Saturday, July 21, 2012

Puttin' the Blog in Balrog VIII: The Two Towers III: 1-5

From some discussion we've been having, it seems I'm not the only one who is always a little shocked to be reminded that the resolution of Boromir's story does not occur in the last chapter of Fellowship of the Ring, but rather in the first chapter of The Two Towers. Part of this is, no doubt, because of the films, who also directly show us Boromir's last stand rather than just presenting us with its aftermath to pick over like technicians with CSI: Middle Earth.

I tend to applaud that choice; George R.R. Martin especially has trained me to mistrust deaths that happen offscreen, as it were. Pics or it didn't happen!

But of course, it did.

Equilibrium at last!

Of course, it's not precisely Boromir's corpse that Aragorn finds; Boromir (Oh, Boromir!) gets a few last words, a chance to confess and be forgiven before he dies. So Aragorn finds out that some Orcs have Merry and Pippen, but d'oh! Boromir (Oh, Boromir!) dies before Aragorn thinks to ask about Frodo. Not that Boromir knew where Frodo had gone anyway, but still.

And then we get a gloomy soliloquy, or rather the continuation of one, from Aragorn, who is working himself up into quite a frenzy of despair. It's like pessimism is a disease and Boromir infected him just before dying. Fortunately, Gimolas shows up to shake some sense into the Future King of Gondor and insist that before Aragorn expends anymore time and energy grieving and wailing and gnashing his teeth and failing to decide which way to go now, they do something about Boromir's body. Remember, as far as Gimolas knows, Boromir simply died fighting; only Aragorn knows he tried to take the ring. But even so, now that he's dead, it's important to honor who he was rather than who he almost became.

In 1986, I saw a film that finally made me understand what people meant when they said they loved film -- film for its own sake, and not just a particular movie or a kind of movie. That film, which I still think should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture (which went to Platoon. Grr), was Roland Joffe's The Mission.

Why do I mention that film now? Because, of course, its opening scene immediately ripped my head off with its arresting beauty, its dramatic power, and how it reminded me of the way Aragorn and Gimolas sent Boromir down the falls of Rauros in a boat with his own weapons and a heap of Orc weapons -- he killed some 20 before they took him down.

Anyway, that scene from The Mission, like the Ennio Morricone score, like the performances by Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro (and yeah, Liam Neeson too, in a small part), like the amazing cinematography of Chris Menges, still gives me the chills and still makes me think of Boromir:

In addition, we are treated to some sort-of -impromptu poetry as part of the sendoff. I don't think Aragorn and Legloas are making this up on the spot, but as educated men of a civilization that still partakes very much of the oral tradition, they probably, like any good bard or prince, have a certain stock of heroic lines and verses committed to memory, ever a the ready for adaptation into a new epic or, in this case, lament. Think of Homer's "wine-dark sea" and "rosy-fingered dawn": "What news from the North, O mighty wind, do you bring to me today? What news of Boromir the Bold? For he is long away." Any hero's name, with an appropriately alliterative epithet, could fit those lines, and doubtless has many times before now.

This is one of the most moving scenes in the whole of Tolkien's milieu, for me.

And then, decision time. Aragorn's tracking skills have already told him where Frodo and Sam went -- to the boats, Mordor or Bust. They go into danger, most likely, but Merry and Pippen are for sure in danger. Orcs got 'em. And not just any Orcs, but the monstrous goblins-on-steroids we will come to know as Saruman's Uruk-Hai.

I always wondered how Saruman created those guys. The movie rather cleverly has him rattling off the history of how Sauron created the original Orcs, by torturing and degrading and corrupting captive Elves until they produced offspring with the desired traits. Did Saruman start from scratch, as Sauron did, or did he just start his own pea farm captive breeding program? Did he sit down and make Punnet Squares?

Let T = sunlight tolerance and t = sunlight intolerance.. 
how many generations until Uruk Hai?

And he's gone and developed his own heraldry and everything. Which I love. But, so, it's these guys, who can walk in the sunlight and use man-sized weapons and armor, a new thing in Middle Earth, who have Merry and Pippen, the Decoy Hobbits of Book III. So of course Aragorn and Gimolas are going after them.

After a whole lot of running, they find out that they're not the only ones who stop the world to have arguments over where they're going. All signs at a place just within the border of ROHAAANNNN point to a huge fight, with lots of Orc-on-Orc action. The ordinary Moria/Mordor Orcs had just assumed they were taking the hobbits to Sauron, but the Uruk Hai (who basically win), are taking the hobbits to Isengard. And yes I know about the song. Of course I do.

