The Six Books
Tolkien followed five and then six of the surviving Fellowship in Book Three, the first half of The Two Towers. It ended with Gandalf going off with Pippin, while leaving Aragorn behind with the Palantir. Pushing him towards his future role, clearly. But Gandalf must also help Minas Tirith and keep it intact until Aragorn arrives.
Note also that we only ever see Gandalf as others see him, or as he reports his own actions to them. An exception is at the start of Book Two, when Frodo awakes and Gandalf tells him what happened:
“Gandalf moved his chair to the bedside, and took a good look at Frodo. … to the wizard’s eye there was a faint change just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand that lay outside upon the coverlet.
“`Still that must be expected,’ said Gandalf to himself. `He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can’”.
But I think that is the only time. It is the adventures of people encountering higher powers, not of one of those higher powers in human form.
Book Four follows Frodo and Sam. It ends with Frodo captured by Orcs and Sam determined to risk all to rescue him rather than try to complete the Quest without him. And we learn from Christopher Tolkien’s publications that the story was to be wrapped up in a fifth Book. But clearly it just grew, and Book Five as we have it will follow the threads of six of the Fellowship, ending with Pippin expecting death after being crushed beneath a troll he helped kill. Expecting death and defeat, but content that he has done all he could.
But he grows into this roll. Book Five shows him growing.
The Journey Into Gondor
The chapter starts with Pippin dependent on Gandalf and frightened of all he sees around him:
“There had been the first ride at terrible speed without a halt, and then in the dawn he had seen a pale gleam of gold, and they had come to the silent town and the great empty house on the hill. And hardly had they reached its shelter when the winged shadow had passed over once again, and men wilted with fear. But Gandalf had spoken soft words to him, and he had slept in a corner, tired but uneasy, dimly aware of comings and goings and of men talking and Gandalf giving orders. And then again riding, riding in the night. This was the second, no, the third night since he had looked in the Stone…
“A light kindled in the sky, a blaze of yellow fire behind dark barriers. Pippin cowered back, afraid for a moment, wondering into what dreadful country Gandalf was bearing him…
“‘What is that?’ cried Pippin suddenly, clutching at Gandalf’s cloak. ‘Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land?”
Gandalf reassures him
“The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled…
“‘You are not going like Frodo to Mordor, but to Minas Tirith, and there you will be as safe as you can be anywhere in these days. If Gondor falls, or the Ring is taken, then the Shire will be no refuge.’”
We then get a cross-connection
“He wondered where Frodo was, and if he was already in Mordor, or if he was dead; and he did not know that Frodo from far away looked on that same moon as it set beyond Gondor ere the coming of the day.”
Arriving, he is treated with suspicion:
“‘Yea truly, we know you, Mithrandir,’ said the leader of the men, ‘and you know the pass-words of the Seven Gates and are free to go forward. But we do not know your companion. What is he? A dwarf out of the mountains in the North? We wish for no strangers in the land at this time, unless they be mighty men of arms in whose faith and help we can trust.’
“‘I will vouch for him before the seat of Denethor,’ said Gandalf. ‘And as for valour, that cannot be computed by stature. He has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height; and he comes now from the storming of Isengard, of which we bear tidings’”.
Pippin also blurts out the death of Boromir, and is told off by Gandalf, since Denethor should have been told first. But it is already suspected, just as Faramir had told Frodo.
Gandalf also says:
“You are over-late in repairing the wall of the Pelennor.”
That seems odd, since the Orcs have blasting-powder and take it with little trouble. Perhaps even Gandalf is thinking too much in terms of a world now dying.
They are still far from the city, and we get a brief description of the countryside that supports it:
“The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner, fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin. Yet the herdsmen and husbandmen that dwelt there were not many.”
An oast is a kiln for drying malt or hops. A ‘garner’ is a storehouse, an older term for granary. Tolkien uses intentionally archaic language for his description of life in Gondor. And for how they speak, and how Gandalf speaks to them. Meantime Pippin talks as ever. This makes sense, since it is a very different culture where older values have survived among its peoples.
Regarding those peoples. Tolkien has views on race that would no longer be acceptable:
“They were reckoned men of Gondor, yet their blood was mingled, and there were short and swarthy folk among them whose sires came more from the forgotten men who housed in the shadow of the hills in the Dark Years ere the coming of the kings. But beyond, in the great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes.”
