Howdy, folks, ’tis I, returned from my latest unannounced hiatus, which shouldn’t really be called a hiatus because hiatuses are when you take a break and if you don’t say to yourself “I’m gonna take a break from blogging,” then it doesn’t really feel like a break. It just feels like you went an entire month and a half without posting, shame on you. But I guess it was sort of a break because I’ve barely thought about the Internet in a month and a half because…work. And friends. And summer. I like summer very much.
Anyway, hello, I hope y’all’s summer is going well, I totally missed two of the blog events I wanted to participate in, but I’m back now to bring you a completely random post about the middle of The Lord of the Rings.
I’m currently rereading that particular book, which is one of my favorite books, and do notice I said books, not trilogies. That’s my stand on this issue. 😛
I mean, I always have thought of it as one book, since the days when I first cracked open the library copy of Fellowship (with the other two volumes lined up on my desk), knowing nothing more than that it was one of my aunt’s favorite books and a sequel to that really cool book I’d read last Christmas, The Hobbit. And when personal inclination lines up with the stated intent and desire of the author…well. Why Not, Jeeves, is all I have to say, Why Bally Not.
Nonetheless, though it be but one book, it do be divided into three volumes, and I do have a favorite volume. That would be The Two Towers. Which is an unimportant fact, really, but I mention it as justification for this post, which is going to be a helter-skelter, gushy, incomplete ramble about things that I love that occur specifically in The Two Towers. Which is mainly just because doing it for the whole story would take too long.
And I guess I also mention it because a number of people seem to like The Two Towers the least, and while they are of course welcome to their opinions, it seems odd to me because I don’t think Towers suffers from middle-of-the-story slump at all. In fact, while picking a favorite volume should be hard because each one has things in it that I love to death (and Fellowship and Return of the King both have the Shire in them, I mean come on), it actually isn’t because Two Towers has SO MANY of my very favorite things in it.
So hey. I’m just gonna talk about them. Show the neglected middle child some love. (Spoilers, I need hardly say, abound.)
Reason numero uno I love this volume: Faramir is so awesome.
I know how awesome he is, but every time I actually get to him in the book the awesomeness is not diluted by knowing it beforehand and, in fact, it’s almost like I’m surprised. Even though I’m not.
Because that’s how awesome Faramir is, you see.
I just read his chapters recently*, and I’m thinking I actually kind of see what the movies were going for when they changed his character. I’ve never agreed with the choice, but I’ve always held that the movies didn’t completely ruin Faramir or the integrity of his character. I still disagree with the choice (book Faramir is way more awesome than movie Faramir, so obviously it wasn’t a good choice), but I really do think I see what they were going for, even in terms of book accuracy.
See, I tend to focus on Faramir’s gentleness. How he does not love the bright sword for its sharpness nor the arrow for its swiftness but only that which they defend. How he has no jealousy for Aragorn. His quietness, his kindness, the way he speaks to Éowyn.
But…it’s not Return of the King where the roots of my love for him lie. It’s in that chapter, “The Window on the West.” Faramir is indeed gentle, kind, and quiet. But he’s also a warrior. His country is at war, his brother has died, and he sees no possible chance of victory. So he’s very serious. And he’s also very stern. “Kind” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I read his conversation with Frodo in Ithilien, questioning Frodo, plainly not believing him.
Gentleness is not synonymous with weakness, and I don’t think it is. Mercy is not synonymous with foolishness, and I don’t think it is. But Faramir is an example that it really, really isn’t.
Faramir questioning Frodo, and doubting Frodo, and pressing Frodo further, is not Southern hospitality at its finest. The way he deals with Frodo when Gollum has come fishing in the pool, and with Gollum through Frodo, is also not Southern hospitality at its finest. It’s shrewd and, frankly, a little ruthless. He basically forces Frodo to confide in him by acting as if he’s going to have Gollum shot (and maybe actually being about to do it, I’m not sure – what I am sure of, though, is that he knows very well what kind of person Frodo is and that he’s not going to let him shoot Gollum, and he trades on that).
When I think of mercy, I think of something a little softer. A little more “there, there, dear” and hesitant. A little more…well…nice.
But Faramir is very merciful. It’s perhaps his defining characteristic.
And I love that. I love the contradiction, in which there is no contradiction. Mercy isn’t soft – it can actually be rather hard – and Faramir isn’t soft either. But he still shows his quality, which is the very highest. And when he and Frodo exchange courtesies in one of my favorite lines, you know he MEANS it.
Frodo bowed low. “I am answered,” he said, “and I place myself at your service, if that is of any worth to one so high and honorable.”
“It is of great worth,” said Faramir.-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
*I had just read his chapters recently when I originally typed this, that is. Now I’m almost done with Return of the King, because pretty much all I’ve been doing with my spare time lately is inhaling Lord of the Rings. It’s been great, if you were wondering.
THE DEATH OF BOROMIR
It took me a bit to appreciate Boromir. I didn’t not like him the first time, but I like him so much now, where I used to overlook him a bit.
