The Two Towers: Novel Summary: Book III - Chapter 8

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Summary: Gandalf denies responsibility for the sudden presence of trees near Helm's Deep, telling Thoden and the others that "a power far older" than that of wizards is responsible. The king, the wizard, omer, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and others ride toward Isengard. Erkenbrand shows clemency to the Men of Dunland who fought against Rohan, giving them a chance "to repair the evil in which [they] have joined." The Dunlanders are amazed to find mercy when Saruman had told them they could expect none from Rohan.
As he and the others ride for Isengard, Legolas sees eyes peering at them from the forest. Gandalf tells the elf and the rest that these are the eyes of the Ents. Thoden is amazed: he has known Ents only as figures of legend and children's nursery stories. As they near Isengard, the company marvels instead over how many fair things Saruman, in his quest for power, has destroyed. Thoden laments that, whatever the outcome of the great conflict at hand, "much that was fair and wonderful shall pass for ever out of Middle-earth."
As the company is encamped one night, they are awakened by a strange and sudden rushing of the water in the Isen River, which is unexplained for the time being. Once they arrive at Isengard, they see the tower Orthanc surrounded by water, "as if there had been a sudden flood," and among the floating rubble they see none other than Merry and Pippin, resting easily and smoking pipe-weed as hobbits are so fond of doing.
Analysis: The clemency Erkenbrand extends to the Dunlanders further highlights the importance of mercy, which is emphasized at several points in Tolkien's work (for instance, see Analysis of Chapter 6, above). Indeed, in one of his letters, Tolkien insisted that mercy-that is, "the supreme value and efficacy of Pity and forgiveness of injury"-saves both Frodo and his cause (Letters, p. 252). The theme is a central one in The Lord of the Rings.
Gandalf's response to King Thoden's amazement over the Ents reveals Tolkien's evaluation of his chosen field, philology: "There are children in your land who, out of the twisted threads of story, could pick the answer to your question." As Tom Shippey demonstrates in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tolkien believed that language preserves cultural memories, even when those who speak the language are not conscious of that fact. Obscure names and clouded allusions in old texts gave Tolkien the source material he needed to create-although he would say "reconstruct"-a distant past others considered legendary. Here, readers can see a positive use of the force of memory, as opposed to the negative use of that faculty seen earlier: Saruman's abuse of the Dunlanders' memories of grievances with Rohan. King Thoden's encounter with "mythic" creatures of the past also serves to create a properly humble sense of perspective: "We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have to tell of these things, but we are forgetting them. And now the songs have come down among us." Once more, Tolkien reminds us through his narrative that the world and life itself are larger than our own, individual or even cultural, experiences of them.
King Thoden's lament for "much that was fair and beautiful" also serves to keep readers humble, for it reminds us that nothing in our world and life endure eternally. All is transient-a point Tolkien makes repeatedly in The Lord of the Rings (for example, in depicting the passage of the elves out of Middle-earth; see, e.g., Galadriel's statement that she shall diminish in Book II, Chapter 7).

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