Pippin steps up to the plate in a surprising way; also, why women tend to relate to the hobbits.

‘I suppose I was knocked on the head,’ [Pippin] said to himself. ‘I wonder if poor Merry is much hurt. What has happened to Boromir? Why didn’t the Orcs kill us? Where are we, and where are we going?’

He could not answer the questions. He felt cold and sick. ‘I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,’ he thought. ‘What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!’

We haven’t really heard much from Pippin since Book I; he hasn’t even been inquisitive and adventurous like Merry (who actually cut off some Orc limbs when they were first attacked, hence why they took away their swords).  He’s certainly not book-smart like Frodo or Merry (I’m not sure if we ever confirm he can even read), and he lacks the sheer luck that got Bilbo through his early adventures, but being in such a hard spot, with nobody else to rely on, he finally discovers that seed of courage buried in his hobbit heart, and he refuses to despair.

It turns out there are three distinct parties among the Orcs: the Moria-goblins (evidently leaderless, just out to avenge their losses), the Mordor crew (led by Grishnákh), and the Uruk-hai, a larger breed that hails from Isengard (led by Uglúk).  One benefit is that since they’re all from different tribes, they speak in the Common Tongue when they have to communicate important information, like arguing about the fate of the prisoners.

Uglúk and Grishnákh both say they have orders to capture hobbits and bring them alive to their masters, which obviously annoys the Moria gang, but when they complain, Ugluk proves his superior leadership skills by killing a few of them.

Grishnákh stepped aside and vanished into the shadows. The others gave way, and one stepped backwards and fell over Merry’s prostrate form with a curse. Yet that probably saved his life, for Uglúk’s followers leaped over him and cut down another with their broad-bladed swords. It was the yellow-fanged guard. His body fell right on top of Pippin, still clutching its long saw-edged knife.

[…] ‘Now,’ thought Pippin, ‘if only it takes that ugly fellow a little while to get his troop under control, I’ve got a chance.’ A gleam of hope had come to him. The edge of the black knife had snicked his arm, and then slid down to his wrist. He felt the blood trickling on to his hand, but he also felt the cold touch of steel against his skin.

Perhaps Pippin does have some luck on his side after all, but it still requires plenty of mettle on his part, not to mention quick wits.  He manages to cut the bonds on his hands while the Orcs are distracted (and retie them in a fashion that’s easy to undo).  That’s how he manages to rescue himself: Watching for opportunities, and acting on them the moment he sees them, without stopping to think it all through.  He takes another such risk when he’s forced to run on his own feet the next day and he’s able to escape from his guards for a minute.

‘No hope of escape!’ thought Pippin. ‘But there is hope that I have left some of my own marks unspoilt on the wet ground.’ He groped with his two tied hands at his throat, and unclasped the brooch of his cloak. Just as long arms and hard claws seized him, he let it fall. ‘There I suppose it will lie until the end of time,’ he thought. ‘I don’t know why I did it. If the others have escaped, they’ve probably all gone with Frodo.’

He doesn’t have a strategy, but if he’d just waited until he had a plan, he probably wouldn’t have done anything.  It’s interesting how an aspect of his personality which I imagine got him into trouble back in the Shire (and arguably got him involved with the Quest to begin with) actually manages to save his life: He has an idea and immediately acts on it.  It occurred to him that Strider might be tracking them, so he left a sign for him, even though he second-guesses himself the very next moment.  His intuition is better than he thinks.

Neither Pippin nor Merry remembered much of the later part of their journey. Evil dreams and evil waking were blended into a long tunnel of misery, with hope growing ever fainter behind. They ran, striving to keep up the pace set by the Orcs, licked every now and again with a cruel thong cunningly handled. If they halted or stumbled, they were seized and dragged for some distance.

There’s one other bit of luck that turned things in the hobbits’ favor (which was well beyond their control): An Orc scout ran into a Rohirrim scout as they were leaving the Emyn Muil, who was then able to escape and alert Éomer, getting the Riders of Rohan on their trail.  Tolkien uses the overlapping stories to great effect here, creating dramatic tension as the reader tries to figure out the mysteries left over from last chapter.