Of course Tolkien does see this old world as needing change. Gandalf warns of this:
“Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known.”
We then get a brief description of the city:
“For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards… The entrance to the Citadel also looked eastward, but was delved in the heart of the rock; thence a long lamp-lit slope ran up to the seventh gate. Thus men reached at last the High Court, and the Place of the Fountain before the feet of the White Tower: tall and shapely, fifty fathoms from its base to the pinnacle, where the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain.
“A strong citadel it was indeed, and not to be taken by a host of enemies, if there were any within that could hold weapons.”
It is defended from anyone trying to scale the mountain behind it and come down. Tolkien thought in military terms.
It is also the heart of a declining people:
“Pippin gazed in growing wonder at the great stone city, vaster and more splendid than anything that he had dreamed of; greater and stronger than Isengard, and far more beautiful. Yet it was in truth falling year by year into decay; and already it lacked half the men that could have dwelt at ease there…
“Quickly Gandalf strode across the white-paved court. A sweet fountain played there in the morning sun, and a sward of bright green lay about it; but in the midst, drooping over the pool, stood a dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water.
“Pippin glanced at it as he hurried after Gandalf. It looked mournful, he thought, and he wondered why the dead tree was left in this place where everything else was well tended.
“Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree.
“The words that Gandalf had murmured came back into his mind.”
This is of course the White Tree descended from the original White Tree in Valinor. And I assume Tolkien means us to understand that the tree is dead because Gondor depends on the Line of Beren and Luthien, apparently extinct or unsuitable apart from Aragorn in the north. And note that this too is vulnerable: the final evil kings of Numenor had the same descent.
Gandalf is out to restore the lawful line, but also assumes that Denethor will be hostile. And chooses to be deceptive:
“Gandalf spoke softly to Pippin. ‘Be careful of your words, Master Peregrin! This is no time for hobbit pertness. Theoden is a kindly old man. [A]. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king. But he will speak most to you, and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike. But under cover of this love he will think it easier to learn what he witches from you rather than from me. Do not tell him more than you need, and leave quiet the matter of Frodo’s errand. I will deal with that in due time. And say nothing about Aragorn either, unless you must…
“‘It is scarcely wise when bringing the news of the death of his heir to a mighty lord to speak over much of the coming of one who will, if he comes, claim the kingship.’”.
All of this is new to Pippin. Of course he knows only hobbit politics, which is much gentler, though not without jealousy.
He is in a place that is virtuous but cold and hard:
“No hangings nor storied webs, nor any things of woven stuff or of wood, were to be seen in that long solemn hall; but between the pillars there stood a silent company of tall images graven in cold stone…
“Suddenly Pippin was reminded of the hewn rocks of Argonath, and awe fell on him, as he looked down that avenue of kings long dead.
They now meet the mighty Steward of Gondor, who in his own eyes is the main foe of Sauron:
“At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a high throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man.”
He has half of the horn that Boromir blew at his last, so he knows of his son’s death. It has great significance:
“‘That is the horn that Boromir always wore!’ cried Pippin.
“‘Verily,’ said Denethor. ‘And in my turn I bore it, and so did each eldest son of our house, far back into the vanished years before the failing of the kings.”
But irrationally he blames hobbits, whom he knows as halflings:
“”It has been told to me that you bring with you one who saw my son die…
“‘It is,’ said Gandalf. ‘One of the twain. The other is with Theoden of Rohan and may come hereafter. Halflings they are, as you see, yet this is not he of whom the omens spoke.’
“‘Yet a Halfling still,’ said Denethor grimly, ‘and little love do I bear the name, since those accursed words came to trouble our counsels and drew away my son on the wild errand to his death. My Boromir! Now we have need of you. Faramir should have gone in his stead.’
“‘He would have gone,’ said Gandalf. ‘Be not unjust in your grief!’”
He does not call it a misjudgement, though you would have thought Denethor had the authority to forbid Boromir to go. In which case Denethor is shifting blame and being a bad leader.
I think he is also the only person other than the Servants of Evil who does not like hobbits when meeting them.
He is hostile when questioning Pippin, even though he knows enough to guess that the Orcs were commanded to spare hobbits.
