Bet you can't tell I've been procrastinating this chapter, eh? ;) Seriously though, there's so so much to think about, I really wanted to get a handle on it before posting. I'm still thinking on it, but a few talking points have finally come together.
Again, Tolkien wasn't making any sort of allegory, but his imagination was so steeped and saturated in the words and symbols of God, it can't help welling up right and left in his prose. That said, when quoting below I'm not saying there's necessarily a direct typology connection, just sharing my reverberating thoughts this week.
Three specific things I'm cogitating on are: the wilderness, the serpent, and the deep, deep folly of pride.
I was thinking of the serpent in the wilderness separately and then while listening to the chapter (for I think the fourth or fifth time in the last two weeks), the opening paragraph just leapt out at me:
"They passed through the ruined tunnel and stood upon a heap of stones, gazing at the dark rock of Orthanc, and its many windows, a menace still in the desolation that lay all about it. The waters had now nearly all subsided. Here and there gloomy pools remained, covered with scum and wreckage; but most of the wide circle was bare again, a wilderness of slime and tumbled rock..."
And into this rocky wilderness they will go, to meet and be tempted by the serpent with his smooth words.
And so we come to the voice of Saruman:
"Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spoke to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler's trick while others gape at it. For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will..."
The voice of the devil -- that dangerous siren song. Compelling and attractive, even lovely. And so very, very reasonable. Even appealing to (what we think) are our noble instincts. But its end is utter destruction.
It also immediately brings to mind the entire episode with the Queen of Underland in Lewis's Silver Chair. Theoden's voice breaking in here is akin to Puddleglum's bravely burnt feet and sturdy stand for truth. (One wonders what discussions might have happened on some late night between Lewis and Tolkien with their pipes and ale mugs before them, leading to these two incredible scenes. :))
Finally we have pride: the lifting up -- the lust for power -- the wanting to be God -- the root of idolatry leading to all kinds of evil. That lust that sways us from our first love, our desires, our duty. True authority does not need to graspingly assert itself, and a true counselor serves. Saruman, wishing to command, soon becomes entangled in a web of his own making.
To extrapolate a little on another note: Gimli's sturdy line is also very apropos/a great reminder in these tumultuous times when we may sometimes find ourselves using the same terminology as others, but with entirely divergent understandings: "The words of this wizard stand on their heads,' he growled..." Not immediately what Gimli was talking about, but it got me thinking how counterfeits and lies can be especially attractive and hook us in, simply because they do sometimes recognize a genuine problem/issue, there can be a germ of truth there. But there's no peace in a counterfeit solution, a middling warfare. And in going out on his own wisdom, Saruman finds himself fighting against the truth and ultimately swallowed by the darkness.
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High." Isaiah 14:12-14
The only solution for our broken, hurting world is in the truth -- in the cross and resurrection and authority of Christ. There and there alone dwells life for the dead and true peace, unity, and food for the hungry and heart sore and weary. And in the power of His word -- sharper than any two-edged sword -- there is real and utter aid. "He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole." Job 5:18 It may hurt, but in the end therein lies the only help and healing for all our ills.
Finally, returning to Isengard: the flood of judgment has swept all clean, upended everything, and trees will be coming back to clothe the desolation. The desert will become a lush wood: wild, dangerous, well tended, loved, and full of life.
- "Merry and Pippin sat on the bottom step, feeling both unimportant and unsafe."
- "Eomer spoke. 'Lord, hear me!' he said. 'Now we feel the peril that we were warned of. Have we ridden forth to victory, only to stand at last amazed by an old liar with honey on his forked tongue?"
- "The treacherous are ever distrustful..."
- "Often does hatred hurt itself!"
- Last but not least, we definitely need to revive the phrase, "Turn elsewhither"! Can I get a second on that? ;)
What stuck out to you the most in this chapter?