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Rómenna Meeting Report - August 24, 1985
August 24, 1985
We began our discussion of the third and fourth chapters of The Two Towers with a few observations on current events and remarks about "Russians and other orcs." We then noted that after all our painstaking reconstruction last time of Boromir's last stand and the orcs' strategy regarding him, we get a full account of the battle from Pippin's memories of it. As Pippin becomes the viewpoint character, we notice that he begins to grow up and start acting more like an adult: as Mike put it, he goes up a level.
In this chapter we also get our first glimpse of the orkish point of view, as well as the only sample of a sentence in Orkish. It was pointed out that there are three separate groups of orcs in the band that capture Merry and Pippin: orcs of Moria, out to avenge the death of their captain several chapters back, orcs of Mordor, commanded by Grishnákh who presumably answers to the Nazgûl waiting on the other side of the river, and the Uruk-hai from Isengard, sent out by Saruman. The latter two groups have both been commanded to seek out hobbits and deliver them alive to their respective rulers. (Both Sauron and Saruman are hunting for the Ring, of course, but they're not about to tell the orcs anything so specific.) Of the three groups, the Uruk-hai are the strongest and best organized. The word "Uruk-hai" means simply "orc-race" or "orc-people" in Black Speech: the implication behind the Isengarders' use of it seems to be "we are the real orcs; the rest of you are just scum." Cf. Uglúk's use of the name or epithet "Snaga" to the scout: this means "slave" in Orkish or Black Speech and was used by the larger breeds of orcs to refer to the smaller ones.
Orcs are on the whole not imaginative or particularly trustworthy. The Uruk-hai seem more loyal than most; it was pointed out that they like Saruman because he feeds them. It doesn't take much to start a fight between the various groups. Grishnákh was described as the "KGB arc," always threatening to report what might be considered insurrection or insubordination. Mordor is obviously--and predictably--a police state. The orcs view the Free Peoples as "foul rebels and brigands."
The orc scouts rather stupidly (as Uglúk points out) let a lone rider get away, and Uglúk realizes that speed is needed. He has to get the hobbits on their feet, so Pippin and Merry get their first experience of orkish "Red-Eye." We commented that Merry's reaction on waking was typically hobbit-like, with his inquiry about bed and breakfast. Pippin takes advantage of having the use of his feet by making tracks in a convenient boggy place, managing to drop his brooch as a further token. The question came up of how he kept his cloak closed once he'd dropped the brooch. It was suggested that the brooch was a two-part, circle and pin kind and that he only dropped the circle part, retaining the pin to keep the cloak fastened.
At the orcs' second halt we noted that Pippin won't eat the meat the orcs give him because he's not sure who it used to be. The nearby river was identified as the Entwash, The orcs quarrel some more and it is revealed that Uglúk knows about the NazgûI and how its mount was shot down several nights back. We wondered how long these several groups of ores have been together, and noted that their joint leadership is a rather uneasy one. It was suggested that Tolkien's army experiences might have provided background for this chapter; the Allies in World War I also had a joint leadership that often had its problems, and the ores grumble about the conditions and about the high command just like soldiers everywhere. The Isengarders' "elite corps" even has real-world parallels: a remark was made about "the few, the proud--the Uruk-hai!"
The hobbits eventually escape from both orcs and Rohirrim through the agency of Grishnákh (not that that's what he's trying to do). Grishnákh, we noted, is the kind who hears things; evidently he's kept his ears open and has some ideas about the Ring. It was also pointed out that since he comes from Mordor, he may have been in on the interrogation of Gollum. He certainly recognizes Pippin's imitation of him fast enough.
We noted that once the hobbits are free of the ores, the very first thing they do is eat--even before untying their legs! Afterwards they head for the nearby Fangorn Forest and hide there while they watch the battle. We noted that the Isengarders' organization keeps them alive the longest--they form a flying wedge and almost make it to the forest themselves. The hobbits see them coming and don't wait around to see the end of the battle, though Tolkien gives us a description of it.
As the hobbits go deeper into the forest, Merry gives Pippin (and the readers) a geography lesson. Then they meet Treebeard. Someone commented that you'd think the hobbits would be more scared of Treebeard--wouldn't you be if you were picked up by somebody fourteen feet tall? Pippin's later description of Treebeard's eyes is given here; the hobbits may have gotten a sense of the Ents character from them and somehow knew that he did not mean them harm. Treebeard later assures them of this himself, though he warns them that "there are Ents and Ents--and there are things that look like Ents and ain't." We noted that in at least some British dialects, the words "Ent" and "ain't" are probably pronounced identically.
Treebeard's list of living creatures was compared to a similar one in the Elder Edda. The hobbits comment that they always seem to have gotten left out of the old lore. Treebeard thinks they're rather careless with their proper names. He declines to tell them his own real name, partly through caution but mostly because he hasn't got a month. We noted that the Entish language is agglutinative with a vengeance, but had to concede Treebeard's point that "hill" is "a hasty word for a thing that has stood here ever since this part of the world was shaped."
