The Return of the King
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Merry looked out in wonder upon this strange country, of which he had heard many tales upon their long road. It was a skyless world, in which his eye, through dim gulfs of shadowy air, saw only ever-mounting slopes, great walls of stone behind great walls, and frowning precipices wreathed with mist. He sat for a moment half-dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound. He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire. (5.3.4)
At the end of this evocative description of mountain landscapes, Merry observes that he "had loved the thought of [mountains] marching on the edge of stories," but the reality of this rough landscape is not so much fun. It's odd to find a description of something that is not as much fun as it appears in stories—in a story. But perhaps The Return of the King is a bit about these stories, which have passed down history and lore through the ages of Middle-earth. Plus, by claiming that mountains are not what Merry thought they would be, Tolkien makes his fiction seem curiously more realistic. Fancy that. Merry is waking up to the reality of the (fictional) White Mountains. Even if we believe that the White Mountains do not exist (in Middle-earth that is; the ones in New Hampshire seem pretty real), we can believe in Merry's disappointment and loneliness having to travel through them.
On down the grey road they went beside the Snowbourn rushing on its stones; through the hamlets of Underharrow and Upbourn, where many sad faces of women looked out from dark doors; and so without horn or harp or music of men's voices the great ride into the East began with which the songs of Rohan were busy for many long lives of men hereafter. (5.3.95)
Since there will be songs about this trip out of Dunharrow, this passage lets slip that there will be a Rohan for "many long lives of men hereafter." Um, thanks for the spoiler alert, J.R.R. In any case, we now know that Sauron will be defeated by the end of The Return of the King, or else Rohan (along with the rest of Middle-earth) would not survive. But why does Tolkien communicate this information in the first place? Why ruin the suspense?
"And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless."
Pippin's heart sank. He did not relish the idea of singing any song of the Shire to the Lord of Minas Tirith, certainly not the comic ones that he knew best; they were too, well, rustic for such an occasion. (5.4.15-6)
Songs are yet another form of communicating stories down through the ages. We're thinking the songs of Gondor are probably heroic, grand, and full of romance. But the songs from the Shire are probably about drinking and carousing. These two forms of communication don't mix, and they reflect their respective cultures. This makes us wonder if Denethor might not be mocking Pippin a little bit, here. Does he really want to hear the songs of the Shire, or is he just trying to throw the hobbit off his game? Based on his language alone, we can't tell.