More from the old lecturette series: this from Hobbits and Heroes from DU. We’re talking numbers magic that week, and had read up to The Two Towers in the series. As usual, feel free to use the comments below as a makeshift discussion board. ~Jenn
Number Nine…Number Nine…
The magic number three shows up in plenty of ancient story from all over the globe. Jokes still work in threes, heroes in fairy tales have their trials come in threes, and the Holy Trinity of the Christians plays a major role in worship. These are only, er, three of many other appearances of this “magic number” in ancient tradition. I’m sure you can come up with many more instances in which “three’s the charm.”
Even more powerful a magic number is the number nine: three threes. The ancient Greeks noticed the movement of nine planets around the Sun, and thought nine was full of magic. Nine is thought of in Eastern traditions as the most complete number. Check out this arithmetic puzzle:
1 x 9 = 09 –> 0 + 9 = 9
2 x 9 = 18 –> 1 + 8 = 9
3 x 9 = 27 –> 2 + 7 = 9 For whole numbers, the answer is always nine.
The Fellowship of the Nine
The Poem of the Rings of Power mentions four different groups of Rings (four being a magic number to the Native Americans among others, representing the Four Directions), all in groups of “magic numbers” from folklore: there are the Three Elf rings, the Seven Dwarf Rings (lucky seven?) and, of course, the Nine Rings of mortal Men.
“The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil.”
The Fellowship of the Ring begins as a whole Nine, but as soon as The Two Towers opens, the Fellowship has already split into three groups of three: Merry and Pippin with the Ents, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn (the Rohirrim and Gandalf enter and leave this group sproadically), and Frodo and Sam (with Smeagol later). The three factions are essential to the fulfillment of the Quest, even more, perhaps, than a complete Nine would be, judging from all the help they gain and are given. Would any of them have discovered the Ents, for example, if they had not split up?
The Ring is too powerful for one Ring-Bearer alone (witness the ruin of Gollum under its influence, and Frodo’s anguish under a comparatively short time). In order for the Quest to be achieved, therefore, three hobbits must surround it on its journey. Frodo and Sam, Ring-Bearer and faithful “caddy,” both save each other from multiple perils, but without Smeagol/Gollum, the Ring would never have gone into the fire. Obviously, most of this talk refers to Return of the King, so I’ll save more of this discussion till then.
The Two Towers—Which Two?
There are the obvious two: Orthanc and Dol Guldur, representing the two most powerful factions of evil in Middle-earth. But then we deal with another two Powers: the greatest noble houses of Men: Gondor and Rohan. The Tower of Gondor could be thought of as a building, but it also houses the White Tree, the Tree of Kings, which could be thought of as the pillar of that city, of Middle-earth indeed. Rohan has the Tower of Hornburg, in Helm’s Deep, the center of a pivotal battle in the Great War. Or can we think of the Two Towers as the Two Immortal Races, Dwarves and Elves, who will disappear at the end of this story’s War, leaving Middle-earth to become just Earth?
The symbolism of the Tower (or Tree) dates back to shamanism, in that a tribal shaman would mount a ladder, tower, tree, or mountain in the navel of the world in order to communicate with the gods or the Spirit World, then return to earth with the lesson or boon. Mount Sinai comes from this tradition, and in Celtic times the great Oak or Rowan was the tree of choice for this. The significance of towers in LOTR is especially powerful, seeing how much emphasis Tolkien places on landscape throughout his work. Re-read the descriptions of the different Towers involved in the War of the Ring, and you’ll get a summary of the powers of that people.
(and what about the twenty-seven steps of Orthanc?—nine times three!)