The Three Hunters come to the end of their hunt – and meet someone they didn’t expect. Also, Christ figures!
Now that the reader knows what became of the hobbits, Tolkien doesn’t waste much time before Aragorn finds traces of them – namely, a mallorn leaf and some cut cords.
‘Well, here is the strangest riddle that we have yet found!’ exclaimed Legolas. ‘A bound prisoner escapes both from the Orcs and from the surrounding horsemen. He then stops, while still in the open, and cuts his bonds with an orc-knife. But how and why? For if his legs were tied, how did he walk? And if his arms were tied, how did he use the knife? and if neither were tied, why did he cut the cords at all? Being pleased with his skill, he then sat down and quietly ate some waybread! That at least is enough to show that he was a hobbit, without the mallorn-leaf. After that, I suppose, he turned his arms into wings and flew away singing into the trees. It should be easy to find him: we only need wings ourselves!’
I’m almost tempted to say that Legolas suffered in the transition to film…but he became Orlando Bloom and an action hero, so he really doesn’t have much to complain about.
Anyhow, Aragorn comes up with an explanation nearer to the truth, and they follow the hobbits’ trail into Fangorn Forest.
‘I do not think the wood feels evil, whatever tales may say,’ said Legolas. He stood under the eaves of the forest, stooping forward, as if he were listening, and peering with wide eyes into the shadows. ‘No, it is not evil; or what evil is in it is far away. I catch only the faintest echoes of dark places where the hearts of the trees are black. There is no malice near us; but there is watchfulness, and anger.’
‘Well, it has no cause to be angry with me,’ said Gimli. ‘I have done it no harm.’
‘That is just as well,’ said Legolas. ‘But nonetheless it has suffered harm. There is something happening inside, or going to happen. Do you not feel the tenseness? It takes my breath. […] It is old, very old,’ said the Elf. ‘So old that almost I feel young again, as I have not felt since I journeyed with you children. It is old and full of memory. I could have been happy here, if I had come in days of peace.’
Legolas is mostly just enjoying Fangorn, while Gimli is wary – partly because he’s out of his element, perhaps, but more because he’s still worried about the mysterious old man who showed up at their camp last night, particularly since they found no trace of him in the morning (aside from the missing horses). Aragorn just seems to be tired and grim, still doubting whether he made the right choice in pursuing Merry and Pippin.
Then a mysterious (and obviously powerful) old man appears and tries to talk with them.
‘Might we know your name, and then hear what it is that you have to say to us?’ said Aragorn. ‘The morning passes, and we have an errand that will not wait.’
‘As for what I wished to say, I have said it: What may you be doing, and what tale can you tell of yourselves? As for my name!’ He broke off, laughing long and softly. Aragorn felt a shudder run through him at the sound, a strange cold thrill; and yet it was not fear or terror that he felt: rather it was like the sudden bite of a keen air, or the slap of a cold rain that wakes an uneasy sleeper.
‘My name!’ said the old man again. ‘Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before. But come now, what of your tale?’
[…] ‘There are some who would begin to doubt whether your errand is fit to tell,’ said the old man. ‘Happily I know something of it. You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits, I believe. […] Well, they climbed up here the day before yesterday; and they met someone they did not expect. Does that comfort you? And now you would like to know where they were taken? Well, well, maybe I can give you some news about that. But why are we standing? Your errand, you see, is no longer as urgent as you thought.’
They all naturally assume he’s Saruman (and done something with Merry and Pippin), especially once they see that beneath his ragged cloak, he’s clothed all in white. But when they try to attack him, he easily disarms them – using a little fire magic. And that appears to be what clues in Legolas as to his true identity.
‘Mithrandir!’ he cried. ‘Mithrandir!’
‘Well met, I say to you again, Legolas!’ said the old man.
[…] At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’ […]
‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’
Considering that he actually has quite a few names, it shouldn’t be that surprising that Gandalf (briefly) forgot one or two after being dead for a bit (probably – Tolkien never really confirms whether Gandalf was properly dead or not).
They stop to catch each other up on things that they missed (Gandalf is as well-informed as always, once again largely thanks to his eagle friend).
‘The Ring now has passed beyond my help, or the help of any of the Company that set out from Rivendell. Very nearly it was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed.’
Evidently Gandalf was the “Voice” that came to Frodo’s mind when he sensed the Eye searching for him, giving him the opportunity to exert his own will and escape. Gandalf is pleasantly surprised to hear that Sam went with him.
‘You have not said all that you know or guess, Aragorn my friend,’ he said quietly. ‘Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake. But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. Even as we talk here, I hear the first rumblings. Saruman had best not be caught away from home when the dam bursts!’
