Ink to Film Podcast: Ep-85 The Two Towers (1954 novel) part one
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This episode aired on April 11, 2019 and was made possible by our generous patrons.
Luke: Welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…
James: …and then see the movie.
Luke: I’m Luke.
James: And I’m James.
Luke: And this week, we discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1954 novel, The Two Towers.
Luke: Welcome back to Middle Earth. Unfortunately, Boromir’s corpse is at our feet. Otherwise, this would just be a really happy return to Middle Earth. <laughs>
James: Well, it’s funny, even though we started with this kind of shocking, violent moment, and sad at that, it’s…going back to Middle Earth is still a warm feeling to me, and it’s familiar. And, no matter what’s going on in the world, I’m always happy to go back to Middle Earth.
Luke: So, I think this is the book where I kind of, uh, DNFed, you know. I kind of didn’t finish this book when I went to read it a few years ago after the first time. And, like I said, I detailed our history…we detailed our history of Lord of the Rings in our previous episodes on Fellowship, but yeah, I think I fell off of this book somewhere towards the middle, and didn’t finish it. And then I’ve never read Return of the King. So, I’m definitely eager to get to that, but I was thinking about why as I was reading this, and I really believe it’s because this part of the book, we get no Hobbits. Well, that’s not true. We get no Frodo, I should say. We get Merry and Pippin, obviously. Frodo’s gone, and like, Frodo’s our main protagonist, who we followed throughout all of Fellowship. And to have him just be gone for the opening part of this book is weird. It feels weird to me. So, when you’re talking about that homey, warm feeling, I think part of that’s tied up with these Hobbits for me. So, I get a little of it in the Merry and Pippin chapters, but when we’re just with Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas, it just feels like a very different book.
James: I think that’s what it is. I think it just…the second book switches gears into a different kind of story. I think the first one was the leaving of that warm territory into this more unknown area, and now we’re into this…it reads like a war novel, as well. If you like battle plans and alliances and people’s, you know, allegiances and where they lie, the beginning of this book is very much that. I think that the best way to consume this material is just, as soon as you finish Fellowship, start reading Two Towers. The gap that we’ve taken has really, I think, changed kind of how our outlook on a scene would have been right after. Since we last covered Fellowship of the Ring, I’ve had to try so hard to not encounter Two Towers in any way. I was actually at a brewery recently, and they were playing Two Towers, and I had to, like, avert my eyes the entire time because I knew we were going to cover it for the podcast.
Luke: Yeah, I’ve also been avoiding it. I think it’s come on a couple times on TV and stuff, and I’ve just had to walk to the other room. But, hey we’re here now. It’s actually been almost a year, like to the week, I think. It’s a couple weeks’ difference, but it’s been almost exactly a year since we covered Fellowship. And, if anybody wants to go back and check those out, in case you’re just finding this, it’s episodes 36–39. We did three on the book, and then we covered the movie. So, this is a continuation of that coverage, I guess, in that way. And other than, I guess, Harry Potter, where we returned, this is one of the few times we’ve returned to the same material like this.
James: Yeah, I think so.
Luke: It’s like the same series, I guess, is what I’m saying.
James: Right. So far.
Luke: So far. But we’ll probably be doing more of this in the future. So, yeah, I guess do you want to start off with general thoughts, or…get into some summary? I do have some interesting notes from the Wikipedia about the title, The Two Towers.
James: Okay, let’s hear that first.
Luke: Okay. So, according to Wikipedia, “Tolkien wrote, ‘The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous.’" I guess meaning, like, what the Two Towers refers to? “At this stage he planned to title the individual books. The proposed title for Book III was The Treason of Isengard. Book IV was titled The Journey of the Ringbearers or The Ring Goes East. The titles The Treason of Isengard and The Ring Goes East were used in the Millennium edition” of the books. So, you know how he says “Book 3, Book 4,” as you’re getting into this book?
Luke: It’s actually two separate books?
Luke: That’s what that’s referring to. So, ”In letters to Rayner Unwin, Tolkien considered naming the two [towers] as Orthanc and Barad-dûr, Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol.” I’m sorry if I’m pronouncing these wrong. I’m actually really bad at pronouncing Lord of the Rings names. Um, “However, a month later he wrote a note published at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and later drew a cover illustration, both of which identified the pair as Minas Morgul and Orthanc. In the illustration, Orthanc is shown as a black tower, three-horned, with the sign of the White Hand beside it; Minas Morgul is a white tower, with a thin waning moon above it, in reference to its original name, Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon. Between the two towers a Nazgûl flies.” So, there you go. Those are the two towers.
James: I love all that stuff.
Luke: But I think it’s also kind of ambiguous what could be the two towers, right?
James: Yeah, I think it’s really cool to know that…assuming that the books came out, you know Book 1, so you got like half of Fellowship, and then you had to wait for the second half of Fellowship, and then Book 3 would have been the first part of Two Towers. I can’t even imagine experiencing the stories in that way, like not knowing what comes…halfway through Fellowship not knowing what comes next? Was it ever released that way?
Luke: I don’t think so. I think it was released the way we read it now, as in three volumes. I think it was planned to release in different ways. I’ve read some conflicting things about maybe it was planned to be released as a single volume, or in two volumes. So, this is what I found. “The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set. The other to be The Silmarillion. But this idea was dismissed by his publisher. For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year, from the 29th of July, 1954 to the 20th of October, 1955. The three volumes were titled…” as we know them. “Structurally, the novel was divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end. Some editions combine the entire work into a single volume.” So, yeah, it’s kind of complicated, but basically, it is what it is now.
James: So, it was never published in any sort of split way like that? Like I was talking about. That would be a weird way to experience it.
Luke: That would be weird, yeah.
James: So, starting the story here. I know we’re going to get to the plot here in a second, but just in a general sense, I don’t think I was emotionally ready to jump right back into Boromir.
James: Like, you know, my memory of the story usually goes along with the movie, so jumping right into the beginning of the second book and having that scene go down the way it does, I was like, “Whoa.” It took me a second, but eventually I clicked in and…I think it’s an effective way to get people interested, but I also think that I prefer the end of Fellowship.
Luke: I agree. I think Peter Jackson rightfully identified this as a moment of high drama, and it deserved to be the final thing in Fellowship, and it does feel weird having it start off Two Towers. It seems to me like Tolkien resisted making it overly sad. But probably because he knew starting a book that way was going to be kind of weird. Whereas, you’re free to do that if it’s the climax of the novel. And, so, even though there are definitely some poignant moments, there are definitely some poignant details, we don’t get the, like, “I would have followed you, my King.” You know, the awesome lines that we get in the movies.
James: I think it’s there. Like…
Luke: It’s implied.
James: What they’re saying to each other in the movies.
James: It’s implied. I think you can infer that’s the way that Aragorn feels in this situation.
Luke: Yeah. But Boromir doesn’t say it, and I think that…
Luke: …the impact of actually hearing those lines is really powerful, and…we gotta give credit, because I feel like something about the legacy of The Lord of the Rings because of The Hobbit movies…sometimes I worry that the legacy of the original films has kind of been tarnished by that.
James: I hope not.
Luke: Much like how the sequels of The Matrix kind of inform the original. And so, I just want to definitely give Peter Jackson and his crew and his writers, and whoever else consulted, credit for when I feel like they really did nail something in this adaptation, and I think they really nailed the Boromir scene and put it in the right spot in the story.
James: The idea that a sequel could ruin…or a prequel, in The Hobbit’s case…could ruin any sort of…I just have never really subscribed to that. Like, The Matrix is still amazing on its own, regardless of the sequels. I agree with you, I think that it’s like…if anyone thinks poorly of The Lord of the Rings, all you need to do is revisit those three movies, and you’ll be blown away again.
