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Now that they have been reunited with Gandalf, Aragorn and his companions make their way to the city of Edoras, the capital of Rohan. There, they meet King Théoden, whose mind has been poisoned. With Gandalf’s help, the aged king is returned to vitality and, having gathered the Rohirrim together, they set out to take the battle to Saruman.

Théoden, like so many other characters in Tolkien, is truly a great creation. He has everything that you’d want out of an epic king, particularly once Gandalf manages to free him from the spells that Wormtongue has woven about his mind. Though he is, for the most part, painted as a kindly figure, there’s also something hard about him. While his remark that Háma proved untrustworthy as a doorward is clearly his attempt at humor, it also suggests that the king, like the rest of his people, is still very much driven by a sense of honor that is not easily shaken. …


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And so we come at last to one of the most exciting chapters in the entire saga, when it is revealed that Gandalf, whom the others thought perished in Moria, has in fact been sent back until his task is done. During their surprise reunion, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas learn much about what has befallen their friend, including his description of his terrifying fight with the Balrog. The chapter closes with the four riding off to Edoras, where they will be the King of Rohan.

The most noteworthy thing about this chapter is, of course, the revelation that Gandalf has survived or, to be more precise, has perished and resurrected so that he will be able to carry on until his task is done. It’s important to recognize the fact that Gandalf actually does die after his battle, since this means that the person that speaks with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli is in fact fundamentally changed by his experiences. It also probably goes without saying that the death and resurrection motif is very much an expression of Tolkien’s fundamentally Christian outlook on the world, here skillfully overlaid with the ethos of Northern Europe that was his other great love and inspiration. There is also a rather interesting twist in temporality, since Gandalf notes that, as he lay on the peak, “each day was as long as a life-age of the earth.” …


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Hello, readers and followers! I wanted to share some very exciting news with you. I’ve started a newsletter, Omnivorous, over on Substack.

As the title suggests, Omnivorous focuses on all of the things that you’ve come to expect from me here on Medium: political, social, and cultural commentary with a decidedly queer bent. Think of it as daily conversations with your favorite flamboyantly gay English professor.

To be clear, if you sign up for my newsletter over on Substack, you won’t be getting duplicate content. Instead, several times a week you’ll be getting original writing in the form of 1–2 long-ish essays (usually around 1500–2000 words and focusing on the politics and culture of both the past and the present) and 2–3 shorter pieces (usually either columns addressing a recent political issue or a review of a film, TV show, or book I particularly enjoyed). …


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Having escaped the horrors of their captivity among the Orcs, Merry and Pippin make their way through Fangorn. There, they encounter the Ent Treebeard, with whom they strike up an unlikely friendship. Their arrival sets of a chain of events that sees Treebeard the other Ents begin their long march to war against Isengard, and the chapter ends with their arrival on Saruman’s doorstep.

It is, I think, impossible to dislike Treebeard. He’s one of those characters in Tolkien that manages to cast a spell from the moment that he appears, with his signature mix of ancient wisdom and innate kindliness. This is all the more striking when one considers the fact that, as revealed in Christopher Tolkien’s The History of the Lord of the Rings, Treebeard originally appeared to be an antagonist rather than one of the heroes. To be sure, there’s something more than a little enigmatic about him, and there is far more to him that his benevolent appearance might suggest. After all, he does tell Merry and Pippin that he’s not really on anyone’s side because, unfortunately, no one is really on his side, either. However, it’s clear that he hates Orcs and the other creatures of Sauron and that he feels particularly betrayed by Saruman, who has closed his mind off to the people and creatures, like Treebeard, that were originally his allies. In some ways, Treebeard is a counterpart to Tom Bombadil. Like Tom, he has seen far more of Middle-earth’s history than almost anyone else and, like the jolly fellow of the Old Forest, he has largely kept him confined to himself. However, it’s worth remarking that in one key way he is very unlike Bombadil, and that is in the fact that he decides to take an active role in the unfolding of human events by marching on Isengard (more on that in a moment). …


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This chapter switches focus, and we rejoin Merry and Pippin as they are carried along by the gang of Orcs that kidnapped them. It soon becomes clear that there are several rival bands among these creatures, and while some are servants of Saruman, others are allied with Sauron. Ultimately, they are all destroyed by a group of the Rohirrim, though Merry and Pippin manage to escape and flee into Fangorn.

