The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 603-607
In last week’s post I noted the complete lack of tension in the first moments of the encounter between Merry, Pippin and Treebeard on the hill top in the Forest of Fangorn. Although the first part of their conversation is an enquiry that asks about the identity of the other it is as if both the Hobbits and the Ent are asking one another whether they might have met on some previous occasion. It all feels like they have met at a party and have begun that process of getting to know each other. Except that, for Treebeard at least, there was the possibility that he might have killed the hobbits first.
“Very odd indeed! Do not be hasty, that is my motto. But if I had seen you, before I heard your voices – I liked them: nice little voices; they reminded me of something I cannot remember – if I had seen you before I heard you, I should just have trodden on you, taking you for little Orcs, and found out my mistake afterwards.”
It is Merry and Pippin’s voices that save their lives and their voices that remind Treebeard of something. Perhaps Tolkien gives us a clue to this something as the young hobbits first enter the forest.
“Out of the shadows the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.”
Everything in the journey from the plains of Rohan into the Forest of Fangorn, from the crude grasp of their Orc captors into Treebeard’s careful grip is a journey into a world in which everything is both very old and yet one in which an original innocence can flourish. It is this innocence that Treebeard hears in the “nice little voices” of the young hobbits. It is a world still unstained by evil and it calls to that within the ancient Ent which still longs for this world.
I think that we might say that it is the “nice little voices” of Merry and Pippin that bring down the walls of Isengard. They awaken something within Treebeard that he thinks is worth fighting for. We see this effect right through The Lord of The Rings. Hobbits speak of something young and fresh in an ageing, tired world. As they arrive in Rivendell and then Lothlórien, bearing the Ring of Power that is so terrible an expression of the lust for power and control that first stirred within Melkor long ago, they call Elrond and then Galadriel to the act of faith and sacrifice that is possible only to someone who believes in the future. It is the kind of faith that is so often reawakened by the birth of a child. It is reawakened in Treebeard by the childlikeness of Merry and Pippin, guilelessly climbing up the hill upon which Treebeard is standing in the early morning in order to enjoy the feel of the sun upon his ancient limbs once more.
If there had ever been any sense that the hobbits’ behaviour was some kind of a strategy then Elrond and Galadriel would never have accepted the realisation that with their coming their own long sojourn in Middle-earth was coming to an end. And Treebeard would never have decided to risk everything upon a march of the Ents upon Isengard that as Treebeard was to say might be their last. And this, surely, is why the Valar guide a Hobbit to that place, deep beneath the Misty Mountains, where the Ring just happens to have been mislaid by Gollum. No other creature in Middle-earth could have been entrusted with something like the Ring. And, as Gollum’s own sad history demonstrates, even a hobbit can be corrupted by the power of the Ring. Was he, or perhaps Déagol, meant to be the Ringbearer long before first Bilbo and then Frodo took this responsibility?
Frodo has to fight a terrible battle against the corruption of the Ring and yet at all times others recognise an original goodness within him and consider him worthy of the responsibility of bearing the Ring. They see this goodness in Sam, in Merry and in Pippin as well. But, in Merry and in Pippin in particular, they see this goodness before the inner struggles through which Frodo has to pass and in Treebeard, something is reawakened that belongs both to an ancient past and to a hope of renewal. Such original goodness always has this potential.