Feeling guilty, and also wanting to assert himself, Pippin tries to atone.
“Then Pippin looked the old man in the eye, for pride stirred strangely within him, still stung by the scorn and suspicion in that cold voice. ‘Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.’ Twitching aside his grey cloak, Pippin drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor’s feet.
“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.
“Pippin lifted it and presented the hilt to him. ‘Whence came this?’ said Denethor. ‘Many, many years lie on it. Surely this is a blade wrought by our own kindred in the North in the deep past?’
“‘It came out of the mounds that lie on the borders of my country ‘ said Pippin. ‘But only evil wights dwell there now, and I will not willingly tell more of them.’
“‘I see that strange tales are woven about you,’ said Denethor, ‘and once again it is shown that looks may belie the man – or the halfling. I accept your service. For you are not daunted by words; and you have courteous speech, strange though the sound of it may be to us in the South. And we shall have need of all folk of courtesy, be they great or small, in the days to come. Swear to me now!’”
The oath is very formal
“The old man laid the sword along his lap, and Pippin put his hand to the hilt, and said slowly after Denethor:
“‘Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.’
“And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance.’ Then Pippin received back his sword and put it in its sheath.
“‘And now,’ said Denethor, ‘my first command to you: speak and be not silent! Tell me your full tale.”
All of this matched actual mediaeval practice – except it seems odd that Pippin was allowed to keep his sword. Gandalf, Aragorn and the others had to surrender their weapons before entering Theoden’s hall. But perhaps Denethor is clever enough to know that it is not swords or overt violence he need fear from Gandalf and those with him.
In any case, the promise is made. But putting Gandalf’s advice above the oath he has just sworn, Pippin actually tells much less than he might.
First we have a confrontation between Denethor and Gandalf. Denethor was foolishly scornful when Gandalf sought permission to look for a vital clue that Isildur had left about the One Ring. He remains just as arrogant:
“[Denethor] struck a small silver gong that stood near his footstool, and at once servants came forward. Pippin saw then that they had been standing in alcoves on either side of the door, unseen as he and Gandalf entered.
“‘Bring wine and food and seats for the guests,’ said Denethor, ‘and see that none trouble us for one hour.’
“‘It is all that I have to spare, for there is much else to heed,’ he said to Gandalf. ‘Much of more import, it may seem, and yet to me less pressing. But maybe we can speak again at the end of the day.’
“‘And earlier, it is to be hoped,’ said Gandalf. ‘For I have not ridden hither from Isengard, one hundred and fifty leagues, with the speed of wind, only to bring you one small warrior, however courteous. Is it naught to you that Theoden has fought a great battle and that Isengard is overthrown, and that I have broken the staff of Saruman?’
“‘It is much to me. But I know already sufficient of these deeds for my own counsel against the menace of the East.’ He turned his dark eyes on Gandalf, and now Pippin saw a likeness between the two, and he felt the strain between them, almost as if he saw a line of smouldering fire, drawn from eye to eye, that might suddenly burst into flame.
“Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older. Yet by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older. ‘How much older?’ he wondered, and then he thought how odd it was that he had never thought about it before. Treebeard had said something about wizards, but even then he had not thought of Gandalf as one of them. What was Gandalf? In what far time and place did he come into the world, and when would he leave it? And then his musings broke off, and he saw that Denethor and Gandalf still looked each other in the eye, as if reading the other’s mind. But it was Denethor who first withdrew his gaze.
“‘Yea,’ he said; ‘for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them. But sit now!’”
Here, Denethor is actually lying. He has one remaining Palantir, and has unwisely used it despite finding Sauron confronting him. We will learn of this later.
Tolkien means us to understand that Denethor is wrong in his mistrust. Yet it seems to me he has a point. He already knows that the wizard Saruman, an apparent friend for many generations of Stewards of Gondor and Kings of Rohan, turned out to have evil ambitions. Gandalf is another wizard, and is trying to advance Aragorn to rule and revive Gondor. Gandalf might hope that Denethor does not know this, but we later learn that he is well aware of it.
I also don’t see why Gandalf does not choose to be open – that he thinks Aragorn would save Gondor, but there will be no attempt to seize power.
