“Fangorn is My Name.” Merry and Pippin Meet Treebeard on a Hill in The Forest.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp. 600-607

Merry and Pippin make their escape from the Orcs up the Entwash into the Forest of Fangorn and at first they are driven by fear of their captors. But at last they pause, struggling for breath in the stifling stillness of the forest and try to assess their position. Which way should they go and what provision do they have for their journey?

A careful examination of their position would not give the hobbits much hope. They have only lembas to eat and enough for only five days and where will they go? But we have already seen that they are content to live in the moment and soon their curiosity about their immediate surroundings begins to grow and, for a while at least, concern for their prospects fades away.

It is the age of the forest that fascinates them and the feeling of age. Pippin likens the forest to the “old room in the Great Place of the Tooks”, where the Old Took, Gerontius, who Bilbo knew, lived year after year while the room grew old about him. “But that is nothing to the old feeling of this wood.”

Anke Eissmann’s characterful depiction of Merry and Pippin in Fangorn Forest

The moment in which the young hobbits meet Treebeard for the very first time is handled very differently in Peter Jackson’s film than it is in Tolkien’s original telling of the story. The obvious difference is that Tolkien gives us no pursuing orcs. They are lying slain on the grass of Rohan by this point and Grishnákh was killed while trying to take the hobbits to Mordor. But the other difference is that there seems to be a complete absence of fear on the part of Merry and Pippin as they are lifted from the ground by “a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen feet high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck.” I will come back to this strange absence of fear next week in my reflection. As always I do not consider it to be an oversight on Tolkien’s part, one that Peter Jackson corrects.

What we are given is wonder. The first thing that Merry and Pippin become aware of is Treebeard’s eyes and it is Pippin, the one who is normally unreflective, who tries to describe those eyes.

“One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long slow steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present; like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground- asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years.”

What Pippin seems to be describing is nature itself in all its heartbreaking beauty. I say heartbreaking because even as we read these words we are so aware of the fragility of the world that Treebeard expresses and represents. And in this Tolkien reveals himself as a modern writer who is aware that nature is standing at bay as a debased culture, orc like in its character, knows only one relationship to the natural world and that is dominance, abuse and rape.

One of my pleasures in writing these reflections is seeking for appropriate artwork to aid them. Although I enjoyed the films that Peter Jackson made and, in particular, loved the landscapes within which he set the story I have found much more help for my own work from the imaginations of artists. This week I have used an image by the excellent Anke Eissmann once again who finds such character in the faces of Merry and Pippin and I have found a wonderful depiction of Treebeard’s face by Alan Lee. If Eissmann always gives us character in her work Lee gives us mystery. There is a transcendent quality to all his work. Each image is a kind of portal to a reality beyond the surface that can be touched or simply regarded. This is certainly true of his depiction of Treebeard and as I looked at it I began to see a likeness to his depiction of the figure of Merlin in Bragdon Wood from C.S Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Again, in future weeks, I want to come back to this likeness. I do not know if it was intentional on Lee’s part but that sense that something is awakening, emerging from the earth in both Treebeard and Merlin, is one that excites, even intoxicates me. I hope that you will enjoy this exploration with me and that, perhaps, you will share your insights and responses in the comments section below.

Alan Lee depicts Treebeard as if emerging from the earth
And here is Alan Lee’s depiction of Merlin emerging from the earth of Bragdon Wood. I hope that you will enjoy comparing the two.

“You Seem to Have Been Doing Well, Master Took.” Merry and Pippin Escape From The Orcs Into Fangorn Forest.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp. 591-599

The Orcs have taken Merry and Pippin close to the eaves of Fangorn Forest on their way towards Isengard but there they are halted by Éomer’s company who swiftly surround them with a ring of watch fires in the night. Neither side make any move until a small group of the Riders come in close, slip off their horses and kill several orcs before disappearing into the night. Uglúk and the orcs who had been guarding the hobbits dash off to stop a general stampede and the hobbits are left with Grishnákh, a terrible orc from Mordor.

Inger Edelfelt depicts the cruel captivity of Merry and Pippin.

It soon becomes clear that Grishnákh has been sent from Mordor with orders to bring hobbits back to Barad-dur and it even seems that he knows something about the Ring. Pippin becomes aware of this first and begins to make noises that imitate Gollum. We can only assume that he knows about Gollum’s mannerisms from stories that Bilbo would have told as he has never met him but the noises have their effect. Grishnákh is almost overcome with desire and picks up the hobbits, one under each arm, and tries to escape between the fires.