A well-done fall arc is one of the rarest things in the world. But also one of the coolest, because FEELINGS. So naturally I’m very fond of Boromir’s character in general. But I’m even fonder of it because of the epilogue.
First of all, he literally gives his life trying to protect Merry and Pippin. And second, he tells Aragorn everything. He’s so sorry. And so Aragorn says to him:
“No!” said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace. Minas Tirith shall not fall!”-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Which is just so gracious.
I greatly appreciate how much time the narrative spends mourning him, too. Three whole songs and an entire chapter named after him. Not to mention Faramir’s vision way later on. Like, thank you, Tolkien. Thank you for being perfect.
TEAM PIPPIN & MERRY
They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the east. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again.-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
I get weirdly emotional about that paragraph, which is probably because it follows a rather intense chapter and oh the relief now that Merry and Pippin are walking along tiredly through the woods, being their precious hobbit selves and not in imminent danger from Saruman or Sauron or the cruelty of Orcs or the hooves of battle horses or stray arrows.
But seriously. I love the way Pippin and Merry work together when they’re not even supposed to talk to each other and no one could blame them if they just sort of gave up on life. But of course they don’t. (That deeply buried tough streak in hobbits. Gotta love.)
Pippin is always thinking how useless he is, but he’s NOT. He’s tenacious, won’t let go of his hobbitish hopes even when grim circumstances make them seem absurd, and he is VERY, VERY clever. He gets his hands untied and keeps the Orcs from knowing it, he tricks Grishnákh…and Merry plays along with him and they’re both so LITTLE and BRAVE and I love their friendship so much.
Team Frodo & Sam is rightfully iconic, but The Two Towers highlights Team Pippin & Merry as well, which is so much more than just a mischief-making partnership.
I mean. Just LOOK at them. Escaped from deadly danger and an unthinkable future in Orthanc, teasing each other, lightly commending each other’s contributions, and enjoying each other’s company like two old gaffers taking an evening walk in a quiet country park. There’s something so dear and admirable about it. I love my precious hobbits. ❤
Éomer is one of my favorite characters; I love him nearly as much as his sister. This line is actually from Return of the King, but it’s one of my favorites:
“As for myself,” said Éomer, “I have little knowledge of these deep matters; but I need it not. This I know, and it is enough, that as my friend Aragorn succoured me and my people, so I will aid him when he calls. I will go.”-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
And that’s how Éomer is.
Straightforward, just a simple guy who rides horses and swings swords, all this fancy elvish stuff is beyond him, but he loves his king and his country, protects his sister, cherishes beauty and hates evil, and stands by his friends.
He’s just smashing.
I’m also everlastingly fond of the bit where he first meets Aragron, Legolas, and Gimli. Everyone’s highly suspicious of each other, even though they’re all the good guys actually, and it’s a tense conversation and at the end, though still a little doubtful, Éomer makes a wise and generous decision and just. Y’all. He’s great. The complete opposite of Faramir in a lot of ways, but equally good.
(Also the part where Treebeard and Merry and Pippin are kind of skeptical of each other at first, there’s no immediate relief where Merry and Pippin know they’re safe now the moment they meet him. Even though there is a very good feeling beginning to steal in. And where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn think Gandalf is Saruman. The good-guys-are-initially-skeptical-of-each-other trope is kind of the best.)
ALSO THE RIDERS OF ROHAN
On a similar note to Éomer, the Rohirrim in general are the BEST. I love their culture and everything – and how the Gondorians really respect them even though you’d think they’d look down on them because they’re uneducated or not Númenórean or whatever.
They’re warlike enough, so they’re not completely similar to the hobbits, but they give me a bit of the same vibe. They have their own unique, tight-knit culture, and they just want to be left in peace to live their lives and take care of their families and train their horses, but nope, nobody will leave them alone. Well, okay, maybe they’re ignorant, but they’re not stupid and they’re not cowards, and they’re not planning on knuckling under to evil wizards, and they have a resilience and a strength and a capacity for courageous deeds beyond what anyone might reasonably have expected. The evil creatures that attacked them didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There’s that, kind of down-home resilience, that they share with the hobbits.
(But also, they’re just super cool.)
THE REUNION OF HOBBITS AND HUNTERS
I distinctly remember, my first time reading The Lord of the Rings, the moment I became a hopeless fan and there was no turning back. It was the chapter “Flotsam and Jetsam.” Where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, after having pursued Merry and Pippin across the country, been mildly hopeful of their escape, got rid of a traitor in Meduseld, ridden to war, seen astonishing marvels, and won against all odds a desperate victory, get to sit down in the victorious ruin of Isengard and chit-chat with the hobbits who have given them such trouble. It’s just…….perfection?!??!!?
I mean. There’s the poetic profundity of “The Departure of Boromir.” There’s the ancient-epic-ish feeling of the meeting of the Three Hunters and Éomer. There’s the folkloric amazingness of the hobbits’ partnership with the Ents. Which is all grand and beautiful and I love it but THEN. Then, there is the reprieve, the comfort, the break, the hanging-out-mostly-quiet-with-your-friends-around-the-bonfire-at-the-end-of-a-long-day peace, of this reunion.