Denethor would have good cause to suspect worse. Boromir’s death is convenient, since Faramir is likely to follow Gandalf’s advice and yield to Aragorn, as he in fact does. Which is presumably why he is keen to question Pippin. But must have been reassured on that – it was Orcs seeking the hobbits, who only fought Boromir because he chose to defend them.
We don’t get details of how Pippin is questioned. We move on to the next stage:
“‘Lead the Lord Mithrandir to the housing prepared for him,’ said Denethor, ‘and his companion may lodge with him for the present, if he will. But be it known that I have now sworn him to my service, and he shall be known as Peregrin son of Paladin and taught the lesser pass-words. Send word to the Captains that they shall wait on me here, as soon as may be after the third hour has rung.
“‘And you, my Lord Mithrandir, shall come too, as and when you will. None shall hinder your coming to me at any time, save only in my brief hours of sleep. Let your wrath at an old man’s folly run off and then return to my comfort!’
“‘Folly?’ said Gandalf. ‘Nay, my lord, when you are a dotard you will die. You can use even your grief as a cloak. Do you think that I do not understand your purpose in questioning for an hour one who knows the least, while I sit by?’
“‘If you understand it, then be content,’ returned Denethor. ‘Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.’
“‘Unless the king should come again?’ said Gandalf. ‘Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?’ And with that he turned and strode from the hall with Pippin running at his side.
One might why Gandalf does not demonstrate that he really possesses the authority he claims. I suppose he is obeying the limits placed on him. His task is to persuade men to good judgements, not to impose it
And someone should have advised Tolkien to stop there and make a new chapter – in my book it runs to 23 printed pages, more than twice some of the others. The rest of the chapter proceeds with Gandalf’s views on the meeting, and then Pippin alone, learning how to manage by himself.
Denethor and Gandalf need each other and mistrust each other. Pippin is caught between them. They are led to their lodgings – well away from the centre of power, which to me defines how Denethor sees them:
“Gandalf did not look at Pippin or speak a word to him as they went. Their guide brought them from the doors of the hall, and then led them across the Court of the Fountain into a lane between tall buildings of stone. After several turns they came to a house close to the wall of the citadel upon the north side, not far from the shoulder that linked the hill with the mountain.
Only when alone do they speak freely:
“‘Are you angry with me, Gandalf?’ he said, as their guide went out and closed the door. ‘I did the best I could.’
“‘You did indeed!’ said Gandalf, laughing suddenly; and he came and stood beside Pippin, putting his arm about the hobbit’s shoulders and gazing out of the window. Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.
“‘Indeed you did your best,’ said the wizard; ‘and I hope that it may be long before you find yourself in such a tight corner again between two such terrible old men. Still the Lord of Gondor learned more from you than you may have guessed, Pippin. You could not hide the fact that Boromir did not lead the Company from Moria, and that there was one among you of high honour who was coming to Minas Tirith; and that he had a famous sword. Men think much about the stories of old days in Gondor; and Denethor has given long thought to the rhyme and to the words Isildur’s Bane, since Boromir went away.
“‘He is not as other men of this time, Pippin, and whatever be his descent from father to son, by some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him; as it does in his other son, Faramir, and yet did not in Boromir whom he loved best. He has long sight. He can perceive, if he bends his will thither, much of what is passing in the minds of men, even of those that dwell far off. It is difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try.
“‘Remember that! For you are now sworn to his service. I do not know what put it into your head, or your heart, to do that. But it was well done. I did not hinder it, for generous deed should not be checked by cold counsel. It touched his heart, as well (may I say it) as pleasing his humour. And at least you are free now to move about as you will in Minas Tirith – when you are not on duty. For there is another side to it. You are at his command; and he will not forget. Be wary still!’
“He fell silent and sighed. ‘Well, no need to brood on what tomorrow may bring. For one thing, tomorrow will be certain to bring worse than today, for many days to come. And there is nothing more that I can do to help it. The board is set, and the pieces are moving. One piece that I greatly desire to find is Faramir, now the heir of Denethor. I do not think that he is in the City; but I have had no time to gather news. I must go, Pippin. I must go to this lords’ council and learn what I can. But the Enemy has the move, and he is about to open his full game. And pawns are likely to see as much of it as any, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor. Sharpen your blade!’”