Treebeard and the hobbits set off for one of his ent-houses, and we found ourselves wondering how long an ent-stride is. Attempts at calculation did not prove very successful, but it was pointed out that seventy thousand of them takes Treebeard most of the way across the forest. The hobbits find that they feel comfortable in Treebeard's company, but they remember the warnings about Fangorn that they were given in Lórien. Treebeard responds that if they had been going the other way, he might have warned them about Lórien. The conclusion was that a place does not have to be evil in order to be dangerous: it may be good in its own way but not good for you. During this conversation Treebeard quotes two Quenya sentences (or Quenya words strung together in Entish fashion), one describing Lórien and one Fangorn. We noted that the scansion of the two sentences is identical.
The hobbits (and the reader) also learn a good deal about Ents and their history, about the loss of the Entwives and about the (possibly compensatory) phenomenon of trees becoming Entish while Ents become tree-ish. With the arrival at Wellinghall we find out what an ent-house looks like: not surprisingly, it's rather like a grove. We wondered if the glowing trees, which reminded us of the Two Trees of Valinor, were a legacy of Yavanna. Randolph commented that it's a very tree-ish trait indeed that Treebeard must lie down to prevent his drink from rising to his head; in the primary world, capillary action means that trees "drink" standing up. Some trees also have two sexes, which recalls the Ents and the Entwives, but many others are asexual. It was noted, however, that in the Gaelic languages trees do have gender.
Treebeard hears the hobbits' story and gives a bit more of the Entish point of view. He feels kindly toward elves, who were the ones who originally taught the Ents to talk when they began speaking to trees (we commented that the elves were the only ones with the time to talk to trees). Treebeard does not know the history of wizards, and vaguely connects them with the "Great Ships" (possibly the Númenóreans?). But he does have very definite opinions about Saruman and his wanton hewing of trees. It was suggested that beneath Treebeard's arousal lies Tolkien's own anger at the Birmingham factories and their wholesale felling of trees for charcoal.
Tolkien's own experiences may also underlie part of the story of the Ents and the Entwives. As someone commented, "When a long-married man complains about women. . ." As Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien points out, though Tolkien and his wife loved each other very much, they really didn't have a lot in common, and this caused a good deal of friction in their marriage. The Ents and their mates also come to have very divergent interests and sympathies. We also noted in passing that references to "corn" in an English work mean simply "grain" (usually wheat or barley), not what we Americans call corn.
The next morning, Treebeard begins the task of rousing his people to action. Before going to the Entmoot, he gives the hobbits another kind of ent-draughts. This drink is described as foodlike, and someone objected that they couldn't conceive of a drink as being foodlike. The example of consomme, which is filling without being thick, was cited in support of the notion.
The Entmoot is held in Derndingle, which translates as "secret valley." We noted Tolkien's talent for "evolving" old words into modern equivalents. An example is the Old English word "dweomercraeft" which Tolkien uses later, giving it the form "dwimmercraft." The story behind the form "dwarves" as plural of "dwarf" was also cited. The fact is (as Tolkien admits somewhere) that the form was originally a simple mistake on his part, but that he came up with a justification for it--and now Tolkien has become so popular and pervasive that the form "dwarves" pops up allover the place and "dwarfs" is becoming rare!
The hobbits attend the first part of the Entmoot with Treebeard and find that the Entish version of democracy is rather like choral singing. They also find that individual Ents vary widely in appearance, as trees do, both like individual trees of the same species, and like different species of trees. Ents are associated with many different types of tree, but we noted that there don't seem to be any fruit trees. Possibly these are the trees that were associated with the Entwives. The hobbits eventually get bored and Treebeard hands them over to Quickbeam. Tolkien had a good bit of fun with Quickbeam's name: the word "quickbeam" in English is a name of the rowan tree (the kind Quickbeam is associated with) and means "live tree," but Quickbeam's Sindarin Elvish name, Bregalad, translates as "fast light"; however, the Sindarin word galad, "light," isn't too different from the Sindarin for "tree," which is galadh. What we have here is a rather complex multilingual pun. Another linguistic note, pointed out by Randolph, is that the common Entish word for orcs, burárum, may mean "hewers," taking as evidence Treebeard's words about "the wanton hewing--rárum" which implies that rárum may mean "hewing."
The Ents are at length aroused and begin their march to Isengard. Treebeard notes that it wasn't really a hasty decision for them; it had been coming for a long time and merely needed a catalyst. He concedes that they may be marching to their doom, but hopes that their march may be worth a song. We ended with the comment that the march of the trees owes something to both Celtic legend and to Macbeth; Tolkien always thought it was cheating not to have Birnam Wood really come to Dunsinane, so he decided to do it right.
We determined time, place and chapters for the next meeting, and adjourned en masse to a nearby Chinese restaurant.