Saruman Fails To Get The Joke!

After a journey of wonders the company led by Théoden and Gandalf arrive at the gates of Isengard to find them cast down and in ruins with a great rubble heap piled up beside them “and suddenly there were aware of two small figures lying on it at their ease…There were bottles, bowls and platters laid beside them, as if they had eaten well, and now rested from their labour.” And so it is that after all the adventures that have befallen the company since its sundering at Tol Brandir Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are re-united with Merry and Pippin.

This is a good tale to tell at Christmas for as Mary’s great song from The Gospel of Luke chapter 1 tells us, with the coming of the Messiah the mighty are cast down from their seats and the humble and meek are exalted, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent empty away. It was indeed Saruman’s intention to bring the hobbits to Isengard but we can be sure that he had no intention to feast them upon the best of his food amidst the ruins of his once mighty fortress. And yet it is precisely because of his intentions that Saruman has been cast down from his seat and that hobbits, the least significant of creatures, have been the means of his downfall. For the orcs that Saruman sent to bring the hobbits to his dungeons were able to bring them swiftly to Fangorn where they met Treebeard, the most ancient of Ents. And it was through that meeting that the Ents were roused from their long slumber, marched upon Isengard and reduced it to ruins.

There is no doubt that Tolkien takes pleasure in the comic elements of the scene he paints for us. The small figures who could not be less heroic, the piles of empty dishes and bottles, the smoke rising from pipes smoked at ease (and as anyone who has ever tried to smoke a pipe will tell you it is necessary to be at ease in order to smoke one well!) and all this amidst the scene of a terrible battle.

And you can be sure that Saruman does not get the joke! Nor, of course, did Herod when the Magi asked him where the King of the Jews had been born. Perhaps we get closest to the truth of Christmas if we learn to see it as a cosmic joke. So much religion seems hung up with efforts to portray itself as mighty, as deserving of a place at the tables of the powerful. If the wonderful joke of the nativity were to manifest itself at such tables then the religious might well be discomfited as much as kings and princes. Before the modern era it was the custom for kings to have a joker nearby them to remind them of who they truly were. Where are the jokers of our own age? How many board rooms of our great corporations make sure they have a joker among them? Or might they fear that the joker might bring them crashing down to ruins?

If Saruman were to get the joke then he would be free from the prison that he has created for himself. And so too would we if, as Mary sang, we allow that which desires to be rich and dominating of the weak within our souls to be “sent empty away”. Our laughter would truly be that of the merry and so would our Christmas too.

Learning to See as an Ent Sees

In meeting Treebeard Merry and Pippin are introduced to a wholly different way of seeing the world and living in it. Ents may not be trees but they think like trees and if trees could speak (and for all I know they do) they might speak as Ents do.

We do not say anything in Old Entish, says Treebeard, “unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” In other words we are being invited to look at reality through the eyes of a creature who never rushes and who takes a very long term view of everything and to imagine what life might be like if we were to see it as he does. For there is no doubt that Treebeard would see us as very “hasty” folk indeed. He would be horrified to see us only plant trees that will mature at great speed and then be cut down to feed our need for timber. And if he were horrified by that he would be even more horrified by our daily destruction of the forests of the world and the endless steady transformation of our planet into a vast desert. He might look at our behaviour and conclude that in actual fact the orcs had won the War of the Ring and that a new Dark Lord had indeed arisen wielding something that was very much like the One Ring, if not worse. We may remember that there were times when Sauron took on the appearance of a benevolent lord. Perhaps he would know how to use words like freedom as a cloak for his true purposes but now with the possibility of real and everlasting power he needs cloaks no longer. At the time of The Lord of the Rings he is revealed as he truly is.

Thankfully Sauron and his lesser ally, Saruman, overlook the Ents. It is not that they do not know of their existence but that they discount them as they weigh up who their most dangerous opponents might be. As far as they are concerned Ents are too slow, just like the trolls made by Morgoth in mockery of them, to be a real threat. But as we shall see they have dangerously miscalculated. Evil always discounts that which does not seem to threaten it on its own terms. Evil will always say, as Stalin said of the Pope, “How many divisions does he have?” Maybe it will be those who learn to see like Ents or Hobbits who will prove to be our most doughty champions.

“I can see and hear (and smell and feel) a great deal from this a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lind-or-burume. Excuse me: that is part of my name for it; I do not know what the word is in the outside languages: you know this thing we are on, where I stand and look out on fine mornings and think about the Sun, and the grass beyond the wood, and the horses, and the clouds, and the unfolding of the world…”

“Hill?” suggested Pippin. “Shelf? Step?” suggested Merry.

Treebeard repeated the words thoughtfully. “Hill. Yes, that was it. But it is a hasty word for a thing that has stood here ever since this part of the world was shaped.”


What would it be like to learn how to Name things as Ents do? We won’t even begin to know the answer to that question unless we learn to take time to look at things. When we look at something as an Ent does then we might begin to learn its long story and to learn to tell it ourselves.

Perhaps we might learn to see through the eyes of that great prophet, William Blake, in his “Auguries of Innocence..”

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”