Saturday, 10 January 2015

It had a horrible... what? Smutty innuendo in the Lord of the Rings?

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From The Two Towers; Chapter: The Palantir; Pippin speaking about his vision in the Palantir:

The the stars went in and out - they were cut off by things with wings. Very big, I think, really; but in the glass they looked like bats wheeling round the tower. I thought there were nine of them. One began to fly straight towards me, getting bigger and bigger. It had a horrible - no, no! I can't say.

Whenever I read this I am sorry to say that I snigger - because I cannot think of any decent horrible thing which the Nazgul might have, which Pippin could not say.

Now, I don't really believe this is the one and only example of smutty innuendo in The Lord of the Rings - although if there was to be such a thing, Pippin would surely be the most likely character to make such a comment.

But I cannot think what the horrible thing was that Pippin could not bring himself to mention, even under the influence of a 'truth spell' from Gandalf.

Any (non-indecent) suggestions?

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11 comments:

Jables said...

Voice? Cry? Sound?

Something like that is what I've always thought of. Can't say why he won't tell it to Gandalf.

Nicholas Fulford said...

The the stars went in and out - they were cut off by things with wings. Very big, I think, really; but in the glass they looked like bats wheeling round the tower. I thought there were nine of them. One began to fly straight towards me, getting bigger and bigger. It had a horrible - no, no! I can't say.

Perhaps Tolkien was both adding innuendo and leaving the matter open for the reader to imagine Pippin’s horrific image. It is certainly not a far reach for the former, but it requires a mind that is disposed to think that way. Would the audience of his time be inclined to that way of seeing, and does Tolkien have a history of sliding in this type of subtext with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink? He might, I just don't know.

Taking it straight - By making the horror one that is not specified he invites the reader to project his or her own worst imagine of horror.

I suppose he could have said something to the effect of: It had a horrible pair of eyes - black as death with blood red glow. Tendrils of ice they were - the consuming terror of creeping desolate madness. Within me silent, the primal scream of Death, and I could not move or glance away from those dread black eyes with their blood red glow. Even now I see - no, no!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jables - Up to that point the description was visual - so I think it must be something Pippin could see.

@NF - So far as I can recall, innuendo would be very UN-characteristic of Tolkien. It could have been eyes, but I would think it was something more unusual, and disgusting rather than scary - a suppurating ulcer maybe...

GK Chesterton said...

I agree on "cry", which is what I always thought, but "visage" would work. Also "steed", "weapon", "cast", "aura". I'd even accept "smell" as it got closer since the Palantir put you in a trance and they were very dead. "Cold" to since this is mentioned elsewhere in the text.

Leo said...

Perhaps something hellish from Bosch or Brueghel might fill in the blank.

tgj said...

Face? Eyes? The Nazgul are some of the most demonic creatures in Tolkien. The saints sometimes see demons in their real forms, but often say only that they are too horrible to describe. When descriptions are given, it is probably safe to say that they do not convey the half of it. The Mother of God requested, upon her repose, that she not see the demons at the aerial "tollhouses," and this (extraordinary) request was granted her. So it is a natural thing for holy or innocent persons to want, and generally pleasing to God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@tgj - I think face is probably the correct answer (it has to be singular and not plural like 'eyes').

And then we assume NOT that Pippin suddenly could not say the word 'face', but that thinking about the face made him suddenly stop.

Vader said...

I always figured it was the Nazgul's visage, but but the mere thought of it was too much for Pippin to go on.

jgress said...

I also think smutty innuendo is just too out of place in Tolkien. He really does seem to have considered sexual matters more or less unspeakable and I've never been convinced by attempts to find veiled references here or there. For instance, some have claimed that the "poisoned wound" suffered by Celebrian, Arwen's mother, at the hands of the Orcs actually means she was raped and that is the real reason she left Middle-Earth, but there's little to commend this view. After all, Frodo was not raped but did suffer poisoned wounds from the Witch-King and from Shelob and for those reasons, and because of the memory of the Ring, he left for the West.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - Agreed. If he had meant rape, he would have said so clearly enough - as he did elsewhere. Orcs are not depicted as having the slightest interest in sex.

Deniz Bevan said...

I always assumed it was something to do with its face but thinking about it now, maybe it was even worse, something like "it had a horrible attraction for me" or "a horrible irresistible gaze". Hmm...