The Lord of the Rings – Book 3, Chapter 5: “The White Rider”

Apologies all around for the hiatus last week.  I trust this won’t need to happen often.  Let’s dive back in and regain our momentum, shall we?

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are still following what little trail they can find in pursuit of Merry and Pippin.  Following the Hobbit prints all the way up to Treebeard’s wall, they climb to the top and find once more the old man in white they’d previous seen, and ready to attack, they question him.

If I’m being honest here, this is not Tolkien’s finest hour… at least, I don’t think so.  For a first time reader, there’s this big question that this could be Saruman, and the tension is ratcheted up as far as Tolkien can take it before the big reveal.  And for a first time reader, it’s quite the reveal.  Gandalf has returned!  Subsequent readings for me have always made this feel like he went a little too far with this.  But the question I have to ask myself at this point is, how far is too far when you’re talking Middle-Earth?  In the grand scheme, who am I to quibble about a little showmanship here and there?  Let the Professor have his fun where he can, because the stakes are getting bigger all the time.

But what of Saruman?  Gandalf reveals that he himself is Saruman as he should be, and that Saruman is also lurking around, taking a direct hand in recent affairs.  Indeed, if not for Treebeard spiriting away the Hobbits when he did, Saruman might have them now.  These revelations grow infinitely more complex.  We learn that the treason of Isengard is more than just Saruman’s treason against the whole of Middle-Earth, it’s also against Sauron himself.

This leads into speculation of which “Two Towers” Tolkien refers.  Many believe that it refers to Isengard and Barad-Dûr, which Peter Jackson leads us to believe in his version.  Some suggest the twin citadels of Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul.  Some suggest Isengard and Minas Tirith, and this is what Gandalf suggests when he says that Sauron now has cause to fear both of these powers, even though Isengard cannot fight Mordor without first acquiring the Ring.  The combinations seem endless sometimes, and all with some merit.

As to Gandalf, he says something here that gives pause to even longtime readers like myself.  He says:

“I have spoken words of hope.  But only of hope.  Hope is not victory.  War is upon us and all our friends, a war in which only the use of the Ring could give us surety of victory.  It fills me with great sorrow and great fear: for much shall be destroyed and all may be lost.  I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still.”

Gandalf outlines all that Sauron knows and doesn’t yet know and gives us the reveal that the Nazgûl now ride winged steeds as Sauron’s search for the Ring grows more desperate.  The one thing Sauron does not count on is the unexpected.  He cannot fathom the idea that the Ring will be destroyed rather than to be used against him.  It’s behind his comprehension

We also get some insight into what happened to him when he faced the Balrog and how he was cared for in the aftermath by Lady Galadriel.  It is here that he fills in the gaps in his knowledge and memory that allow him to ultimately catch up with these three companions.  The Hobbits, he reveals, are with Treebeard, en route to Isengard even as they speak, but that is not the path the company must take.  Their path will lead them to the golden hall of Théoden, King of Rohan.

We don’t get too much in the way of songs and poems in this chapter, but we do get a little in the form of “Galadriel’s Messages.”  If you follow that link, you can hear Sir Christopher Lee reciting them.  These messages are for Aragorn and Legolas, bearing dark tidings.  It’s more than a little heart-wrenching for Gimli when he thinks there are no words for him.  He says outright that he would rather hear word from her of his own death than no word from her at all.  That, my friends, is chivalric romance in its highest form.  When Gandalf does relay her message to him about “have a care to lay thine axe to the right tree,” the Dwarf is overcome with joy.  But Gandalf rightfully points out that the time for haste is upon them.

The hall of Théoden awaits.

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