The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 303-306
The weary travellers have come to a place in which three choices lie before them. Not that it is the Company that will make the choice. Every one of them has given this task to Gandalf. He is the guide through the vast mines of Khazad-dûm. But at this point Gandalf is unsure about which way to go and too weary to make a decision. There is a guardroom nearby and they decide to rest within it.
At the centre of the room there is a well that is completely unprotected and Pippin is strangely drawn towards it. Is it Aragorn’s words of warning that have this effect? “One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to hit the bottom.” How deep is the well? Pippin needs to know and so he drops a stone into it. It is many seconds before the stone plunges into water in the depths below and when it does it makes a sound that reverberates around the cavernous walls of the well.
It is necessary now for engineers to suspend their disbelief. We have reflected on other occasions about the weaving of history and mythology within The Lord of the Rings and it is clear now that we have entered the realms of mythology, that which never happened but is always true. While we cannot conceive a well so deep that to raise a bucket of water by hand would be a task that would take a very long time indeed we can and do conceive abysmal depths in “the dark places of the earth”. We both fear such places within our own psyche and, as with Pippin, are strangely drawn towards them.
Perhaps we are both afraid of and drawn towards what might lie there. “Tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom”
“That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,” says Gimli. Has something been awoken by Pippin’s “foolish stone” that should have been left undisturbed? Should we ever awaken that which lies deep within us?
“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf growls at Pippin. “This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!” And poor Pippin is given the first watch, “as a reward”.
Some readers may recall a gruff old teacher from their childhood experience of school. One who they respected but also feared, if only for the angry rebuke that they might occasionally receive. The relationship between Gandalf and Pippin seems very much like that of master and pupil. Pippin is not one of those brilliant pupils such as is Aragorn or Faramir or Frodo. Each of these come to understand the mind of their master to such a degree that he is able to entrust any task to them and know that they will carry it out, not just because they have become capable of doing so but also because they carry the meaning of that task in their hearts even as he does. There is a sense in which Aragorn, Faramir and Frodo become sons to Gandalf and in the case of Faramir in particular this becomes a source of resentment, one of many, in Denethor, Faramir’s biological father.
Pippin is a different kind of pupil. In his saving of the life of Faramir he displays that he understands the heart of his master. But Pippin does something else that I am not sure that any of Gandalf’s other pupils do. He awakens affection in the heart of the gruff old wizard. This is not because of his aptitude or ability but because of his childlike nature. Later in the story after Pippin’s misadventure with the Stone of Orthanc Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, to keep him from any further mischief, but also, I think, because at this crucial moment in Gandalf’s long life, he needs Pippin. Pippin brings a comfort to Gandalf that no-one else can. “All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care, to teach them the meaning of the word.” Even now in the fearful dark of Moria, with the terrible abyss of the well close by, Gandalf soon relieves Pippin of his lonely duty, speaks kindly to him and sends him off to get some sleep. The guide is watching over all his charges and we can all rest. For a little while at least.