When I wrote last week’s blog post on Denethor’s cry of despair that “the West has failed” I came across something that took me by surprise. That moment came when I read Pippin’s speech to Denethor after he is released from the Steward’s service. It is a speech of some nobility and it shows how far Pippin has come since he looked into the Stone of Orthanc just a few days before. He is becoming the “very valiant man” that Gandalf declared him to be when they passed through the outer defences of the Pelennor Fields. He is making the kind of journey that someone with good foundations will make when those foundations are challenged. He will grow up into mature adulthood and become a source of strength to others.
“I will take your leave, sir,” he said; “for I want to see Gandalf very much indeed. But he is no fool; and I will not think of dying until he despairs of life. But from my word and your service I do not wish to be released while you live. And if they come at last to the Citadel, I hope to be here and stand beside you and earn perhaps the arms that you have given me.”
In saying this Pippin displays a kind of courage that was very dear to Tolkien and one that he saw in the heroic tales of northern lands. It is a courage that is not dependant on a happy outcome. It is a courage that is most truly displayed when hope is lost. We see it in the cheerfulness of spirit that Merry and Pippin display when they are prisoners of the orcs and when the Ents march upon Isengard. And we see its absence in Denethor’s despair. The Tolkien scholar, Tom Shippey, puts it this way. “Its great statement was that defeat is no refutation. The right side remains right even if it has no ultimate hope at all.”
This is courage indeed and it requires great inner strength to maintain it. And in Pippin’s speech we get an idea of where he finds that strength. “I will not think of dying until he [Gandalf] despairs of life.” All through the story the young hobbits have been aware of being of no great significance to the final outcome of the quest. For Merry this realisation has been a burden. He feels himself to be an item of baggage in someone else’s story and it hurts him to feel in this way. Pippin is not burdened in the same way. He is happy to leave the big decisions, even the big beliefs, in more competent hands. If Gandalf has not given in, well, then neither will Peregrin Took.
Let us not judge the value of Pippin’s courageous choice and find it wanting because it seems to require the greater courage and faith of someone else. Pippin does make brave choices and when he urges Beregond to stop great harm coming to Faramir he inspires a brave choice in another. But he is content, not to be a leader, but a follower. What matters is that he has a worthy cause to give his “gentle loyalty” to and a captain worth following.
If we think about this with some care we will come to this conclusion. We are all followers in certain aspects of life and if our leaders are of the right quality then it will be easier for us to keep going even in challenging times. Equally if our captains let us down our own capacity to keep on going gets a little harder. And we will also realise that other people depend upon us to keep going and that we must not let them down. We are all part of a community that needs each other and sometimes we can be surprised how widely that community extends and that people look to us that we rarely think about. Faramir will survive his father’s despair because Beregond gains strength from Pippin.
6 thoughts on “Pippin Follows His Captain”
There is certainly nothing wanting in Pippin’s courage. If he didn’t have it, he couldn’t give it, as he does twice to Beregond. This is also the courage Eomer will display upon seeing the Corsair ships – he does not collapse in despair, he defiantly laughs at it. Gotta to love them both. 🙂
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Now Eomer’s laughter is most certainly Tolkien’s “northern” courage. When are you most defiant? It is when defeat stares you in the face. For us in Britain it is Churchill in 1940. I expect it Eomer. He expected it of himself. But I think that Pippin takes himself by surprise. What do you think?
Could be. It’s been a while since I read the books last. Certainly ‘movie Pippin’ would have been surprised and I think book Pippin too may be too. Frodo is not the only one who grows very much, as Saruman notes of the Ring-bearer. The Pippin who teased Frodo on the way to Crickhollow about it being silly that Frodo wanted to eat and think at the same time (one of my favorite moments) has matured a lot. As you note, Gandalf certainly sees it even if Pippin himself doesn’t.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
More and more I find myself asking why it is that certain characters grow while others do not? A character like Saruman, with all the gifts that he has, and the confidence of the Valar with which he comes to Middle-earth should grow, just as Gandalf does. By contrast, what does Pippin have? And yet he is the one who grows.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the following two moments: 1) where Pippin falls asleep on the ride to Minas Tirith and Shadowfax seems to be a statue while the world is what’s moving past; and 2) where Merry is overwhelmed by the vastness of Middle-earth. I haven’t quite worked out what I want to say about these two moments, but they seem to me transitional in Merry and Pippin’s stories.
Thank you so much for those two moments. The sense that the hobbits are in a story that is far too big for them seems a very important theme in the story. I love the moment right at the beginning of the story when the Gaffer declares of his son, “Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you”. And of course the Gaffer is absolutely right! What the Gaffer doesn’t know is that the same trouble will find him out and he will be completely unprepared for it.
There are times when it suddenly strikes me that people don’t know how uncertain the world is. They think that what they have is “normal” and expect predictability as normal too. I love those moments of awakening that you describe. I hope that you will write about them.