Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reader's Guide to "The Two Towers"

Reader's Guide to "The Two Towers"

The title "Two Towers" makes it sound like this part of the adventure is especially daunting, ominous. The adventurers have to contend with two circumferences of evil influence, both linked. But the reader soon discovers that the two towers are hardly in union: Saruman seeks claim of the Ring himself, and is not the least bit actually serving deferentially to Sauron; and Sauron knows this about him but finds him a useful enough agent nevertheless, at least for the time being. Saruman, though of course as old as the hills as Sauron is, is reasonably new to the “being Evil” game (though Treebeard suspects a longer tenureship, invisible to everyone for being contrived in hiding), while Sauron is "old hat." The "Two Towers" ends up being as much about this -- the rivalry between the newly rising and long-established order -- as it is about the two different threats imposed in the pathway of the Fellowship, a theme, a concern, which applies far beyond Sarumon's relationship vis-a-vis Sauron to include assembling allies of the good and members within the now disparate venturing parts of the former Fellowship. It -- that is, a concern that the old order not by breached; that people not start thinking things with perhaps destabilizing implications for the social order -- seems concerned in this sense to protect both evil and good in this book: it's an overriding concern, making any act of bravery, initiative, or spirited intuition, just as often something to be dealt with and handled -- i.e. subtly or starkly diminished -- immediately, than something worth praise and support. An outpouring of an eager willingness to praise or to lend strong support, in fact, is more often to come out of expressions of doubt and admittance of or clear evidence of failure, than from successfully accomplished feat, which is looked to warily if it can’t be immediately packaged as something as as demonstrative of one’s limitations as one’s potential.

The book begins with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas full of doubt, veering near a state of despondency. "Now the company is all in ruin," Aragorn says. "It is I that has failed. Vain was Gandalf's trust in me. [...] What shall I do now?" He gets his answer to some extent by the particular direction his heart points him towards, but also seemingly in deciding for modesty, for the more modest of the two paths he needs to choose between -- grant the main course to Frodo and Sam, and take the path that is a "small deed in the great deeds of this time" (416): somehow goodness lies therein. This I think is the last time one ever hears of Aragorn admonishing himself as a limited figure in the text, and of seeking to venture away from glory; in retrospect, it seems almost a ceremonial gesture in that the one who is about to serve as king over all of Middle-earth, first begs himself as someone who never forgets that his greatest deeds have been bested by even greater kings before him, and that he has known doubt, failure, and even moments of despondency, as much as any man. Hereafter he never openly reduces himself -- though upon Gandalf’s return to the Fellowship, Gandalf does school him to doubt himself no further -- even if others mistakenly believe they see him in reduced form -- i.e., his wearing a mere grey cloak into the halls of Medusheld -- and the key dramatic action concerning him is infinitely more his rising, and into some form of greatness that daunts everyone in terms of stature -- “power and majesty of kings of stone” (423) -- and accessibility: “none now of the land of the living can tell his purpose” (780). Henceforth, outside of being momentarily spell-caught by Saruman, any change on his part is to make him that much more evident as a “kingly man of high destiny” (780).