Luke: Right. But it’s also another just kind of story thing here that I feel like we have to talk about right off the bat. This whole part of The Two Towers is about…we already mentioned it earlier, but it’s about, you know, the three hunters, and then it’s about Merry and Pippin. And that’s it. We get no Frodo, no Sam, and no Gollum…
Luke: …and that is hard to do. Like to just take your main character and push him aside for an…for like half of the entire book. I know a lot of people struggle with this in, what is it, book four [of Game of Thrones], The Song of Ice and Fire when Martin did something similar.
Luke: It’s tough to do, where all of a sudden, like, the characters you thought you were going to get when you picked up the novel aren’t there. Now, we do get them in the latter half at least, but I think Peter Jackson was smart to integrate those two stories and not try to do this whole, like, we’re going to show you everything that happens and show you everything that happens there.
James: Yeah, it’s definitely very different. Yeah. Having Frodo…their journeys kind of mirror each other. I mean, with what’s looming for next week, I think I’ll leave it at that for now. Just knowing that he’s setting up this whole war and these battles that are going to happen, while the innocence of the Hobbits are fairly far away. At least Sam and Frodo.
James: Are far from our minds.
Luke: So, speaking of the two books, we had a discussion about this, and it would have probably made more sense to cover book 3 as an episode, book 4 as an episode, but we both decided we wanted to spend a little more time in the world and give it three Ink to Film episodes, so because of that we just kind of divided it by page number. And we said, “This is one-third of the book, this is one-third of the book, and this is one-third of the book.” So, this episode is going to cover chapters 1–6, which ended up leading right to the beginning of the Helms Deep confrontation, so I think it ended up being a decent place to stop. A lot of this stuff feels kind of like it’s building toward something, so I guess it makes it a good opening episode in that regard, too.
Luke: It’s kind of like setting the scene for the real business of Two Towers to go down.
James: That’s exactly how I felt this week. Reading and where we stopped, I was like, “Ooh, this is a good little teaser to get back into the groove of things, and…”
James: I’m excited. I can’t wait to continue on, but there’s a lot to talk about in here. I think another reason why it’s so…I’m always excited to jump into Tolkien because, although these heavier topics are going on, just the fact that all of the characters are singing, like 20 pages into this book…and they’re singing somber songs, but there’s something about characters breaking into song in a fantasy story like this that just…it makes me feel like…
Luke: Oral history, oral storytelling?
James: Yeah, there’s something magical about being able to write a song like that. I felt like…that sort of writing is…I don’t think a lot of people could pull it off, because it would be so jarring. And I think he pulls it off, and it all makes sense. Like, I buy that the characters would do that.
Luke: So, everyone of those songs can almost be viewed as kind of like a poem in and of itself. So, it’s almost like separate works within a work, which is always cool. And because that, they also give the implication that these songs, often at least, exist within the texture of the world. They’re, like, singing a song that has been sung before. Now, sometimes…
James: Or just freestyling them.
Luke: Yeah, they’re just kind of like improvising their songs or freestyling, as you said, yeah.
James: Hey, man, there’s some mad rap game in Middle Earth. <laughs>
Luke: I get…like, some people hate this stuff, you know? Like, some people go to read the book and are like, why am I going to read five pages of a song, like… So, I understand, especially modern readers…some people struggle to get into this book, and like I said, I fell out of it the one time I tried to read it. Now, I was also…I had already seen the movie, so I kind of knew what was coming, and so I kind of ended up bouncing out of it. But I think it was also…I think it was some of the Treebeard stuff, and the pursuit. I think, for me, it felt a little bit like it was dragging. And I really just wanted something to happen. So, I don’t know, I’ll be interested to see once I push through that, like into next week, to see if I feel like it really pays off and is worth the slower pace.
James: Yeah. I guess to just finish off what I was trying to say there, what I couldn’t pull out of my head before was, I just think there’s something magical about these songs. When I read them, to me it shouldn’t be enthralling, like you’re saying, I feel like it should be kind of jarring and weird. But, to me, when I’m reading them, like you said, it’s like poetry, and it is very engaging for me. To ask you a question, though, you said that you stopped before. Do you know if you’ve ever read Helms Deep? Have you read the battle of Helms Deep or did you stop before that?
Luke: I was trying to remember, honestly. I feel like I haven’t, but it’s definitely possible that I’ll start reading that chapter and then I’ll go, “Oh yeah, I have read this before.” But I think right now it feels like I actually got a little bit farther with this read than I had gotten previously.
Luke: All right, so we better get into the summary here. We’re going to go chapter by chapter. I’m just kind of give some bullet points, and then we can kind of react as we go. And we’ll move through this material. So, Chapter 1 is called, “The Departure of Bolomir.” Aragon is looking for Frodo when he hears the horn of Boromir and he sees Orcs in the woods. He battles his way to Boromir. He finds that he has been shot with arrows. But around him lay 20 dead Orcs. The Hobbits have been taken. Boromir bids Aragorn to go to Minas Tirith and, basically, claim his birthright. Boromir also admits that he tried to take the ring and apologizes for doing it. Yeah, we talked about this scene earlier. It’s still poignant here for me. But it just didn’t hit me the same way that it did in the movie.
James: Right. Do you think you’re bringing some of the emotion from the movie into the book, as well…
Luke: I do, yeah…
James: …because I feel like I’m doing that.
Luke: Yeah, yeah. But we already talked about this scene, so let’s move on. So, Gimli and Legolas join Aragorn, and they decide that they’re going to send Boromir off in a boat with his weapon and the weapons of his foes piled at his feet, which I thought was…
James: Pretty cool.
Luke: That was awesome. That was something I feel like wasn’t in the movie. At least I don’t remember it. Aragorn is able to deduce from the tracks and from the weaponry and the corpses that these Orcs and Goblins and stuff came from different areas. He sees that there are white hands, and there’s a red eye symbol on some of them?
Luke: And he deduces that one is Saruman and one is from Mordor. One group. And they send Boromir off in his funeral boat, and I do like that there’s a little bit of legend thrown in there about how, like, he was seen drifting through the oceans later and stuff.
James: Yeah. Mmhmm.
Luke: Um, we get three separate songs as they eulogize Boromir. So, I said, yeah, once again, this is a tradition that Tolkien loves, right? He loves these songs. They also then are trying to figure out where the Hobbits have gone, and they deduced that Frodo fled, for some reason, but Aragorn keeps Boromir’s secret. He does not tell Legolas and Gimli that Boromir tried to take the ring. And then they find some Orc tracks and decide they’re going to follow, and it’s kind of an epic-like, “We’re going to have an awesome chase.” And it’s funny, because it’s like that in the movie, but it’s also like that in the book. They decide they’re going to give a hell of a chase, and they just, like, zip off.
James: There’s a moment where it’s said that Aragorn, like, I don’t know, jumps like a deer or something like that, into the forest. Like, down the path. I envisioned Vigo jumping…like, that actually happens at the end of Fellowship. And that brings me to just the fact that this is the end of The Fellowship, the film. So, like, this is the exact start of Two Towers, if we’re trying to line it up to the movie.
Luke: Later, we do get the Riders of Rohan saying, like, “You went how far in how many days?” And they’re like, “Holy shit,” so yeah, it just adds to the fact that they’re, like, racing after the Hobbits. But it’s funny because they can’t actually catch up, because the Orcs are just going even faster.
James: Right. With this being the actual fully broken fellowship, at the beginning of…what do you think the difference is for you, with the fellowship being broken at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, the film, and the fellowship being broken at the beginning of Two Towers?
Luke: There is a sense of loss, I think, here. Knowing that all of these companions have broken and gone, essentially, three different directions. Or four, if you count over the waterfall.
