The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 636-639
When Gimli awakes under the eaves of Fangorn, with his “very bones” chilled, after the night in which the strange visitor came to the camp and the horses loaned to the three hunters ran away, Merry and Pippin are spending the day together with Bregalad as Entmoot continues. The young hobbits are safe in the care of the Ents although Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli could not possibly know this. Indeed Gimli, at least, still regards Fangorn Forest as a place of threat and menace and not, as we have learned, as a place of refuge and kindly welcome to those who are fleeing from danger.
We know that there is little possibility that the hunters will find Merry and Pippin, at least at this point in the story, but they are resolved to continue the search until either they find them or fail, even perish, in the attempt.
The search for clues begins close to the site of the battle in which Éomer’s company first surrounded, and then wiped out, the orcs who were taking Merry and Pippin to Isengard, and it is Aragorn, the greatest tracker of the age, who makes the first find.
“‘Here at last we find news!’ said Aragorn. He lifted up a broken lead for them to see, a large pale leaf of golden hue, now fading and turning brown.”
It is one of the mallorn-leaves of Lórien in which the elves had carefully wrapped the gift of lembas, the waybread that proves so important in sustaining the travellers, especially Frodo and Sam, upon their journey. And there are other signs nearby. One is the presence of lembas crumbs, another the cut cords of the bonds that had held Merry and Pippin, and the other the orc blade that Pippin had used to cut Merry’s bonds.
Legolas is perplexed by the strange tale that these signs seem to tell but Aragorn is able to interpret their meaning. As we know Pippin had been able to free his hands earlier in the forced march across the plains of Rohan. We know too that Grishnákh had tried to escape the battle carrying Merry and Pippin one under each arm in the hope that he could take them to Mordor and claim a reward for bringing a prize to the Dark Lord that Saruman had clearly coveted so much. And we know that Grishnákh was discovered and then killed by the Rohirrim who were not able to discover the hobbits because they were wearing their elven cloaks.
And there is a further detail about which all the companions are able to agree. It is clear that before they continued their journey, one, or as Aragorn guesses and hopes, both of the hobbits sat down to eat a meal of lembas.
The first main scene of The Lord of the Rings is located in The Ivy Bush, a small inn on the Bywater Road that the Gaffer Gamgee, Sam’s father, likes to frequent. This is no random detail. Hobbit life is built around the enjoyment of food, drink and good company. Tolkien described himself as “a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe and like good plain food.” He might have added his liking for beer, ale and the company of friends. It is no mere accident that some of the finest literary work of the 20th century, work that was wonderfully imaginative, brilliantly critical and profoundly philosophical, arose from The Inklings who used to gather in The Eagle and Child on St Giles’ in Oxford.
It is no mistake that one of the main things that makes the four hobbits , and especially Merry and Pippin, who set out upon the impossible journey first to Rivendell and then southwards towards Mordor so likeable, is their simple pleasure in food and drink. As Gandalf said of Bilbo and of hobbits in general in The Hobbit, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” It is the possibility of a merrier world that touches so many of the hearts of those who meet Merry and Pippin in their journey, even the glacial hearted Denethor of Gondor. And at this moment of the story as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli search amidst the debris of battle for signs of their friends it transforms the mere doing of a duty into a passionate and loving self-sacrifice.