Aragorn is venturing on a path that will not actually have him rescue Merry and Pippen -- Treebeard and the Riders do that -- but rather only establishing himself amongst other denizens of Middle-earth as the great king returned. Ultimately it's not by any means a path that simply lends distinction to Frodo and Sam's, but his journey -- announced, at the very least, as a modest one -- does work to highlight the outwardly bold presumption of those next discussed in the text -- Sarumon’s, and his servants -- of whom one of them is particularly vile. Note that bold, brazen thought and action is by no means due for criticism in the text. Not at all, in fact -- for even Saruman's is carefully done. Much of "Two Towers" is replete with it, bold action that goes un-criticized -- or at least by anyone given textual authority... by anyone who matters. Aragorn, after deciding finally on which course to take, switches entirely out of being momentarily fretful to simply announcing himself from out of hiding upon a whole horde of riding Rohan' horsemen, and in such a stark and unexpected manner  -- "What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?" -- that it's no surprise the Rohanians consider them possibly net-weavers and (evil) sorcerers, after having first thought them possibly Orcs. The path Frodo and Sam chose for themselves is not to be assessed as only a “strange deed,” as Gimli initially judges it, but only as a “brave deed”: so states Aragorn. Pippen dares drop his elf-given (and so doubly daring) brooch so his trail could be followed and he and Merry be known as both alive and alert to the friends hopefully on path to rescue them. Gandalf is referenced as having stolen a horse from under Theoden’s -- the Rohan' King’s -- nose, cheating him of his hold’s greatest prize when he meant only to offer a typical sampling. Sam, at the finish of the "Two Towers," succeeds in stabbing the great monster spider Shelob, something no one, not even great Gondor warriors -- of whom, they're may not even have been but a few -- had previously succeeded in doing. All of these bold undertakings are conveyed as actions to be respected and celebrated, unreservedly. In not a single case is anyone who undertakes such bold action meant to be seen as deserving the punishment that might have nevertheless been dealt them for undertaking them -- none of them qualifies as the sort of unwarranted claim, the sort of lavicious action, that should be so slammed down so hard it amounts to a moral lesson others must heed.

The harsh moral lesson, "the burned hand teaches best," is however applied to any bold advance made even by someone in very good standing, if it might lend one to reconsider the righteousness of the social order that the returned king is set to restore. While held captive by the Orcs, Pippin decides that he shouldn't have let himself be daunted by the fact that the company he’d be in would be composed of such high company, and rather himself undertaken to learn some of the available knowledge concerning geography that was available in Rivendale so he wouldn’t have been as shortchanged when caught out alone. If this was simply his being involved in self-reprimand -- involved in a turning against himself: what a fool you are, Pippin! -- the text would have found no trespass here. But it isn’t. He is arguing to himself that no company should ever daunt one. That you should make an assessment of your likely needs and keep faith with it, even if others around you are of such stature that without explicitly stating it their presence seems to insist on your suddenly forsaking yourself an honest assessment of how best to equip yourself. Pippen, informed by this act of self-correction, not self-reprimand, seems to be the one we meet subsequently while at the foot Sarumon's tower when he decides to make claim to a fallen object -- the palantiri -- even after being immobilized by spell-chanting Saruman as but a kid that doesn't deserve to be at the scene at all, and which persists even after haughty white Gandalf reprimands him for independently making a grab at an object he hadn’t yet been instructed to retrieve. "Half" of this was supposed to be the will of the Ring, but really, the text accords that the half that was Pippin's own was just as suspect, for it's a recognition of self-rule -- everyone's intrinsic right not to be intimidated away from a claim they made an independent judgment of as earned and justified: a philosophy antithetical to any social order headed by a king. "Fortunately," the palantiri takes Pippen for a horrid ride, and "fortunately" the palantiri later is used successfully by one of the Fellowship -- Aragorn, of course -- who can demonstrate that this is a world, not of those who erroneously leach themselves of personal responsibility and the responsible who don’t, but one of legitimate claims and of illegitimate claims, and you don’t act so much to absolve oneself of passivity but to learn as to which of these two groupings you properly belong -- the one that should take action, that should lead, or the one that really ought just sit on its hands when betters are around, acting only if and when instructed. If it “burns” you, and if someone of as unquestionable textual authority as Gandalf and Arathorn deems that you had it coming, then it’ll service as evidence that next time you think yourself guilty of too much passivity and too little initiative, you’re probably doing only what people of your limited capability are due for. Don’t strive to do better next time; just deal with your accorded lot for it was justly dealt.