Luke: But, yeah, I mean, it’s sad. It’s like this companions…this fellowship of friends, they break up here, and they’re all kind of doing their own thing, and it’s sad because that goes against what we want in our heart of heart, right? We wanted to see them go all the way with Frodo. But I think the story is the better for it eventually, right? So, I think there is sort of an adjustment period, though, where you’re no longer reading this narrative you’ve come to love and appreciate of the fellowship, and it’s now gone.
James: I wonder if there’s something to be said for that with Tolkien finishing the book where he does. Is it to keep that fellowship pure all the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, and then break it at the beginning of Two Towers in order to kind of show how different this story will be from the last.
Luke: Yeah, right. Chapter 2 is called “The Riders of Rohan.” So, our three hunters are tracking the Orcs, and they find the brooch that one of the Hobbits dropped, and we get the line, “Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall,” which is a cool line, directly from the movie as well…or directly reproduced in the movie. They only sleep briefly. They’re running all day. Legolas isn’t perhaps sleeping at all because he’s an elf. They do eventually start to tire in their pursuit, and it eventually leads them to Fangorn Forest. And when they get to the edge of Fangorn Forest, they also see this fast-moving blur. Legolas is able to use his elven eyesight that’s 105 riders, which he counts, and then he can also describe the exact way that the leader looks, and so they sort of hide. But then they’re able to…Aragorn just shouts out at them at one point. The riders circle back around, and we meet Éomer. He wants to fight immediately. Gimli’s being all prickly. It almost comes to blows, but Aragorn is able to sort of defuse everything. And they ask for help in pursuing this Orc host, who they’ve been chasing. And Éomer reveals that, actually, they already slew all the Orcs, and when they killed them, they didn’t see any Hobbits there. So, the Hobbits have disappeared, and it’s a complete mystery as to where they have gone. Aragorn next tells Éomer of Gandalf’s fall into darkness. They mention that the great horse Shadowfax had returned, so they had suspicions that something maybe had befallen Gandalf. They also tell of Boromir, and you know…it seems like a lot of bad stuff. He says, like, “You only bring woe with you,” I think is said. Because it’s like all the things Aragorn has to say are all bad. They talk about Saruman and how he is treasonous. We hear about Théoden, and it seems like maybe some weirdness is going on with Théoden. So, Éomer decides he’s going to allow them to go, but they must promise to come before Théoden after they leave the forest. Because they want to go into the forest and search for the Hobbits. And he says, like, “This could be my death, just allowing you to do this, but I’m going to allow it.” And they part ways. The three go into Fangorn and are immediately kind of frightened of it, because they’ve heard a lot of tales about Fangorn being dangerous. And Gimli spots this old bent man in a white cloak who then disappears after they see him, and then they think, “Oh, that must have been Saruman,” because they can’t find any tracks. And then their horses are gone, and that’s where we end Chapter 2. So, what was your take on all this, I guess?
James: Well, I wanted to shoot back to the men…the Rohan men…for a second.
James: Just because I think that this is our first real look at men within Middle Earth, right?
James: Are there many men?
Luke: There were some in Bree, right?
James: Oh, true. Yeah, that’s true. But in terms of like an organized army and, yeah…and I think that folding in…to this fantastical world…folding in the more grounded, human men, it makes everything else seem that much more magical. And that’s something that I think we notice with how they…you know, if Gandalf is talked about, or Elves in the forest, or Lothlórien or any of those areas. They’re like, “Ooh, these are places of legend. There are actually people there, and I can’t believe these things are actually true.” The fact that Aragorn is wielding Andúril is like a big deal for them, because they’re like, “Oh, this is like a sword of legend that’s actually being seen.” You know what I mean? All of these things seem like they’re myths at this point to them.
Luke: Yeah, which I think is one of the reasons why Éomer is willing to kind of trust them and let them do their thing, right? Because it’s like, “These guys are on some next level shit.” Like, that we didn’t know about.
James: Not to mention the fact that they’re like the fastest men they’ve ever…they’re like, “I can’t believe how quickly you got,” you know, 15 miles or whatever it was.
Luke: So, what about the creepy old white-cloaked motherfucker sneaking around the outside of the camp? What’s that about?
James: Even this time, reading, I had forgotten that this is supposed to be Saruman. I thought that this was Gandalf. I thought, “That was weird for him to be lurking.”
Luke: Me, too, man. I was like, “Okay, this is actually Gandalf.” And then he just didn’t come forward…for whatever reason, I don’t know, he’s being weird. But, yeah, spoiler for the next sections we’re going to get, but Gandalf says that wasn’t him later. So, then it is Saruman? Who’s just like projecting himself? Or maybe actually there? Like, how is this working and why?
James: It would be so weird if he was randomly there. There’s no reason for him to be there. And if he was there, why didn’t he just, like, kill someone? Why didn’t he…know what I mean?
Luke: Send somebody at them? Yeah, I don’t know. Well, I’ll be interested to see if this comes back at some point later in the book, but I feel like it’s not going to. Because I definitely thought, “Oh, there’s Gandalf being a creep.” Because Gandalf not coming forward I feel like makes even less sense like…why wouldn’t he come forward? I don’t know.
James: Well, I could see Gandalf in his own way…his all-knowing way of being like, “Well, I need to take care of whatever’s going on with the Ents, and I need to know what Merry and Pippin are up to,” and the come back and meet up with them in a little bit. I can see something like that, but it’s weird that Saruman is just lurking in the woods. It seems like it’s, yeah…maybe it’s like a projection or maybe it’s some sort of trick or something. Or also, just in terms of a narrative reason, maybe it’s Tolkien’s way of setting up the fact that Gandalf will reveal himself as Gandalf the White, and maybe…I don’t know. Maybe that’s something to do with, like, “Oh, we saw someone in white, so we should be afraid of them.”
Luke: Yeah. It could also…it actually kind of almost makes Gandalf feel kind of…like he’s maybe withholding something. I don’t know, it’s weird. Because like, at first I felt like they’re going to go this route where Gandalf is almost a new person now, and he says like, “Oh, that’s who I used to be called.” We’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Luke: But this little bit about him creeping around the edge of camp, I thought, was further adding to the mystique of “can we really trust Gandalf now?” But I don’t feel like that’s really pursued.
Luke: He’s just Gandalf. Like, he’s the white now, so maybe he’s, like, more pure in some ways, but he is just Gandalf.
James: I’ve always felt a certain way about the fact that he’s supposedly a different…seemingly a different person but ultimately the same guy in every way other than the fact that he’s…I mean he’s been through thousands of years of experiences or whatever, but he comes back and he’s the same guy. And he’s like, “I’m a different person,” but he’s never in any sort of…in any sense a different person other than what he says.
Luke: Mm. All right, so let’s get into Chapter 3, which is called “The Uruk-Hai.” And I gotta say, I think this was my favorite chapter out of the ones we read. I really enjoyed this stuff.
James: There’s the shift in POV that I like.
Luke: Yeah. So, we go to Pippin, and it’s kind of like he’s remembering them being kidnapped by the Orcs, but it’s also happening at the same time, and this is the first time we see this sort of time jump, I think. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that we’ve never really seen one side of the story play out and then gone back and seen the other side of the story play out.
Luke: And I think this is setting up what we’re going to get in the next “book” when we get Frodo and Sam. We’re going to go back and see what they’ve been doing. Since that same sort of time period. So, it’s actually interesting. I actually do this sometimes in my own writing, or I’ve tried to. So, it’s interesting to see Tolkien doing it back in the fifties. Because it feels like it’s kind of an unusual thing to do, but he’s doing it here.
James: Yeah. And that’s always a fun narrative thing, because as the reader, or as the viewer, you’re trying to understand where it fits and, as you do, it’s almost like getting references of what you just read. You’ll hear someone will mention “So and so’s…I heard tell of a battle at Helms Deep” or something.
