‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party.’
The Fellowship had gone roughly twenty miles into the bowels of Moria, finding themselves in a guardroom. They had only been walking a few hours, though apparently made some amazing time. Personally, I think Tolkien’s mileage here – which he is vague about – is pretty fuzzy. But that’s okay.
Anyway, Gandalf was lost and cranky – “I have no memory of this place at all!” There was a door and while Merry and Pippin tried to push their way in, Gandalf stopped them. He shined his staff-light inside and saw a well. This made grumpy Gandalf gloat a bit – “There!” And Aragorn added: “One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to strike the bottom.”
Clearly everyone wanted to rest and were hasty and miserable to be around. Can you imagine what was going on in Boromir’s mind? Damn.
But Pippin “felt curiously attracted by the well.” This is incredibly interesting. He had no real reason to be attracted to it. There were plenty of wells in the Shire, so it wasn’t like some new amazing thing he had never seen before. Sure, it was in a mine, but by this time, and after twenty miles, the novelty of that was obviously wearing off.
So what happened? Why did Tolkien call it “curiously attracted”? There must be more to it. This phrase was there from the beginning, though it was Sam, and not Pippin, who was “curiously attracted.” He soon after changed ‘Sam’ to ‘Merry’ and only later decided that it was Pippin, after all. But that doesn’t matter.
What matters is what Pippin does next, as it completely changes everything. As we know, while the others were getting their beds ready, he peaked over the edge of the well, and then “moved by a sudden impulse,” he grabbed a stone and dropped it in. “He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.”
First Pippin was “curiously attracted” and then he was “moved by a sudden impulse.” Just what is going on here? Pippin, like all hobbits and men, has freewill, but maybe he’s got a bit less of it here. He’s most definitely not acting on his own impulses. The ramifications of this event are too important for it to be coincidence. Whether it was some dark force or even the Valar is pretty unclear – both had reasons to make this happen. But if I were a betting man, I’d say it was the Valar/Illuvatar pushing things along just so.
Gandalf immediately questioned the noise, and Pippin admitted what he had done. The wizard was “relieved,” but “angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting.”
‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!’
Several minutes passed, and then there was knocking: “tom-tap, tap-tom.” This repeated. “They sounded disquietingly like signals of some sort.” Gandalf was uneasy. And rightly so, though he was more uneasy about which path to take in the morning.
Gandalf could not see his fate, but Tolkien had plotted it out even before writing his first draft. From the very first thought of this part of the story, the well and this incident were in his notes: “A deep pit to right. A loose stone falls in. Several minutes before they hear a noise of it reach bottom. After that some of them fancy a far off echo of small knocks at intervals (like signals?). But nothing further happens that night.”
At the end of his notes on this section, he wrote: “Here follows the loss of Gandalf.” This was the first time he contemplated killing Gandalf. In an earlier jotting, written some months before, this was never mentioned and wasn’t planned.
But this was all he had, thus far. Gandalf would die, and there were unusual things (the well, and Sam/Merry/Pippin’s curious attraction and impulse to throw a rock into it) that had to happen to kick things off.
Going back to the story, Pippin was given first watch by Gandalf, while everyone slept. The attraction to the well remained (now augmented by fear of something crawling out of it), and “he wished he could cover the hole, if only with a blanket, but he dared not move or go near it, even though Gandalf seemed to be asleep.”
This continuing attraction to the well was added in the final draft, allowing the reader to know that it wasn’t just a cranky Gandalf keeping Pippin away from the well.
But Gandalf was actually awake, and trying to figure out what to do the next morning. He was trying to remember his former journey (which I really want to dig into sometime). Unable to sleep, and probably feeling a little bad for snapping at Pippin, he rose and spoke to him in a “kindly tone.”
‘I know what is the matter with me,’ he muttered, as he sat down by the door. ‘I need smoke! I have not tasted it since the morning before the snowstorm.’
That would be the morning of the 10th. It was now the very early morning (around 1am-ish) of the 14th. Gandalf had become addicted and needed a smoke break. At least, that’s what he claimed. There was probably some truth to it, but he was also cranky at himself for not remembering the way through Moria. That crankiness was taken out on Pippin. Nevertheless, Gandalf lit his pipe and Pippin went to sleep.
Just a quick notes about the original draft (again). In this passage, Sam (who would ultimately be replaced by Pippin) wished he could cover the hole with a blanket, but didn’t get one, “even though Gandalf seemed to be snoring. Gandalf was actually not asleep, and the snores came from Boromir, who lay next him.”
The bit about the snores was cut, probably in an attempt to make the whole thing a bit more serious. After all, this really wasn’t a hobbit walking-party.
A Few Notes
- What exactly is a ‘hobbit walking-party’? Since it’s hyphenated, I can only assume that it’s an actual party that is walking. Sort of like a party bus, except on furry feet. It is most definitely not serious business.
- Sam openly worries about Bill the Pony once more. Sam is awesome.
- Maybe the character who threw the rock became Pippin (from Sam and then Merry) because “Fool of a Took” sounds way better than “Fool of a Gamgee” or “Fool of a Brandybuck.” Fool of a Took is just perfect.
- Soon we’ll be getting to Tolkien’s writers block. I’m really enjoying not only reading the story, but seeing how Tolkien first created it. I hope you are too.
About the Photo
By the time Pippin’s rock got to the bottom, this is how big it was. Well, maybe not, but it sure seemed that way. Actually, this is Yeager Rock in central Washington. It’s a 400 ton, twenty foot high glacier erratic. It’s not “supposed” to be where it is, but was carried by an Ice Age glacier, and left there when it retreated, some 15,000ish years ago. That’s basically yesterday. Young Earth creationists don’t even believe in the Ice Age. How they explain the marks left from glaciers and the huge boulders everywhere is: Noah’s Flood.
You can read and see more about all of this here.
- Day 165
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 814 (360 from Rivendell)
- 77 miles to Lothlórien
- 965 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s place in the narrative begins with: One of you might have fallen in… and ends with And the puff of smoke. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the gate of Moria! 21st day out of Rivendell. January 13, 3019 TA. (map)