TTT, Bk 3, Ch 9
"'An angry Ent is terrifying. Their fingers, and their toes, just freeze on to rock; and they tear it up like bread-crust. It was like watching the work of great tree-roots in a hundred years, all packed into a few moments.'"
As Gandalf and Theoden ride east along the circuit of the outer wall to meet with Treebeard, the three hunters are anxious to interrogate the two hobbits as to what happened to them after they were seized by the Uruk-Hai. But first things first. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were pretty hungry and weary having just journeyed some forty five miles after fighting an exhausting battle. Merry and Pippin lead them to the stores of food and tobacco that they found and after a hearty meal, they all light up (except for Legolas, as Elves weren't big smokers). As Pippin lends Gimli a spare pipe, all his agitation has been appeased. The remainder of the chapter is the account of their journey across the plains of Rohan, their experiences with the Ents in Fangorn and - most importantly - the attack of the Ents on Isengard which happened simultaneously with the excitement of Helm's Deep.
Before they start their story, Aragorn returns to the hobbits their Westernesse blades that they found on the Orc battlefield outside of Fangorn. Merry explains that Ugluk had taken them away from them: "At first I thought he was going to stab me, but he threw the things away as if they burned him". This gives the reader some forshadowing of the power these blades have over evil creatures. Pippin is also given back his Elven brooch, which proved so important for Aragorn to be able to track them.
When the tale reaches the point where they came within sight of Isengard (this would be in the wee hours of March the 3rd, some two nights ago), Merry and Pippin report that they watched as the great army of Saruman marched out of the Ring of Isengard. The Ents waited patiently until the fortress appeared empty. At that point, a great herd of Huorns turned south to follow them. Some Huorns remained as did most of the Ents. Treebeard exclaimed: "My business is with Isengard tonight, with rock and stone." And the Ents continued their approach.
When they reached the outer wall, the remaining Huorns formed a barrier all the way around it to block the escape of any Orcs. Arrows were fired at them, but they were of no use against them. Saruman, who was at the gate (presumably overseeing the departure of his army) had to flee to the safety of Orthanc. The Ents tore down the southern portion of the wall, stone by stone, and threw open the steel gates. Saruman attempted to fight back with fire and fumes belching from the shafts that were dug into the ground and one Ent, Beechbone, caught fire. This further enraged the Ents who began to do as much damage as they could. Pippin describes the scene:
"Round and round the rock of Orthanc the Ents went striding and storming like a howling gale, breaking pillars, hurling avalanches of boulders down the shafts, tossing up huge slabs of stone into the air like leaves. The tower was in the middle of a spinning whirlwind. I saw iron posts and blocks of masonry go rocketing up hundreds of feet, and smash against the windows of Orthanc. But Treebeard kept his head. He had not had any burns, luckily. He did not want his folk to hurt themselves in their fury, and he did not want Saruman to escape out of some hole in the confusion."
When their rage was somewhat satiated, they set a watch on the tower. At that moment, Gandalf arrived having just left Theoden. He had quick words with the hobbits who couldn't believe their eyes. They asked where he had been, to which he replied "Wherever I have been, I am back." He had no time to elaborate. The wizard was in a tremendous hurry, but he quickly huddled with Treebeard and rode off again south. Later that evening (just about the time the Orcs had arrived at Helm's Deep), the Ents broke the dams that diverted the River Isen from its source out of the mountains and allowed the waters to flood the circle of Isengard. It quickly began to fill up even as it poured down into the shafts and spoutholes that now belched out steam and smoke. Theoden's company, riding to Isengard from the victory at Helm's Deep, noticed the change in the Isen. However, once the fires were quenched and every cave was filled, the Ents repaired the dam and restored the river to its normal flow.
And whatever happened to Wormtongue? Well, Tolkien wasn't quite sure when he would have him arrive. According to Christopher Tolkien in The War of The Ring, Theoden's advisor was originally supposed to ride up to Isengard before the first time that Gandalf got there but his father later changed this to have him show up just after the flooding of Isengard. In the final version, he gets there that same morning that Merry and Pippin were "guarding" the gate. Shocked by what he finds, he tries to flee but Treebeard seizes hold of him. Gandalf had already warned the Ent that this wretch would be arriving soon. He makes Grima wade through the water, which is about up to his neck, and enter the tower of Orthanc. Here Tolkien makes some notes in his original draft. He writes: "Shall Wormtongue actually murder Saruman?" At this point, he is considering what Saruman's fate will be. It is not clear at what point he decided to advance this plot point to the end of the story.
Another item that Tolkien includes here is the observation about the store of pipeweed that Merry and Pippin found - Longbottom Leaf from the Shire, dated 1417 (some two years prior). The hobbits believe that, unlike the food that was shared with the men of Saruman's forces (though not the Uruks), the tobacco was "imported" to Isengard for the wizard's benefit only. So it would seem that for at least a couple of years, Saruman has had contacts in the Shire. You can follow the link and scroll down to the end of this post for an account of his first encounter with and lingering fascination with pipeweed. Aragorn speculates that there may have been some treachery of Saruman's at work in the lands surrounding Hobbiton. Bill Ferny and the squint-eyed southerner that they saw in Bree were likely spying for him. Here Tolkien had clearly been formulating in his mind what the hobbits might find when they finally return home.
Now they decide to head over to the tower to meet Gandalf and Theoden as it was time for them to confront its prisoner.
[Chronology: March 5th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Voice Of Saruman(revised 9/22/06)