Ernil i Pheriannath: The Fantastic
Journey of Peregrin Took
By Lyta Underhill
Age 37

Introduction: In Medias Res

Blind adventure gives way in the flash of red smoke in a round glass to the larger world-- of places of magic, of men long gone and those who would wrest the power of the ancients to evil and perverted uses, and those who fight tirelessly against them on the side of Light. In an instant, Peregrin Took has awakened from a long dream, his eyes are opened, his mind aches with the need to know of things beyond himself. He realizes that everything that has happened to him and around him has infinitely more dimensions than he could have ever dreamed of back in the familiar once-safe haven of the Shire. All of a sudden, he burns to know ‘the names of all the stars, and of all living things, and the whole history of Middle-Earth and Over-heaven and of the Sundering Seas…’(TTT: Bk III, Ch.11) For even the smallest may fully grasp weighty and long-reaching matters and prove to be a moving force in the larger scheme of history. So it was with Peregrin Took, Hobbit of the Shire turned warrior, provincial turned cosmopolitan, he himself a microcosm of the epic transformation of Middle-Earth from Third Age to Fourth Age.

Peregrin Took, aka Pippin, was the youngest of the Hobbits of the Shire to set out with the Fellowship of the Ring on the long quest that occupies the span of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is arguably the most immature member of the Company at the outset, but the changes he undergoes are profound and also are mirrored in his very name—"pippin," meaning "apple," or "pip," meaning "seed," symbolizing innocence, something that falls from a tree by mere chance or is planted in the ground to grow--to "Peregrin," meaning "hawk," a hunter who is active, purposeful and single-minded, a child made warrior by hard tests and hard losses. Yet, throughout it all, while his actions become refined through experience and learned restraint, his heart is true and retains an innocence peculiar to Hobbit-kind. He will become a formidable force, yet he will retain the promise and richness of the apple from which he began. The Journey of the Nine Walkers was a training ground for all involved, but I mean to focus on the events, internal and external, that characterize and distinguish young Pippin as an indispensable part of the Fellowship and a savior of the Shire from which he set forth. The beauty of Tolkien’s work is that he develops his characters one by one, but also as interlocking parts of the whole, so many portions of the story could be read as a Bildungsroman of young Peregrin Took as easily as they could be interpreted in terms of the great epic of the ending of the Third Age and the dawning of the Fourth in Middle-Earth.

Beginnings: Young Pippin on an Adventure

As the hobbits set out from the Shire, as prepared as they can be for those who are pursued, it seems to Pippin that this is a great adventure, but also worthy, because Frodo takes it so seriously. But young, inexperienced Pippin cannot know just how heavily this task weighs on Frodo. Even Sam does not fully understand yet, and he is as close to Frodo as any hobbit can be. Pippin uses his native talents, i.e., his friendly nature, in speaking first to Farmer Maggot and gaining help thereby. But he is very careless; as soon as the group is in Bree, ensconced in a tavern, Pippin reverts to his cheerful, carefree nature, talking about Bilbo’s birthday party to any stranger who would listen. He does not internalize the fact that Frodo must remain incognito, that any mention of the Baggins name brings grave danger with it. Pippin’s loose tongue causes such a panic in Frodo that he acts rashly to cover it and almost gives himself away on his own. Pippin is blind to the depth of danger at this point; he is not mature enough (or informed enough!) to understand what is at stake.

Even after they leave the crucible of Weathertop and escape across the Ford into Rivendell, Pippin treats the adventure as an isolated bit of danger neatly escaped. At Rivendell, none of the hobbits really know what is in store for them, not even Frodo. But it is illustrative of Pippin’s light treatment of the adventure up to this point when he heralds Frodo’s recovery by proclaiming "Hurray…Make way for Frodo, Lord of the Ring!" (FOTR: Bk. II, Ch. 1) Gandalf quickly hushes him, and indeed, he must admonish Pippin quite often during this time. Pippin has spoken, without understanding, of Sauron, the great evil; in Tolkien’s universe, as well as parts of our own, there is the the frightful and compelling notion that to name a thing is to invoke it. That idea is foremost in the minds of all those present at Rivendell. It will be a long time before Pippin has his epiphany and understands the true threat and evil of Sauron beyond all doubt.

