Lightning on water

The Calm Before The Storm

In these troubled times, there is nothing more soothing to Gandalf than the smoke of his pipe. In more relaxed times before the quest for the Ring even began, he smoked together with Bilbo as they welcomed the evening of Bilbo’s birthday. Everyone has an activity or pleasure they indulge themselves to unwind. Whatever one’s pleasure it is there to soothe one’s soul and ease the mind of troubled thoughts. This time, however, not even his favorite pleasure can rest his heart, for there is evil on the horizon. 

Guard of the Citadel

Pippin: “So I imagine this is just a ceremonial position. I mean, they don’t actually expect me to do any fighting. Do they?”

Gandalf: “You’re in the service of the steward now. You’ll have to do as you’re told, Peregrin Took. Ridiculous Hobbit. Guard of the Citadel. Thank you.”

It is clear from his statement, that Pippin’s motivation behind offering his service to Lord Denethor was not to be taken overly seriously. His sense of guilt for surviving on account of Boromir risking his life overwhelmed him in a moment. He acted out of pure emotion, an emotion that Denethor meant to arouse in Gandalf rather than Pippin, but there we have it. 

Pippin assumed it would be only a title he would have for offering his service. To be taken seriously is not something Pippin is known for, therefore for anyone else to assume that he would protect and serve in the true meaning of the words would be something of a lark. However, now, here in Minas Tirith, where all the humor has left the souls of the inhabitants and sorrow took residence, there can be no pretend gestures or false pretenses, the world has become too dark and too dangerous. 

Even though a small gesture, one made by not even a fully grown man, but a Hobbit of unknown potential, it may nevertheless serve a greater purpose than initially thought. Pippin does not know his own strength yet, which is why this newly appointed position startles him, for war, or any kind of battle is beyond his abilities.

The few encounters he had with a sword had been unsuccessful. To be fair, he never had a chance, not with the Nazgul and not with the Orcs either. There is legitimacy in his fear. However, in all his fearfulness there will come a moment when his need for courage will prevail, and his efforts will be very much appreciated.

No peace of mind

Gandalf finds this gesture comical, to say the least. He dismisses Pippin as any kind of server of any Citadel, let alone one as grand as Minas Tirith. As all his actions, Gandalf found his service offering to be foolish. In Gandalf’s eyes, he was and remains a fool of a Took.

Gandalf’s failed efforts with Théoden and Denethor have driven him to distraction and agitation. This stir and anger is not something he deals with calmly. There is no reason he should because what he failed in his task may cost the lives of all those he holds dear, as well as inhabitants of Middle-Earth. It is no wonder he cannot unwind with the smoke of his pipe when the stubbornness of two leaders of Men is keeping the peace at bay. All he can do now is to wait for the oncoming war.

Feeling helpless whilst being the greatest of his order must be frustrating; to stand watching the enemy advance with all his advice and pleas going unheard. It would seem that he had failed in the task he has been given. For Saruman to have failed is somewhat welcome, given his siding with the enemy. But to die and be sent back to help achieve what Saruman could not and fail as well, cannot be a pleasant feeling.

The deep breath before th plunge

Pippin: “There’s no more stars. Is it time?”

Gandalf: “Yes.” 

Pippin: “It’s so quiet.” 

Gandalf: “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” 

Pippin: “I don’t want to be in a battle but waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.”

The enemy has cast all his darkness and smoke so as to hide any existence of light. This helps his armies advance easily, without the threat of sunlight. To have this vast landscape in front of one’s eyes, the mountains of Mordor glowing red and yellow from the fires and eruptions happening inside its walls and still not hear a single sound, not even a wisp of air, is almost as terrifying as the war itself.

There is tension in the air as well as a promise of evil’s coming. Fear is a constant now rather than a fleeting feeling. There is no escaping the rage and anger heading their way. 

It is always calm before the storm. And even though it only lasts a moment, it is enough to instill terror into the hearts of those who await it. To face battle and knowing one is coming are two different sets of emotions. Being in a battle places you in front of your worst fears, with nothing else to do but fend for yourself. The unknown courage and bravery you possess shine through when there is only the option to fight.

To stand in wait of an inescapable battle is to have a theoretical option of flight. Even though it might just be wishful thinking, it still presents a viable escape plan from all the gruesome images a mind can conjure. 

The truth about hope

Pippin: “Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?”