Luke: And it also really reminds me, once again of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons in Martin’s work. It’s funny that he ended up “accidentally,” according to him not be design, but he ended up writing a book that had similar kinds of things. Because up until that point in The Song of Ice and Fire, it had been very chronological—this thing follows this thing. But that timeline got totally mixed up for those two books. Anyway, let’s get back to Merry and Pippin. Basically, they remember how the Orcs came and were…when they were fighting, they weren’t trying to kill them, but they were firing all their arrows at Boromir. And Boromir just came in, slaughtered 20 of them, almost threw them back, but then they ended up overwhelming him and taking him down, and essentially stealing them. We hear that the Orcs that have them are arguing constantly, and so they keep saying like, “We can’t kill them because of orders, and we have to follow these orders.” And then the different voices are arguing because these are from two different groups, and they’re arguing over, like, whose master to follow. Is it Saruman or Sauron. They don’t say that, but like they’re each following different masters. So, this is sort of a side thing, but the Orcs refer to the warriors that are pursuing them as the “white skins,” which made me feel like a little bit like this could be potentially problematic because the implication being that, like, the Orcs are of color, and the warriors are the white skins. I feel like there are other people who have definitely read into this as being, like…
Luke: …white versus non-white. You know…I don’t…do you want to weigh in on that at all? Like, what do you think about that?
James: I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen it that way, but I definitely could understand the idea behind “otherizing” someone, and specifically something white versus something not. How does that not bring up the idea of race relations or something like that?
Luke: Yeah, it’s one of those things like where…do I think Tolkien sat down intentionally to do it, to write a story about this? No. But is it possible that some biases that he might have had bled over into his work? Absolutely.
James: Maybe, yeah.
Luke: And especially…I mean, he was from a very white part of England, you know. And it probably just happened. It’s one of those unfortunate things, especially when you’re reading stuff from a long time ago that, like, you’re going to encounter. And, I don’t know, it’s not to forget it, but it’s just to, I guess, to recognize that there was less culling out of this sort of thing around that time, I think it’s safe to say. And so, maybe people were just less aware of their own biases, and maybe if it had been brought up to him in a way, he could have addressed it. Or maybe he would have doubled down. I don’t know. I don’t know the man. But it’s possible that he wrote this completely without thinking about potential personal biases that might be bleeding over into his work, and definitely there’s a strong sense of white being good, and white being just, and you know, everything else being impure. And that seems, on the surface at least, problematic. But, you know, beneath that, I do think there’s a lot more about light versus darkness, sun versus shadow, stuff like that.
James: I think there’s something valid to that, for sure.
Luke: It also doesn’t help that the Orcs and the Goblins are sort of like, brutish, sort of, um, tribal almost. And unrefined. And…to me it feels like savage. It feels a little bit like, you know, the empire views those that they are colonizing. You know what I mean? It feels a little bit like…
James: Which would have been very much based on English and British, you know, history.
Luke: Right. Like, I’m sure there are just reams and reams of fanfiction written, like, from the point of view of the Orcs, and I think there are lots of books about that. Because, like, you would think they might have their own story to tell. And, speaking of that, I really liked some of these conversations between, like, Uglúk and Grishnakh and their arguments about what their role is here, and…
James: That was the stuff I loved in this chapter, as well. The politics of the Orcs.
Luke: Yeah, because I feel like we get a lot less of that in the movie, right?
Luke: I didn’t think about them being two separate forces at odds with each other. Now, we definitely get some of that, but I think it was more strongly laid out here, and like the idea that Sauron could be fearful of Saruman coming into possession of the ring, and that he might oppose him as, like, a separate force.
Luke: That is what he’s worried about, not about…like Gandalf later says, he never dreamt that we would actually try to destroy the ring. He’s more worried about it falling into Saruman’s hands or something like that, and being used against him.
James: Somebody powerful, yeah. But I think that’s the history of the ring as well. It’s just like if it falls into a powerful person’s hands, then that could be devastation. The fact that it finds its way into certain characters’ hands…Bilbo. I mean, I think there are other people that the ring would call to more powerfully, if it had the opportunity, is what I’m trying to say. Because, you know, being in the hands of a Hobbit doesn’t seem like the best way for the ring to be wielded. Then you have Galadriel in the last book and how she refused it when she came up against it. It’s a huge feat. And to think, like, Saruman could be just as powerful as her, if not stronger if he got hold of it is pretty worrisome for him.
Luke: Well, I think he’d be stronger because he…I mean he’s one of the most powerful people around, I think it’s safe to say.
Luke: And he would totally use it. He would have no qualms about it. Whereas I think Galadriel would, like, try…she’d resist, but then eventually it would probably break her. He’d be, like, all about it. He’d be, like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
James: Well, he’s seeking it. Yeah, he’s actively seeking it, so, obviously he would use it.
Luke: So, back in the camp, all of a sudden they’re attacked by the Riders of Rohan, and they start killing all the Orcs. Grishnakh picks up the Hobbits and tries to run off with them. So, Grishnakh’s then killed by one of the Riders, and the Hobbits are able to basically disguise themselves under their cloaks, and they sneak off into the woods.
James: Yeah, so the Riders of Rohan have come upon the Orcs and just decimate them, basically. They’re just killing them left and right.
Luke: Yeah. There is a cool part where, uh, I think it’s Pippin is literally trying to entice Grishnakh by implying that he has the ring? Right?
James: Yeah, I thought this was really cool. Because it gives Pippin another moment of agency, or something that he does is relevant within the story.
James: I really like that. He imitates Gollum. And he’s like, “Gollum.”
James: He says something about his Precious…
Luke: Yeah, because he sort of intuits that, like, this is what they’re actually after. That’s why they didn’t kill us. Because they clearly have orders to just bring Hobbits…to Saruman.
Luke: So, yeah, it’s like the power of the ring. Even though the ring isn’t in this scene, it’s still like the power that is still present. And then, yeah, we see the Hobbits watch as the horsemen basically run down every single Orc, slaying them to every last man and then burn their corpses. They’re brutal to the Orcs, man.
James: Yeah, they’re…
Luke: I know they’re, like, creatures…they’re like spawn…demon-type born…but they’re also, like, sentient beings, and they don’t…
James: Yeah, it’s pretty brutal.
Luke: I don’t know. It’s brutal. They kill every last one of them. That’s the thing Martin talks about when he was talking about his book. Like, after the Lord of the Rings, do we get mass extermination of every single living Orc? Does that happen? Are we okay with that?
James: I don’t know. I think, yeah, we have to assume that the last battle…and, yeah, any Orcs remaining would be dead. I think, within the story, it’s kill or be killed with the Orcs. Like, if you leave an Orc alive, eventually it will come back around and kill you somehow.
Luke: Yeah, within the story…
James: I think that’s kind of the…they’re so evil.
Luke: It’s like, you know what other project that actually makes me think of? Ah, Jaws. How we talked about, like, there’s real life, where a big shark is not a monster out of Hell that has to be pursued at all costs and slain. It’s actually just an animal. Then there’s, the like, fiction of the world we’re in, where that is the case for that book. And in this book, Orcs are all bad, essentially.
Luke: And they all need to be killed. There is no nuance.
James: They love killing also. Like, they lust for it. They want to kill anything all the time.
Luke: That’s true. All right, man, Chapter 4 is called “Treebeard.” Pippin and Merry are in the forest, and they’re once again worried about Fangorn, when all of a sudden, they hear a strange voice that says, “Do not be hasty, that is my motto.” And we get the introduction of a large, man-like tree that, like, goes, “Hmmm…” a lot. And he’s Treebeard. And I love Treebeard. He’s great. He can be a little tedious at times, when he’s telling big, long stories that take a really long time to tell, but that’s kind of the point, right? That’s his character.
James: Yeah, that’s the point. I think that’s, yeah…we’re supposed to understand that, like, with the language and his mentality, obviously, he might be a little boring as a character sometimes, but I still love his character. I think he’s really cool. I also love the kind of stoner quality that’s been built up around Treebeard and Ents and all of that.
