In the second chapter of The Two Towers, the remaining members of the Company rapidly lose hope in finding their friends. When that hope is returned to them, Tolkien promptly rips it away. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER TWO: THE RIDERS OF ROHAN
I think this chapter is purposely designed to be so long because it’s an exercise in frustration and torment. It’s beautifully written at times, and it takes the three non-hobbit characters that are still alive to an uncomfortable place. So it feels like I am experiencing every moment of irritation and hopelessness that they are. THIS HURTS. Everything is pain and EVERYTHING HURTS.
It’s just so fucked up. I now understand that Merry and Pippin are gone as well, and as freaked out as that makes me, it is such a fascinating choice to narrate from the view of these three remaining characters. I’m eager to find out what the hobbits are up to, but for now, I completely enamored with the story. It is a frustrating read, though, because nothing seems to go as it needs to be. The three characters head northwards to find any sort of sign that the hobbits are alive, and Tolkien slowly drains them of any hope that they will find them at all.
Can we just talk about my favorite sentence?
A cliff frowned upon their right; to their left rose grey slopes, dim and shadowy in the late night.
“A cliff frowned” might be the best sentence fragment ever composed in the English language. It’s so perfect and poetic and I just want to hug Tolkien so much for writing this.
Anyway, the first thing the group comes upon is another pile of Orcs, but these were clearly not slain by their hand. Someone or something else had to have killed them, and Aragorn guesses that the Northern Orcs brought their own enemy along with them without knowing. I’m sort of desperate for any information on the Orcs at all at this point, and I’m way into the idea that there are different tribes or groups of them, distinguishable from one another. I’m curious what their society is like. Do they always just go around doing evil deeds all of the time? Are there Orc marriages? Orc slumber parties? Do Orcs have hair? Are there genders in the Orc community?
Okay, I’m pushing things too far, but Tolkien gives us so much information about every other creature and species in Middle-earth, and we know next to nothing about Orcs. I don’t imagine at this point that we’ll even get an Orc character with a name, but even the tiniest of crumbs would be nice.
Chapter two involves Tolkien’s favorite physical activity to describe: walking. I imagine if he were alive today, he’d join one of those groups who walk around a mall before it opens. I once worked in a mall for two and a half years. Mall walker culture is genuinely one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever observed in my life. They have specialized stretching routines!!!
I do admit to be a bit tired of characters walking, though it is, once again, given a new context. One of the the things I liked about Tolkien’s decision to end Fellowship where and how he did is that it gives an automatic sense of unease to everything because they have an unknown destination. Even if they have a temporary goal â€“ in this case, locating their friends â€“ there really isn’t any sort of stability. This is not like the story in The Hobbit, where there was a place they had to reach and then return from. Every page is telling me that this might very well be a one-way journey.
Every detail seems sinister, and that’s one hell of a feat of storytelling. The eagle in the sky? Totally a spy of Sauron, and you can’t convince me otherwise. The fact that they’re lost? Some sort of spell cast by Saruman. The fact that the Orcs are a day and a half ahead of them? The work of some dark, evil magic. The sign that Pippin quite possibly provided to the Company to show that he was alive at that point? A goddamn dirty trick. It is entirely within reason here to just doubt everything. I mean, even the decision to sleep or continue on that first night is the source of an epic debate. I’m not criticizing that, since it’s an awful decision to have to make. More than ever, I am aware of just how exhausting it is for these characters to keep moving. They’ve been walking and running for nearly twenty-four hours straight without any sort of real pause or respite from physical activity. SERIOUSLY ARE THESE CHARACTERS MACHINES? Actually, that’s another tiny detail about this world I like: nearly every species (is that even the correct term?) has grown up walking long distances.
And then Tolkien proceeds to make things worse, one after another. Aragorn discovers that there are horses oncoming. (By the way, he does this by listening to the ground for hours. HOURS!!!) This affects the pallor of their third day of travel, which is somber and quiet. Oh, right, that’s also because there isn’t a goddamn thing alive in the plains of Rohan. They start losing the trail while simultaneously noticing that there isn’t a living thing anywhere. Oh god, why is that so horrifically creepy to me? I suppose it would be worse if there were strange and deadly beasts roaming the plains, but the silence here is just way more foreboding to me.
