I’m reading The Lord of the Rings to our daughters. (Famous trilogy of fantasy novels, in case you’ve been in a coma since 1953 and are just checking Crooked Timber to see what’s new.) Last night we began The Return of the King. One thing that happens at a couple points is our heroes narrate the tale of their travels to someone they meet, without fully revealing the true nature/purpose of the Fellowship (Merry and Pippin when they first meet Treebeard; Frodo to Faramir; Pippin to Denethor). Obviously Tolkien summarizes his way past these points, since the reader doesn’t need to hear it all again. But it’s impossible to imagine what Pippin actually said. He couldn’t tell Denethor 1) they’ve got the ring; 2) the goal of the fellowship; 3) the existence/identity of Aragorn; 4) the meaning of ‘Isildur’s Bane’.
‘Now tell me your tale, my liege,’ said Denethor, half kindly, half mockingly. ‘For the words of one whom my son so befriended will be welcome indeed.’
Pippin never forgot that hour in the great hall under the piercing eye of the Lord of Gondor, stabbed ever and anon by his shrewd questions, and all the while conscious of Gandalf at his side, watching and listening, and (so Pippin felt) holding in check a rising wrath and impatience. When the hour was over and Denethor again rang the gong, Pippin felt worn out. ‘It cannot be more than nine o’clock,’ he thought. ‘I could now eat three breakfasts on end.’
So here’s your challenge. What did Pippin tell to the shrewd Denethor for an hour? Narrate the tale of how and why Pippin and three other hobbits left the Shire in haste, traveled to Rivendell, Lothlorien, etc., without mentioning any of the things he has promised Galdalf he won’t. Here’s my best shot. Pippin tells Denethor ‘Isuldur’s Bane’ is some sort of exotic brand-name pipeweed Elrond is looking to score. He knows hobbits are into pipeweed, so he sent for them from the Shire. But they didn’t have any. So he sent them out to score it for him, and someone heard maybe there was a dealer in the Mines of Moria. But that didn’t work out. Meanwhile, Saruman and Sauron have this wrong idea that the hobbits are themselves pipeweed dealers, since orcs overheard them asking around after ‘Isuldur’s Bane’, and so …
If you’ve got a more plausible, false explanation for the Fellowship, I’d like to hear it. Pippin must be one hell of a liar.