James: That’s sort of like, a stereotype for what someone who’s a stoner can be.
Luke: We do get…he hints about how he’s actually extremely ancient, and how he used to stride across lands that are now beneath the waves.
James: He basically says he’s the oldest living, standing thing, right?
Luke: I think that is said later by Gandalf, when he’s talking about Treebeard. I think, in this time, we don’t know that. But, I think yeah, Gandalf later says he might be the oldest living being. Which is interesting, when you think about Tom Bombadil…
James: That’s what I was going to bring up.
Luke: Yeah, how does that work? Is he older than Bombadil?
James: He could be.
Luke: So, this sort of led me to the comparison between Treebeard and Tom Bombadil. And it made me think how Tolkien loves this kind of character. And it’s like this ancient, knows way more than our characters, semi-god-like character. They’re like immortals, right? He writes the immortal elves, he writes the immortal Gandalf, he writes the immortal Tom Bombadil. He writs the pretty-much-immortal Treebeard who’s older than all of them. And this is something that’s really hard to do, and I think Tolkien loves to do it, and I think he does it well, at least in a way that appeals to us simple mortals who don’t get to live as long as these beings. I still believe it, right? I never feel like I don’t believe this is an ancient being. So, I think he’s good at it, and he loves to do it, and it is fascinating to look at how these characters play roles in his books, right? It’s like the past embodied in a character. I mean he’s having these kinds of characters crop up.
James: And the way he gets around the fact that these characters are all-knowing and god-being, basically, is just that they’re so eccentric. So, like, Treebeard isn’t going to tell you everything, his whole story, everything you ever want to know, because he wants you to tell him stuff as well.
Luke: Well, and also you’d probably die from old age in the amount of time it would take him to tell the first part of it.
James: Exactly, but somebody like Tom Bombadil clearly has, like, either…I don’t know what motivations he has, but he has his own skin in the game, and he’s interested in what he’s interested in, and everything else is irrelevant. So, I think that’s how you get around those characters. But it does add to…because then you can get something, like in the Silmarillion, you’ll hear something like, you know…there might be a Treebeard reference. Like, somebody comes across Treebeard or something crazy like that, and you’re like, “Well, that makes sense because he’s always been around, so why wouldn’t he show up at some point?”
Luke: Which makes me think, will we see Treebeard in the new Amazon series?
Luke: He’s old enough.
James: Yeah. I guess we should talk about that a little bit, just because we have news now that, last we talked about it on the podcast, we thought it was going to be young Aragorn, because that’s kind of the rumor that was going around.
Luke: That’s right.
James: And now it’s not going to be, which is honestly way more exciting to me.
Luke: Yeah, I guess I…am ambivalent about that. Like, I was kind of intrigued about a young Aragorn story, but it wasn’t like I was overly attached to that. So, I’m just interested to see where they go with it, and I hope that it’s going to be good.
James: Me, too.
Luke: That’s where I’m at. And I hope we see Treebeard. That’s my other thing.
James: We gotta see Treebeard. He better be a main character.
Luke: I don’t care if we just get one cameo of Treebeard. I still just wanna see him.
James: Yeah, he’s got a real short beard. He’s got a really nice, neat beard.
Luke: So, speaking of Treebeard, he says that he is on no side when they tell him about what led them here, Merry and Pippin. They also don’t tell him about the ring. They keep that secret. So, I like that they’re sort of sticking to the party line here. They know that the ring is a super-secret thing, and they shouldn’t tell anyone about it. So, they don’t even tell Treebeard. He seems to know that they’re omitting something, but he’s okay with it. And he says, “I’m on no side, except for I am against the Orcs.” So, even Treebeard hates the Orcs, because they’re always just chopping down trees, I guess.
James: Well, that goes…I know Tolkien hates allegory, but that’s the whole allegory of a military industrial complex and what it does to something like the environment, and there’s very much an environmental message, I think, to these books.
Luke: Yeah, well, we talked about that a lot in our Fellowship coverage, how it was adopted by sort of the hippie movement in the seventies, and Tolkien was always sort of resistant to that, because he didn’t feel that he had written that kind of book. And so then it gets into, like, we talked about the death of the author, and does it matter whether or not Tolkien intended that, or does it matter what the book on its own sort of seems to mean? And, I don’t know, there’s not one clear answer to that, but I think both are valid ways to look at it. So, Treebeard also talks about Saruman and how he used to be more friendly, but then he started taking up with the Orcs and cutting down more trees, and now there’s always smoke rising from Isengard, and he says he’s going to have to do something about it, and he asks them to come along. And, this is a difference to me that stood out immediately. I know we’re trying not to talk about as many differences in these book episodes, but this Treebeard is already like, “I gotta do something about this. Come with me, I’m going to try to convince the other Ents about it.”
Luke: Whereas, it feels to me, like they changed that completely in the movie to Merry and Pippin are the ones convincing him to do things.
Luke: Which gives Merry and Pippin more agency in the story, I guess, so I guess I kind of like that change.
James: Yeah. I was going to say that. Anytime you can give those characters more to do, I feel like…because otherwise, it’s like Merry and Pippin…I like the idea that Merry and Pipping are effecting change rather than just along for the ride. But I did want to ask you about this Entwive stuff, when he starts talking about the Entwives.
Luke: Yeah, he starts talking about the Entwives. They can’t find them anymore. They lost them. Oh, well, we’ll find them again in some future age, I guess is the mood. Yeah, what did you think about that?
James: This is another detail that I’d completely forgotten about. There’s definitely some problematic things going on with, like, the idea of the Entwives and that male Ent. But it’s also interesting that the way they live their lives is so slow and so passive that something like continuing the species by being around Entwives isn’t really important to them, and they’ve become separated and seemingly the end of the Ents is on its way. If they don’t eventually make more…I don’t know, baby sprouts or something.
Luke: Yeah, this reminds me of, like, what…pandas and stuff? Like…
Luke: They’re dying out because they’re just not that interested in reproducing. He takes them to his Enthouse, and…I couldn’t quite picture this. Help me out with this. What does an Enthouse look like? Is it just like a group of trees? Because there does seem to be some furniture in there, like a table and a bed? Even though they are said to sleep standing up, so I don’t know why he has a bed if he doesn’t lie in it?
Luke: Or he doesn’t sleep in it. But he does, like, lie on it at one point. I think. It’s very weird. He also, I think, looks different in the book than what we get in the movie. I think he’s a little bit less like just a straight-up tree. Like is what we kind of get in the movie. I think he looks a lot more humanoid, I guess is what I’m saying. To me. I don’t know. From the description I read, it seemed to me he looked more man-like than the Treebeard in the movie does.
James: Well, then I like that change as well. I think it’s such a cool idea to have him basically be a tree that is a man, instead of being the other way, maybe a man who’s similar to a tree?
James: Or something like that.
Luke: I agree. I think it’s a cool idea. And I could be misreading that. Other people may disagree. But that’s what I got from it. But, yeah, man, can you describe an Enthouse to me? Can you tell me what that looks like?
James: Well, it’s gotta be massive, right? It’s gotta be huge if a tree-man is sitting in there.
Luke: Does it have walls? Or is it just a group of trees? I don’t know, man. That was unclear.
James: Yeah, my imagination of it is there are no walls. Like, maybe just a…like a canopy-type thing.
Luke: Okay. Yeah, I don’t know.
James: Like a clearing.