All that he could remember about Rohan was that Gandalf’s horse, Shadowfax, had come from that land. That sounded hopeful, as far as it went.

‘But how will they know we are not Orcs?’ he thought. ‘I don’t suppose they’ve heard of hobbits down here. I ought to be glad that the beastly Orcs look like being destroyed, but I would rather be saved myself.’

I’d rather have that, too!

This seems like as good a segue as any to discussing the hobbits and fangirls. As I’ve lamented numerous times, there are very few female characters in Lord of the Rings, and fewer still with any character development to speak of.  What’s even stranger is that the female characters don’t tend to be particularly popular among female fans (Éowyn is basically the sole exception, but even then it’s more the movie version of the character…I’ll definitely get to her later).  The characters that are really popular among women (besides the guys with hot actors) are, in my experience, the hobbits.  I’m sure the cuteness factor has something to do with it, but more than that, they’re actually a lot more relatable for women and girls than your Aragorns and Legolases and Gandalfs.  They don’t appear to have much power – they have no great warriors, and they’re not revered for their wisdom.  All four of the hobbits struggle for agency in different ways, and they only got caught up in this great conflict in the first place by “chance”, as it were.  They don’t have much power or strength or wisdom, and initially they don’t want any of that, yet they’re constantly pursued and generally finding themselves at the center of conflict.  Merry is more confident in his own abilities than Pippin, and Frodo does possess some level of status and power as the Ringbearer, but they’re all just way out of their depth.  It’s the way that they find strength from each other, and cling to hope even in the darkest circumstances (like being captured by Orcs and carried off toward certain death and/or torture) that they become aspirational.  It’s not like they’re unpopular with male fans, but I think those are the sort of characters that are a lot more endearing to female fans because they’re more likely to face similar attitudes.

‘Well, my little ones!’ said Grishnákh in a soft whisper. ‘Enjoying your nice rest? Or not? A little awkwardly placed perhaps: swords and whips on one side, and nasty spears on the other! Little people should not meddle in affairs that are too big for them.’ His fingers continued to grope. There was a light like a pale but hot fire behind his eyes.

And then you have scenes like this.  But it leads to Pippin’s final stroke of genius when he realizes Grishnákh knows about the Ring.

‘I don’t think you will find it that way,’ he whispered. ‘It isn’t easy to find.’

Find it?’ said Grishnákh: his fingers stopped crawling and gripped Pippin’s shoulder. ‘Find what? What are you talking about, little one?’

For a moment Pippin was silent. Then suddenly in the darkness he made a noise in his throat: gollum, gollum. ‘Nothing, my precious,’ he added.

Merry catches on and helps goad Grishnákh into making a rash move, carrying them away from the Orc encampment and subsequently getting himself speared by a rider.  I really missed this in the movie – yeah, they try to give Pippin a moment when he tricks Treebeard into helping him, but there’s something about being completely on his own in such a desperate situation that makes his actions here so much more impactful.  Also, he accomplished his own escape in a fashion that only he could, and it makes me smile.

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.

[…] ‘I shall have to brush up my toes, if I am to get level with you. Indeed Cousin Brandybuck is going in front now. This is where he comes in. I don’t suppose you have much notion where we are; but I spent my time at Rivendell rather better. We are walking west along the Entwash. The butt-end of the Misty Mountains is in front, and Fangorn Forest.’

[…] He led the way in under the huge branches of the trees. Old beyond guessing, they seemed. Great trailing beards of lichen hung from them, blowing and swaying in the breeze. 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.

There’s already been mention of a kinship between Fangorn and the Old Forest, but just this paragraph already makes it seem seem far older, or else just wilder.  Tom Bombadil manages the Old Forest, but you can’t imagine Fangorn having a similarly civilized ruler.

Next time: Treebeard…

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