In the fifth chapter of The Two Towers, I think it is physically impossible for me to handle another plot twist. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE WHITE RIDER
I thought I knew where this was headed. I thought I knew how this would end. The remaining members of the company would head into Fangorn, picking up evidence that Merry and Pippin were alive, and then they would reach it in time to meet an Ent, and then they would be taken to meet up with their hobbit friends. It made so much sense. It didn’t mean that they would actually get a reunion, as I’m sure Tolkien would come up with a way to ruin everything, but it seemed to be the way this was going.
I thought I knew. I knew absolutely nothing.
Aragorn looked and beheld a bent figure moving slowly. It was not far away. It looked like an old beggar-man, walking wearily, leaning on a rough staff. His head was bowed, and he did not look towards them. In other lands they would have greeted him with kind words; but now they stood silent, each feeling a strange expectancy: something was approaching that held a hidden power – or menace.
Well, I was wrong. Saruman has found them. Has he brought the Nazgúl with him? Some orcs? Gollum? Would any remaining Ents then defend the three travelers against any attack? Why is he following them? Why does he appear to be pretending to be weary or tired? HE’S WEARING WHITE. IT’S FUCKING SARUMAN. GODDAMN IT!
This scene is just downright terrifying. It’s like Saruman is toying with these three. In fact, as each sentence passes, I feel more certain that this wizard came alone specifically to taunt them.
‘My name!’ said the old man again. ‘Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before. But come now, what of your tale?’
IT’S A TRAP. CALL ADMIRAL AKBAR. THIS IS NO ORDINARY OLD MAN. He just deflected all of your weapons with fucking magic. Now is the time for you to get the fuck out of there.
‘Well met, I say to you again, Legolas!’ said the old man.
They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.
At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said.
‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’ Gimli said nothing, but sank to his knees, shading his eyes.
THIS IS A TRICK, RIGHT? THIS IS A CLEVER BOUT OF SORCERY BY TOLKIEN MEANT TO GIVE ME HOPE AND THEN COMPLETELY DESTROY ME, RIGHT. Right?????
But it’s not. IT’S NOT A TRICK. Somehow, impossibly, inconceivably, unbelievably, Gandalf is standing before them. Gandalf the white, I might add, somehow ascended to a higher level of wizadry. Did he level-up after defeating the Balrog boss? THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED, WASN’T IT?
While I still kept the doubt of his identity in the back of my mind, I voraciously devoured this chapter, eager to find out how this is at all possible, but Gandalf, being the big sassy wizard that he is, is more concerned with finding out how his friends are! He is literally like, “SO WHAT HAVE Y’ALL BEEN DOING LOL.”
oh my god i can’t believe this. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? HOW???
Gandalf doesn’t share this for a long time. With recent news about the Dark Lord, Saruman, and the hobbits, he has much more dire and important things to discuss, such as:
- the eagle everyone’s been seeing was actually Gwaihir the Windlord. WHEN DO WE GET TO MEET HIM.
- Gandalf at one point “strove” with the Dark Tower? What the hell does that mean? Whatever it means, it’s important because he was able to prevent the Enemy from discovering that Frodo had put on the Ring.
- the fact that he knew about the Ents, and that Merry/Pippin already left with them.
- the Dark Lord has not even considered the chance that the Company is going to attempt to destroy the Ring; he still think they’re trying to unseat him. THIS IS A GOOD THING AND I FEEL GOOD.
- the fact that the Dark Lord will probably go after Minas Tirith next.
- Saruman is a DOUBLE traitor, as he both committed treason in Isengard and planned to take the Ring for himself to unseat Sauron. THAT IS GOING TO BE HIS END, I’M CALLING IT.
- the identity of that dark “cloud” that follows them and attacked them once. It’s the Winged Messenger, one of the Nine.
- Théoden wanting the Ring, too. THIS IS HORRIBLE WHY
- the fact that the Company did not see Gandalf the night before; it was probably Saruman.
- the dire warning that “war is upon” everyone, and that it is not something to take lightly.
- the need for Aragorn and company to go to Edoras and speak with Théoden, who may need a battle to be brought to the right side.
Yet even when pressed, Gandalf doesn’t avoid a good story. WHAT A SHOWBOAT, AMIRITE. He treats the whole story like it was nothing but a walk in the park. “Oh, no big deal, just fell to the bottom of the earth under seemingly endless body of water, swam through tunnels in the pitch black with unnameable creatures, then climbed the Endless Stair to battle the Balrog in a storm (no really, a literal storm), and threw him down a mountain. No big deal.”
We do find out he went to Caras Galadhon to give and receive counsel, learning just how fucked up everything is, and he was also tasked with giving Legolas and Aragorn extremely disturbing messages about their own death. THAT’S PLEASANT. Actually, Gimli’s message from Galadriel is adorable. Ugh, I really hope we get more of her.
For the time being, though, that endless sensation of hope that permeated the pages of this book is transformed by Gandalf when he calls Shadowfax and the horses the Company had lost the night before. It’s not a talking pony, but I was delighted to read that Gandalf could at least communicate with the horses. (Seriously, there are walking, talking tress, but no talking ponies? Not fair at all.) But Tolkien isn’t satisfied to leave us feeling hopeful. We end chapter five with a view of fire in the distance. Gandalf says it is battle and war, and I’m kind of enamored with this idea that war in Middle-earth is just as destructive as I might imagine. Here, even if it’s a small detail, the use of fire and reds signifies a change in the environment, one that brings doom and gloom with it.
Oh god, Gandalf is back. LIFE FEELS GOOD AGAIN.