Luke: They go to another Enthouse later, but let’s continue on with this chapter here. So, they go to the Entmoot, which is the meeting of the Ents. And there’s a bunch of different kinds of Ents there, and they’re all as varied as the different types of trees, and there is a description of how each one resembles a different tree, like there’s one that looks like a birch tree, and one that looks like a fir, and one that looks like an oak, and all this stuff. And I thought this was some really cool, like, inventive shit on Tolkien’s part that I think has really carried over into fantasy in the…you know, since then. Oh, also there’s a really cool thing that I had never really thought about it, and then when I heard it, it reminded me that maybe I had heard this in the past. But the idea that Trolls are like the twisted versions of Ents, much like Orcs are the twisted versions of Elves.
James: Right. He kind of made that comparison that they were as powerful, if not more powerful than trolls.
Luke: Yeah, he says, like, “Yeah, we’re as powerful as Trolls…” “You know of Trolls. We’re as powerful as them, except for they’re like the abomination version of us.” You know. But I never thought about Trolls and Ents having that sort of relationship and interplay, like common ancestor, I guess.
James: Yeah. I don’t really know…yeah.
Luke: Like, dark magic made Trolls out of Ents, in the same way that dark magic made the Orcs out of the Elves, right?
James: Right. Seemingly. I don’t really see the connection as much as I do with Orcs, but I guess I get that the size and strength…I don’t know. I see more of a comparison to Elves and Orcs. You think of Trolls and other fantasy, period, you have to think of Ents even if there aren’t Ents in that story, you know? Because that’s kind of the basis. Potentially.
Luke: Yeah, I don’t know.
James: Like, was Tolkien the originator of a Troll?
Luke: Is that true in all fantasy, or just Tolkien’s fantasy, I don’t know. At one point, Pippin says that they experienced a great longing to see the faces of their companions, especially Frodo and Sam and Strider. And I was like, well, fuck Gimli and Legolas, then I guess.
Luke: It seems weird that he lists everybody except Gimli and Legolas.
James: I think it’s because they were the ones…like, the original ones they set off with, were Sam and Frodo and Strider, or Aragorn. You know, from Bree basically.
Luke: Yeah. No, I get it. I just thought it was funny, because it was like I thought more about the names he was omitting than the ones he was highlighting.
Luke: So, Treebeard basically says, like, “This is going to take a few days. You go off with this other Ent named Bregalad, and he’s a younger, more hasty Ent, and we learn that he has a backstory, this hasty Ent, that he was from an area that, I guess, got chopped down, and so his, like, wood that he was from has been destroyed. They go with Bregalad to the woods, and they laugh and they sing, as he’s walking them through the woods, and they have a good time. Eventually they go to his Enthouse, where he gives them this liquid that sustains them.
Luke: And he sings them songs about the trees that were lost. And they continue to hear the Entmoot going on for three days. And then, one afternoon, there is silence. They rejoin them. No, they are there when the Ents come marching through the woods. There are fifty of them strong with Treebeard at the lead, and he says they’re going to Isengard. “We’re going to war.” And he says it hasn’t happened since the days of Sauron. Which is interesting, because I didn’t know that. So, apparently they have marched in the past against Sauron. Yeah, so this is the last march of the Ents, and as they go, they continue to pick up more and more of them. So, this is all very different from the movie, too, right? First off, we don’t get any Bregalad, or however you say his name. And, once again, Merry and Pippin are the instigators, and they can’t wait three days, and they’re able to get this thing happening sooner. And everything is just kind of sped up, right? This is another indication of things being sped up in the movie that are dragged out in the books, which we get a lot of that in Fellowship.
Luke: So, Chapter 5 is “The White Rider.” So, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the Hobbits into Fangorn. They head in, and they immediately come across an old man in the wood, and confront him. The old man doesn’t seem to know them, and he also makes them freeze in sort of like a magical way, and then he tells them that the Hobbits met someone they didn’t expect and convinced them to sit down. Clothed all in white, Saruman, Gimli thinks is who this is, but it isn’t—it’s Gandalf. It takes a while to get revealed.
Luke: They have, like, a pretty good conversation with this hooded figure before they find out that it is Gandalf.
James: But you couldn’t get the…you get the implication that Aragorn and Legolas are realizing who this is?
Luke: Maybe, yeah.
James: In some way the laughing…like, at one point Gandalf laughs, and they’re scared by it, but also it kind of seems familiar, maybe.
James: But they all draw weapons on him, nearing the very end. And he basically, like…all of them shudder and let their weapons go and realize it’s him at the last second.
Luke: Yeah. He does say, “Yes, my name was Gandalf.” But then he says, “Indeed, I am Saruman now, or at least Saruman as he should have been.” So, yeah, this is that one we were talking about earlier, where it’s like they’re trying to play with the idea that maybe Gandalf is different now. He is sort of like who the white wizard is supposed to be, and not what Saruman is? And they fill him in on the death of Boromir and all the rest that’s happened since, and then Gandalf tells them how Merry and Pippin coming to Fangorn has caused an avalanche to begin, which I guess refers to the March of the Ents. And we get talk about how Sauron can’t imagine that they’re trying to destroy the ring, and how the two are at odds, and how Sauron fears that Saruman might get the ring and use it against him. And he also knows that the nine are now on winged steeds called the Nazgûl. And Legolas reveals that he actually shot one down in the past, but then I guess it’s been replaced, and so Legolas has already killed a Nazgûl, apparently.
James: And Gandalf was like, “Well, it didn’t mean anything, so sorry.”
Luke: Yeah, he was like, “Yeah, good job, but…” Yeah, it didn’t kill one of the nine. He says it was not him who was at the campfire last time, so it must have been Saruman. And, yeah, I wrote down, “Gandalf seems to know everything.” Like, he somehow is just caught up on everything that is going on all over the world. He knows Sauron and what he fears. He knows Saruman. I don’t know. He knows a lot here.
James: Yeah, he knows everything, definitely. So, to talk about the idea that he’s this different person, I think if Tolkien had leaned into that and made Gandalf clearly a different person for the rest of the book, how much more impact would that have had? I think that would have been…granted, I love the story and how it plays out, but how interesting would that be if he’s always kind of a different person now?
James: If he didn’t feel joy the same way or he didn’t feel…he wasn’t as invested in these specific people’s lives, he was more like macro. If he just wanted to save everyone from Sauron coming back.
Luke: Yeah, if he seemed more removed. And I think he is playing with that. I agree that he doesn’t really lean into that. It’s more like kind of some of the subtext there. I will be interested to track Gandalf in the books versus Gandalf in the movie. Because maybe that’s a bit of the movie’s effect on it, too, that we’re getting.
James: Yeah. Maybe.
Luke: So, he does reveal here about his fight with the Balrog. How he plunged into deep water, then went to the bottom of the water. The Balrog became a thing of slime. They fought beneath the world until he followed the Balrog from the deep places in the world back to Khazad-dum, where they fought upon the peak. Then he defeated the Balrog finally and was saved by Gwaihir, the Prince of Eagles. Gandalf is taken to Lothlorien by Gwaihir, where he is healed and clothed in white and, yeah. This is how Gandalf survived and was sort of reborn as Gandalf the White. And I think this is where we have to talk about the Christ allegory. Because we know that Tolkien was Catholic and that he doesn’t like allegory, yet you can’t look at Gandalf being reborn in this way as being other than a Christ allegory. Like, it’s pretty naked. Right?
James: Right. Yeah, I mean dying and going to the…well, not necessarily dying, but going to the deepest places and fighting for such a long period of time, and then only to ascend to the highest peaks and, you know, return to the heroes in, like, a different…it’s there. And I think there’s a lot of that. And I think that’s been said a million times about the allegory that is in the story, even though he says he doesn’t like it. It just…there’s some stuff there that he very clearly, you know, whether he realized it or not, I think he was adding a lot of specific experiences and specific messages in his books.
Luke: Yeah, and you think about Gandalf sort of being dragged down by the Balrog, which could be symbolic for the overreach of the Dwarves, and all of humanity, and you know, by extension humanity, I guess. And then he defeats it and returns. It’s sort of like Christ dying for the sins, right?
