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.
6 thoughts on ““Fool of a Took!” Gandalf and Pippin at The Well in The Guardroom in Moria.”
I really didn’t think of that, but I agree. We do see Gandalf as a mentor to Frodo first in the story (and to Bilbo in the previous tale). Frodo especially seems to understand Gandalf very well and does not need to spend as much time with him as Bilbo, his predecessor, did. I have heard it argued that Frodo sort of begins where Bilbo left off in that respect to an extent. Of course, Frodo still had a bit to learn from Gandalf, especially in his treatment of Gollum, but Gandalf’s words at the beginning were good enough for him to remember later on. And you are correct also about Faramir. I hadn’t thought about Aragorn so much, but he could very well have been a pupil of Gandalf’s (although I am sure he learned a fair deal from Elrond and even Galadriel as well). Connecting this back to Pippin, I think Frodo starts out far more spiritually grown than Pippin (partly due to him being twice his age, although perhaps for other reasons). Hence it can be noted that I think of the four hobbits Pippin is probably the one with whom Gandalf spends the most time. But yes, Pippin is a different pupil, but a relatable one.
Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. There is much to ponder in it.
I really like the idea that Frodo begins where Bilbo left off. I agree with that. Frodo is a thinker and I am sure that this is much to Bilbo’s credit. But Frodo really does get what Gandalf is saying to him; so much so that it takes him by surprise. As for Aragorn, he does have all three of the Elven ringbearers as his teachers but my own feeling is that for Elrond in particular this is mixed with Elrond’s fear that he will lose Arwen. Gandalf does not have anything to lose. He seeks nothing for himself. Aragorn acknowledges his debt to Gandalf when he makes the speech to the company in Moria about which I wrote last week. “I have been on many journeys with him.”
But Pippin is different. I don’t think that Gandalf has much expectation of him. He simply loves him. Pippin seems to have this effect on people. Not just Gandalf but Treebeard and even Denethor. He softens the hearts of these characters. Gandalf is comforted. Treebeard is aroused to action. Sadly for Denethor it is too late.
Yes, that is true. I had not thought of that, but the three people on whom Pippin really seems to have an effect are actually among the oldest. Treebeard is the oldest being of Middle-Earth who still lives (probably with the exception of Bombadil, but he is an enigma). Gandalf is an incarnate Maia who existed before the foundation of Arda and now lives as a careworn Wizard. Denethor is 89, which would be ancient among Men, especially before modern hygiene and healthcare. Pippin is the youngest of the hobbits and the youngest of the main characters. I think he sort of awakens a childlike aspect in all of them, which I am sure must be pleasant to those who are so old. One could argue the same of Merry with Treebeard and Théoden (and, of course, Gandalf’s words which you quoted were actually addressed to him), but I don’t think it is as plain as with Pippin.
The childlike aspect awakened is certainly pleasant as many grandparents will affirm. I hope that one day I will be a grandfather and look at the world through the eyes of a child once again. I suspect that it will be a different experience to that of being a father. I even wonder if it might be a ‘necessary’ experience. The thought of living in a retirement community fills me with horror!
In a playful way I wonder if Saruman and Denethor have both settled into their retirement communities. Saruman in Orthanc and Denethor in the Tower of the Guard. Both have grown old in a way that is not true of Treebeard and Gandalf. I don’t mean that Saruman and Denethor play golf all day long. They would have caused less damage to the world if they did. But life has become a business of power. Getting it and holding onto it. Denethor has in a sense grown old before his time. The blood of Númenor “runs true in his veins” and yet, although he is the same age as Aragorn, he is old while Aragorn is in his prime.
Nice piece about the Gandalf/Pippin relationship. Thank you for this.
On Sat, Nov 13, 2021 at 1:24 AM Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings wrote:
> stephencwinter posted: ” 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” >
Many thanks, Joe. Glad that you liked it.