Not All the Birds are to be Trusted (Day 42)

Camera: Imperial Savoy Film: Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (RDP III) xpro -- not expired

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (RDP III) xpro — not expired

Our hobbits and Strider make for the Weather hills, hoping against hope to find Gandalf and avoid the Nazgul.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p183-4 50th Anniv. Ed.)
And here, the hobbits get their first good look at Weathertop, about thirty miles to the east, as the untrustworthy birds fly. But why are the birds so untrustworthy?

While walking closer to Weathertop, Strider warns the hobbits that there’s a chance they’ll be seen since they have to, at some point, move along the East Road.

“Indeed there are many birds and beasts in this country that could see us, as we stand here, from that hill-top. Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are.”

At this point in their lives, the hobbits, having been schooled by Bilbo, understand that the birds are not what they seem. From his stories (related in The Hobbit, they are familiar with at least the Eagles, a raven and a thrush.

While the Eagles are obvious (and kind of neutral good), the ravens “are different” from crows as Balin the Dwarf explained. Crows are “nasty suspicious-looking creatures.” They’re rude and taunted the dwarves and Bilbo with “ugly names.” The ravens, however, were not like that.

Balin explained that ravens and dwarves used to be tight, “and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.” In Middle-earth, ravens are awesome. They’re long-lived and have amazing memories, which they pass along to their children!

In most cases, ravens cannot be understood, though they can perfectly understand what one is saying. In The Hobbit, the 153 year old Roac son of Carc could croak in almost perfect Common Speech.

Thrushes seem to have similar traits. To Bilbo, Thorin said that “The thrushes are good and friendly.” They too were long-lived, and they seemed to posses a certain kind of magic, at least by dwarf-interpretation. It was a thrush that told Bard of the “hollow of the left breast” of Smaug.

So apart from the crows, which just seem to be sort of dickish, the hobbits have grown up with the idea that birds are more or less good. Even in the Silmarillion, the Valar, especially Yavanna, had birds all around them. Manwe was known as the Valar to whome “all birds are dear.”

There was Beren (of Beren and Luthien fame) who was called “the friend of all birds and beasts.” And speaking of Beren, in his quest for the Silmaril, when all seemed lost, it was three “mighty birds” (eagles, of course) who rescued them.

In Numanor, atop the mountain Meneltarma was a “temple” to Illuvatar – the only place of such worship in all of Middle-earth. When people would walk to the top, “at once three eagles would appear and alight upon three rocks near to the western edge … They were called the Witnesses of Manwe, and they were believed to be sent by him from Aman too keep watch upon the Holy Mountain and upon all the land.”

Whether or not Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin knew all of these things hardly matters, they definitely would have had the idea that birds were at least to be trusted. And now here’s Strider telling them differently.

Sure, there were “carrion-birds,” like vultures, but they were simply doing what they were supposed to do by nature. But largely, birds were not something to be feared. Except for now.

The birds that Strider is talking about were probably Crebain, which was, not surprisingly, Sindarin for crow. But these were not crows, per se. As we’ll see after the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, flocks of crebain were sent out by Saruman. They’re natives of Fangorn and Dunland, but can clearly travel quite a distance.

From what is said, Strider seems to have a pretty good understanding of this, as well as the other spies more evil than the crebain (which make me think that the crebain are just mercenaries). The other spies are probably like our squint-eyed friend who we met back in Bree, though who can say what other things might be lurking out there.

A Few Notes:

  • Originally, I wanted to post a history of Amon Sul, but decided to go with the bird thing instead. The Amon Sul post will happen tomorrow or something.
  • From what I can remember, crebain (and to a much lesser extent, crows) are the only evil birds in the legendarium. Is that right?
  • For the longest time (we’re talking ages here), the Enemy did not have the gift of flight. Even dragons did not have wings until much later (and Balrogs, of course, never had them). The light side was the only ones who could take to the air. That’s sort of wonderful.
  • This post reminded me of a band I always wanted to hear, but never got around to it until now. The Birds Are Spies, They Report To The Trees were a European (Norwegian?) hardcore band. I listened to them while I wrote this post. And now you can too.

About the Photo
Do you have any idea how many bird photos I have? None. Zero. So here’s one of an old airplane in Missouri. (Flickr)

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 200
  • 41 miles to Weathertop Summit
  • 260 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,579 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just east of Midgewater Marshes.(map)


35 thoughts on “Not All the Birds are to be Trusted (Day 42)

  1. From what I can remember, crebain (and to a much lesser extent, crows) are the only evil birds in the legendarium. Is that right?

    I think so. The only other mention of birds that are less than outright awesome I can recall is when we’re told that common eagles are “cowardly and cruel” in The Hobbit.

    • Oh that’s right! We never get to see these cowardly and cruel eagles. I wonder if Tolkien would have changed that line if he had gotten that far in his Hobbit revision.

      I’d also love to figure out the first flying thing that served Morgoth. I wonder if it was a dragon. Smaug maybe? Seems too late. Hmm.

          • Yeah, and even those winged Urulóki were pretty much destroyed by Eärendil (with help from Thronodor and the rest of the Giant Eagles).

            Morgoth was a pretty shitty designer.

            • He was. And a pretty shitty strategist. It’s like he just expected everything to work out for him.

              Does this make Morgoth Middle-earth’s greatest optimist?

            • Haha! Pity how it all worked out for him. I’m imagining him mumbling to himself in the Void “and I would’ve gotten away with it, too!”

            • Here’s a quick and fun fact – Tolkien played around with the idea of having Turin come back from the dead to defeat Morgoth in the Final Battle at the end of time. He backed away from it eventually, but still fun.