The Jackson film is very unfair to Denethor, making him seem a selfish fool. When it comes to power, he is nearly a match for Gandalf. Considering that Gandalf in his earlier weaker form was able to defeat a balrog, an evil cousin of the spirit who controls the sun, that is impressive. But Pippin also sees that Gandalf hides most of the power he has.
Denethor is also expressing his view of Gandalf in putting him in lodgings well away from Denethor’s seat of power. He needs Gandalf’s aid, but does not trust him.
And as someone pointed out when I first gave this talk, in some ways Sauron understands Gandalf better than anyone else. The Mouth of Sauron is presumably giving his master’s viewpoint, noting that Gandalf is forever working against what Sauron is trying to achieve. He would just not understand why – how Gandalf correctly limits himself to guiding and not trying to command and rule. That the point is to persuade others to do the right thing.
But while concerned with vast matters, Gandalf also does not forget his duties. They had arrived on Shadowfax, but horses were not allowed within the Citadel.
“Gandalf went to the door, and there he turned. ‘I am in haste Pippin,’ he said. ‘Do me a favour when you go out. Even before you rest, if you are not too weary. Go and find Shadowfax and see how he is housed. These people are kindly to beasts, for they are a good and wise folk, but they have less skill with horses than some.’”
It was Merry who supplied ponies for the initial journey back in the shire. But it is sensible to suppose that Pippin as the heir to the other leading house in The Shire also knows them.
It is still early. Pippin hears three bells: the third hour after the rising of the sun. Pippin reckons it to be around 9 o’clock, which seems right. It is the 9th of March, close to equinox, so the sun should be rising around six.
On the other hand, I’d have expected a highly organised place like Gondor to organise its hours regardless of sunrise. It is far south of The Shire, at the latitude of Florence.[B] So there would a shift of several hours between summer and winter.
It is also possible that they start each new day from sunrise. Some real-world cultures do, and religious Jews start their Sabbath on what Latin-Christian culture would call Friday evening.
Regardless, Pippin goes down, thinking about breakfast. He has no idea where to go, but is met by a man set to look after him:
“I am named Beregond son of Baranor. I have no duty this morning, and I have been sent to you to teach you the pass-words, and to tell you some of the many things that no doubt you will wish to know. And for my part, I would learn of you also. For never before have we seen a halfling in this land and though we have heard rumour of them, little is said of them in any tale that we know. Moreover you are a friend of Mithrandir. Do you know him well?’
“‘Well,’ said Pippin. ‘I have known of him all my short life, as you might say; and lately I have travelled far with him. But there is much to read in that book, and I cannot claim to have seen more than a page or two. Yet perhaps I know him as well as any but a few. Aragorn was the only one of our Company, I think, who really knew him.’
“‘Aragorn?’ said Beregond. ‘Who is he?’
“‘Oh,’ stammered Pippin, ‘he was a man who went about with us. I think he is in Rohan now.’”
He’s not a good conspirator. He gives away Aragorn’s true importance to one of Denethor’s people.
And being a hobbit, he then looks for breakfast, which does not fit local custom:
“This is a fortress and a tower of guard and is now in posture of war. We rise ere the Sun, and take a morsel in the grey light, and go to our duties at the opening hour.”
But there is flexibility, and he can get the hobbit some food. But then Pippin remembers his duty:
“Gandalf, Mithrandir as you call him, asked me to see to his horse – Shadowfax, a great steed of Rohan, and the apple of the king’s eye, I am told, though he has given him to Mithrandir for his services. I think his new master loves the beast better than he loves many men, and if his good will is of any value to this city, you will treat Shadowfax with all honour”.
He also calls himself a hobbit, forgetting they are known here as halflings. But finds himself accepted:
“I may say that strange accents do not mar fair speech, and hobbits are a fair-spoken folk.”
That’s Tolkien’s world-view. And the men of Gondor do know something of horses:
“Pippin found that Shadowfax had been well housed and tended. For in the sixth circle, outside the walls of the citadel, there were some fair stables where a few swift horses were kept, hard by the lodgings of the errand-riders of the Lord: messengers always ready to go at the urgent command of Denethor or his chief captains. But now all the horses and the riders were out and away.
“Shadowfax whinnied as Pippin entered the stable and turned his head. ‘Good morning!’ said Pippin. ‘Gandalf will come as soon as he may. He is busy, but he sends greetings, and I am to see that all is well with you; and you resting, I hope, after your long labours.’”