More running. So much running. EssJay has pointed out that they run 135 miles, chasing the Uruk Hai. How many people can actually do that? But these are not ordinary people, of course. Aragorn is of an all but superhuman race of kings, Gimli is a Dwarve and famous for stamina, and Legolas... Legolas is even stranger:
In the waybread of the Elves he found all the sustenance that he needed, and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open eyed in the light of this world.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who is thinking of the Cylons' "projections" in Nu Battlestar Galactica. Please? Or perhaps it's just that, being immortal and ridiculously old, the Elves really have been there, done that, everywhere, many times over, and don't have to pay attention to where they're stepping? But no, Legolas had never been to Lorien before. So maybe he just pre-figures the posthuman dreams of those who look at the eight or so hours of sleep our bodies require every day to function as a waste, and hope to find a way to make the time we're given more productive.

Anyway, neat trick.

An end finally comes to all the running when come the Riders of ROHAANNNNN, at least the household of Eomer*, nephew of King Theoden of ROHAANNNNNN, who almost starts a fight with Gimolas when he repeats what he's always been told, that Galadriel is a witch who ensnares everyone who comes into her land, but, being a reasonable and awesome person, backs down when they do and everybody exchanges news. Eomer and co. killed all the Uruk Hai/Orcs but never saw any hobbits; Aragorn tells them who he is and everybody is friends. But alas! Eomer is more or less an outcast because he sticks to the old ways, old alliances and old promises, but Theoden has been listening to counselors with other ideas, like doing what Saruman wants.

Oh, and that tribute of horses to Mordor is total horse-pucky. Orcs steal black horses from time to time.

But so, the running is at an end. Some of Eomer's men did not survive the battle with the Uruk Hai, so he just happens to have some spare horses. He hopes Aragorn and Gimolas will come back to Meduseld to help Eomer's people get ready for the coming war (and maybe get Theoden to wake up and smell the stench), but no, our boys want to make absolutely for sure that Merry and Pippin are truly lost before they give up on them, so off they go!

And what's that they spy at the edge of Fangorn? Near the site of Eomer's giant Orcbecue? An old man that appears and disappears and seems a little weird? Whoever could that be?


This is the first time Tolkien's done this kind of split scene storytelling, for as Chapter III starts we're going back in time four days or so to catch up with Merry and Pippin and the Uruk Hai (the very same Uruk Hai whom Eomer went all Gandalf with the pinecones on), on the running march from the Argonath to Isengard. This was all very disorienting for me as a young reader, because I was not expecting a storytelling device like this, so I assumed that either Aragorn was wrong about where the hobbits were/were being taken or that the Uruk Hai who had them had managed to escape the Riddermark's men somehow. I opted to believe the latter until I knew better, but then whoa!

Anyway, Pip wakes up from a bad dream only to realize his actual situation is far worse. He and Merry have indeed been taken by Uruk Hai, and they are well trussed. But he remembers that Merry, at least, fought them off pretty well even before Boromir arrived - Merry "had cut off several of their arms and hands." Who's a badass? Merry's a badass. Just a small one.

Pippin ponders his uselessness thus far on the mission and totally fails to see that the Uruk Hai think that he and/or Merry are THE Halfling, i.e. the one with the Ring, and so right now he and Merry are the most useful people on the whole mission right now (with the exception of Frodo and Sam themselves, of course). Poor Pip. Your time is coming.

Meanwhile, commence fighting, all you Orcs and Uruk Hai. Like you ordinary Orcs have a chance. Ha! And I kind of love Ugluk, you guys. He's a bastard on the wrong side, of course, and he eats man's flesh and all, but he is... well, maybe I've just been reading too much military/historical fiction lately, but he reminds me of Richard Sharpe a little. He's got his orders, and he's going to follow them, by god. And since he's the best soldier of the lot by a great margin, well, he gets a name, doesn't he? I mean, so does Grishnbkh, but Ugluk is the baddest.

During the fight, Pip manages to cut his hands loose but shrewdly reties them loosely so his captors don't catch on. And later, he lets drop his brooch from Lorien as a clue for the CSI: Middle Earth team, in case they're following. See? He's already doing well. Hobbits freaking rule. And it gets better still: later on, when Grishnbkh is basically rolling Merry and Pippin looking for the Ring, Pip totally messes with his head with a bang-up Gollum impression. Like a boss.

Never once in any of the books are any of the Hobbits this lame.

Meanwhile, Merry, who was injured in the fight when he and Pip were seized, is getting a dose of Orcish medicine courtesy of Ugluk. I'm sure the salve is smelly, and the drink he's forced to take yucky, but it totally works.

