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The Two Towers

J. R. R. Tolkien
Summary Book III, Chapters 9–11
Summary Book III, Chapters 9–11

Merry is sleepy and tired of Pippin’s questioning, and he soon falls asleep. But Pippin, unable to sleep, is tormented by curiosity about the crystal globe Wormtongue threw out of the tower. Pippin sneaks over to the sleeping Gandalf and snatches the globe. Gazing into it, Pippin is appalled by the sight of a dark flying creature approaching him, and then an image of an evil figure addressing him. He drops the globe and cries out in fear.

Gandalf awakens, angered at Pippin, as the globe is a palantír, one of the seven ancient seeing-stones that Sauron has turned to evil uses as devices to communicate with his minions from his tower in Mordor. Pippin’s glimpse into the palantír not only enabled the hobbit to see visions, but allowed Sauron to see Pippin and into the hobbit’s thoughts. Aragorn notes that the palantír explains how Saruman was able to communicate with Sauron, and Gandalf notes that the palantír likely played a large part in the corruption of the formerly good Saruman. Gandalf also says that the sight of Pippin in the globe will confuse the Dark Lord, and that the group can make good use of the delay caused by this confusion. The wizard explains that the winged creature Pippin saw in the globe is one of the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths who pursued the hobbits earlier in the novel. Gandalf proposes to take Pippin away on Shadowfax and to ride as far as the court of Edoras.

Analysis — Chapters 9–11

The scene in Chapter 9 in which various trivial items (the “flotsam and jetsam” of the chapter’s title) are exchanged forms a rather static interlude between episodes of action, but it reveals a great deal about the personalities of the heroes. When Pippin gives Gimli his tobacco pipe, we glimpse the everyday world of small pleasures and minor details that is just as important as the drama of catastrophic conflict and heroic action in The Lord of the Rings. Pippin’s pipe is a far cry from the Ring, having no bearing on the outcome of history, ignored by kings and wizards, and uninvolved in any prophecies or destinies. Yet the pipe is nevertheless a significant object, a symbol of the values of caring and friendship that make the Fellowship possible in the first place. Pippin gives Gimli a pipe, a tool of brief respite from the burden of the quest, as a gesture of good will, simply because Pippin cares for Gimli and wants him to be comfortable. Though perhaps a humble, overlooked gesture, the gift of the pipe embodies the selflessness that is central to the whole novel.

The portrayal of Wormtongue speaking from the window of Orthanc broadens Tolkien’s exploration of evil. Wormtongue is not an impressive, powerful villain like Saruman, but a much lesser figure who embodies corruption and evil on a small scale. Tolkien, as he often does in his fiction, associates a facility with sweet words and eloquent phrasing with corruption and deceit in his presentation of Wormtongue. When Gandalf reveals Wormtongue’s role as spy against Théoden, Wormtongue’s response is to use a fine speech to sway Théoden against Gandalf. This deliberate language is precisely what Gandalf uses against Wormtongue when he calls the spy a “jester.” A jester deals with language rather than actions, using words playfully for entertainment—an accusation that strikes a raw nerve in Wormtongue. Equally important, Tolkien portrays Wormtongue as completely unable to control his emotions. Wormtongue’s rash toss of the palantír—a great loss to Saruman, as the sphere is a valuable tool—suggests the danger of emotional outpouring. The emotional instability of Wormtongue emphasizes, by contrast, the moderation and self-control that Tolkien values as heroic.

Pippin’s succumbing to his urge to gaze into the palantír shows us the “human” side of this endearing character, as well as another example of the corrupting power of Sauron’s evil. While Pippin does not steal the palantír from the sleeping Gandalf, it is clear that the hobbit knows he is doing something he should not be doing. Yet Tolkien structures the scene to enable us to sympathize easily with Pippin, making clear the allure of the palantír. Tolkien narrates the scene from Pippin’s point of view to enhance our understanding of the hobbit’s motivations. On one level, Pippin is simply bored, unable to sleep, and fascinated by a mysterious object. His moral failing here is nothing more than the common human flaw of curiosity, augmented by the pull of the palantír. Gandalf later notes that Sauron appropriated the seeing-stones, which were originally tools used for good by the ancient kings of Gondor, for evil purposes—yet another example of the Dark Lord’s corruption.

Pippin’s glimpse of the frightening Nazgûl in the seeing-stone etches the reality of Mordor more clearly in our minds. Prior to this moment, the only character to have actually seen Mordor is Frodo, who glimpses it from the top of Amon Hen at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. For the other characters, and for us as readers, Mordor has primarily been only a vague idea of evil far in the distance, a general destination to reach eventually. As the novel progresses, Mordor’s presence is felt more strongly. Gandalf’s words remind us that, though at times the evil of Sauron may slip from the characters’ minds, Sauron is constantly watching and searching for the characters, focused obsessively on the Ring.