In the third chapter of The Two Towers, I AM SO FULL OF FEELINGS!!!!! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER THREE: THE URUK-HAI
SWEET BABY GANDALF, PIPPIN IS ALIVE. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD YES.
Pippin lay in a dark and troubled dream: it seemed that he could hear his own small voice echoing in black tunnels, calling Frodo, Frodo!
OH, TOLKIEN IS SWITCHING TO PIPPIN’S POINT OF VIEW IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TWO HARROWING OPENING CHAPTERS OF THE TWO TOWERS. THIS IS SO BRILLIANT.
Beside him Merry lay, white-faced, with a dirty rag bound across his brows.
MERRY IS ALIVE, TOO. THIS IS SO AMAZING. I AM SO EXCITED RIGHT NOW.
All about them sat or stood a great company of Orcs.
Oh, okay. Well, there went my excitement. I thought all the Orcs were slain, though?
Slowly in Pippin’s aching head memory pieced itself together and became separated from dream-shadows. Of course: he and Merry had run off into the woods. What had come over them?
Oh, sweet summer child, THIS IS A FLASHBACK. OH MY GOD!!!! I can’t. I can’t deal with this. TOLKIEN, YOU ARE A GENIUS. This is such a brilliant narrative choice, both because it provides the reader with a detailed look at what happened to Merry and Pippin, and because it gives an insight into the culture of the Orcs. But beyond being fascinated, this chapter truly succeeds at being tense and depressing. We start off with Pippin witnessing the death of Boromir, though at the time he doesn’t know what ultimately happens to him. CHRIST, thanks for reminding me, Tolkien. Oh, but that’s not enough for me to deal with? You’re going to give me a distraught Pippin, too?
‘I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,’ he thought.
‘What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs.’
Heart broken forever. This sort of despair feels so guttural to me, a deep and vicious emotion on the part of Pippin. It’s interesting to me to see how Pippin’s hopeless situation is contrasted with the previous two chapters. In many ways, the danger he and Merry face is far more present and dangerous, yet I don’t find things to be as dejected. I think part of that comes from yet another clever use of suspense as a narrative technique. Instead of confirming to us that the two hobbits survived their kidnapping, Tolkien takes us back to just after they were captured. The tension is derived from not knowing how this is going to pan out. Will they survive? Will they be inadvertently burned to death or killed by the Riders?
With that hanging over the story, I found myself most fascinated by the chance to see the orcs much closer, which I clearly did not expect to ever get in this book. I’ll admit to being distracted by the knowledge that Tolkien based the Orcs off of a racist characterization of “Mongol-types.” You can see things here in this chapter that pretty much support this idea, specifically the comment about how ugly and gross their natural language sounds. It’s made even worse because there are no redeeming factors for the Orcs. They are evil, their souls are evil, they hate everyone and everything (including each other), they can’t get along, they’re constantly fighting one another for power, and they take great joy in causing pain and misery. If I was able to separate the racist imagery from this, I think there is something interesting to find in a culture that’s so violent and hateful. I don’t need villains to have depth or goodness in them, though I do like it when they do. But Orc culture is always going to be stained this way for me, and that makes it harder for me to separate the two.
It’s immensely problematic, sure, but that doesn’t mean I dislike this chapter, the Orcs, or the book. On the contrary, I acknowledge how fucked up and disappointing this is, and I’m also immensely entertained by the plot that Tolkien has written here. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking something that has its problems, as long as you’re willing to engage these things and make sure not to convince others who dislike it for this reason that they’re wrong. It is unfortunate that this characterization exists, but that doesn’t ruin it for me.
Aside from the tension, chapter three just constantly surprised me. I didn’t know Orcs could speak the Common Speech at all, and it makes for a fascinating glimpse into how Orcs communicate with one another. Like most creatures in Middle-earth, speech is an important part of culture, and Orcs are constantly talking to one another. Even more significant, it’s very difficult for them to agree. I’m sure that’s probably Tolkien’s commentary on the culture he stole this whole idea from, as it’s a common racist trope. Portray the villains as people with dark skin and funny facial features because they all have non-white customs that are totally weird and foreign oh my god!1!!!!!1!1!
