no real complications in the early drafts; indeed, in one version it is Gandalf who swears him in (WR 282)!

Again, Pippin’s potential is consistently overlooked. The young son of Beregond mockingly calls him “a ferret in the garb of a rabbit” (WR 285), and Pippin himself feels overwhelmed and unworthy of his new position, realizing for perhaps the first time that “this was a deadly serious matter, and no masquerade in borrowed plumes” (WR 325).

This all seems to change when Pippin’s quick actions save the life of Faramir, and Merry, on the battlefield of the Pelennor, distracts the Lord of the Nazgûl from his killing spree. Gandalf, perhaps like Tolkien, acknowledges that the deeds of the day would’ve been “far more grievous,” for “Faramir and Éowyn would be dead, and the Black Captain would be abroad to work ruin on all hope” (WR 387).

And yet the lesson didn’t immediately stick. Pippin is, originally, left behind when the company rides for the Black Gate, for as Aragorn says, it “will lighten [Merry’s] grief if you stay with him” (WR 415). A few paragraphs later, however, in what may have been an acknoweldgement of Pippin’s mettle as a soldier and of his right to represent his race before the threat of Sauron, Tolkien “decided that Pippin did in fact go with the host to the Black Gate, and he began” the passage again (WR 416). Pippin now carries himself honorably into the fight, and is nearly lost, save for Gimli’s patient and dedicated search for him beneath the heaps of slain on the battlefield.

Even then, Tolkien seemed reluctant to give free rein to Pippin’s abilities and competence. The young hobbit’s role in the Scouring of the Shire is minor compared with the published version. Similarly, in the early drafting stages of the chapter “The Grey Havens” “nothing is said of the hunting out of the gangs of men in the south of the Shire by Merry and Pippin” (Sauron Defeated, hereafter SD, 108).

Why this reluctance to give Peregrin Took an impactful part in the narrative? I don’t suppose it was entirely conscious on Tolkien’s part, though he does admit that he discarded many early, more comic scenes at the behest of C.S. Lewis. He “never really liked hobbits very much, least of all Merry and Pippin,” Tolkien later lamented. “But a great number of readers do, and would like more than they have got” (376). Clearly, he regretted not allowing Pippin and Merry more space in the narrative.

On the one hand, we might wish to recognize that Pippin in many ways is put in the story to represent a “type.” He is a Took; having Pippin around doubtless helps us understand why it helped that Frodo and Bilbo had Tookish blood—but importantly, not too much of it. Pippin (or a character like him) would not, I suspect, have filled the role of sacrificial hero well. More important to Pippin’s story is that fact that he learns how to be a little more like Frodo: a little more ready to give up his own desires and freedoms for the good of others. The episode with the palantír, and his remembrance of Boromir’s sacrifice as he stands before Denethor, seem to teach him this painful lesson. This is Pippin’s growth into maturity, and it becomes him.

Most importantly, I think Pippin’s character is appealing because he is so charmingly unassuming. He doesn’t put on airs, even before lords like Denethor (Tolkien notes that the people of Gondor probably assumed Pippin was of a high rank in his own country because he talks to the Lord Denethor as an equal and a familiar); he isn’t cowed by the severity of Gandalf and he still childishly refers to Aragorn as “Strider” in the presence of the latter’s bemused subjects. He’s too young, too happy, and too immature to be bogged down by the shadows of the world like Frodo is. Unlike Merry, he hasn’t had to be the one that everybody depended on. He’s not a servant or a working-class hobbit like Sam, who undoubtedly had seen at least some hardship in his life. Pippin is carefree and innocent, and as such he is a breath of fresh air in the musty, heavy atmosphere of a world on the brink of ruin. Pippin is wide-eyed with wonder at the world: sometimes he reacts foolishly and instinctively; sometimes he falls over his own feet or runs into walls because he is distracted—but we love him all the more for it.

Megan N. Fontenot is a dedicated Tolkien scholar and fan who has been abundantly encouraged and inspired by the examples and influence of Tolkien’s characters. Catch her on Twitter @MeganNFontenot1 and feel free to request a favorite character while you’re there!

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