Luke: I don’t know. It’s definitely there. I agree.
James: And I’m not 100% on this, but tell me if you think this is what…I think I remember, when Jesus dies, he goes to Hell, right? For a period of time and then comes back?
Luke: I don’t know, man. That sounds like a comic book or something. It might be true, but it sounds like…he goes to Hell and kicks ass. Three days later, he returns.
James: Yeah, I thought he had to suffer. I thought that was part of it, that he went to Hell and suffered and dealt with all the things you would have had to, and then was resurrected because of that.
Luke: I don’t know, man. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that. So, that seems to me maybe…
James: Maybe that’s my head canon.
Luke: Something from…that sounds like it’s something out of, what is that?
James: Dante’s Inferno?
Luke: Creature? One of those shows.
James: Oh, Creature. Yeah. Dude, that’s my head canon. You read the Bible, sometimes you get your own head canon.
Luke: Your own head canon. <laughter> Let me just say that I apologize to whoever we just offended, which is probably, I don’t know, half the people listening to this. <laughter>
James: I hope not. I don’t mean it in offense.
Luke: I mean, it could be cool. Maybe he comes back with, you know, a necklace made out of the ears of all the demons he slayed while he was in Hell?
James: Yeah. Well, he’s got a flaming demon sword now. He’s got like a crazy, like…
Luke: Oh, that would have been cool if Gandalf came back with, like, the Balrog’s whip.
James: That would be sweet.
Luke: He should pull it out at one point and strike the Witch King with it or something. Anyway, let’s continue. So, he passes on some messages to Aragorn and Legolas, and then Gimli is all sad that he didn’t get a message. He says, “Oh, the Lady of Lórien didn’t send me a message,” and he’s getting all depressed, and then Gandalf is like, “Oh, actually, she did send you one, and yours isn’t as sad as the other ones she sent. She just said, ‘Luck-bearer, wherever thou goest, my thought goes with thee, but have a care to lay thy axe to the right tree.’” And I was like, okay, did Gandalf just make some shit up right here?
James: Yeah. I think so.
Luke: You think he’s lying? Because I was like, “Does Gandalf lie to them?” Maybe. Because this feels to me like Gandalf was, like, “Aw, man, I need to give this guy something. He’s all bummed out. I’ll just tell him some shit that she might have said.”
James: Right. Yeah, I don’t know.
Luke: Like, why did he forget to say that initially? That doesn’t make any sense, right?
James: Yeah. I think that’s why he definitely made it up. You know, and it’s for a friend’s feelings. It’s not like he was, I don’t know…A little white lie.
Luke: Maybe he’s not as pure as he’s saying he is?
James: Well, it’s a pure lie, so…
Luke: <laughter> Gimli is encouraged by this, regardless, and they head out and…oh, Gandalf also tells them that they need to go to Théoden, like that’s the more important route for them. And that the Hobbits are now with Treebeard, essentially, and they’re going to be okay. So, they believe him, they go out to go towards Théoden, and eventually they arrive at the Gap of Rohan, and they see there is smoke rising from Isengard. And we get to Chapter 6, called the “King of the Golden Hall.” So, they have a long ride. They arrive at the vale. They arrive at the Hall of Rohan, which is the dwelling of the King of the Mark of Rohan. They meet this pale figure named Wormtongue, and Théoden seems to be bent and super-old and really weak. They are forced to leave their weapons outside before they came in, but Gandalf is allowed to keep his staff. I also…there’s a cool thing where Aragorn…Aragorn’s like, “You’re not going to make me put down my sword.” This is…what’s the name of it? Enduro, or whatever.
James: Enduro, yeah.
Luke: He’s like, “You’re not going to…” and finally he agrees, and he puts it down. And he’s like, “No one’s going to touch it, and it’s going to be right here when I get back. It’s not going to have moved an inch.” <laughter> And the guy’s like, “Okay, jeez.”
James: You know as soon as he left the room, too, somebody was like, “Touch.”
Luke: Yeah. <laughter>
James: Like put a finger out and touch.
Luke: Yeah. And I like how Gimli is like, “Well, I guess my axe can go here if it’s going to be in such good company.” And he sets it down by the sword.
James: If you’re a guard, and a wizard shows up at your lord’s place, and he doesn’t want weapons, and you let him have his staff, you’re a moron. I don’t know how else to put that.
Luke: Well, but I mean it’s good, though, because I don’t know, maybe that guard was on to some, like, Wormtongue is garbage and needs to be called out or something.
Luke: I don’t know. Because it ends up being that’s how…well, I don’t know how much of his power is derived from his staff or not, but Gandalf is able to…
James: He definitely uses it.
Luke: Yeah. We’re getting to it here. Did you notice that both Wormtongue and Théoden call him Gandalf Stormcrow?
James: Yeah, I did notice that, actually.
Luke: Like, what is that referring to? Or is that just like…
James: I don’t know.
Luke: …like calling him a piece of shit or something? And that’s like a polite way of saying it? I don’t know.
James: Yeah, I really don’t know what that is in reference to. But I went ahead and looked it up, and it apparently implies that Gandalf is both the harbinger of doom and a scavenger who benefits from the conflicts between neighbors.
Luke: So, it’s like he’s calling him a piece of shit. Like a carrion bird who’s coming in and capitalizing off of this. Yeah. So it’s not referencing something specific. But it sounds like it is. He’s like “Gandalf Stormcrow.”
Luke: Anyway, Gandalf raises his staff and tells Wormtongue, you know, “Fuck off,” blasts him, and immediately Théoden starts getting more strength. Also, we see, this is the first time where Éowyn and Aragorn meet. And we get that Aragorn immediately finds her fair, and they have, like, a moment.
James: Yeah. He realizes that she can’t stop looking at him. They keep catching each other’s gaze.
Luke: Yeah, man.
James: Hot stuff.
Luke: It’s lonely out there, I guess. So, Gandalf brings Théoden out into the light to see his land again, and when he does, Théoden is able to stand tall, cast aside his stick, and look way younger than he had looked before. Théoden has no sword, but when he’s given one by Éomer, it seems like he kind of rises to his full power. When he holds the sword again. Éomer, who had been cast out, and has now been brought back, right?
James: I think that’s one of the biggest things for them, because it was clearly just the manipulation of Théoden had him removed, and he’s clearly an important person to the…
Luke: Yeah, because Wormtongue has been insinuating himself into the situation, and getting Théoden to do things that go in Saruman’s favor. Whereas, Éomer was wanting to, you know, go against that and then actually fight the Orcs and, you know, do the right thing. And he got cast out because of that. And was sort of on a shit list. But we also learn that Éomer is actually, basically, the closest living thing that Théoden has to an heir at this point, because his sons have all died.
James: Mmhmm…well, is he the heir, or just…? Because I thought his daughter…
Luke: Well, he names him heir later.
Luke: Before they go down to sleep.
James: Right. At that point…
Luke: He says, “Éomer is now my heir.”
James: But it wasn’t up to that point, I would assume, right? Because he had to name him that.
Luke: I don’t know who the heir was, because I…I get the sense it’s a very patriarchal society, so I don’t know that Éowyn was necessarily in line here. But, like, who was? I don’t know. It seems like they would have had to say that somebody was. But I don’t know. So, Wormtongue is basically called out, and Théoden commands him to rise, as he’s like whining and sniveling. He says, “You’re going to come with us, and you’re going to fight, and you’re going to demonstrate your worth as you fight the Orcs.” Wormtongue does not want to do this. He seems terrified. He has an alternate plan of, “How about you name me steward while you’re gone, and I’ll rule here in your stead.” Théoden does not like that. Gandalf calls out Wormtongue, says that Saruman is his true master, and he convinces Théoden, instead of killing him, to give him a horse and see where he goes, essentially. Like, does he come with us and fight, or does he go fleeing to his master? And Wormtongue spits at the feet of Théoden, goes to get the horse and…fucks off, I guess, to go see Saruman.
