The remnants of the Company are scattered across the kingdoms of Men, awaiting the onslaught of Mordor. Thus we turn at last to the Tower of Guard, where we get to see how far Pippin’s come as he’s immersed in Gondorian culture.
This chapter draws a clear parallel to The King of the Golden Hall in the last book, as it plays a similar role of introducing a new kingdom with a new culture and some new characters (although the language is “old” – the people of Minas Tirith use some variant of Elvish, like the Rangers that Frodo encountered in Ithilien). So we begin with some guards at the border who ask for a password, being wary of strangers – namely Pippin.
‘I will vouch for him before the seat of Denethor,’ said Gandalf. ‘And as for valor, that cannot be computed by stature. He has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height; and he comes now from the storming of Isengard, of which we bear tidings, and great weariness is on him, or I would wake him. His name is Peregrin, a very valiant man.’
‘Man?’ said Ingold dubiously, and the others laughed.
‘Man!’ cried Pippin, now thoroughly roused. ‘Man! Indeed not! I am a hobbit and no more valiant than I am a man, save perhaps now and again by necessity. Do not let Gandalf deceive you!’
Despite his protestations, Pippin has certainly grown up a lot since he first set out on an adventure with Frodo. It’s not just coincidence that he’s attributed honor and respect in Minas Tirith for probably the first time in his life.
In other news, Gandalf’s surprised to learn that not only is Boromir’s death known in Minas Tirith, but it’s evidently pretty common knowledge, even if they still don’t know the particulars of it.
‘Mithrandir! Mithrandir!’ men cried. ‘Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!’
‘It is upon you,’ said Gandalf. ‘I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known.’
Gandalf’s stated reason for coming is mainly to bring news to Denethor of the defeat of Saruman and related events, but he also has the ulterior motive of preparing the way for, well, the return of the King. And he’s a little annoyed that he has to spell it all out for Pippin.
‘Be careful of your words, Master Peregrin! This is no time for hobbit pertness. Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king. But he will speak mostly to you, and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the moreso because they were unlike. But under cover of this love he will think it easier to learn what he wishes from you rather than me. Do not tell him more than you need, and leave quiet the matter of Frodo’s errand. I will deal with that in due time. And say nothing about Aragorn either, unless you must. […] It is scarcely wise when bringing the news of the death of his heir to a mighty lord to speak over much of the coming of one who will, if he comes, claim the kingship. Is that enough?’
‘Kingship?’ said Pippin amazed.
‘Yes,’ said Gandalf. ‘If you have walked all these days with closed ears and mind asleep, wake up now!’
Denethor and Théoden are as clearly set up as reflections of one another as their realms. Rohan is a place born of the land, a land of fields and meadows and rolling hills. Gondor was born of the bones of the mountains, yet within its halls of stone silence steadily grows as its people diminish.
Where we first see Théoden sitting on a throne and accompanied by counselor and family, clutching a staff he doesn’t need, Denethor is introduced in the throne room (although not his throne room, of course), sitting alone, with a rod in his hand (a symbol of his stewardship).
Then the old man looked up. Pippin saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn. ‘Dark indeed is the hour,’ said the old man, ‘and at such times you are wont to come, Mithrandir. But though all the signs forebode that the doom of Gondor is drawing nigh, less now to me is that darkness than my own darkness. It has been told to me that you bring with you one who saw my son die. Is this he?’
‘It is,’ said Gandalf. ‘One of the twain. […] Halflings they are, as you see, yet this is not he of whom the omens spoke.’
‘Yet a Halfling still,’ said Denethor grimly, ‘and little love do I bear the name since those accursed words came to trouble our counsels and drew away my son on the wild errand to his death. My Boromir! Now we have need of you. Faramir should have gone in his stead.’
‘He would have gone,’ said Gandalf. ‘Be not unjust in your grief! Boromir was a masterful man, and one to take what he desired. I journeyed far with him and learned much of his mood.’
Denethor was an unfortunate victim of the film adaptation. Here we have a cunning (perhaps even wise) ruler, able to turn just about any circumstance to his advantage (I mean, he’s still clearly griefstricken about Boromir, but I don’t doubt Gandalf’s instincts are right). But he’s still perfectly willing to accept aid and counsel from others (like Gandalf), no matter their disagreements on smaller matters. It’s a far cry from the often cartoonishly self-centered character in the movie.
Then Denethor grills Pippin about Boromir’s death, leading to this:
Then Pippin looked the old man in the eye, for pride stirred strangely within him, still stung by the scorn and suspicion in that cold voice. ‘Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.’ Twitching aside his grey cloak, Pippin drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor’s feet.
A pale smile, like a gleam of cold sun on a winter’s evening, passed over the old man’s face; but he bent his head and held out his hand, laying the shards of the horn aside. ‘Give me the weapon!’ he said.
Pippin lifted it and presented the hilt to him. ‘Whence came this?’ said Denethor. ‘Many, many years lie on it. Surely this is a blade wrought by our own kindred in the North in the deep past? […] I see that strange tales are woven about you,’ said Denethor. ‘And once again it is shown that looks may belie the man – or the halfling. I accept your service. For you are not daunted by words; and you have courteous speech, strange though the sound of it may be to us in the South. And we shall need all folk of courtesy, be they great or small, in the days to come.’
