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The Lord of the Rings | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In The Lord of the Rings, why does Gandalf say the trees that appear at the Battle of the Hornburg are "thing[s] beyond the counsel of the wise"?

Gandalf is responding to the amazement and wonder shown by Éomer and his Men as they react to the appearance of the strange trees at the Battle of the Hornburg in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 8). They believe Gandalf's wizardry caused the trees to appear, when in reality, Gandalf had not planned for nor expected the trees. The huorns, forming the mysterious forest, have been harboring bad feelings for Saruman and his servants for a long time, and finally, along with the Ents, took action against them. Gandalf is delighted the huorns were not part of his plan: "Better than my design, and better even than my hope the event has proved." This incident shows even "the wise," such as Gandalf, are not all-knowing or all-powerful. They, like those who possess less power and knowledge, still resist evil with limited understanding. And they also need help from providential circumstances.

How does Aragorn's statement, "One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters" apply to Pippin and to other situations in The Lord of the Rings?

Aragorn commends Pippin's good judgment in throwing his Elven brooch onto the ground in hopes of marking their path in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 8). Being unwilling to "cast away" a treasure is like being held captive, he notes. Readers can infer that Aragorn's statement would apply to any love of material things getting in the way of doing what is best. But it also applies quite significantly to the quest in general. The One Ring is powerful; it is most definitely a treasure. However, the situation demands those who fight Sauron throw it away to prevent him from getting it back. They do so, even though it means the passing away of everything the Elven rings have made or preserved.

How does Gandalf's statement to Saruman, "I fear I am beyond your comprehension," apply to the fight against Sauron in The Lord of the Rings?

Gandalf's statement in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 10) suggests that Saruman cannot understand Gandalf's actions, because they differ so greatly from his own. Gandalf's altruism and self-sacrifice are incomprehensible to a person who has given in to his own desire for power and dominion over others. This is similar to the concept behind the quest: Because Sauron cannot imagine anyone wanting to throw the One Ring away, he is not on the lookout for a small hobbit trying to sneak into Mordor to do just that. Instead, his attention is on the powerful as he watches to see which one will rise against him. Both situations show the inability of evil to comprehend good, and how the heroes of The Lord of the Rings use this to win the victory.

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Théoden's remark, "oft evil will shall evil mar," apply to Pippin's retrieval of the palantír, and to the larger story?

Théoden's reference to a proverbial saying in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 11) refers to the fact that Gríma Wormtongue, in lashing out in anger at those who oppose Saruman, may have unwittingly dealt a blow to Saruman. Wormtongue's "evil will" will then "mar" Saruman, because, through the palantír, Sauron believes Saruman has hobbits in his possession, and acts against Saruman, in turn. This proverb also plays out in the ways that, time and time again, Orcs working together fight and kill each other. This happens among the Orcs that capture Pippin and Merry and the Orcs that capture Frodo in Cirith Ungol.

In The Lord of the Rings, to what does Gandalf's rhyme while riding to Minas Tirith refer: "Seven stars and seven stones/And one white tree"?

The seven stones are the seeing stones, the palantíri, like the one Gríma Wormtongue throws out of Orthanc. They were brought by Elendil when he came to Middle-earth and were used to communicate across long distances. The white tree is of a species tracing back to Númenor, and is planted in the courtyard on the top level of Minas Tirith. It is a symbol of Gondor and of the line of kings. The seven stars are the seven stars in the crown of Gondor; when Faramir sets the crown on Aragorn's head, it is described as having "seven gems of adamant ... set in the circlet."

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Book 3, Chapter 11 of The Two Towers compare and contrast with Book 4, Chapter 1?

At the end of Book 3, Chapter 11 of The Two Towers, Gandalf and Pippin are speeding along on Shadowfax toward Minas Tirith. The imagery of fire flying from the horse's feet as "night rushed over him" and of the world rolling by "with a great noise of wind" support Gandalf's statement, "Hope is in speed!" The reader is caught up in the swift flight of Shadowfax. The first paragraphs of Book 4, Chapter 1 of The Two Towers bring the reader to an abrupt halt. Sam stands "despondently with hunched shoulders," and the two hobbits have made slow progress east. Rather than the hobbits traveling through the world, the world moves slowly around them: the highlands rise, a cloud drifts, a chill wind blows, night gathers. The change in pace allows the reader to reorient from the frantic, high-action pace of Book 3 to the slower, more focused pace of Book 4.

In The Lord of the Rings, how do the hopes of Frodo in The Two Towers differ from those of Sam, and why?

As Frodo and Sam get closer to Mordor in The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 2), they both have ideas about what the future holds. Sam clearly hopes for a safe return to the Shire. He worries about where they will find food and water, because their lembas is beginning to run low and they have many miles to go: "How long's it going to take us to do this job? And when it's done, what are we going to do then?" Frodo, in contrast, only hopes to complete the quest, not to return safely from it. He can hardly imagine having the strength to accomplish the goal, let alone having additional energy to keep going after that: "I ask you, Sam, are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not. If we can nurse our limbs to bring us to Mount Doom, that is all we can do." The influence of the Ring is the most likely cause of this difference. It is becoming heavier as they get closer to Mordor, and it is clearly having an effect on Frodo's mind as well as his body.

In The Lord of the Rings, who are "Slinker" and "Stinker," and what is the significance of their existence?

In The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 2 and Book 4, Chapter 3), just before Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the Back Gate of Mordor, Sam overhears a conversation between two personalities apparently cohabiting in one body: Gollum and Sméagol. Sméagol was Gollum's name before he was ruined by the Ring, and seems to be whatever is left of his original, more hobbit-like personality. This personality uses the pronoun "I" with a more normal tone of voice, and seems to want to do right by Frodo. Gollum uses the plural pronouns such as "we" and "us," has a more hissing and squeaking voice, often says "my precious" (referring to the Ring), and dislikes both hobbits. Sam calls these two personalities "Stinker" (Gollum) and "Slinker" (Sméagol).

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Sam differentiate between "the best tales to hear" and "the best tales to land in"?

According to Sam, in The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 8), the "best tales to hear" are those in which heroes "seem to have been just landed in them ... their paths were laid that way," and in which the characters had many chances to turn back but decided to go on, with no guarantee of a "good end." In contrast, the "best tales to land in" may be those where the heroes get to go home, and find things there are "all right, though not quite the same." Sam seems to be in a story fitting both descriptions. The paths of Frodo and Sam seem "laid" a certain way, and both hobbits have many chances of turning back but choose to go on instead. Yet, they do go home, and find that things are "all right," but not the same.

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Tolkien use the brothers Boromir and Faramir to develop a theme regarding the abuse of power?

Boromir and Faramir are the two sons of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, so they are both of the same ancestry and rank. They are both intelligent, courageous, and skilled. So they provide a good opportunity to show how certain traits make a person susceptible to abusing power, in The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 5). Faramir describes Boromir as "proud and fearless, often rash, ever anxious for the victory of Minas Tirith (and his own glory therein)." It seems these very qualities make a person vulnerable to the temptation the One Ring presents: unlimited power and the assurance of victory. Faramir, in contrast, describes his own desire to "see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace." Faramir makes the distinction between those who love war for the sake of victory and those who fight simply to defend what is worthwhile: "memory ... ancientry ... beauty, and ... wisdom."

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