It is perhaps because of this blindness, that Pippin agrees (nay, insists!) so readily to accompany Frodo on his quest, rather than doing as Elrond suggests and returning to the Shire to warn them of their danger. It is my opinion that warning the Shire at this point would have done as much good as telling Pippin to stop being careless. Neither he nor the residents of the Shire from which he came could possibly understand the depth of the threat. Gandalf, who has spent most of his time admonishing Pippin for his ill-chosen speech and actions, is the one who finally softens and trusts more to Merry’s and Pippin’s friendship with Frodo over the ability of an elf even as great as Glorfindel to storm the gates of Mordor in support of the Ring-bearer’s quest. Elrond’s heart is set against Pippin’s participation in particular; but here Pippin shows his persistence and his own steadfast nature, in a different key than Sam’s, but true and unshakeable nonetheless.

The first real test comes with the passage South out of Rivendell. Having failed to cross over the mountains by the Pass of Caradhras, the company takes the path under the mountain through the Mines of Moria, and there lies menace and darkness. Still, at this point, it is a fantastic walking-tour for Pippin—dangerous, but exciting, but not as nutritious as he might have hoped. There is, however, plenty to feed his insatiable curiosity. The vast dark passages of Moria are forboding, but at the same time, strangely inviting. Pippin’s careless dropping of the stone into the well in Moria is lighthearted, ill considered, and an undeniable characteristic of a sentient creature who has not yet learned restraint. He is still mostly childlike in his mindset and attitude towards the Quest. Young Pippin will have plenty of time and opportunity to grow up as the journey continues and becomes much darker. Gandalf’s struggle with an unspeakable demon of the depths brings into Pippin’s consciousness a better picture of the extent of danger that lurks in the dark places of the world. This threat takes something real from him. It might have been a really detailed dream, even up to this point; but death is no dream, and in Moria, the reality of death is brought down upon them all with Gandalf's fall in battle with the Balrog.

In Captivity of Orcs:

As the Fellowship pushes on, their resolve and purity of purpose as a group is first questioned by Galadriel and then dealt its final test as they floated down the Anduin River out of Lothlorien. Dispute, uncertainty and fear arise, and the Fellowship is broken; at Amon Hen, Frodo and Sam depart, the Orcs of Isengard and Mordor capture Merry and Pippin, and Boromir is slain in a valiant attempt to defend them. During this phase, we see the strengths and weaknesses on the part of each member of the Company begin to show themselves. Merry and Pippin are cut off with no knowledge of the others’ doings, and yet Pippin, through reliance on his own wits, acts quickly, without thought or hesitation, a former liability turned major asset in his current situation. In the confusion, Pippin has the presence of mind to leave a trail for Aragorn to follow, not even knowing whether he will do so. His entire being is bent on escape, and here we see the clarification and refining of his innate talents. He instinctively uses a new restraint learned of extremity and begins to show a talent for psychological warfare.

Pippin picks up on the animosity between the two groups of orcs that are transporting him and Merry, and he plays one group (Orcs of the Eye) against the other (the Uruk-Hai of Isengard), and leads Grishnakh, of the orcs who serve Mordor, to rashly attempt to purloin the Ring for himself. Pippin, divining the nature of his ultimate desire, leads him on, playing to his greed in order to buy a chance at escape. His clever imitations of Gollum, references to his "precious," and hints that the orc could have the Ring for himself quite easily are meant to suggest to Grishnakh that this particular halfling presents all the signs of being the Ringbearer, the one Sauron seeks. Pippin has acted quickly, taking very little time to consider his actions, and he thereby manages to get himself and Merry out of immediate danger. It is noteworthy that, once he escapes, he has no idea where they are. At this point, Pippin is still dependent on Merry for many things. Some have suggested that the escape from the orcs has the feel of a game between Merry and Pippin, but I would suggest that it is merely an example of necessity translating into desperate action. There is no hint of playfulness, but rather their own basic natures and a deep rapport between the two hobbits. Merry and Pippin are leaning on each other, now being all alone and thrown into a strange place.

During this time, the two hobbits are sheltered by the Ents in Fangorn forest. Both hobbits demonstrate eloquent and courteous speech in communicating with the Ents, but it is their simple honesty, curiosity and spirit that leads the Ents to accept them and take their tales of Saruman’s treachery to heart and to realize that it is time to take action. Their good nature makes friends of the Ents. The rumbles of battle begin to rise with the stirring of the forest, and, as Gandalf said, "the coming of the hobbits and the tidings that they brought have spilled it (the wrath of Fangorn); it will soon be running like a flood…"(TTT:Bk. 3, Ch. 5) Fangorn (Treebeard) leads the forest to destroy Isengard and escalates the events that culminate in the great battles in the South. It is clear now that both Merry and Pippin are beginning to understand the seriousness and scope of their quest and how great in scope was the task their old friend Frodo had really taken on.