Tolkien further explains the “strange” dialect of the Shire in his “Translation Notes” – basically discussing how he used the English language to convey his linguistic vision (or complain about how it didn’t). Essentially, the Common Tongue has a “familiar” tense (for friends and family) and a “deferential” tense (generally used to indicate respect to one of higher rank), as you see in languages like Spanish or Japanese. But the hobbits somehow lost the deferential form, meaning that Pippin would seem very pert indeed, speaking to the Lord Denethor as if they were equals.
Gandalf grows increasingly frustrated that Denethor isn’t letting him speak, not even about the (very important and relevant) news of events in the North – he claims that he already knows about that stuff, even though the only thing that could’ve gotten to Minas Tirith faster than Shadowfax is a bird (and Denethor doesn’t seem like the sort to befriend birds).
‘Yea,’ [Denethor] said; ‘for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them.’
[…] Pippin sat down, but he could not take his eyes from the old lord. Was it so, or had he only imagined it, that as he spoke of the Stones a sudden gleam of his eye had glanced upon Pippin’s face?
I mean, Faramir at least has experienced visions and other messages (he was the one who first had the dream which led them to seek out Rivendell), but Denethor has a suspicious amount of confidence in his intel as he proceeds to spend an hour questioning Pippin (ostensibly about Boromir and the events leading up to his death).
‘Let your wrath at an old man’s folly run off, and then return to my comfort!’
‘Folly?’ said Gandalf. ‘Nay, my lord, when you are a dotard you will die. You can use even your grief as a cloak. Do you think that I do not understand your purpose in questioning for an hour one who knows the least, while I sit by?’
‘If you understand it, then be content,’ returned Denethor. ‘Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made a tool for other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor, and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine, and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.’
‘Unless the king should come again?’ said Gandalf. ‘Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?’
Gandalf is awesome. Just saying.
This little speech serves not only to outline Denethor’s motives in contrast to Gandalf’s, but to some extent helps illuminate Boromir’s mindset. He expressed similar “Gondor First” rhetoric, even though he spoke more of the kingdom’s contemporary courage and valor than its ancient legacy (which Denethor and Faramir both seem to value much more, if still in different ways). Denethor resents being used by Gandalf for even the noblest of goals, because he implicitly believes that preserving Gondor is the noblest of goals.
After Pippin’s finally released from his interrogation in the presence of two terrifying old men, he’s largely left to his own devices in exploring the city, but having officially joined the service of Denethor, another soldier of the city, Beregond, is sent to be his guide and offer his orientation.
‘I will not hide from you, Master Peregrin,’ said Beregond, ‘that to us you look almost as one of our children, a lad of nine summers or so; and yet you have endured perils and seen marvels that few of our greybeards could boast of. I thought it was the whim of our Lord to take him a noble page, after the manner of the kings of old, they say. But I see that it is not so, and you must pardon my foolishness.’
‘I do,’ said Pippin. ‘Though you are not far wrong. I am still little more than a boy in the reckoning of my own people, and it will be four years yet before I “come of age”, as we say in the Shire. But do not bother about me.’
Pippin rapidly becomes famous in the city, and before he knows it he’s been dubbed “Prince of the Halflings” and allegedly promised 5,000 swords, to come riding double with the Rohirrim as he did with Gandalf. As silly as it might sound, though, calling Pippin a “Prince” might not be too far from the truth – he’s a son of the Thain of Tuckborough, who is by some accounts the “rightful ruler” of the Shire.
But they are still in the shadow of Mordor, preparing for war.
‘What was that?’ asked Beregond. ‘You also felt something?’
‘Yes,’ muttered Pippin. ‘It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air.’
[…] For a time they sat together with bowed heads and did not speak. Then suddenly Pippin looked up and saw that the sun was still shining and the banners still streaming in the breeze. He shook himself. ‘It is passed,’ he said. ‘No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and he has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.’
I love you Pippin. The hobbits have always been resilient in the face of despair. But eventually Beregond has to resume his duty, so he recommends Pippin seek out his young son, Bergil, to keep him company.
‘My father farms the lands round Whitwell near Tuckborough in the Shire. I am nearly twenty-nine, so I pass you there; though I am but four feet, and not likely to grow any more, save sideways.’
‘Twenty-nine!’ said the lad and whistled. ‘Why, you are quite old! As old as my uncle Iorlas. Still,’ he added hopefully, ‘I wager I could stand you on your head or lay you on your back.’
‘Maybe you could, if I let you,’ said Pippin with a laugh. ‘And maybe I could do the same to you: we know some wrestling tricks in my little country. Where, let me tell you, I am considered uncommonly large and strong; and I have never allowed anyone to stand me on my head. So if it came to a trial and nothing else would serve, I might have to kill you. For when you are older, you will learn that folk are not always what they seem; and though you may have taken me for a soft stranger-lad and easy prey, let me warn you: I am not, I am a halfling, hard, bold, and wicked!’ Pippin pulled such a grim face that the boy stepped back a pace, but at once he returned with clenched fists and the light of battle in his eye.
‘No!’ Pippin laughed. ‘Don’t believe what strangers say of themselves either! I am not a fighter.’
I love you Pippin. He definitely seems like the sort of person who will always love children, and as such he enjoys hanging out with Bergil and seeing the city, then watching the reinforcements coming in from the outlands of Gondor. There’s obviously less coming than they’d hoped, though, mainly because there’s a fleet of ships headed for the southern coast which forces those regions to retain more troops for their own defenses.
‘At the sunrise I shall take you to the Lord Denethor again. No, when the summons comes, not at sunrise. The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.’
Until next time…