James: I’m really surprised that…yeah, first off, the fact that they let him get a horse and go away. I understand that they were trying to see where he was going to go, but they should at least, like…and if I’m him, also at the same time, I’m going to definitely act like I’m on their side and then dip out later. Right? Like you don’t have to…
Luke: This is not a very Game of Thrones moment, that’s for sure.
Luke: Yeah, it seems…weird. I did like…there was a detail right after this where a guard goes and takes his helm down to, like, a well, fills it up with water, comes back up to the steps where he spat, and washes it away.
Luke: I don’t know, I thought that was cool. Like, his respectfulness.
James: Exactly. And that’s the big thing. It’s very clear the spitting was a huge moment, and that’s why he didn’t leave, you know, under the cover of night or something, after he acted like he was on their side. It’s because it’s all about…it’s like the statement of it. It’s about spitting at the feet of him and showing him, like, you know, he thinks he’s on the right side is what I’m trying to say. I think Wormtongue thinks that he’ll retreat back to Saruman and eventually he’ll get what’s coming to him. Théoden will get what’s coming to him.
Luke: In defense of the way it goes down, I think it does highlight Théoden as being honorable and forgiving and merciful and not evil, right? This shows him being…
James: Wasn’t it Gandalf who tells him to let him go?
Luke: Yeah, but he doesn’t have to listen to Gandalf here? You know what I mean?
James: Yeah, true.
Luke: He could say like, “Fuck it, now I’m going to kill him.”
Luke: He listens to Gandalf, so yeah, maybe get to Théoden through Gandalf, but it makes us like Théoden and not think of him as some merciless killer.
Luke: Like, maybe if he had just chopped off Wormtongue’s head, maybe we would have felt that way, I don’t know.
James: Yeah, that’s true.
Luke: So, Gandalf lays out the whole story of how he thinks Wormtongue was being used to…in the long game by Saruman, to weaken Théoden and weaken Rohan. So, in return for being sort of lifted from this hold that Wormtongue has on him, Théoden gives Gandalf Shadowfax, which he then laughs, because Shadowfax runs up like he already is Gandalf’s, but…
Luke: Then it’s like, “I’m making it official, you know, he’s yours.” He says, “You can have anything save my sword,” and Gandalf names Shadowfax. He offers anything that’s in the armory to the rest, and they all go down and, like, get some sweet new loot, which made me laugh, because it reminds me of, like, D&D, which is obviously sprung out of Lord of the Rings.
Luke: The idea of, like, magic items and just getting better armor and getting better gear, and how there is a certain joy to that.
Luke: It’s kind of fun.
Luke: Gimli is already wearing a short corset that was forged beneath the mountain to the North, so he doesn’t replace that, but he does get a helmet and a shield. All this stuff, you know.
James: I like what he says about the…it’s emblazoned with a horse, and he would rather be emblazoned with a horse than ride one.
Luke: Oh yeah, yeah.
James: You know what I mean? That’s pretty cool.
Luke: Yeah. And we get Éowyn, who’s like smiling at Aragorn, and again they have another moment. And that’s all there is. It’s interesting, because it felt to me like there’s not a lot done here to establish a budding romance. It’s just like looks and like a smile, and Aragorn noticing she’s hot. And that’s it.
James: I think that’s enough in this story, though, right?
James: In terms of what he was trying to convey clearly. You know that these two characters are attracted to each other, and that’s all that he’s trying to get across right now.
Luke: Yeah. So, Théoden basically says they’re going to go forth to Helms Deep, right? Éomer’s going to be his heir, and Éowyn he’s leaving behind to be the leader. So, this is kind of like a big moment, because he’s like, “Who shall lead while we’re away?” And he ends up naming Éowyn, which is suggested by one of his advisors, I think. It seems like…he goes along with it. It’s not his idea, though. Like, I kind of wish it was Théoden’s idea, I guess. Or maybe Éomer’s idea? I don’t know. Somebody more important than just like a random counselor.
James: Yeah, this is why I thought it was weird that…I guess naming an heir just for safety…
Luke: Yeah, because he might die.
James: In case he dies, yeah, he names an heir. But it’s also interesting that he names Éowyn the leader when he could have just potentially named her leader…
Luke: and heir? Yeah, but he doesn’t. He names Éomer heir.
Luke: Yeah, that’s the patriarchy for you, man. And then we end on the note of, “Everybody, behold the white rider.” That’s what we have going for us on our side. We have the white rider, and they don’t. And the last host of Rohan rides forth, leaving Éowyn alone, behind, on the steps of the great hall. And that’s like the final image of this chapter. And it’s interesting here because it’s like we get the last march of the Ents, we’re getting the last host of Rohan riding forth. So both of it is like two big armies, I guess, marshalling to war, and we know that the next chapter is called “Helms Deep,” so I think some shit’s going to start going down. And I’m excited to get into that.
James: Here at the end, I felt like Gandalf was really full of himself. Like real full.
James: I couldn’t help but feel that way. He’s like…I mean, I get it because he’s all-knowing and all that, but he’s like telling…at one point, he’s like… Théoden’s like, “You can have anything you want,” and Gandalf was like, “I want the horse that I’ve already trained and it’s mine,” basically. To be officially mine. And a lot of that stuff happens at the end, like, “Behold the white rider.” And I’m like, “All right, guys, we get it. Gandalf’s awesome.”
Luke: I mean, he’s Jesus, so…yeah.
Luke: I mean, clearly, we all gotta worship. I think is the implication here.
James: Yep. Definitely Googling that as soon as we get off this recording. I’m going to Google “Does Jesus go to Hell?”
Luke: <laughter> Okay, we have to fill our listeners in next week on what you find with regard to that. Does Jesus go to Hell and battle with demons and…
James: I don’t know if he does battle with demons, but…
Luke: I don’t think so, man. I’m pretty sure. <laughter>
James: If I made this up, it’s…blasphemy, but…
Luke: Well, I guess this is where we’re going to leave it until next week. It was a lot of fun, and it’s a lot of stage-setting, but that’s all out of the way now. We’re ready to get into some action.
Luke: Yeah, so come back next week, when we’re going to cover the next third of this novel.
James: Yeah, I had a great time with all this set-up, and I really enjoyed it. Like I said, I liked easing back into it, and I’m so excited for next week.
Luke: Yeah, and I’m eager for the fights, but I’m also really eager to get back to Frodo and Sam, honestly. I’m really looking forward to that. Because I know we’ll get a little bit of that next week, too. So, we really wanted to thank Brandt J., who has been a patron of ours from, I don’t know if it’s the beginning, but for a long time. And he’s been a big supporter of ours for a while, and we really appreciate his support. And if you want to find out how to become a patron yourself and what sort of bonus content we’re offering to our patrons, go to Patreon.com/InkToFilm, and you can see all of that.
James: Yeah, thanks again, Brandt. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of those @InkToFilm. And join our Facebook Group, the Council of Inklings.
Luke: And leave us a rating and review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. We officially, I think, after this weekend, crossed 56 reviews…ratings, rather. And I read somewhere that, if you get 200 ratings on iTunes, you can apply to become a critic on Rotten Tomatoes. You can become an official person who says whether or not a movie is rotten. Which would be cool. I don’t know, as a podcaster, you can get that. So, that’s our new goal is to get to 200 ratings, which is a lofty goal, I know, but that would be cool if we could ever hit that one day. So, help us out, leave us a rating or review on iTunes if you can.
James: Thank you to Jennifer Della’Zanna for providing our transcripts, and thank you to Music Archive for the use of our intro and outro music.
Luke: All right, man, until next time…
James: …thanks for listening.