‘There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow.’
I’ll just state again that I measure my own reaction against that of Aragorn’s. If he’s happy, I know it’s okay for me to be, too. If he is angry, I’m ready to annihilate his enemy with the fire of a thousand burning suns. And when he is upset, bothered, frightened, and suspicious? Then I’m ready to hide under the covers and not come out until everything is okay.
Right, nothing’s okay. That’s the message I get from this chapter. When the fourth day of searching brings about the evidence that the Orcs are A DAY AND A HALF AHEAD OF THEM, it’s when I just lose it. This is beyond being a disaster. This is hopeless. And that word might be used a lot, but I mean it in the most literal sense imaginable: these characters have lost all hope that they will find the hobbits. Or get anywhere they need to be. Or possibly even survive.
Stone-hard are the Dwarves in labour or journey, but this endless chase began to tell on him, as all hope failed in his heart. Aragorn walked behind him, grim and silent, stooping now and again to scan some print or mark upon the ground.
Straight up depressing, y’all. Night falls and the group is at their absolute lowest point. They’re exhausted, without any joy, and without a sign or clue where to go. And that is the moment that Tolkien decides this could all be even worse by bringing in the riders. Aragorn’s fear that riders were in the area is confirmed when a whole host of them (one hundred and five, if Legolas’s count is correct) come riding towards them. There is a tiny bit of hope, though, in the concession that Aragorn gives. He resolves to not run away and hide, mostly due to the fact that he could just not give a fuck about anything anymore. But he (correctly) guesses that these riders are not their enemy, but actually the ones in pursuit of the Orcs. IT IS THE RIDERS OF ROHAN. omg that name sounds so majestic.
I must admit to finding it a tad bit funny that the three of them quietly huddle in the grass at the foot of the hill until the Riders are upon them, and then Aragorn just stands up and says “LOL WHAT’S UP GUYS WHAT’S GOING ON.” Bless that man. Unsurprisingly, this causes the Riders to flip the fuck out. The specific rider who speaks with them is suspicious and rude with the group because WHO THE HELL JUST HANGS OUT IN ROHAN? At least that’s the sense I get from this conversation. People just don’t walk about the plains of Rohan, and they certainly don’t do it just to try and kill Orcs. Then the Rider insults Galadriel and Gimli acts as if he’s Hagrid and Vernon Dursley just spoke ill of Dumbledore. Oh, Gimli, your defense of that Elf is so beautiful I could weep.
But honestly, how awkward and tense is this entire conversation? Aragorn is smart to ask whom the Riders serve because HOW AWFUL WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN? I mean, I would not have been surprised; Tolkien seems to take great glee in bringing about the suffering of these three characters. For now, though, the Riders are certainly not on the side of Lord Sauron, though they aren’t in full-out war with him either.
Then comes the time for Aragorn to reveal whom he is, and he does that weird thing where he seems larger than before whenever he lists out his family history and namesake. Actually, this time, it’s a bit different:
He seemed to have grown in stature while Ã‰omer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.
That’s pretty cool. How can I acquire this power? I could tell people my name, make some reference to being the king of the Internet or something, and then people will look at me with awe! I would probably use this to get free coffee or snacks, though. Maybe I shouldn’t have this power.
Anyway, Aragorn’s conversation with Ã‰omer is yet another vehicle for Tolkien to info-dump to the reader (I initially typed that as “info dump on us” and it sounded like I was saying that Tolkien pooped on us) in which we learn:
- The Riders have already slain the Orcs.
- They did not find any hobbits.
- Right, the Riders of Rohan think hobbits are fairy tales. I totally forgot that there are places where hobbits have never been.
- The king (ThÃ©oden) is not too friendly with Gandalf. He also didn’t believe Gandalf when the wizard told him about Saruman.
