“So it was that they did not see the last stand, when Uglúk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn.” So writes Tolkien for Merry and Pippin, but not for us, for in telling us what they did not see, the author reveals to us that hidden scene. It is a mechanism common for Tolkien and throughout The Lord of the Rings: just consider that the volume possesses two entire appendices (A and B) that detail both in prose and in chronology all the events occurring around the Fellowship that do not appear in the main narrative’s unfolding. Legolas and Gimli will allude to such a feature later on when, desiring the strength of their peoples’ armies at a major battle, they will remember that their own races are under siege, and many great deeds are occurring elsewhere.
“If the others have escaped, they’ve probably all gone with Frodo,” reflects Pippin as he drops his Elven brooch to the ground. Yet it is not so, and in fact it is his story, not Frodo’s, on which we linger now. Pippin does not realize the importance he and Merry will play in the grand unfolding of events. Yet they do not linger and did not see the last fight between their kidnappers and unintentional rescuers. For their centrality to the tale, they missed a major part of the action, an event that muddles the mind of the Wise from Isengard to the Great River. When the songs are sung of the showdown on foot between Éomer and Uglúk, and of the glorious feats of the Third Marshall of the Mark, and of the victory that day, they will be foreign to the hobbits’ ears, even though they lived them.
For as detail-minded we may think we are, we often miss a major part of the action. It is hard to know what is relevant, what is important, and what will be remembered in the haste of the present. We flee or move or act based on immediate impulses – personal security, personal opinion, personal objectives – and miss the grand stories occurring around us. We wonder: how will history recall our times and our days? When the songs of our age are sung, how many of them will we have lived, and how many of them will we almost have known, having passed in and out briefly without realizing the incredible moments happening?
For, perhaps more than any other members of the Fellowship, we share so many close similarities with Merry and Pippin. We are the main character of our own stories, and yet we are not. We are important, essential, destined perhaps, for some moment, for some action, for some choice and chance of good, however big or small. Even so, we miss a major part of the action, and the narrative unfolds all around us, and we miss important details and the threads of the tale being woven. And when we read the histories later, or hear the story told years down the road, we marvel that we were there, and yet weren’t really there: it was our story, but we missed so much of it.
Lent is a time for such reflection: to consider how much we have missed of our own stories, the details we didn’t think worth consideration that sparkle in annals of time. And also to reflect on the smallest of our story in the grand-ness of the great story of all, the story which now unfolds to a terrible mountain and an empty tomb, a story in which we miss a major part of the action, and yet remain an important part to its unfolding.