The Lord of the Rings – Book 3, Chapter 9: “Flotsam and Jetsam”

When dealing with an epic story, one might naturally assume such a story to be grand scaled at just about every turn.  One of the things about The Lord of the Rings that lends so well to its longevity is Tolkien’s ability to simply slow down and enjoy the world.  We’ve seen it before, and in this chapter we see it again.  A breather like this doesn’t mean there isn’t story to be had, however, for as we’ve seen, this is where Tolkien digs into the personalities of his characters.  Moments like these remind reader and character alike what it is that is truly at stake in the war for Middle-Earth: the freedom to enjoy the simple pleasures of life would be the first casualty under Sauron’s domination.

While Gandalf and Théoden leave Isengard to meet with Treebeard, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are treated to a veritable feast of “man food” gathered by the Ents, which originally served to feed those under Saruman’s control who were not of Orc stock.  All seem in agreement this is a welcome change from Orc food.  To help to “even the score,” Merry and Pippin offer Gimli some of the Shire pipe tobacco they’ve found.  Gimli laments not having a pipe, but Tolkien tips his hand and reveals once more that he is a hobbit at heart, and Pippin just happens to have two extra pipes on him, one of which Gimli may keep.  This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder what Tolkien himself kept in his pocketses.

Pippin regales the company with his adventures since the breaking of the Fellowship.  Aragorn returns the knives and Elf-brooch to the hobbits that he found.  Merry discusses the assembly of the Ents and their great speed and strength against Saruman and his fortress.  We learn that Gandalf met previous with Treebeard, the result of that meeting being that the Ents broke the nearby dams, flooding the tunnels beneath Isengard and wiping out the Orcs in those lower areas.  Pippin also tells of the arrival of Wormtongue, who addressed himself as a friend and consul to Saruman.  Seeing the destruction, he wanted to leave, but Treebeard captured him.

Some random points worth mentioning…  Merry talks of Ent-wash and its ability to renew (though it doesn’t sustain as solid food does to the mind of a hobbit).  It’s suggested that this might be used to cleanse Isengard of the Orc filth.  Aragorn questions the idea of hobbit pipeweed in Saruman’s keeping, suggesting he had an agent in the Shire.  It does contradict an earlier accusation from the wizard of how love of the halflings’ leaf had slowed Gandalf’s wit.  It suggests to me that perhaps Saruman himself might have been abusing the stuff behind closed doors.  It also sets up a bit of foreshadowing for those who know the ending, and the means for it to occur is set into motion when Saruman’s gift for controlling others through the power of his voice is discussed, suggesting that only Gandalf, Galadriel, or Elrond might have the strength to withstand him.

There’s not much in the way of songs or poems in this chapter to examine.  A couple of lines from “The Ents’ Marching Song” is offered (which was discussed in Chapter 4), and Pippin states that he thought it was merely a song until he saw Isengard for himself.  Nothing quite like firsthand experience to put things in perspective.

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