Still, at this point, they are on the periphery of the main thrust of the action, and they cannot see all. They have not yet seen the devastation of Sauron’s campaigns against the civilized kingdoms of Middle-Earth, or even the effects of Saruman's all-out attack at Helm's Deep. Even Tolkien’s saga does not fully cover the extent of Sauron’s campaigns, choosing the focus of Gondor over the attacks from on Lothlorien, Dale and Erebor in the North, which coincided with the events in Gondor and Mordor covered directly in the tale itself. But their involvement would come in its own inescapable way. The path of Pippin would be stripped from that of Merry, his comfort and lifelong friend. He was to be thrown alone into the fire and made to prove himself worthy. Pippin would face his own Dark Night of the Soul in most definitive terms.

Trial by Palantir and Soldier of Gondor:

The throwing down of Isengard and deposing of Saruman has unexpected effects. Saruman's agent from Rohan, Grima Wormtongue, angrily throws a round stone out of the Tower of Orthanc, where it is picked up by Pippin. Gandalf does not realize exactly what Saruman has been doing with it, or the danger it represents. Pippin's natural curiosity draws him to the stone, the Palantir of Orthanc, and he surreptitiously takes it from Gandalf's belongings in the night. Upon looking into it, he undergoes a vicious trial at the hands of Sauron. Pippin’s trial with the Palantir is wholly unexpected, but it profoundly affects the key elements in Middle-Earth at that instant, as it draws the Great Eye of Sauron directly and squarely onto the small hobbit named Peregrin Took and away from Frodo and Sam approaching the Land of Mordor. The Ents’ and Huorns’ storming of Isengard and Gandalf’s deposing of Saruman were dramatic and final events, but the underlying sickness was hidden until the simple but insatiable curiosity of Peregrin Took uncovered it. Sauron realizes there is a hobbit at Isengard, and, thus excited by the news, he sends the screaming Nazgul straight toward where Theoden and the men of Rohan are encamped outside Isengard. This seemingly small transgression on Pippin’s part produces an immediate and rather large effect. Instantly, the armies of Rohan must withdraw to Helm’s Deep and Gandalf must ride like the wind to Gondor, Pippin astride Shadowfax with him.

For a frightening time, Pippin is THE target of Sauron. It is in this instant, and in the grey, hallucinatory ride ahead, that Pippin comes to realize more fully the extent of the threat of Sauron, the danger all of Middle-Earth faces and the true import of Frodo’s quest. He realizes just how much he doesn't know and begins to bombard Gandalf with questions. At the same time, Gandalf comes to realize just how Saruman was corrupted and how deeply. Everything is brought home in a flash, an epiphany that transforms young Pippin into grim and determined Peregrin Took, ready now to commit himself fully and actively to the overthrow of the forces of Mordor.

It is this change that gives him the courage and audacity to declare his fealty to Denethor and offer his sword to the defense of Gondor. Some have suggested it is his need to fit in, to be involved, much as the case seems to be with Merry, left behind with the forces of Rohan. In my opinion, that particular conceit seems much more pronounced in Merry than in Pippin at this point. The two complement each other perfectly, even apart, as their actions mirror each other’s, and, as Pippin swears himself to the service of Gondor, Merry swears himself to the service of Rohan. Merry is particularly concerned that he not be left behind when the Rohirrim ride to the defense of Minas Tirith, while Pippin is thrown into the conflict head-first, and is joined to the fight whether he desires it or not. For the first time, he doubts his courage, as his eyes are now open and he understands the threat before him. He could never have come to this realization unless he had awakened to what was at stake and what must be done against it.

Pippin’s entrance into the White City has a curious and re-vitalizing effect on the populace: he is looked upon with much wonder, and he is given the title Ernil i Pheriannath, the Elvish for "Prince of the Halflings." This turn of events gives rise to an even more curious rumor that when the Riders of Rohan come to Minas Tirith, each would have a halfling warrior riding behind him. (ROTK, Bk. 5, Ch. 1) Pippin is something quite new to Gondor, and he has the effect of boosting the flagging spirits of a city awaiting attack. His innate good nature and open manner win him friends quickly, and those friends he chooses prove true to him, as we see in the case of the guard Beregond when Denethor must be dealt with. In turn, Pippin spends his last actions on the battlefield of Morannon, slaying the troll that has felled Beregond and threatens to tear him apart. So Peregrin Took proves himself to be a true friend and comrade in battle, worthy of the trust of a loyal Man of Gondor, as well as proving trustworthy in doing his part to maintain the safety of Gondor itself, even against its own master.