He does not succeed. He is killed by the Riders who miss the hobbits in the dark and so Merry and Pippin are able to make their escape.

Later there is a charming scene in which Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli succeed in tracking the route that Merry and Pippin take from the orc encampment into the Forest of Fangorn. Legolas tries to make sense of the hobbits’ escape.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli try to make some sense out of the chaos of battle.

“A bound prisoner escapes both from the Orcs and from the surrounding horsemen. He then stops while still in the open, and cuts his bonds with an orc-knife. But how and why? For if his legs were tied, how did he walk? And if his arms were tied, how did he use the knife? And if neither were tied, why did he cut the cords at all? Being pleased with his skill, he then sat down and quietly ate some waybread! That is enough to show that he was a hobbit, without the mallorn-leaf. After that, I suppose, he turned his arms into wings and flew away singing into the trees. It should be easy to find him: we only need wings ourselves.”

The answer to the question about the knife is that earlier in the forced march across the plains of Rohan there had been a bloody argument amongst the hobbits’ captors about what to do with their prisoners. In the brief moment of chaos that followed the fight before Uglúk was able to restore control Pippin was able to cut the cords that bound him using the knife of one of the orcs that had been killed. He quickly retied them loosely before his captors were able to find out what he had done and so it was that after Grishnákh was killed he was able to use his freed hands to use Grishnákh’s sword to cut the other bonds and so he and Merry were able to make their escape. Merry is impressed by his friend’s inventiveness, hence his remark that Pippin has done “rather well”.

But before they complete their escape Pippin takes a mallorn leaf filled with wafers of lembas, removes some of them from the leaf and shares them with Merry. And soon the taste of lembas brings back to the hobbits “the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away.”

Tolkien drew upon his belief in the efficacy of the eucharist in his creation of lembas. He outlined that belief in a letter he wrote to his son, Christopher.

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.”

Tolkien went on to tell his son that the more frequently he received the sacrament the more he would be nourished by it and when Frodo and Sam find that they have nothing else to eat in their journey through Mordor than lembas Tolkien remarks that they were more sustained by it than if they had mixed it with other forms of food. Merry and Pippin find new strength and cheerfulness after the trauma of their cruel treatment at the hands of their captors and so continue their journey into Fangorn.

Tolkien drew upon his experience of the blessed sacrament in his creation of lembas.

“Where Do We Get Bed and Breakfast?” On Merry and Pippin and Coping With Difficulties.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp.583-591

I was going to give this piece the title of “On Hobbits and Coping With Difficulties” but then I asked myself the question, “how would Ted Sandyman deal with this?”, or Lotho Sackville Baggins or the Shirrifs who arrest Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on their return to the Shire after all their adventures? The point is that hobbits have as much variety in character as any other people.

So let us return to the way in which Merry and Pippin try to cope with the horror of being taken prisoner by orcs. In last week’s piece we found Pippin briefly giving into self-pity and we saw that this is a trope that runs through the story up until the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. But then we saw how Pippin rapidly turned from this to the practical problem of getting free. Pippin, in particular, is not given to very much introspection but both he and Merry share a particular quality together and that is to try to make light of difficulty by the use of humour.

How do you keep your spirits up in a difficult situation?

Later in the story Merry will speak of this to Aragorn in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.

“It is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.”

You only have to open your mouth in England and say a few words and the person with whom you are speaking will begin the process of placing you in a particular social background and will start to treat you accordingly. But class is not something that is set in stone in English culture. It is possible to move from a lower to higher class. Education plays an important role in this process and Tolkien’s education at King Edward’s school in Birmingham and at Oxford University meant that when war came in 1914 he was made an officer and not placed among the ranks.

They could be Merry and Pippin in search of Bed and Breakfast on a walking holiday.

And it is in the rhythms of speech and the language used by Tolkien’s fellow officers that we will find Merry and Pippin. The use of “light words” is not only a characteristic of the officer class in England it is regarded as essential behaviour. And so Merry speaks of the horror of being taken captive by orcs as “a little expedition” a country walking holiday at the end of which “bed and breakfast” will be found in a pleasant country cottage. By speaking in this manner Merry signals to Pippin that he is alright and Pippin is reassured. And so we see the interplay in The Lord of the Rings between the England of the early 20th century in which Tolkien grew up and the heroic age whose literature Tolkien loved. Again it is an interplay about which Merry and Pippin comment in Minas Tirith when Pippin speaks of having to live “on the heights” as he is brought out of the Shire, the England of the early 20th century, into the heroic world that is represented by Aragorn and Faramir, for example.

