Archive for March 9, 2023

Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Two Towers, Re-read

Ents, the Tree Shepherds

“‘All right!’ he said, ‘Say no more! You have taken no harm, There is no lie in your eyes, as I had feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Peregrin Took. Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass. But mark this! You have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, as it is called. You cannot count on it a second time. If he had questioned you, then and there, almost certainly you would have told all that you know, to the ruin of us all. But he was too eager. But come! I forgive you. Be comforted! Things have not turned out as evilly as they might.'”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re back with a bit of a lie, this isn’t quite a Blind Read, but it’s been so long since I’ve read these books it might as well have been!

Before we discuss the books, I want to start by saying how amazed I am at how close the Movies were to the books. After reading them more critically, it is obvious how much the producers revered the core material. The ability to create a new medium that was inclusive of all who did not read the books but to be honest enough to the core material that hardcore fans love is a masterstroke in adaptation.

The only significant difference the movies had was in Fellowship because they took out the entire Tom Bombadil sequence (rightly so). Still, even then, I’ve seen deleted scenes where the hobbits get swallowed up by Old Willow. We’ll cover the differences in The Two Towers below, but we also dive more into the world’s lore.

The first thing I’d like to mention is Treebeard and the Ents. The movie played up his slowness and mistrust, and where many lines are taken directly from the text, Treebeard was not very slow to action speaking of page count. Yes, he does suspect Merry and Pippin of being Orcs at first, but he quickly decides they aren’t. He then calls the council of Ents, and within a few pages, they choose to mount an attack on Orthanc. Again, the movie drew it out for drama, but the book had these events happening quickly.

However, the biggest oddity I noticed in the book was a seeming discrepancy between The Silmarillion and The Two Towers. When speaking of his race, Treebeard (also known as Fangorn) says the Elves created Ents. However, later in the book Gandalf (also known as Mithrandir, but more on that later) tells the remaining Fellowship that Fangorn is the oldest living creature on Middle-earth (remember that Elves, Vala, Maiar, and even Dwarves were created on Valinor). Tom Bombadil verifies this statement in The Fellowship of the Ring. I stopped and thought about this before I could move on because I know that Tolkien re-wrote much of the history and was still in his re-writes while writing The Lord of the Rings, but was there a discrepancy this bold?

I decided to go back and do some digging to figure it out.

Returning to The Silmarillion, I verified that Yavanna (the Vala who was the “lover of all things that grew in the earth”) created Ents as part of her music theme. Part of her reason for doing so was because of other creations, such as the Dwarves (who were created but kept at rest for many years). Yavanna feared the trees themselves would not have a means of protecting themselves against the push of other creatures’ industrial nature (something that echoes Tolkien himself), so she made the Ents to be shepherds and protectors of the trees and forests. Tolkien even had an early iteration where he called them Tree Ents because the word Ent was derived from the Old English word Eoten, meaning Giant, so they were Tree Giants meant to protect. Tolkien seeds this in The Fellowship of the Ring when Samwise relays a story from his cousin Hal, who saw a “treelike giant” north of the shire. This anecdote was Tolkien’s way of seeding their entrance into the books.

So we know that Yavanna created the Ents – why then does Treebeard say that they were a creation of the Elves? Looking back at the text, one can see where I went wrong. The Ents and Entwives were creatures of the earth, and where they were sentient, they couldn’t communicate with other animals. They were meant solely to be of and for nature, so Treebeard says that the Elves taught them to speak Elvish and opened their minds to interact with other sentient creatures. The Elves brought the Ents to life; they didn’t create them.

I could go on and on about Ents and make it their own essay, but since this is about a re-read of The Two Towers, I want to dig into a few other short items.

Gandalf by Matthew Stewart

The first is Gandalf. In The Fellowship of the Ring, he is of the gray order of the Istari (Maiar wizards), but because of his fall against the Balrog in that first book, he came back as an Istari of the White order, which is one of the most powerful, second only to the Black Order. This book teaches that the Istari are immortal like their masters, the Valar. Gandalf returned as a white-order Istari because of the power vacuum of Saruman, who abandoned his order for power. Saurman did not specifically side with Sauron (which we learn in The Silmarillion). Still, the Palantir corrupted him enough that he thought he could become the most powerful being in Middle-earth.

It isn’t until Gandalf returns that the party nearly ceases calling him by his common “gray” name, Gandalf. Instead, once he takes up the white mantle, most characters call him Mithrandir for the remainder of the series.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up what confused me the most when I read through the books before reading The Silmarillion—the Dúnedain and Aragorn’s lineage.

Throughout this book, there are constant references to Elendil and Eärendil, but I didn’t know who those people were other than they were Aragorn’s ancestors. Having that foreknowledge made the events and exposition of the story that much more lush and meaningful. It adds weight to Aragorn’s decisions and makes him a more dynamic character. Upon the first read, much of his character felt very one note and much more severe than was necessary. Still, after getting the history behind his lineage, one can genuinely feel the dynamics at play and the choices he must make as he forges his way to coming back to be King of the world of Men.

Come back next week as we continue “The Music of the Ainur” in the Book of Lost Tales!