Sam, while upheld in the text as at least in a certain circumstance as superior to every other entity that ever challenged the might of a demigod, is not so sustained while beginning to have doubts concerning Frodo. The text takes humor in Sam's comical inversion of the natural social order when he addresses Faramir as if he was admonishing a young hobbit for his "sauce," for it's an instance of inversion which instantly demonstrates the rightness of the regular order -- of the appropriateness of Faramir's retort afterwards, "Sit by your master, and be silent!" The text is not, however, so casual with Sam beginning to think Frodo a bit too soft on Gollum, for here there is a trespass on what might be mistook by many as a righteous reason for taking charge, for taking command away from those given it, which would have deep reverberations for the social order. There's a sense in the text that not just Sam but many readers have been lured far along enough in a suspicion so that when it is quit, shown up for good, an arising doubt built on something implicitly weak-seeming about the right of a current hierarchy to its place of rulership has been dealt with, and therefore, a guaranteed long interim free of challenge. This something, alluded to at the beginning of the text by one of Sauron’s agents as the one trait not even their worst is “cursed with,” is "kindness": Frodo is Sam's "rightful master, not just because he is more wise and genteel, which are traits possessed by the like of Sauron, for instance, but because he is more intrinsically kind; Aragorn is Eowyn's rightful master, not just because he is wiser and more mighty than he, not just because he has better manners -- "I spoke only as do all in men in my land, and I would gladly learn better" -- than he, but because he is kinder, less harsh, than he. Kindness is not, however, something a simple person might mistake it for: it's not intrinsically connected with weakness, with blindness, however much the two can be connected (read what happens to Theodon’s Rhodan when Theoden is too open and permissive -- i.e., it makes itself fully open to the machinations of Wormtongue). It's actually twinned with a larger degree of foresight than the simple are usually capable of conceiving of, as per for example Gandalf instructing Frodo on what respect and pity can lend in you in surprise when dealing with those ostensibly worth only being slain, given their being accustomed to associate receptivity to other’s pains only with a peculiar willingness to self-designate yourself open for others' usage and plunder. And it requires a reminder now and then of how it is actually not at all necessarily that -- a stupidly offered generosity informed of divine aspiration but founded on ignorance -- that it’s actually informed out of full knowledge of the guiles of the weak, and is by no means a capitulation to any of them, so that those due respect not find themselves inadvertently held in poor regard by their servants. 

Even an entity as great and important as Treebeard gets a hemming-in, a correction, when he advances on a dangerous conclusion built out of what the text needed to supply, but for another purpose. The great wizard Saruman must be soundly deflated in the text so that he doesn't serve as an argument that the "uppity," those who’d go for change that isn’t gradual and to the approval of elders but widespread, all of a sudden, and shocking to all, sometimes have good ground for thinking themselves superior to all who’ve existed before them. So we are instructed that Saruman was a potent captain but he was only ever but Sauron's servant, even as he thought himself fully his own master and in process of advancing himself successfully as Sauron’s as well; that he was only creating only a copy of Sauron's constructions, even as he saw himself as a bold originator; and that his awesome tower, indestructible even to Ents-- Orthanc -- was outside the building acumen of either of their might. And Treebeard is accorded by Aragorn as correct in further assessing Sarumon as lacking in grit and raw courage as well. But after that Treebeard’s denunciation of Sarumon is stopped short by Aragorn, because, it really does begin to seem, what is flawed concerning Saruman cannot be allowed to go so profoundly deep that it has implications for all others with ostensibly iron-clad claims on greatness, and that's the territory Treebeard begins to step into. He ventures, "I wonder if his fame was not all along mainly due to his cleverness in settling at Isengard," which is a suggestion that what he was actually foremost skilled at was pulling the wool over other people's eyes. He’s going in the same direction here that Boromir was when he wondered of Galadriel’s purposes, gauging her perhaps only ever full of deception and guile. And so Aragorn expounds on this trespass into Evil, that "No. [...] Once he was as great as his fame made him. His thoughts were deep, his knowledge was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled [...]." Yes, of course he was, otherwise Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Aragorn himself are either thorough fools or agents of deliberate mischief, for so long arguing him otherwise. And of course he was, for otherwise these other three "great" individuals might perhaps be themselves revealed as of the same actual makeup -- one large, long-permitted blow-up of what actually amounts to nothing. All this would be seditious thought of the highest order, so even the great Treebeard suffers a burn of a kind, even if not of course a literal one, and even if it’s “singing” is minor.