I’ve always been fascinated by Tolkien’s Orcs. They’re an oddly tragic race, given that, from what we know, they were once Elves who were tortured and transformed into the servants of Morgoth (the first Dark Lord and Sauron’s master during the First Age of Middle-earth). There’s no doubt that they are, by this point, quite malicious, willing to inflict pain and suffering for the sheer joy of doing so. However, there’s also something pitiable about them, given that they are clearly miserable, at the whims of whichever lord and master happens to have control over them at a particular moment. …


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His recent piece in The Atlantic takes Republicans to task, even as it also indulges in dangerous both-sides rhetoric that is ultimately self-defeating.

Recently, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska penned a scathing essay in The Atlantic, taking his Republican colleagues to task for their willingness to indulge the conspiracy theorists in their ranks. “We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions,” he writes, “or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.” …


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Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, having decided that they must pursue Merry and Pippin, begin to chase after the Orcs, speeding across the land of Rohan. Soon enough, they encounter the mounted warrior Éomer and his fellow Rohirrim. They learn that things are not as they should be in Rohan and, more sinisterly, they have to contend with the reality that their companions fled into the forest of Fangorn. On their way to pursue them, their horses are frightened away by a mysterious old man.

This is an important chapter for a number of reasons. First of all, it introduces us to the Riders of Rohan, those brave men who will play such a decisive role in the war against Sauron. It becomes immediately clear that they are a proud and rather stubborn people and, in these latter days at least, they are very suspicious of strangers and any who have had any dealings with magic or sorcery, a fact made quite clear when Éomer expresses no small amount of suspicion of their recent visit to Galadriel. As has been amply noted, the Rohirrim are essentially the Anglo-Saxons if they had horses and, for that reason, we as readers are encouraged to see them as heroes, though they are obviously men of lesser wisdom and learning than their neighbors in Gondor. …


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And so we come at last to the beginning of The Two Towers. Now that Frodo has departed for Mordor, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli have to decide what to do, whether to pursue him or to go after Merry and Pippin and attempt to save them from the Orcs. They decide to do the latter, but before they do so they give Boromir to Anduin, in the hopes that the Great River will keep his body safe from those who would despoil it.

One of the things that surprised me as I read the novel this time was how understated Boromir’s death is. Unlike Peter Jackson’s version, which has Aragorn and Boromir reconcile — which involves Bormoir saying, “I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my kind” — the novel has the noble captain of Gondor slip away after confessing that he attempted to take the Ring from Frodo. It’s a haunting moment precisely because he doesn’t get quite the send-off that we might have expected for such an important character. Still, there’s also something noble about it, and one can see in Boromir’s passing an evocation of the sorts of great deaths that were a key part of the epic tradition upon which Tolkien drew so liberally. In giving his life to save the hobbits Merry and Pippin, he earned his redemption. …


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Dionne’s new book is both a history lesson and a guide to the future for the Democratic Party.

I’ve long been a fan of E.J. Dionne, Jr., known for his many appearances on MSNBC. He’s one of those left-leaning intellectuals whose investments in a progressive agenda are sincere and arise from rigorous thinking and a robust understanding of American political history. It was thus with great excitement that I saw he had a new book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country.


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And so we come at last to the final chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring. As the chapter opens, the Fellowship has to decide what their next step will be, whether to go to Minas Tirith with Boromir or to head straight to Mordor to see to the destruction of the Ring. While Frodo takes time to think, he’s confronted by Boromir, who tries to take the Ring. The hobbit flees and, having decided he can no longer stay with the Fellowship — and having had a close encounter with the Eye of Sauron — he sets out on his own, though he is accompanied by the stubborn Sam. …

About

Dr. Thomas J. West III

Ph.D. in English | Film and TV geek | Lover of fantasy and history | Full-time writer | Feminist and queer | Liberal scold and gadfly

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