“Their Coming Was Like The Falling of Small Stones That Starts an Avalanche in The Mountains”. Gandalf Speaks of the Awakening of the Ents.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-649

What a gift gentleness is to a world grown weary with the mere exercise of power. And so Merry and Pippin awoke a kindliness within the heart of Boromir the warrior, inflated as he was by fantasies of his own greatness, who sought to gain what he desired by abuse of his strength in the attempt to steal the Ring from Frodo. When Aragorn ordered Boromir to stay with the young hobbits and to protect them as best he could he was simply trying to find some order amidst the chaos of battle and to give himself space to do what he felt that he must do, to find the Ringbearer; but what he gave to Boromir in the giving of that order was the opportunity to find redemption for his failure in the laying down of his life.

This alone would have been sufficient reason for the contested decision to include Merry and Pippin within the Fellowship but Gandalf speaks of more.

“But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. Even as we talk here, I hear the first rumblings. Saruman had best not be caught away from home when the dam bursts!”

The falling of small stones that starts an avalanche.

There are three occasions in which hobbits are captured by orcs in The Lord of the Rings. No other character has to suffer this indignity although Éowyn is threatened with imprisonment by the Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl. The capture of Merry and Pippin in the breaking of the Fellowship is the first; the second is the capture of Frodo by Shagrat and Gorbag near Shelob’s Lair; and the third the capture of Frodo and Sam by the road to the Black Gate in Mordor. And on each occasion the capture serves only to carry the hobbits nearer to their goal. In the case of Frodo and Sam the goal is known to them. Somehow they must take the Ring to the Fire at Orodruin and they need a road to follow in order to get there. In the case of Merry and Pippin the Uruk-hai of Isengard carry them across the plains of Rohan in order to deliver them at the feet of Treebeard.

There is a delicious irony in this, of course. Gandalf speaks of this to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. “Saruman also had a mind to capture the Ring, for himself, or at least to snare some hobbits for his evil purposes. So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all.”

The orcs bring Merry and Pippin to Fangorn Inger Edelfelt’s dramatic depiction of the hobbits’hard journey.

But there is something further to say in regards to Merry and Pippin. Gandalf again speaks of this to his companions when he tells them that Sauron, as well as Saruman, had tried to capture hobbits and to take them to Barad-dûr, either to retake the Ring or to keep them as hostages. Thankfully Sauron, as well as Saruman, failed to achieve their purpose and Gandalf adds: “Let us not darken our hearts by imagining the trial of their gentle loyalty in the Dark Tower.”

It is the gentleness of the hobbits that proves essential here. On the one hand it is a quality that is entirely disregarded by both Sauron and by Saruman. To them gentleness is merely an expression of weakness. But in delivering this quality to Fangorn the orcs of Isengard awaken the hearts of Treebeard and the Ents to their own destruction. It is gentleness of the young hobbits that delights the Ents, which reawakens them and reconnects them to their essential vocation, that of being shepherds.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and in their reawakening the Ents are recalled to that duty. Sacrifice is something that the powers of darkness are incapable of doing or even imagining. By this we don’t mean that they are incapable of sacrificing others for their own ends. They do this constantly without giving it a second thought. But they have rendered themselves incapable of any action that even remotely approaches self-sacrifice and so Frodo’s choice to take the Ring to the Fire, Sam’s choice to go with him, Gandalf’s sacrifice of himself in the conflict with the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Boromir’s sacrifice for the sake of Merry and Pippin, and the sacrifice that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make in their hopeless pursuit of the orcs who captured Merry and Pippin, all of these are simply incomprehensible to the dark powers and all of are essential to the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Gandalf did not mention his own sacrifice but it is crucial to the whole story.

4 thoughts on ““Their Coming Was Like The Falling of Small Stones That Starts an Avalanche in The Mountains”. Gandalf Speaks of the Awakening of the Ents.

  1. That’s one of the many beautiful things about The Lord of the Rings: the strongest, the most powerful, the ones with the greatest magic do not save the world in the end. Little people (literally) who exhibit outsized courage are instrumental in achieving the eucatastrophe.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I agree with what you say. The courage displayed by Frodo and his friends plays a remarkable part in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wanted to honour the memory of those along whom he fought in the Great War of 1914-18. And of equal importance was the complete lack of interest that they had in questions of power, at least until the Ring finally overcame Frodo’s resistance to it. All the way through the story the thing that mattered most to them was friendship. And because of this they were the only ones to whom Ilúvatar could entrust the Ring, the greatest symbol of power in Middle-earth.

  2. Stephen, thank you for this. Merry and Pippin bring steadfastness, delight and wonder to the journey, don’t they, those tiny stones that begin avalanches, but also trickle between the great stones of power in unexpected ways. I know of a priest and blogger, although you know him better, in whose gentleness I always delight ;-)…. you, too, carry this gift of joy and wonder. Thank you for reminding me, too, to sink my roots deep into it.

    • How lovely to hear from you on this blog once again, Victoria. I always enjoy your reflections. And thank you for your kind words. That it is the childlikeness of Merry and Pippin that is the little stones that awakens the Ents and begins the avalanche that brings down the pride of Isengard is one of the joys of Tolkien’s tale. That all the efforts of Sauron and of Saruman act only to bring that gentle childlikeness to Fangorn is a wonderful irony.

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