- Oh, also, ThÃ©oden doesn’t like Gandalf because he stole Shadowfax, a horse, from him. LOL WHOOPS.
- The Company traveled forty-five leagues in four days. Assuming this still meant three miles per leagueâ€¦.yeah. 135 MILES. WHAT THE FUCK! omg they are beasts.
- The Riders refused to sell horses to the Dark Lord, and that’s why Orcs were set upon Rohan.
- Some sort of alliance between Orthanc and the Dark Tower is pretty much confirmed. GREAT.
So, everything is a thousand times more awful and complicated than we all thought. THIS IS PERFECT. THIS IS JUST WHAT WE NEED. Oh, what’s that? Tolkien is going to complicate things even further? Why am I not surprised?
‘I is against our law to let strangers wander at will in our land, until the king himself shall give them leave, and more strict is the command in these days of peril. I have begged you to come back willingly with me, and you will not. Loth am I to begin a battle of one hundred against three.’
AHHHHH SON OF A BEE FART. Aragorn, that fierce warrior, not only namedrops Ã‰omer’s father, and REFUSES TO GO. In just fifteen seconds, he gets the man to LEND HIM THREE HORSES. Seriously, THIS IS SO AMAZING TO ME.
For me, though, it represents something that was lost over the course of this chapter: hope. They have horses now. They can search for the hobbits much more effectively now! THIS IS GOOD. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Also, did anyone else cheer just a little bit when Gimli had to ride on the same horse as Legolas? Oh god, I should ship them just for the entertainment value that would provide. I mean, come on!
Gimli was lifted up behind his friend, and he clung to him, not much more at ease than Sam Gamgee in a boat.
There are few things in the entire world that bring me as much joy as this. I love it, and you cannot change my mind about this.
Unfortunately, I should have known that this moment could not last. Even with horses, all they are able to find are a few Orc tracks and a lot of dead Orcs. No sign of the hobbits, no trace of where they might have gone, and absolutely no hope that this is going to work out as they want it to. When night falls, it’s just heartbreaking that Gimli suggests they give up. They’ve lost Pippin and Merry, and there’s no way to determine where they went. So the group sets up camp in a glum mood, and after much arguing, Gimli starts a fire. Oh, and the tree next to them leans over to warm up from the fire. THAT IS JUST THE MOST AMAZING DETAIL EVER. Well, Aragorn actually kind of ruins it, mentioning how close they are to Fangorn, which is apparently some terrifying forest. Are the trees alive there? Oh god, they’re totally going to go there, aren’t they?
Okay, I’m already getting goosebumps just thinking about this, but as if there really isn’t enough terror in chapter two, one of the creepiest things in this whole book happens when Gimli takes first watch that night.
Suddenly Gimli looked up, and there just on the edge of the firelight stood an old bent man, leaning on a staff, and wrapped in a great cloak; his wide-brimmed hat was pulled down over his eyes. Gimli sprang up, too amazed for the moment to cry out, though at once the thought flashed into his mind that Saruman had caught them. Both Aragorn and Legolas, roused by his sudden movement, sat up and stared. The old man did not speak or make a sign.
FUCK THIS. JUST FUCK EVERYTHING. Are you kidding me? How did Saruman find them? How does he know where they are? HOW DOES HE JUST DISAPPEAR???
Suddenly Legolas gave a cry. ‘The horses! The horses!’ The horses were gone. They had dragged their pickets and disappeared.
AAAAAAHHHHHHHH I AM FULL OF RAGE AND FRUSTRATION! WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? TOLKIEN, I HAVE LIKE FIVE ANGRY LETTERS TO WRITE YOU. STOP DOING THIS TO THESE CHARACTERS. oh my god, this is SO FUCKING AWFUL! Merry and Pippin are gone, possibly dead. We have no clue what Sam and Frodo are up to. And the three surviving members of the Company are out in the middle of nowhere, horseless, and terrified by the threat of Saruman.
Just fuck everything.