            • Well I don’t think it would have exactly been like that. More of a Gandalf the White / Glorfindel sort of thing (though Tolkien regretted the latter). Hm.. I guess the closest thing would be the Barrow-wights? But there I go being literal again. I’m a huge fan of the public domain, but one of the perks of LotR not being PD is that there can’t be a Zombies and the Lord of the Rings book.

              Oh god… I’m assuming there’s fanfic.

              And probably slashfic. I assume Frodo/Sam. Sigh. Siiiigh.

            • Best of luck! I guess I do all of the mixing on the computer and then upload it as one big file.

              Anti-Valentine… Like an anti-love song mix? Or a heartbreak mix? I guess Public Image Ltd’s “This is Not a Love Song” is too obvious.

              May I suggest murder ballads such as “Banks of the Ohio” or “Knoxville Girl”?

            • Too true. That’s acceptable. My next mix (which won’t be out until like November at the earliest – these things take me time) will probably trace a relationship from before the start until after the inevitable end. I did this a few years back using only XTC songs, and I think it worked then. Hopefully it’ll work now.

              Hm.. this might end up being the first year that I only do one mix. Too many pokers in too many fires.

            • I am in the middle of it, actually. I would usually listen at work, but what with all the zombie audiobooks…. But I’m hitting up the rest of it tomorrow. You cover a lot of the west coast punk that I just never got around to hearing. It’s about time that I do.

            • There’s East Coast Punk, too!

              True Story, though – a lot of the EC stuff I only got into <10 years ago. I graduated from high school in SoCal, so the West Coast bands are the bands I went to go see on Friday and Saturday nights.

            • There is! And also stuff like Sonic Youth. But I’ve not heard much of the west coast stuff. I’m sort of surprised Gang Green wasn’t on it. 🙂 Most of the bands on the mix sort of fall in between the MTV and DIY spectrum. It’s really an area that I’ve not explored at all. Was there an overall theme going on here?

              Also, I’ve reconsidered, and think I’ll do a Spring Mix. Like the shitty bags of lettuce you can buy at grocery stores. We’ll see if I can’t whip something up. It’s always the interludes that get me.

            • Heh. This one didn’t really have a theme. I made it a few years ago when we were moving and I needed music to listen to while I was packing/cleaning. It’s now my go-to playlist for when I need loud stuff to keep me active.

              And the name of it is apropos cos of why I made it AND the last song on there.

            • Loud music is a theme, I reckon. What was the name of the mix? The folder with the name didn’t extract with the files. The Lost song is about Seattle, no? I haven’t gotten to the end yet, so maybe it’s not. I mean, it seems like it could be.

            • I’ve found that Seattle can definitely have that effect on a person.

              Okay! Listened and was surprised how much I had actually heard. The choices for covers are fun. Sonic Youth isn’t usually something I can take, but Ca Plane per Moi was fun. I was happy that you threw in a ska song, and the instrumentals (three in a row at the very end – bold). The last song I’ve definitely heard before, and probably on the Dr. Demento show (though who knows). It’s incredibly specific, so unless you went to Seattle to start a band, I’m curious about it.

              Oh and I think I’m going to sample the beat from the Mr T Experience song, so thanks! And overall thanks for the mix. I’ve lot gotten one in a really long time.


            MTX is one of my favourite bands, so I’m glad you liked them. I probably should have outgrown them by now, but I have a ton of happy memories about seeing them (I actually wrote about them for one of the Earholes posts over at IB) so they remain in heavy rotation.

  2. I love all the bird stuff. Tolkien was really fun with them. And again though I know he hated the allegorical stuff but you can’t help but think of St. Francis and his birds when you read about Beren.

    Speaking of- there’s a Beren Tennis field here. I literally can’t drive past it without thinking of Luthien.

    • He pretty much only does this with birds, right? I mean, there’s the fox in the Shire (my third favorite unimportantish character) and the dogs, etc., in Beorn’s house, but mostly it’s birds. Is this why Radagast is so jarring in the Hobbit movies?

  3. Morgoth: I don’t think he was a bad strategist, I just always assumed that he was a Grant kind of strategist; i.e. throw lots of bodies at the problem until the carnage makes then quit. Indeed, I always understood Tolkien to be criticizing that kind of thinking, in particular (having experienced the worst form of it to date in the trenches of WW1). Thus is particularly pertinent, as that kind of thinking is 1) objectifcation and thus evil, and 2) incredibly prideful and thus evil. Much of the good versus evil symbolism in LotR is natural intimacy and friendship versus mechanical objectification.

    • He certainly did that, but I remember in the Silm thinking that his basic strategies (not tactics) were overly optimistic and not so well planned. I can’t give examples at this point, but I’ll probably end up reading the Silm again before too long.

      • I did not, as I can not get those features to work on my phone. And since I pretty much never open up the old puter any more…

        I guess I just never thought of him as optimistic, just prideful. He was certain of his victory because he was the platonic form of egomaniac, from what I remember, not out of any optimism.

        In truth, I tend to imagine him as rather dower and angry, pessimistic in a generalized sense, given how he is described when Baren and Luthien confront him.

        • I’m going to try to track down the 7″. I think you’ll dig the crap out of it.

          I was mostly joking about the optimist thing. He’s certainly not really an optimist. He’s absolutely pure ego. I’m not sure about dower though maybe.

          There’s a really interesting passage in the Silm about Morgoth repenting. We, of course, believe he’s lying, but there’s a small sliver of hope that maybe he’s not. I wish I could find that. It’s really interesting (and I’m pretty sure I’m not thinking of Sauron).

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