And then they're off! The Uruk Hai insist on running day and night, which the little goblins from the Misties don't like. Merry and Pippin, fortified by and possibly high on some awful Orc drink, have to run, too, or get whipped. Or dragged. Yow!

Soon another disagreement breaks out. "Where's your Nazgul now," Ugluk taunts. "Has he had another mount shot under him?" See? Ugluk!**) and most of the Northerners leave the company for good, leaving Merry and Pippin to the Uruk Hai because by now they all know that the "Whiteskins" (Rohirrim) are coming for them. Which they do! Many of them shooting arrows from horseback! And now all I can picture is a contest, Rohirrim vs Dothraki! Except I also love to picture Eomer vs Ugluk. That would have been something to see.

And in the chaos and slaughter, Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn! By the power of Lembas!

I need to make a batch of this for the next drinkalong!

Well, and also Merry's memory of all the maps he studied at Rivendell while Pippin was just sort of hanging out. Merry has all the geography.

Ah, Fangorn. Dim and stuffy home of Treebeard!*** This is another part that is revealed to kind of drag on a bit. Part of this is because Treebeard takes a long time to do anything, and part of it is just because it's contrasting immediately to the breakneck pace of the prior chapters, which have been all about running. Ents do not run. They are the orphan race of Middle Earth, unable to breed new generations because the females are gone (see my FOTR posts for stupid speculation about the Entwives). I have talked about Ents to death already, I feel. Hoom. At any rate, our Hobbits do not get off on quite the right foot with Treebeard, when he hears Pippin say he almost liked the forest, but again, our boys display considerable political/psychological acumen and (eventually) divert Treebeard's attention to his real enemy.

But first, more traveling! But this time Merry and Pippin just sort of ride on Treebeard's shoulders for 70,000 Ent strides, which sounds pretty far to me but who knows, maybe every movement of his seven toes counts as a stride and maybe it's just a few miles? Anyway, Treebeard's house! Where the Entdraughts are! More strange liquids for the Hobbits.

Well, I'm sure it will taste better than that Orcish liqueur...
Again, I can totally see why the stoner crowd loves these books.

Anyway, Treebeard gets positively hasty after hearing the Hobbits' story, but he calms down and decides he needs to confer with his brothers, Finglas and Fladrif and the rest of the gang. Except wait, not those two; Finglas is sleepy and hairy, and Fladrif has gone way up high to hide out with the birches. But there are other guys, younger guys. Yes. But later. First Treebeard has to talk about the Entwives, all about the Entwives, and if his talk doesn't make you want to go for a long walk in the forest or the nice green countryside (I believe there still is some, somewhere, but all the countryside around me is blonde and brown. Stupid drought) then there is something deeply wrong with you because OMG scenery porn. And also, if you don't feel incredibly sorry for the Ents, there is something really really wrong with you and your ancestors might have been part of the breeding program when Saruman was messing with his Punnet squares.

"Soon" in Ent terms, there is an Entmoot at a place called Derndingle (tee hee) at which the decision is taken: Saruman, with his "mind of metal and wheels" who "does not care for growing things" has been messing with their forests for too long.**** The Shepherds of the Trees are going to war! "We come, we come with horn and drum, ta-ryna ryna ryna rom!"


Aragorn and Gimolas are arguing over the old man they think they saw. Gim thinks it's got to be Saruman but Olas isn't so sure. It's the horses, you see. Were they scared or glad to encounter whatever they encountered? Of course we know this is the respawned Gandalf the White and Shadowfax. But Aragorn is still in full-on tracking mode.

Here is a mallorn leaf of Lorien, and there are small crumbs on it.

Everybody trades conspiracy theories. And then they head into the forest. Yes, into Fangorn. And Gim says the sweetest thing yet to Olas. Olas likes the feel of Fangorn even though it's old and stuffy, so Gim is willing to go "You comfort me," the Dwarve says to the Elve. "Where you go, I will go." Did they just get married?

But that's not important now because


Who defeated the


in an epic off-screen fight and came back as "Saruman as he should have been." Tolkien really does a fine job of stringing out the question of his identity, by the way. When I was a kid, I was sure this was Saruman and he was going to git 'em. I was totally gobsmacked when it turned out to be Gandalf. I believe my mother came running into my room to ask me what the Snape was wrong.

I believe I have said before that it is probably totally my fault she won't read fantasy. Science fiction, OMG yes, but not fantasy.

