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Let's Read Tolkien 50: Flotsam and Jetsam

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Gandalf and the King's company rode away, turning eastward to make the circuit of the ruined walls of Isengard. As the Riders of Rohan leave, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas stay behind at the gate-house, where Merry and Pippin serve them a meal from Saruman's captured supplies, and they catch up. There's even pipeweed, and Pippin wins Gimli's eternal gratitude by giving him his spare pipe - because of course a hobbit has a spare pipe. The hobbits and the Three Hunters exchange stories of their pursuit, and Merry and Pippin tell about their time with the Ents, and narrate the Ents' attack on Isengard for our benefit. The hobbits had watched as Saruman commits a rookie War of the Ring error in emptying out Isengard even though there are Companions in Fangorn, and while the Huorns - like feral Ents - went after the orc army, the Ents smashed their way into Isengard and drove Saruman to hide in the tower of Orthanc. Once Isengard has been wrecked, Gríma Wormtongue shows up, and Treebeard sends him on to Saruman's tower. The hobbits are then left at the gate-house to await the King. Finally, Aragorn, bothered by the barrels of pipeweed from the Shire, makes a prophecy: "Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Théoden's." ** Geez, 50. Back in November 2013 , when I was a second-year theology student, I wrote about a very proper gentlehobbit having his house crashed by a party of dwarves. As it happens, this chapter is also a meal featuring dwarves and hobbits, and not really that much else. One of the problems of reading a book you know by heart is that it's difficult to judge how effective some of the literary gambits are; much of the effect of Tolkien's changes of perspective is lost when everyone knows the story. Still, the reunion of the hobbits and the Three Hunters in the ruins of Isengard is memorable, and the pacing of the story works: this is a little interval between the climactic battle of Helm's Deep and the following chapters, which begin to set up the next major section of the plot. In my mind at least, there are two reasons why Tolkien chose to tell the story of the Ents' assault on Isengard through the hobbits: it fits with the lowered tension of the story, and preserves a little more of the mystery of the Ents. Hearing everything at second hand leaves them at a bit of a distance, and I think it works. Finally, Tolkien's theology of luck also rears its head here, in a remark by Gimli. I mentioned the concept way back when Bilbo met Gollum , and discussed one sense of it in Chapter III : luck as providence, Eru/God intervening in the world. Here we have a glimpse of his other idea of luck: one where luck is something you make or at least grasp for yourself. A northern theory of luck, if you will. "The cutting of the bands on your wrists, that was smart work!" said Gimli. "Luck served you there; but you seized your chance with both hands, one might say." This idea is a complement to the notion of luck as divine intervention: whether God stoops down to arrange matters for you or not, what's important is that you grasp the opportunity. This is a similar idea to Richard Simpkin's concept of luck management, and even has shades of the New Age-y idea of affirmations peddled by cartoonist Scott Adams in the Dilbert Future - one of the first strong signs that he was going round the bend. In this context, it's another tension between the Christian and pagan elements of Tolkien's creation. Next time: a parley.

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