Aragorn is not only interesting as a rhetorician but, I hate to say, as a grammarian.  His second chance to shine in the Council is when Gandalf calls upon him to relate his hunt for Gollum.  Aragornian doubling there is aplenty, along with nice antitheses:  “Since it seemed fit that Isildur’s heir should labour to repair Isildur’s fault, I went with Gandalf on the long and hopeless search.”  There are also some playful rhetorical tidbits, like the sudden ending that Aragorn gives to his pursuit of Gollum’s trail:  “Along the skirts of the Dead Marshes I followed it, and then I had him.”  (“Paraprosdokian” is an unexpected truncation or surprise ending to a clause.)  But nothing beats the oddity of two particular sentences.  I wanted to step back from rhetoric for a bit just to look at the curious crafting of these grammatical specimens.  Schoolchildren, do not try this at home.

Lurking by a stagnant mere, peering in the water as the dark eve fell, I caught him, Gollum.

Now, this is not your standard way of constructing a sentence.  The participles “lurking” and “peering” are supposed to apply to Gollum and not to Aragorn, and by the standard rules of English, either Gollum should have been the subject, or the participles belonging to him should have been moved to accompany him at the end of the sentence.  (I.e., “I caught Gollum lurking and peering…”).

Now, I think the dangling participles might be excusable on a grammatical level.  The fact is that there is no chance that the action of the participles could be mistaken for Aragorn’s.  But beyond this—on the semantic level, if you will, rather than the mere grammatical—the breaking of the rules and the awkward words positions emphasize something.  I think it’s the furtive character of what Aragorn is catching:  Gollum bookends the sentence, with the catch in the middle, and with the doubling of “lurking” and “peering” hitting us right up front before the action even starts.

The other oddity of this construction is that Gollum’s name is put off to the very last, and that it appears only in an unnecessary (and fairly unusual) role as an apposite to “him.”  The sentence could have just ended with “I caught him,” but Aragorn had to add Gollum’s name for emphasis.  Gollum is the crowning catch, the underscored fulfillment.  The sentence climaxes with its termination on Gollum’s name.  And then—exactly what we’ve come to expect from the rhetorically proficient Ranger—Aragorn follows up this intriguing rhetoric by cutting it short with a six-word sentence. “He was covered in green slime.”

Point taken.  Ugh.

The weird grammar of this sentence shows up in similar form a few paragraphs later.  This is how Aragorn describes his trek with Gollum to Mirkwood:

I deemed it the worst part of all my journey, the road back, watching him day and night, making him walk before me with a halter on his neck, gagged, until he was tamed by lack of drink and food, driving him ever towards Mirkwood.

Everything here is out of place.  The participles “watching,” “making,” and “driving,” all applying to Aragorn (who is thankfully in his correct subject position), but the closest of them is separated from him by twelve words and an intervening appositive phrase (“the road back”).  That appositive phrase, an echo of “it” (i.e., the worst part of the journey) is separated from it by eight words, an incredible distance for an appositive to be shoved off.  Meanwhile, the third participle applying to Aragorn (“driving”) has wandered off to the very end of the sentence, where it is has allowed a past participle and a subordinate clause to sneak in between it and its fellows “watching” and “making.”  In the middle of everything there is the word “gagged,” which modifies not Aragorn but Gollum himself, who only appears as a pronoun (“him”) nine words before.

This jostling of grammatical fragments, to the point of rendering the sense rough, yields a rough texture to the journey.  Aragorn says the most important thing first—that it was a bad journey—and then specifies gradually.  What the piecemeal grammar allows Aragorn to do is to add hardship to hardship helter-skelter, putting off the fulfillment of the arrival in Mirkwood until the very end of the sentence, like a last gasp.  The contortions of the grammar are the contortions of the meaning.  And Aragorn, it appears, is a master at wielding the meanings of grammar and rhetoric for his purposes.

Advertisements