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Looking on the ground, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn at
first see only their own tracks and those of Orcs; they are unable
to tell whether the hobbits have passed by. Aragorn is at a loss,
without a clue as to where the hobbits have gone. Suddenly, however,
he notices some Hobbit prints near the river, but he is not sure
when they were left.
At the foot of a steep slope, the group finds five Orc
corpses huddled together. Aragorn notices that the slain creatures
are from a different Orc tribe, and guesses that the Orcs have been
quarreling among themselves. Gimli hopes that the captive hobbits
have not suffered as a result of the Orc quarrel. Legolas, with
his incredible eyesight, sees an eagle flying twelve leagues away,
and guesses that the Orcs are there. If true, this suggests that
the Orcs are moving with the greatest possible speed, proceeding
not just at night but also by daylight, against their nature.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli notice that the earth becomes greener
as they enter the fields of Rohan. Aragorn spots Hobbit footprints
on the ground and guesses them to be Pippin’s. He also finds a brooch
from an Elf cloak on the ground. As it is unlikely that the brooch
was dropped by chance, Aragorn reasons that Pippin left it as a
sign for his rescuers to find. They all rejoice in this proof that one
of the hobbits, at least, seems to be alive.
Through the cold uplands of Rohan, the group follows the swiftly
moving Orcs, whose speed is remarkable. Suddenly Legolas sees horsemen
moving in the distance, though he glimpses no Hobbits among them.
The riders are not Orcs, but Men. Though Gimli is cautious, Aragorn
asserts that the horsemen—presumably the Riders of Rohan—are mighty
but just; they would not assault strangers without listening to
The horsemen approach, and the leader introduces himself
as Éomer, Third Marshal of Riddermark. Aragorn announces that he is
hunting Orcs, and Éomer admits that he mistook Aragorn’s group for
Orcs themselves. Aragorn explains that he is in the service of no man,
but is merely searching for his Hobbit friends, whom the Orcs have
taken captive. Éomer relates that a great battle has just taken place
between his riders and the Orcs. The Orcs were destroyed, with no
sign of any Hobbit bodies among the slain.
It is not clear, however, whether Éomer even knows what
a Hobbit is. Gimli explains that Hobbits are neither children nor
Dwarves, but Halflings. Éomer, having thought that Halflings were
merely characters from old tales, is surprised to learn that they
actually exist. Éomer explains that the powerful wizard Saruman
has been corrupted and is now a dangerous enemy preparing for war
in nearby Isengard. Aragorn relates to Éomer that Gandalf the Grey, who
has greatly aided the Fellowship, has been killed.
Éomer states that it is not customary for strangers to
be allowed to wander freely in Rohan, but he permits passage to
the group, and even gives them all horses to ride. They ride all
day, but still find no trace of Pippin or Merry. In the forest of
Fangorn, they build a fire with wood the Riders gathered earlier.
Legolas tells of the treelike Ents rumored to live in Fangorn. Gimli
has a vision of an old man in a large cloak and a wide-brimmed hat,
whom he takes to be Saruman. When the group wakes, they find that
their horses are gone.
As Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli search for the hobbits,
we see how the bonds between members of different races—such as
Dwarves, Elves, and Men—can be as strong or stronger than the bonds between
members of the same race. This fact is apparent when Aragorn meets
another human. We might expect him to feel relief or joy at finally
meeting one of his own kind, but we find that his attitude toward
Éomer is not one of joyful identification. In fact, it is quite the
contrary, as Aragorn is even a bit cold toward Éomer, telling him bluntly
that he serves no man, but is only hunting for his Hobbit friends.
The message is clear: Aragorn has deeper connections of loyalty
and solidarity with Hobbits than with a member of his own race.
In terms of historical context, Tolkien wrote large parts of The Lord
of the Rings during World War II, a conflict in which racism and
group identification reached dangerous extremes. His portrayal of
heroes who look beyond their own kind, finding friends and allies among
different races or peoples, is enlightened.
The meeting between Aragorn’s group and Éomer also suggests the
confused and chaotic climate in Middle-earth that provides the backdrop
for The Lord of the Rings. No one is sure who anyone
else is, or whether a stranger is a friend or foe. Even appearances
cannot be trusted, as Éomer admits that he mistook Aragorn’s group—composed
of a Dwarf, an Elf, and a Man—for an Orc contingent. Hobbits, too,
are confused with Men and with Dwarves. There are few reliable indicators
of whom one can trust and whom one must oppose. Even group identification
is not enough, as the northern Orcs have apparently had a fatal
quarrel with other Orcs, demonstrating that even one’s own kind
may be an enemy. This climate of wariness and suspicion is evidence
of the widespread reach of the evil of Sauron, the Dark Lord attempting
to retrieve the Ring.
Gimli’s vision of Saruman indicates the power and danger
of the corrupted wizard. While Gandalf and other attendees of the
Council of Elrond discuss Saruman in The Fellowship of the
Ring, Saruman himself does not appear as a character in
the first volume of the novel. Gimli’s bizarre dream, then, is our
first direct contact with Saruman—and even this contact is bizarre
and hallucinatory. This first encounter is a mysterious one, highlighting
the elusiveness of the corrupt wizard. We are unsure, as is Gimli,
whether the dwarf has really seen Saruman or whether the wizard
has used some magic power to appear in Gimli’s mind. The dwarf’s
vision, along with the warnings of Éomer and the mysterious disappearance
of the horses, sets Saruman up as a fascinating, ominous figure
whose first real, tangible appearance we begin to anticipate greatly.
Furthermore, the supernatural aura of Saruman’s visit reminds us,
by contrast, of how basically realistic the rest of the story is.
Though The Lord of the Rings obviously operates
in the realm of the fantastical, real traits such as bravery and
loyalty are more important—and far more frequently witnessed—than
the fireworks of a magic wand.
Furthermore, the fact that Saruman’s appearance and dress—as an
old man in a cloak, with a staff and a wide-brimmed hat—is strikingly
similar to Gandalf’s highlights the ambiguous nature of good and
evil and the often ill-defined line between them. Indeed, when Gandalf
reappears later in The Two Towers, the Company
is initially frightened of him, believing him to be Saruman. Tolkien stresses
the similarity between the good Gandalf and the corrupt Saruman
to show that good and evil are very close—indeed sometimes nearly
indistinguishable. Saruman is evil not by innate nature, but by
choice. He has betrayed the principle of good in the universe, choosing
instead a path of selfishness and power-hungry ambition. As Gandalf
notes later in The Two Towers, Saruman could have remained
a force of good, likely more powerful than even Gandalf himself,
were it not for his decision to embrace wickedness. This exploration
of the nature of evil—more precisely, the question of whether evil
is an internal matter of choice or an external influence and innate
force—is one of Tolkien’s primary objects of focus throughout the
whole of The Lord of the Rings.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Two Towers!