When camping, the last thing you really want to hear are wargs. The cute “yip yip” of a coyote is lovely, and the deep howl of a wolf is majestic, but the unnatural cry of a warg is something else all together.
It’s Aragorn who first understands what they’re hearing as they debate which path to take over or through the Misty Mountains. Sam notes that the wind is howling, but he’s checked. “It it howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the mountains!”
But what’s truly astounding is that everyone but Aragorn seems completely okay with that. Maybe he should have repeated it. The Wargs. Have come west. Of the mountains. Got it? This is pretty important stuff, guys.
As I explained in this post, Wargs aren’t just pissed off wolves. They are evil in nature and serve the Enemy. They are intelligent and even have a language all their own.
They are probably ancient creatures, once serving Morgoth, but now they were associated with the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, though they had (almost) always been on the eastern side. These were the first true servants of the Enemy that were encountered by the Fellowship.
But hunky Boromir rattled off a stupid proverb: “The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears.” He clearly had not read the Hobbit. But Aragorn shot back: “But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls.” These might have been the rhymes of children, but they told much about both Boromir’s and Aragorn’s upbringing.
Boromir was raised in Minas Tirith, a city in Gondor. He might have been a street smart kid who cowered at the baying of wolves while on camping adventures with his little brother along the Anduin, but he didn’t know Wargs. Aragorn, while raised in Rivendell, had roamed the lands far and wide and no doubt encountered a Warg or two. Wolves might not be a deadly as Orcs, but Wargs were every bit as dangerous.
It can also be told from this exchange that they weren’t sure whether they were wolves or Wargs.
For the night, they decided to climb to the top of a hill and make their camp. But there wasn’t much sleeping to be had. The light of the fire didn’t keep the beasts at bay, and they could see their glowing eyes peering over the crest of the hill. They were surrounded.
Finally, one came forward and let loose a howl. And that was about all that Gandalf was going to take.
‘Listen, Hound of Sauron!’ he cried. ‘Gandalf is here. Fly, if you value your foul skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring.’
Calling him the Hound of Sauron must have brought back a few memories of Draugluin, the Hound of Morgoth. Technically, he was the first werewolf, bred by the Dark Lord to be a nasty little creature. Did Wargs come from his line? It’s certainly a safe bet.
Now Wargs are intelligent creatures, but even more than that, they are egotistical. This daring Warg undoubtedly knew who Gandalf was. It’s even possible that Frodo’s Ring drew him closer. When the foolish Warg sprang forward, Legolas ended him with an arrow in the throat. And that was enough to make the other Wargs think twice about attacking Gandalf (see, Wargs are intelligent!).
And think twice, they did! Upon their second thought, they actually devised a strategy to first surround the Fellowship. Rather than howling and chattering, they kept quiet and soon they had the company in a pretty tight spot.
Gandalf had been in a similar situation before. Then, it had been with the Dwarves and Bilbo. The Wargs had chased them up into the trees and Eagles had to be employed in their rescue. This time, Gandalf came prepared.
Rather than scrambling for his life, Gandalf completely changed, growing in stature: “he rose up, a great menacing shape like the monument of some ancient king of stone set upon a hill. Stooping like a cloud, he lifted a burning branch and strode to meet the wolves. They gave back before him. High in the air he tossed the blazing brand. It flared with a sudden white radiance like lightening; and his voice rolled like thunder.”
This is a completely different Gandalf than we saw in The Hobbit. Maybe he had spent some of those ensuing years learning a few spells (magic missile? Eldridge blast?).
“Nauar an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!”
This was Sindarin for “Fire save us! Fire drive back the werewolves! [or possibly ‘wolf-host’]” Tolkien often used the words “wolves,” “werewolves,” and “wargs” interchangeably, but there were differences, at least connotatively.
Gandalf then started a forest fire, heeding not the words of Smokey. But it was okay. The fire illuminated their swords and made Legolas’ normal arrows into flaming arrows. They killed the Wargs’ chieftain, downed a bunch of others and sent the rest into a rout.
But it’s not until the next morning that Gandalf could tell they were Wargs for certain. Just how they got across the Misty Mountains is anyone’s guess, but more than likely they were still on the western side and near by.
Before the attack, the Fellowship had been arguing about which route to take to get on the other side of the mountains. There was the mountain pass, but there was also the Mines of Moria. After the attack, it was pretty unanimous – Mines of Moria it was. And in another twenty miles, there they would be.
A Few Notes
- Tolkien describes the Wargs collectively as “hunting packs.” So not only were there many, they were organized and had a commander.
- I love/hate how Tolkien will describe these types of creatures, giving us very little to go on as if he doesn’t know himself where they came from.
About the Photo
“It was crowned with a knot of old and twisted trees, about which lay a broken circle of boulder-stones.”
Okay, this isn’t quite that, but it’s close. And actually, it’s the Stonehenge anti-war memorial in Maryhill, Washington, along the Columbia River. It was build after World War I.
- Day 157
- Miles today: 3
- Miles thus far: 774 (320 from Rivendell)
- 20 miles to the Doors of Moria
- 117 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,005 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Camping with Wargs! 20th day out of Rivendell. January 12, 3019 TA. (map)