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)