Gandalf: “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope. Our enemy is ready. His full strength’s gathered. Not only Orcs but Men as well. Legions of Haradrim from the south, mercenaries from the coast. All will answer Mordor’s call. This will be the end of Gondor as we know it. Here the hammer stroke will fall hardest. If the river is taken, if the garrison at Osgiliath falls, the last defense of this city will be gone.”

It is interesting that Gandalf would disclose his own thoughts about Frodo and Sam at this moment. There was nothing keeping him from telling the truth, but he could have kept it for himself. Even as the nine companions left Rivendell on their way to Mordor, the certainty of the quest failing was pretty high. Gandalf knew this to be perilous and almost certainly doomed to fail. Nevertheless, it was their only option. 

Pippin, however, wanted to be reassured in his doubts about there not being any hope for the two Hobbits, but Gandalf surprised him with the truth instead. It is debatable if a lie to spare one’s feelings in times like these is better than a truth openly told. Everyone has to decide for themselves, I guess.

Fear of an unknown enemy

But we have the White Wizard. That’s got to count for something. Gandalf?

Pippin

Because he has to find reassurance in something to keep him hopeful, Pippin tries to rely on Gandalf and his wizardry. Although asked in a hopeful manner with even a smile on his lips, Gandalf’s expression leaves Pippin in fear. Gandalf look turns fearful, something we witnessed once before, when Frodo decided to leave Caradhras for the Mines of Moria. The fear Gandalf had in his eyes then mirrors in his face now. 

The Witch-king of Angmar

Sauron has yet to reveal his deadliest servant, the one who will lead Mordor’s armies in war. The one they say no living man can kill. The Witch-king of Angmar. You’ve met him before. He stabbed Frodo on Weathertop. He is the Lord of the Nazgûl, the greatest of the nine. Minas Morgul is his lair.

Gandalf

The presentation of the Witch-king by Gandalf is beautifully embodied in the following scene with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. It binds the two different paths together, giving the constantly interrupted story its coherence. The one party is a sitting duck for the enemy’s attack whilst the other is trying to by-pass its lair on their way to the enemy’s headquarters. But as one party speaks, the other one reaches that point of discussion. Gandalf and Gollum’s narratives collide with a vastly different level of eloquence. 

See the masterfully done collision of the two stories, coming to the same point in the extended edition of The Return of the King.

Gargoyle
Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash

Minas Morgul

The Dead City. Very nasty place. Full of enemies. Quick. Quick. They will see. They will see. Come away. Come away. Look we have found it. The way into Mordor. The secret stair. Climb.

Gollum

Frodo and Sam follow Gollum’s footsteps whose plan is to move as quickly and as stealthily as possible to the stairs leading to Cirith Ungol. Gollum’s plan fails as Minas Morgul drives Frodo to distraction. As if mesmerized, Frodo in his weakened state of body and mind moves towards the unwelcoming gates with creatures resembling gargoyles perched upon pillars of stone. There could be nothing but torture and pain awaiting him within the walls of Minas Morgul. Nevertheless, the call of the Ring for its homeland is stronger than any will or strength of character. It overcomes Frodo. 

The call of the Ring

Sam: “No, Mr. Frodo!”

Gollum: “Not that way! What’s it doing?”

Frodo: “No. They’re calling me.” 

Gollum: “No. Hide! Hide!”

Frodo: “I can feel his blade.”

Sam and Gollum run after Frodo to steal him away from his inability to turn away. Even as Sam overpowers him, the hold this ghastly place has over Frodo leaves him struggling to break free of his stronghold. Simultaneously, the foul green fog that surrounds this fortress, envelopes around its peaking tower, as if calling all powers within it to unite, to signal its starting time.

The Witch-king of Angmar himself rises on his fell beast screeching in that high-pitched ear-bleeding noise. Without ever seeing him, only hearing his call, Frodo’s wound feels the Morgul blade pierce it again as if it were happening for the first time. 

The gates of Minas Morgul open, giving way to its army. They pass the stairs where the company of three are hiding and watching in terror. There is nothing for them now but to climb the stairs. 

Gandalf: “We come to it at last. The great battle of our time.” 

Gollum: “Come away Hobbits. We climb. We must climb.” 

Gandalf: “The board is set. The pieces are moving.” 

As the Hobbits climb their way into even more dangerous territory, Gandalf and Pippin stand in wait, watching the evil unravel in its potency. 

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