Still, I was surprised that any sort of depth was given to the Orcs, and I do appreciate this chapter on a general level. Of course, narrating it all from Pippin’s point of view helps. He listens in horror as a group of Orcs discuss whether or not to kill the hobbits on the spot, or obey their orders and keep them alive for Saruman. It’s here that Tolkien confirms there are multiple tribes of Orcs from different parts of Middle-earth, and this crucial difference provides a lot of conflict on the part of the Orcs. It’s one of the main reasons why they can’t get along. That is the reason they’re so easily annihilated by the Riders, too. Without the ability to unite together, they are split up and destroyed.
We’ll get there in a bit. We meet an actual named Orc, Uglúk, who constantly fights with Grishnákh, an Orc that’s not associated with Saruman. (He’s from the Mines of Moria, yes? You can answer this, since he’s dead by the end of the chapter and I’m sure we won’t see more of him again.) The two clash violently; Grishnákh refuses to obey Uglúk, and that causes him to make a whole host of bad decisions. Not only that, but we see that Orcs are quick to kill one another, too. Like, behead each other over a disagreement. Again, I can’t ignore the racist undertones to it, but HOLY SHIT WHAT IS GOING ON.
It’s when I started doubting that Pippin and Merry might make it out of this alive. There are tiny hints at the possibility, like when Pippin takes the chance to cut the knot on the rope binding his hands with the knife of a dead Orc. But Tolkien is clever here because he doesn’t write Pippin’s escape as any sort of immediate thing. He continues to make me doubt any positive outcome by constantly delaying any chance for Pippin to set Merry free either.
Truthfully, though, it’s all nothing compared to when Uglúk forces Merry and Pippin to run along with the Orcs so they can make good time and get far away from the oncoming Riders. That is the most awful thing in this entire chapter. It just seems painful to me; even if the Orcs healed Merry, I can’t imagine that having to run while surrounded by these creatures is at all pleasant.
Tolkien also gives us a scene that confirms Aragorn’s theory about why Pippin’s cloak was off the trail in the plains. It’s neat to see how it happens, but it gave me absolutely no hint to whether it would ultimately keep him alive. The journey is just so terrible: constant running, and constant licks from a whip whenever they try to slow down. The pain becomes constant and oppressive, and it’s one of the least-pleasant things I’ve had to read in a long time. On top of that, I started to get nervous, especially when it was clear that the fight that Éomer mentioned to Aragorn was about to happen. We know the outcome, but how do Merry and Pippin factor into that?
It doesn’t take long for the Riders to begin their siege on the Orcs, and it’s seriously my favorite action scene in the novel. It’s narrated with a sense of urgency and doom, and the fact that we know all the Orcs are killed somehow makes it better. When Pippin and Merry are left under the guard of a few guards, this chapter just becomes a waiting game. Will the Riders kill the hobbits? Did Éomer lie about not seeing any hobbits? HOW IS THIS GOING TO END?
Pippin – that brilliant little hobbit – is the one who finally decides that just waiting around is not going to going to go in their favor. He completely and totally trolls Grishnákh by using his own desire against him.
It’s truly a risky endeavor, though, and I believe it could have backfired against Pippin, but that’s why I respect him so much. He lies to the Orc, hinting that he has the Ring and will give it to him if he cuts the binds from his and Merry’s legs. For a second, I thought it didn’t work, but Grishnákh’s greed and anger gets the best of him. It’s timed so perfectly, but just before he’s about to strike down the two hobbits, he is struck by an arrow, and then SPEAR’D. YES. YES.
But even that wasn’t enough to assure me that the two got away. They lay hiding on the ground for a while, but cleverly use the distraction provided by their disappearance to crawl away from the Orcs. My god, what a terrifying idea. They can’t just stand up and run. They have to crawl to safety, a slow and horrific choice. AHHH MY HEART HURTS.
I admit to not breathing once for like ten pages, I swear. But when Pippin stands up, inviting Merry to as well, I knew that this was how the Riders never found the hobbits. They were so concerned with destroying and discarding the bodies of the Orcs that Pippin and Merry had slipped away unnoticed. But there’s something inherently damning about the fact that the two of them were within sight of Éomer at one point, but they had no idea he would soon meet the rest of the Company. For now, though, Merry and Pippin, very much alive, head for Fangorn Forest. Oh god, that’s where the Company is going too, isn’t it? PLEASE LET THERE BE A REUNION SOON.
This fucking book, I swear.