If Sam hadn't realized that Frodo was so wise and so far beyond him that it was really always wise to just trust him, if Pippin hadn't said that subsequently after his "burning" a whole platter of tempting palantiris could be put before him and he wouldn't touch any of them, and followed through with this so much subsequently that all he's doing in regards to Gandalf afterwards is apologizing for his initiatives and casting doubt on them, if Treebeard hadn't immediately stopped the denunciation of Saruman and left the extent of character-winnowing where Aragorn and Gandalf would comfortably have it, then their fates would not subsequently have gone as described -- is what one comes to gather from the will at work in the text. If Sam had decided that Frodo was still guilty of not sufficiently countenancing the extent of Gollum's threat and therefore had become himself a threat to the success of their all-important mission, a conclusion which lead to him judging that he should properly be the one carrying the Ring before circumstances in the text  -- i.e., Frodo's incapacitation -- necessitated this of him, he wouldn't have been the recipient of so joyous an accounting of him in his defeat of Sherob that for a moment he was a legitimate triumph over most every warrior on Middle-earth, but rather someone undermined as being merely lucky, and actually in fact probably wholeheartedly battle-incompetent -- not worth a tale at all in anyone's book, not even the smallest... or rather, he might just been victim to plot change done in a pique of anger and found himself quickly stabbed at by Sherob and mercilessly eaten. If Merry hadn't accepted in his own mind that there was any legitimate difference between his bold gesture of dropping his broach to inform his three ostensible friendly pursuers of his ongoing health and his quickly judged and quick-fingered retrieval of the dropped artifact that was on its way to being lost to all, if he hadn't perhaps understood that his "rightful" claim to it was as half-baked a formulation as was Gollum's claim to the Ring as his "present," he wouldn't have found himself so kindly received by Gandalf and merely dropped a notch in a familiar way in being likened to a pawn in the company of greater pieces and subsequently directed about after having had inadvertently stolen Gandalf's due limelight by being the one honored by Denethor's court and personal interrogation, but rather told that that's what he gets for proclaiming himself equal to all when actually so  undeserving, and rather than being spared being forced to sing at court he’d of found himself transformed into fully spent songbird. If Treebeard hadn't accepted Aragorn's assessment of Saruman and instead pursued his considerations onward towards concluding him as having always been a fraud, he wouldn't have been as warmly excused by Gandalf for his eventually letting his prisoner Saruman go, but informed more of the inevitable consequences of his clumsy mismanagement, including Sarumon's ravaging of the tree-loving hobbit population... and, of course, of all the dead trees incurred in his pursuit of making the Shire a haven instead for brick factories, and thereby driven Treebeard insane in grief, longing for the elves to return to numb him back into stupidity before they left Middle-earth, an act of pity which they of course would spurn him for having recklessly pursued a line of thought that could have all the commons doubting how well earned every one of the greats’ reputation actually was, and so had their whole “great” race as well hoisted on their own petards before they had their chance to make a graceful departure, at a time of their own choosing. 