The respective leaders Merry and Pippin serve prove to be quite different in character, and Merry’s choices are, of necessity, quite different from the terrible choices that Pippin is driven to make in the service of Gondor. After the destruction of the Gates of Minas Tirith, a madness comes upon the Steward Denethor and he takes himself to the Rath Dinen, burial place of the great of Gondor, and there threatens to set himself and his badly injured son Faramir afire, to destroy himself and his remaining kin as he feels Minas Tirith crumbling around him. He has succumbed to a personal and selfish madness, desiring to go down in flames and abandon Minas Tirith to its fate rather than yield his Stewardship to the returning rightful King.

In a strange way, there is understanding in this conceit between Denethor and Peregrin; both have gazed illicitly into a palantir, thus both have been exposed to the will of Sauron. One could say Pippin understood the madness of Denethor (and even returned to the thought of it himself at the Black Gate of Morannon when he believed Frodo to be under torture at Sauron’s hands). Through this understanding, he was able to adamantly resist the formidable will of his sworn master, Denethor. Only Pippin knows the effect gazing into the palantir has had upon his own soul, but I believe that he recognizes a mirror of this darkness in Denethor, and he knows it must be stopped at all costs. This realization was probably unconscious, an instinctive knowledge of the likeness of Sauron’s will and Denethor’s mad despair. Indeed, Denethor’s despair proves to have been the effect of a well-aimed attack on Sauron’s part against the center of Minas Tirith itself. Thus, through Denethor’s illicit use of the palantir, Sauron burns out the center of the City and of Gondor itself. If not for the fortunate entrance of the allies of Gondor and the future King himself, Minas Tirith certainly would have fallen after the demise of Denethor.

This is not to say that the saving of Faramir from Denethor’s madness is a crucial event in the greater war. It is an illustration of the extent to which Peregrin’s ability to think and act on his feet has matured. He acts for the life of Faramir and brings the force necessary to achieve the end. Gandalf’s presence is commanding enough to keep Denethor from wreaking as much damage as he might have done. This concern for individual lives is a characteristic hobbit trait and a refreshing and necessary one in the faceless doom of war. In Peregrin’s case, this trait overshadows even the darkness and despair induced by Sauron himself, so that hope is not lost. In fact, this trait in hobbits can overshadow even the greatest of causes, as we see in Samwise's case at Cirith Ungol, when he sets aside the mission to destroy the Ring in order to save Frodo, but that’s another story altogether.

In the test of arms at last extremity, as the forces of Sauron pour from the Gates of Morannon to surround the challenging Army of the West, Pippin recalls Denethor and his madness, wishing for a fleeting moment that Merry was with him, to die with him in battle, as all hope seemed lost. But to his credit, Peregrin, unlike Denethor, does not lie down in flames. He plunges into the "joy of battle," an atavistic drive to abandon oneself to the very current of battle, in a sense, to lose oneself in the larger madness of war. This state of mind is the very soul of the warrior in battle. He has become the one who joins instantly to the battle and the inevitability of the zero-sum equation without stopping to consider the possibility of his own death. It is the mind of the berserker, but one who has been tempered and trained by harsh experiences--no longer blind.

This is the completion of the training of Peregrin Took, the culmination of his transformation from Pippin to Peregrin, apple to hawk, passive hobbit luggage to active soldier against Darkness. In his last conscious moment before the end of the battle, as the troll he slew fell upon him and crushed him beneath its weight, his "mind fell away into a great darkness…’So it ends as I guessed it would,’ his thought said, even as it fluttered away; and it laughed a little within him ere it fled, almost gay it seemed to be casting off at last all doubt and care and fear."(ROTK, Bk 5, Chapter 10) This description is one of a being accepting the finality of death in all things and laughing just a little because of the pains creatures take to avoid it. This is the essential element to an effective warrior, to laugh at or ignore one’s own death. Thus equipped, Peregrin Took is ready to face the challenges that await him upon his return to the Shire.

Scouring of the Shire and Taking up of the Title

After the War of the Ring, no smaller matters caused Pippin doubt. When he and his three hobbit companions reach the Shire after the War, they find things much changed. Men have invaded the Shire and usurped its resources. As Frodo aptly describes the Shire they have returned to, "…this is Mordor,…just one of its works." (ROTK: Bk. VI, Ch.8) only it is the landscape of Mordor brought home to the Shire, and that made it much more intolerable. For no matter how much each of them loved to roam abroad, they all loved the Shire. What Peregrin suffered for Gondor, he was more than willing to suffer for his own home. Each of the four hobbits had sharpened their innate talents and had learned valuable lessons during the quest and the War against Sauron. These they turned to instant effect against Men who, like Sauron, underestimated the hobbits to their own detriment.