Shadowfax is an exceptional horse
“‘He looks as if he were spoiling for a race, and not newly come from a great journey,’ said Beregond. ‘How strong and proud he is! Where is his harness? It should be rich and fair.’
“‘None is rich and fair enough for him,’ said Pippin. ‘He will have none. If he will consent to bear you, bear you he does; and if not, well, no bit, bridle, whip, or thong will tame him.”
Breakfast comes next:
“They got there bread, and butter, and cheese and apples: the last of the winter store, wrinkled but sound and sweet; and a leather flagon of new-drawn ale, and wooden platters and cups. They put all into a wicker basket and climbed back into the sun; and Beregond brought Pippin to a place at the east end of the great out-thrust battlement where there was an embrasure in the walls with a stone seat beneath the sill. From there they could look out on the morning over the world.”
Pippin later observes how well-ordered Gondor is, as non-combatants are sent out of the city:
“All the street seemed to be choked with great covered wains going south. But soon Pippin saw that all was in fact well-ordered: the wains were moving in three lines, one swifter drawn by horses; another slower, great waggons with fair housings of many colours, drawn by oxen; and along the west rim of the road many smaller carts hauled by trudging men.
Beregond also tells of Osgiliath
“‘It was a city,’ said Beregond, ‘the chief city of Gondor, of which this was only a fortress. For that is the ruin of Osgiliath on either side of Anduin, which our enemies took and burned long ago. Yet we won it back in the days of the youth of Denethor: not to dwell in, but to hold as an outpost, and to rebuild the bridge for the passage of our arms. And then came the Fell Riders out of Minas Morgul.’
“‘The Black Riders?’ said Pippin, opening his eyes, and they were wide and dark with an old fear re-awakened.”
I would wonder about the logic of having Minas Tirith made so strong. It would originally have defended Osgiliath against threats from the west – but what threat was likely to emerge there?
Regardless, Beregond reveals a detail, the significance of which appears later:
“The Lord Denethor is unlike other men: he sees far. Some say that as he sits alone in his high chamber in the Tower at night, and bends his thought this way and that, he can read somewhat of the future; and that he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him. And so it is that he is old, worn before his time.”
He’d have been using the Palantir, which Sauron used to make him despair, even though he was too strong to be controlled.
Pippin settles down, but finds wild rumours have spread about him:
“There had already been much talk in the citadel about Mithrandir’s companion and his long closeting with the Lord; and rumour declared that a Prince of the Halflings had come out of the North to offer allegiance to Gondor and five thousand swords. And some said that when the Riders came from Rohan each would bring behind him a halfling warrior, small maybe, but doughty.”
I had previously overlooked that this arrangement will come true in a small but vital way: Eowyn as Dernhelm carrying Merry, and both of them destroying the Witch-King. For now, Pippin is embarrassed at the status he has gained. He is heir to the most important family in the Hobbit’s Shire, but he also knows how small this is compared to Gondor even in its decline
“Though Pippin had regretfully to destroy this hopeful tale, he could not be rid of his new rank, only fitting, men thought, to one befriended by Boromir and honoured by the Lord Denethor.
In the Appendices, Tolkien explains that a difference in language was one reason for this:
“The Westron tongue made in the pronouns of the second person … a distinction … between ‘familiar’ and ‘deferential’ forms. It was, however, one of the peculiarities of Shire-usage that the deferential forms had gone out of colloquial use… Peregrin Took … in his first few days in Minas Tirith used the familiar forms to people of all ranks, including the Lord Denethor himself… helped to spread the popular rumour that Peregrin was a person of very high rank in his own country.[C]”
They need reason to hope. The real help is disappointing:
“And so the companies came and were hailed and cheered and passed through the Gate, men of the Outlands marching to defend the City of Gondor in a dark hour; but always too few, always less than hope looked for or need asked… less than three thousands full told. No more would come.”
And when he sees Gandalf again, the news is bad. He knows of the great cloud from Mordor that Frodo had seen:
“At the sunrise I shall take you to the Lord Denethor again. No, when the summons comes, not at sunrise. The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.’”
We have been told nothing of what Aragorn and the others have been doing all this time. That’s the next chapter.
[A] It should be Théoden, but I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/.
[B] Letter 294 in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
[C] Appendix F II.