‘In one thing you have not changed, dear friend,’ said Aragorn: ‘you still speak in riddles.’
‘What? In riddles?’ said Gandalf. ‘No! For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.’
Although Pippin and Merry still think they’ve contributed nothing to the Quest, Gandalf sees two things already – granted, they didn’t really do anything with regards to Boromir, but on the other hand, if the Orcs hadn’t captured any hobbits, they might have killed the whole Company and/or captured Frodo instead.
‘[Sauron] knows now the number of our Company that set out from Rivendell, and the kind of each of us. But he does not yet perceive our purpose clearly. He supposes that we were all going to Minas Tirith; for that is what he himself would have done in our place. And according to his wisdom it would have been a heavy stroke against his power. Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream. In which you will no doubt see our good fortune and our hope. For imagining war he has let loose war, believing that he has no time to waste; for he that strikes the first blow, if he strikes it hard enough, may need strike no more. So the forces that he has long been preparing he is now setting in motion, sooner than he intended. Wise fool. For if he had used all his power to guard Mordor, so that none could enter, and bent all his guile to the hunting of the Ring, then indeed hope would have faded: neither Ring nor bearer could long have eluded him. But now his eye gazes abroad rather than near at home; and mostly he looks toward Minas Tirith.’
Basically, Sauron now suspects that the Ring is en route to Minas Tirith – or to Isengard. He knows that Saruman’s servants captured some hobbits with the intent of bringing them to Isengard, and he didn’t hear anything about the Uruk-hai being killed, so he would assume that the hobbits were brought there without incident. Saruman, on the other hand (still uncertain whether or not they’d captured the Ringbearer), actually suspects that the Riders of Rohan may have taken the Ring, so now he’s getting ready to assault Rohan. It’s hard to be attacked by two armies at once, but they’re both making their moves far sooner than they’d intended and without much strategy, making them more likely to miscalculate.
But now that they know Pippin and Merry are in good hands with the Ents, they need to keep their promise to Éomer and make their way to see King Théoden.
‘Yes, we will set out together,’ said Aragorn. ‘But I do not doubt that you will come there before me, if you wish.’ He rose and looked long at Gandalf. The others gazed at them in silence as they stood there facing one another. The grey figure of the Man, Aragorn son of Arathorn, was tall, and stern as stone, his hand upon the hilt of his sword; he looked as if some king out of the mists of the sea had stepped upon the shores of lesser men. Before him stooped the old figure, white, shining now as if with some light kindled within, bent, laden with years, but holding a power beyond the strength of kings.
And now we come to the subject of Christ figures – they’re actually fairly common in pop culture, whether the creator is Christian or not, but in this case Tolkien was clearly drawing on his faith, because there’s not one but THREE Christ figures in his story. Gandalf is the most obvious one (what with the whole resurrection thing), but Aragorn is also a Christ figure, as well as Frodo. They represent the three “stations” of Christ (as is generally agreed upon within church tradition, even if it’s never put that way directly in the Bible): Prophet (Gandalf), Priest (Frodo), and King (Aragorn). The “King” one is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll just start with the role of the Prophet. Contrary to popular belief, a Biblical prophet wasn’t simply someone who predicted the future or performed miracles (although he sometimes did both in service of his mission); rather, the role of the prophet was to speak truth to power, often the sort of truth they don’t want to hear (hence why so many of the prophets were persecuted by their own people). Essentially, the Prophet is the mouthpiece of God (or of Truth). This is generally what Gandalf does, running around telling the truth of the situation to the rulers of Men and sometimes being ridiculed as a bearer of bad news. The role of the Priest might be hard to understand in this day and age, but essentially it is a person appointed to perform a holy duty for the sake of many, particularly a sacrificial act (in Jesus’ case, offering himself as a sacrifice). Frodo’s duty is to “sacrifice” the Ring, ridding Middle-earth of a particular evil.
Anyhow, Gandalf briefly tells about his fight with the Balrog and subsequent death(?), and how Gwaihir the Eagle saved him again and brought him to Lórien. Then he summons his horse Shadowfax, who just so happens to have Aragorn and Legolas’ horses with him.
As soon as Shadowfax saw Gandalf, he checked his pace and whinnied loudly; then trotting gently forward he stooped his proud head and nuzzled his great nostrils against the old man’s neck.
These two are actually kind of sweet together – Tolkien served with the Cavalry in WWI, and his fondness for horses is definitely one of the elements of this story that helped draw me in early on.
Until next time…