A Tolkien Virgin: The Return of the King - Book V - Chapter 1 - The Journey Continues
"A pale smile, like a gleam of cold sun on a winter's evening, passed over the old man's face; but he bent his head and held out his hand, laying the shards of the horn aside. 'Give me the weapon!' he said..."
Can you feel it?
All so quiet and tense. "The deep breath before the plunge."
That's what strikes me most about this opening chapter: the tactile, sinister tension. Waiting for the hammer to strike.
This longish chapter opens with Gandalf and Pippin upon Shadowfax racing for Minas Tirith. They see the fires, "The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled," and Gandalf urges Shadowfax on.
Now, is it just me or is the description of Minas Tirith a little confusing. If you've been following these articles, you may notice a trend in this. I get the greatness, strength, beauty, the various levels and gates, but actually putting it all together and visualizing the city as a whole I couldn't do. Thankfully, my copy has the art of Ted Nasmith's idea of Minas Tirith on the cover--awesome. Again, his weakness being people (and animals) and his strength being landscapes, the painting is fabulous and really helped.
Eventually Pippin and Gandalf are brought before the Steward, Denethor. The vast hall all wrought in stone is just awesome and I like how Denethor's seat is on the first step of the stair to the throne. It's a really interesting plot element to have the Stewards ostensibly awaiting the return of the king after so much time. Though, I'm interested to see how Aragorn's arrival is actually received.
Pippin is consistently amusing. First, he chimes in and tells the guards not to let Gandalf deceive them--while Gandalf was in the midst of trying to gain admittance for Pippin. Then, when he feels insulted by Denethor, who should be intimidating to anyone, Pippin proudly offers his service to him out of gratitude to Boromir. So, now Pippin has sworn fealty to the Steward... with Aragorn on his way to displace him. What happens if Denethor isn't too happy about relinquishing power to Aragorn? Could Pippin be called to fight against Aragorn when he arrives? That would be ironic!
Pippin's observations about Gandalf is the number two thing that jumped out at me in this chapter. During the stare down between Denethor and Gandalf, Pippin's thoughts wander toward Gandalf's age. He's the first character to do so. Wondering, just how old is Gandalf? Later when Pippin and Gandalf are alone again, Pippin sees something else in Gandalf that I found profound, "under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth." That is an amazing thing to perceive given the immediate situation. What is the source of that fountain?
Pippin meets and spends some time with Beregond, a likeable man of arms. They become friends, it seems, but things get grimmer, especially as a "fell Rider of the air," disheartens them as it passes. Later, when Pippin meets Beregond's son, Bergil, that little incident brought a smile to my face. But, then, too few men arrive to aid Minas Tirith, the city's lights are dimmed, and the chapter closes with Gandalf saying, "The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn."
So, I was left with that feeling of dark tension I mentioned above.
Real quick before I go, I noticed that Pippin's speech sounded strange to the men of Gondor. It got me to thinking, what accents did the Hobbits (and the other Men and even other races) have in Tolkien's mind? What, did those in Gondor sport a high British accent, while the hobbits had a Yorkshire or Scottish accent, or something like that? Tolkien read the books on tape didn't he? Or was that just the Hobbit? At any rate, I wonder if that would be any clue as to the different accents. How much you wanna bet that the Gondor folk have American accents in the movies! Ha!
till next time,
A note from Mark-Edmond:
Dear Tolkien Virgin readers,
To all of you who wish I'd hurry up with these articles, I send my most sincere apologies. The truth is I'm pretty busy with life as an English teacher in Japan and typing these up and sending them Jonathan takes more effort than you might think. My job isn't such that I can write these articles at any of the schools I visit and on top of that I don't have a computer of my own. So, I have to pay by the hour every time I come in to an internet cafe to type it up.
Even though I've already written the article by hand by the time I get here to type it up, I'm almost as slow a writer as I am a reader and I spend a lot of time rewording things as I type--that revising step I can't seem to do without a computer screen in front of me. So, anyway, excuses aside, thanks for bearing with me and I'm sorry to make you wait so long between articles. I'll definitely be picking up the pace from here on.