There is a resilient quality and a perseverance in hobbits, quite beyond their appearances, and in the case of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, there was an even deeper quality to be reckoned with. They had actively participated in the overthrow of a great evil that had beset Middle-Earth for two Ages. They were all more than capable of handling the new problems facing them in the Shire. The situation in the Shire promised to require a show of force against the invaders, and the two hobbits who were most adequately equipped for this undertaking are Meriadoc and Peregrin, for they are now full-fledged soldiers with battles behind them in the traditional sense. They are also an anomaly for hobbits of the Shire in that they have the ability to rouse a populace that has been downtrodden for many months, to break through the centuries-long inertia of the long-isolated Hobbitry.

Merry and Pippin together lead the revolt against the Men; Merry appears to be more skilled in battle tactics, but Pippin is a natural leader. He rouses all of Tuckborough, who, in true Tookish spirit, have never submitted to the Men, but have hunted them on their land. As a result, the Tooks have remained free, but have been hemmed in and unable to effectively aid the rest of the populace. All that was needed was a catalyst, and Merry and Pippin together provided it, making it possible for the hobbits to effectively resist the large group of Men who had stolen the Shire from its people. In this conflict, which culminates in the Battle of Bywater, both Merry and Pippin distinguish themselves, but it is clear that it is an effort of many.

Pippin here shows his ability to rouse others to action through his spirit and fighting words. In fact, it is he who first raises arms to the Men who blocked their way on the road, brandishing sword and wearing the emblem of Gondor. When Frodo calmly informs the ruffians that their time is over, their support destroyed and a King arisen in Gondor, it is Pippin who backs Frodo's calm words up with show of arms and will to use them. His grim determination makes it crystal clear that the four hobbits that stand before them are of a dangerous breed, and are not the only force these ruffians will have to reckon with. The good-natured, once careless Pippin is now the seasoned soldier Peregrin and has the experience to know that the threat of force must be backed up with a real show of force. Thus, he takes up in his being and actions the proper attitude befitting the Thains of the Shire, the chieftains and defenders, hereditary along the line of Tooks from Isumbras I. Could one say it was preordained? That Pippin would still have taken up his literal role as Thain if he had not embarked on his fantastic journey? I believe that it is the inherent nature (his Tookishness, if you will) that shapes the course of his development, but the quality that distinguishes him is his cosmopolitan nature, his ability to effectively serve the King of Gondor, while defending the Shire against threat. Before the Scouring, the Tooks were stouthearted and resistant, but also isolated. They did not become an effective tool for the defense of the Shire until Peregrin roused them.

Peregrin Took as Embodiment of the New Age

This farsighted quality in Peregrin is a major reason the Shire becomes an active part of the new Kingdom. His thoughts and actions flow in accord with the dawning Fourth Age, a stable and powerfully connected age. Fifteen years after the Battle of Bywater, Peregrin takes up his hereditary title and becomes advisor to King Elessar, along with Meriadoc, who is, by this time, Master of Buckland. And even at the end of their lives, Merry and Pippin are of one accord, still close complements and friends who will never be parted, even in death. Both are stronger for their experiences; although Pippin still values Merry highly as friend and colleague, he has a vast store of innate strength that allows him to stand on his own against any threat. The two best friends still lean on each other, but they are both innately stronger, and thus they present an iron front to those who would threaten the Shire or the new Kingdom. At the end of their lives, they leave together and pass along their titles to their heirs, taking their place among the shapers of the Age. After their deaths, they are accorded the honor of lying in state on either side of King Elessar upon his death, for they were accounted Princes of the Halflings by Gondor. As you might have guessed, the fantastic journey of Peregrin Took is mirrored closely by that of Meriadoc Brandybuck, which is as it should be, but that, too, is a story for another time.

Merry and Pippin maintain strong ties with the Kingdom of Gondor, and in so doing, ensure that the Shire is an active part of the Fourth Age. A few short years before, none in the vast realms of Middle-Earth knew of hobbits, and the appearance of a halfling in a far country was occasion for wonder. Peregrin's fantastic journey changed him deeply, and created from an irresponsible but good-hearted hobbit, a prince among halflings. Although many believe the title Ernil i Pheriannath that followed him around Minas Tirith was an exaggeration, I do not believe it to be so. I believe it simply to be prophetic. As Gondor has its provincial princes, such as Imrahil in Dol Amroth and later Faramir in Ithilien, so Thain Peregrin I is Gondor's representative in the Shire. He is not the ruler of the Shire's government, but he is the most direct tie to Gondor and an advisor to King Elessar, and thus, he (along with Merry, of course!) is as close to a "Prince of the Halflings" as the Shire possesses, in fact and in spirit.