The first battle has been won. This would seem a ray of hope for most, but Gandalf knows this makes the war ahead even harder to fight. The Enemy will now be on higher alert, and more desperate to find its prize. Gandalf, ever the strategist, has been pondering how Isengard and Mordor were communicating and coordinating, With Saruman’s defeat, the Great Eye of Sauron will be fixed in the direction of Rohan, looking for answers.
It would seem that the only thing more endless and all-consuming than a hobbit’s appetite for food is his appetite for curiosity. The “glass ball” that was recovered by Pippen, and summarily claimed by Gandalf, has him bothered past the point of insomnia. Despite urgings of caution from Merry, Pippin continues to work himself up until he dares to risk Gandalf’s wrath in his quest for answers. Swiping it from the grasp of the sleeping wizard, Pippin sits before the orb. What he sees within causes a cry of terror that knocks him back, incapacitated, and awakens the entire encampment.
When Gandalf questions Pippin about what he has seen, the Hobbit tells of the flying creature and how he was questioned by “him.” The insight Sauron might have gained had the interrogation proceeded was cut short, but it’s clear that the Dark Lord wants the hobbit for himself. Aragorn reveals that the crystal orb must be the palantír of Orthanc, one of the great seeing stones placed there by the Kings of Gondor from the treasury of Elendil, and therefore his by right of heritage. He claims it, and to the surprise of all, Gandalf relinquishes it. While the nature of the stone was previously unknown to Gandalf, it occurs to him that had he looked, Sauron would be aware of him as well. As it is, Sauron believes the stone to still be in Orthanc in the keeping of Saruman, and as such believes Pippin to be a prisoner there. Gandalf and Pippen must ride as quickly from the area of Isengard as possible, before Sauron realizes his error.
The Nazgûl — the Ringwraiths — are already upon them. One searches from overhead, astride its winged mount. Gandalf gathers Pippin and sets out on Shadowfax. As they ride, Gandalf runs through some Rhymes of Lore. Pippin tests Gandalf’s patience with even more questions, and for the benefit of the reader and his own sanity, he gives answers which he himself has only just formed. He tells the hobbit of the palantíri of the old Kings, which allowed them to communicate with one another and unite the lands of Gondor. The palantíri, it seems, were open to the gaze of one another back in the day, but once Sauron and Saruman had gained theirs, Sauron’s gaze grew ever wider, and the connection is likely what allowed him to corrupt and turn Saruman. He tells Pippin of the Nazgûl, which was sent as a messenger to learn of Saruman’s undertakings, the fallout of which Gandalf can only guess.
Gandalf reveals that their destination takes them closer to danger, ever nearer to the black lands of Mordor. Where Pippin believed they were headed to Helm’s Deep, Gandalf instead is riding to Minas Tirith. Though three times farther than Helm’s Deep, they should be able to see their destination by morning if they ride hard through the night.
For those interested, the small bit of poetry we get in this chapter, titled “A Rhyme of Lore,” performed by The Tolkien Ensemble.
Here endeth Book 3. We’ve crossed the halfway point in this leg of our journey. Next week we’ll catch up with Frodo and Sam.