Anyway, so


has had Gwaihir the Windlord (the chief of the Eagles from The Hobbit, who also was the one who rescued


from Orthanc, and rescued him again from Celebdil, where he showed up naked after defeating the


out scouting for him, and so he knows that Frodo got away ("he was saved from a great peril, but many lie before him still") but apparently not that Sam went with him? But so then INFODUMP. Everybody catches everybody up on what's going on in very great detail. Very great. Not quite Council of Elrond great, but still. I guess the literary device of "and they exchanged news" wasn't suitable here because...?

Uh, I got nothin'.

But hey, this is the chapter where the title of this novel comes into focus. Mordor (Barad-Dur) knows that Isengard (Orthanc) is also after the Ring, and everybody else is caught in between. It's a metaphor, and yet not! Clever, clever Tolkien!

So the big chase (I am still laughing at EssJay's interpretation of said chase, by the way) was kind of pointless, although


assures them that it wasn't, even though the Hobbits are safe by their own efforts, and now they have to kind of backtrack a little because just as the Ents are coming for Saruman, Saruman is coming for Rohan (in case somehow Theoden has gotten his hands on the Ring) and Sauron is coming for Gondor, so no matter what, Aragorn and Anduril need to make themselves known and rally the troops. Stand, men of the west!

To Edoras! No, that is not a toast. Maybe on Friday, though.

*Eomer is one of my favorite characters in The Two Towers. And here this time around is the first time I noticed yet another reason to love him: the people of ROHAANNNN and the Beornings (i.e. Beorn and his family) are related, and many of the Beornings are tall and fair like the people of ROHAANNNN, which I guess is the excuse Peter Jackson is going to use for giving us a Fabio-tressed Beorn. A Fabeorn, if you will.

**Ugluk also makes several remarks to the effect that the Uruk Hai are always left to do the dirty work. So apparently there have been joint missions between the Misty/Mordor Orcs and the Uruk Hai in the past? Orc politics, man. It's a helluva thing.

***Who, by the way, did not read the Silmarillion, apparently, because when he rattles off his "Lore of Living Creatures" he names Elves as the oldest of all. Hoom! Though later when he starts (slowly) reciting his own story, possibly a Common Speech translation of his name, he sounds very Silmarillionesque, no?
 ------- But then later Gandalf says that Treebeard himself is the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle Earth. Wha---?

****By the way, how much do we love Bregalad? He made up his mind right away, because his part of the forest is already being affected (love his laments for his rowan trees) so gets appointed the Hobbit-sitter, and takes them to all the prettiest places in the forest. Sigh.


  1. I had completely forgotten about Bregalad. Completely. He was like this brand new part of the story.I am fond of the Ents, especially all the hroom hom hooom stuff.

    1. I think all the hroom hom hoom stuff would make a cool little song, Jim... 8)

  2. I too loved The Mission -- what a fantastic, powerful movie, with great performances from De Niro and Irons. Haven't seen it in years -- thanks for stirring up my memories a bit.

    I also thought the orc politics were cool -- and a clever narrative device on Tolkien's part to force them to speak in Westron, so our hobbit friends can grasp some of what it is going on. I seem to recall that happens later as well, when [REDACTED].

    I'm not sure I can top "Fabeorn," though as I read book-Boromir and see how much more of a sad-sack he can be than Bean-Boromir, I want to redub him Eeyorimir. But then, that heroic last stand and the viking-like sendoff... yeah, Boromir was an OK guy. Cared too much about making sure Gondor remained awesome, and that was all the Ring needed.

    1. Eeyorimir. Bwahahaha. Eeyorimir. I LOVE IT. Even if, as you justly point out, it's ill-earned. It will be impossible to forget.

  3. 1) So I totally read your RETROMANIA post before this one and, um, may or may not have been playing the entire Byzantine hymn the whole time I was reading this, which was epic. SUPER epic.
    2) Humperdinck as Aragorn made me laugh out loud. PERFECT.
    3) Am I the only person who is profoundly irritated by Gandalf The White on his high horse? The ONLY ONE?

    1. Watch out, Jericha, Gandalf's head is now sacred, remember!

      And yes! Byzantine Classical is the BEST for reading LOTR. Metal is good, but has distracting lyrics. Byzantia just has EFFECT.

    2. I recommend "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin for the last charge of Theoden King.

      Hm... HMMM.... I wonder if any talented video editors (ahem) would be tempted to make a mashup of that?

      (Though I will seriously look up Byzantine Classical...)

  4. I'm just sorry ol' Strider ends up being part of Aragarwen and not Eowygorn. The latter power-couple could have ruled Gondorohan. Or would that be GondorOOOOHHHAANNNN! ?


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