And Tolkien gives it to you. He doesn’t hurry through it, or mention it in passing, or cut it short so we can get to the more important, high-stakes matters. No. We want this. We have spent over a hundred pages wanting this, wanting to enjoy the reunion, the catching-each-other-up, the jokes, the camaraderie. And we get it.
And…I am happy. The dynamic of the Three Hunters is lovely, and that of Team Pippin & Merry is iconic, and together they are perfect and I would read about them for multiple chapters.
As truly great as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is, I think Helm’s Deep is my favorite.
(I’m a fan of how Tolkien writes battles in general. They’re…not boring. And not only are they not boring, they make sense and are some of the most emotionally intense parts of the book. Which you would think battles naturally would be, but for some reason, to me, as a general rule they’re not.)
Helm’s Deep is just the first battle of the war, but it’s super important because if it had been lost Pelennor Fields wouldn’t have been won, and then there would have been no chance to march on the Morannon, and then Frodo and Sam wouldn’t have succeeded either. (I love how even though the Fellowship gets split apart their separate adventures continue to be related in really, really important ways. It’s so cool.)
And, plus, there’s this hopeful surge where the King of Rohan has recovered and is finally going to lead his people in battle again, and then it’s very grim but they keep holding off the Orcs and disasters happen but they still stave off defeat and then comes dawn and the White Rider with it, and there’s a sortie and the Trees are there and the eucatastrophic beauty of it takes one’s breath away.
MERRY AS DOORWARDEN
The third volume is where Merry REALLY gets to shine, but he has his moments here too. Like when he greets Theoden and the Riders and doesn’t speak to his companions until Gimli explodes and promises to tell Theoden about the history of pipeweed someday at Theoden’s hall. (Which last is doubly poignant once you’re rereading and know that promise is never fulfilled.) Merry is this delightful, lowkey mixture of maturity, courtesy, and sly mischief, and I love him.
“I will come with you,” said Theoden. “Farewell, my hobbits! May we meet again in my house! There you shall sit beside me and tell me all that your hearts desire: the deeds of your grandsires, as far as you can reckon them; and we will speak also of Tobold the Old and his herb-lore. Farewell!”
The hobbits bowed low. “So that is the King of Rohan!” said Pippin in an undertone. “A fine old fellow. Very polite.”-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
BROMANCE: LEGOLAS & GIMLI EDITION
I suppose the very beginning of the legendary Legolas-Gimli friendship lies in Lothlorien, but it’s this book where you start to pick up on it and just…be amused and endeared. There’s the Helm’s Deep body count competition, there’s Gimli trying to get the beauty of the Caves of Aglarond through Legolas’s somewhere-off-in-the-treetops brain, and there’s also Gimli trying to stop Legolas from checking out the Huorns because hey, this Elf is crazy and he’s gonna get himself killed and he’s also gonna get ME killed, HEY LEGOLAS WHAT ARE YOU DOING LET ME GET OFF THE HORSE.
And just. Yeah. I don’t have much to say. I just love their friendship and wanted to mention it.
Of all the reasons The Two Towers is my favorite, the Ents are I think the biggest. If they were the only reason, they might still be enough. You can’t overstate my love for the Ents. (…Am I weird? Does anyone else feel this way? I never hear people rave over the Ents. But I LOVE THEM.)
Middle-earth is alive. It’s not just the people, it’s the trees and the mountains. And if you have any particular love for forests or mountains, you probably understand the appeal of this. For the trees to walk and talk, to meet the shepherd of their shepherds, ancienter than even the hills he strides over with his rooty toes, is so…how can I express this?
My mom asked why I like Treebeard so much, and I tried to explain thusly: “He’s gentle and wise and slow and kind and unhasty and unbelievably ancient and none of that is actually why.” He’s so HIMSELF. He’s a shepherd of the trees, he’s Fangorn. He just…is.
He’s all the beauty, benevolence, stillness, age, neutrality, and danger of the woods. And now the woods have been tamed, in Tolkien’s England and in my Missouri, and there’s nothing of the wild left. And so Treebeard is, more even than the Elves, the remnant of a time doomed to fade and be forgotten. The story of the Entwives is…it’s sad, y’all.
“I remember it was long ago – in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea – desire came over me to see Fimbrethil again. Very fair she was still in my eyes, when I had last seen her, though little like the Entmaiden of old. For the Entwives were bent and browned by their labour; their hair parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples. Yet their eyes were still the eyes of our own people. We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone. Some said they had never seen them; and some said that they had seen them walking away west, and some said east, and others south. But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far. And now the Entwives are only a memory for us, and our beards are long and grey.”-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
And that brings this lengthy post to a close. If you finished it (or if you didn’t), tell me! What’s your favorite volume of Lord of the Rings? Is it one book or three? Do you love the Ents? Did the movies ruin Faramir? Are hobbits the best???? (You’d better say yes to that one.) and, hey. *waves awkwardly* Maybe I’m actually back for real this time.