All of them, in short, would have been made subject to the dark fate viciously but absolutely self-righteously, inflicted in/by text upon Wormtongue. If you're looking for the greatest losers in the text -- the ones, not who die but who suffer humiliations no one could bear living with for long -- you can skip both Sarumon and Sauron, for Saruman's preference that he always remain a master, that he never become anyone's servant, even as if abandons him of Gandalf's help and leaves him having to counter the might of nine Nazgul -- which he might actually, according to the text, have managed to do -- is exactly, what? -- but of course the typical stubbornness and pride of wizards, and Sauron is caught off guard at the end but whose weaknesses are heavily qualified so that they are only weaknesses that abide a certain kind of great genius -- an evil one, an egotistical one. The ones to look to are Gollum (though he for awhile gets a notable reprieve), the Orc Grishnakh (who plays a Wormtongue to Ugluk's Gandalf: pure power and sure direction against an endlessly castigating spitting snake), the Messenger of Mordor, and, well, Merry and -- especially -- Pippin, but no one more than Wormtongue. As a general rule, if the text starts likening one to a cornered animal or an insolent child, you forget all the text's ostensibly fidelity to "pity" and be assured the text wants you alive only so that the humiliations you suffer have much more time to dig in and fester. So if it described you like this: "His face was twisted with amazement and anger to the likeness of some wild beast that, as it crouches on its prey, is smitten not the muzzle with a stinging rod," as it does the Messenger of Mordor, then if Gandalf has to stop someone from smiting you in the name of second-chances and pity, it's going to amount to a forced effort to say the least. If it begins to describe you as a "greedy child stooping over a bowl of food"... as it applies to Pippin, you'd better in some way desist in what you're doing, learn a moral lesson from doing it that you never, ever, forget, and quick, or you'll get the very same. And if it describes you as, "In his eyes was the hunted look of a beast seeking some gap in the ring of his enemies," and as "coming out of a hut [...] almost like a dog," then you're absolutely f*cked, because then you're Wormtongue, and then you're a snake, a kicked dog, and perhaps even a buggered child -- what all does Saruman do to him behind closed doors, after his stupidity costs him the palantiri, to make him absolutely, completely snap? -- and the world has to literally stop so that all your poisonous fluids can cleared from the paths and the possibility that you could have mated with a treasured princess, fumigated out of everyone's brain. 

What happens to Wormtongue is what you get in the text if you breech on someone else's power and the text hasn't already anointed you as someone of firmly established worth -- if anti-Semitic lexicon, if you're the Jew in the European court. To avoid his fate, you go the route of Hana when Gandalf runs off again, doing his favourite bit of "ever [...] going and coming unlooked-for," and take advantage of someone else's seditious doubt -- "Wormtongue, were he here, would not find it hard to explain" -- to make clear you couldn't henceforth ever be driven to doubt him: "I will wait until I see Gandalf again." Or of Eowyn, after having accosted Aragorn, admitting his comparative smallness and pledging to "gladly learn better" from his betters. You have to in effect act pretty much like Gollum's "whipped cur [...] who is piteously anxious to please," in order to be allowed in the text a status that prevents it being pointed out. It's quite the grim way to own people, but such is "Two Tower's" Middle-earth: caught in a double-bind, so that an elder order needn't worry. 


CODA (from Lloyd DeMause's "Emotional Life of Nations")

When Adolf Hitler moved to Vienna in 1907 at the age of eighteen, he reported in Mein Kampf, he haunted the prostitutes’ district, fuming at the “Jews and foreigners” who directed the “revolting vice traffic” which “defiled our inexperienced young blond girls” and injected “poison” into the bloodstream of Germany.

Months before this blood poison delusion was formed, Hitler had the only romantic infatuation of his youth, with a young girl, Stefanie. Hitler imagined that Stefanie was in love with him (although in reality she had never met him) and thought he could communicate with her via mental telepathy. He was so afraid of approaching her that he made plans to kidnap her and then murder her and commit suicide in order to join with her in death.

Hitler’s childhood had been so abusive-his father regularly beat him “with a hippopotamus whip,” once enduring 230 blows of his father’s cane and another time nearly killed by his father’s whipping that he was full of rage toward the world. When he grew up, his sexual feelings were so mixed up with his revenge fantasies that he believed his sperm was poisonous and might enter the woman’s bloodstream during sexual intercourse and poison her.

Hitler’s rage against “Jewish blood-poisoners” was, therefore, a projection of his own fears that he might become a blood-poisoner. Faced with the temptation of the more permissive sexuality of Vienna, he wanted to have sex with women, but was afraid his sperm would poison their blood. He then projected his own sexual desires into Jews -- “The black-haired Jewboy lies in wait for hours, satanic joy in his face, for the unsuspecting girl” and ended up accusing Jews of being “world blood-poisoners” who “introduced foreign blood into our people’s body.” 

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