We might briefly comment upon the Orcs before concluding these thoughts. Readers of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis might remember how Lewis comments on how, in The Magician’s Nephew, Frank, the London cab driver (my grandfather’s profession by the way), begins to revert to the country style of speech that he would have used before moving to London in search of work. This style of speech is the same that Sam Gamgee uses and Lewis is commenting on this reversion favourably. The opposite direction of travel is towards an urban style of speech that is used by Bill Sykes in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, for example, and expresses his brutal nature. This is the language of the Orcs. Both Tolkien and Lewis hated the effect, as they saw it, that urban living had upon people and it is no mistake that the orcs often live in the industrial landscapes of Isengard and Mordor. Could Orcs make the same journey that Frank does in The Magician’s Nephew? I will leave that question to my readers.

Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard. Bill is an orc in the making.

“Just a Nuisance: a Passenger, a Piece of Luggage.” Pippin is a Prisoner of The Orcs and Wonders What Good He Has Been.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.578-583

With the brief appearance of the mysterious old man and the loss of the horses under the eaves of Fangorn Forest the narrative switches away from Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to the plight of Merry and Pippin. They are prisoners of the orcs and are being taken to Isengard and to Saruman whose intelligence is that a Halfling bears the One Ring but which one it is he does not know. The Orc band comprises three distinct groups who are there for three very different reasons. While the Isengarders are there to carry out Saruman’s orders there is also a company from Moria who are there to kill in revenge for their losses in the battle against the Fellowship before the escape across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and also a company from Mordor who want to take the hobbits there.

Inger Idelfelt depicts Merry and Pippin as prisoners of the Orcs.

Pippin tries to recall all that has happened. How he and Merry had run off in panic to seek out Frodo; how they had been attacked by orcs but rescued at first by Boromir; but how the orcs had attacked again, firing arrows at Boromir, and how darkness had fallen.

And then Pippin starts to feel rather sorry for himself.

“I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,” he thought. “What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope that Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!”

And so begins a trope that will run through the story until just before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields of the young hobbits likening themselves to baggage being carried by others and being of no more use than that. It is a trope that reaches its climax when Elfhelm, a Marshal of the Riders of Rohan trips over Merry in the dark. “Pack yourself up, Master Bag!” he instructs Merry before going off to other tasks.

While we might ponder with a certain wry amusement the existence of a left luggage service in the Shire which might lead Pippin to liken himself to an item of lost property waiting to be claimed by its owner, we do recognise, perhaps with sympathy, the feeling that Pippin describes. At this point of the story neither he nor Merry have any idea what they are going to contribute to the successful outcome of the quest. The rousing of the Ents to overthrow Isengard; the slaying of the Lord of the Nazgûl, the Witch-king of Angmar; the rescue of Faramir from the funeral pyre of Denethor, and the raising of the hobbit rebellion against Saruman’s control over the Shire, all these still lie ahead of them. At this moment Pippin feels that he has contributed nothing. We might even speculate about whether he ever ponders the moment when he dropped a stone into the well in the guard chamber in Moria, an action that leads to the awakening of the Balrog and the fall of Gandalf. We might speculate but we do not know because Tolkien never tells us whether he thinks about this or not.

Matthew Stewart depicts Boromir’s attempt to save the young hobbits.

What we do know is that Pippin ends his speech of self pity by declaring, “I wish I could get free!” And with this we see Pippin’s essential character. He is not much given to reflection. He does not see what use too much thought is to him. What matters is what lies immediately before him. Sometimes his lack of reflection gets him into trouble. The question about the depth of a well in Moria, his curiosity about what a glass globe hurled by Wormtongue at Gandalf might possibly be. And sometimes it will lead him to acts of courage such as his determination to save Faramir. He will never think much about the outcome of this or that action and now he will put aside reflection and self-pity (actually there is rarely much self-anything at all about Pippin) and give himself to the task at hand. How can he and Merry escape from their captors?

A naughty boy at the well in Moria. There is still some growing up to be done.