Folks, this is a one-shot about Gandalf's pipe. It's funny, but it's not. The department chair announced Monday that a colleague, who has been on medical leave since the middle of fall semester, is not responding to treatment for mouth cancer brought on by years of smoking a pipe. He and his wife have decided to remove his feeding tube, and his days are numbered not metaphorically but in truth. Come June, he will be dead. That sounds blunt, but it's true.
His pipe was part of his persona, but he gave it up when the children of his colleagues began to want to pick it up and put it in their mouths in imitation of him. Unfortunately, although he gave up the pipe several years ago, the damage had already been done. He had surgery to excise the cancerous patch, followed by radiation therapy, but it came back. He again had surgery, more radical this time, followed by chemotherapy, but it came back. He is not quite fifty.
The first time ever Anomen had seen Mithrandir, it had been in Greenwood. Carefully hidden—or so he thought, for in fact the wizard knew of his presence—Anomen had watched this stranger in fascination. He was altogether different from any of the Elves who had surrounded the elfling. The wizard was only a trifle stockier and a little shorter than most grown Elves, but he was bearded as fully as a Dwarf. His hair was long and wisps of it were forever flying into his face. True, most Elves wore their hair long, but the wizard's was unruly and tousled whilst the Elves' was smooth and carefully braided. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, as no Elf did. His clothing was coarser and darker and showed rents and stains that no self-respecting Elf would countenance in his own garb. Most amazingly, though, the wizard spouted smoke like a dragon.
In truth it was the latter that most drew the elfling, tempting him to creep closer than he otherwise would have, given that King Thranduil was present and Anomen risked discovery by that fearful personage. As Anomen gazed, transfixed, Mithrandir blew out vaporous mouthful after mouthful, each puff shaping itself into some creature or another—a horse or a wolf or an eagle that soared across the ceiling.
Years later, when Anomen had run away from Greenwood and encountered the wizard in the woods of Imladris, it was again the pipe that transfixed him. He had hidden in a tree gazing down at the wizard. As before, Mithrandir seemed to know he was there and sent smoke creature after smoke creature to dance about his hiding place until at last the elfling crept warily down from his hiding place and accepted food and shelter from the Istar.
Now it was not only Anomen but Elladan and Elrohir who hid behind a tapestry watching Mithrandir draw upon his pipe. The wizard was with Elrond, who grimaced as a whiff of smoke floated by.
"Mithrandir," complained the Elf Lord, "I wish you would not smoke in my presence."
"Your pardon, Elrond. I had forgotten."
"I do not know why you have taken up this foul custom of yours. It discolors your teeth and causes your clothes and hair to reek. I also suspect that it cannot be good for your health."
"Oh," said Mithrandir, unperturbed, "I am likely to die of a sword thrust long before I can take any harm from this indulgence of mine."
"That is poor logic, Mithrandir, and you know it."
"You are of course correct, Elrond. Well, truth be told, whilst sojourning amongst the Periannath, and out of pure curiosity, I took up their habit of smoking pipeweed and found I could not put it down again. I would very much like to, I assure you, but the stuff has the quality of making one wish to pack another bowl as soon as one has finished one pipe's worth of it."
"It puts me in mind of a spell," Elrond grumbled, "and an evil one at that."
"Aye, it does in a sense bewitch one, and I promise that, once I have completed my labors, I will endeavor to leave off smoking. You must allow me this one weakness, my friend, because at the moment I cannot spare the energy to cure myself of this affliction."
"At least have the decency not to light up whilst you are under my roof. Betake your smoky self to the garden whenever you are overcome by the temptation to indulge yourself."
"But if it is cold or rainy?"
"Especially then. Mayhap if you find yourself shivering outside in a downpour, you mind will be clearer on this matter."
"That is hard, Elrond!"
"Nay, Mithrandir, this habit may give you transitory pleasure, but it will prove ill in the end."
Mithrandir had let his pipe go out, and now, with a sigh, he put it aside as he and Elrond resumed their perusal of the reports that Glorfindel's scouts had brought in of some suspicious activity that had lately been noticed on the borders of Imladris. By and by the redoubtable balrog-slayer joined them, as did Erestor, and, after talking yet awhile longer, the entire company at length arose and left the room, each making his way to his own chamber to prepare for the evening meal. The elflings noticed that Mithrandir had utterly forgotten about his pipe by then, and it remained sitting where he had placed it.
As soon as their elders had departed, the elflings crept out from their hiding place and made straight for the abandoned pipe. By it also lay the pouch in which Mithrandir stored his pipeweed. For several minutes they merely stared at pipe and pouch. Elladan spoke first.
"Ada says pipeweed is harmful."
"But," Elrohir pointed out, "Mithrandir smokes it and has been doing so for years. And Mithrandir is numbered amongst the Wise!"
"But Ada is wise as well."
Silence. The three elflings continued to stare at the tempting object. Anomen spoke.
"Erestor says curiosity is a good thing."
"True," said Elrohir eagerly, "and he says we should strive to learn all that we may about Middle Earth. Pipeweed grows in Middle Earth. Therefore, we should learn about it!"
"We could draw pictures of it," suggested Elladan, "as we do when we study Natural History."
"But in Natural History," argued Elrohir, "we also study the uses of plants, and how better to conduct such a study than through demonstration?"
More silence. Anomen's hand felt very itchy. He raised it and gazed at it in vexation. As he made to lower it again, to his surprise it reached out and grasped the stem of the pipe.
"Oh," he gasped, drawing back his hand. He could not seem to unclench his fingers, however, and found that he still clutched the pipe. Elladan and Elrohir stared at him, big-eyed.
"Put that back, Anomen!" cried Elladan.
"There is no harm in holding it," retorted Anomen, suddenly bold. He turned the pipe over and over in his hands, carefully examining it. Elrohir crowded near, looking over his shoulder.
"See," he said, "the pipeweed goes in there. Mithrandir picks up a pinch in his fingers and pushes it into this bowl, and then he tamps it down. Like this."
Elrohir seized the pouch and opened it, pulling forth a bit of pipe weed and pushing it into the bowl as Anomen held it. With his thumb, he pressed it down.
"And then," continued Elrohir, "he takes a brand from the fire and touches the end to the pipe weed. At the same time, he puffs on the stem. Anomen, you puff whilst I hold a brand."
Anomen hesitated for a moment, but then put the stem in his mouth, alternately sucking upon it and blowing air through it. Elrohir drew a burning stick from the fire and held its end to the bowl. After a considerable time of sucking and puffing, the pipeweed at last caught, and smoke began to spiral from the bowl. Anomen, still sucking and puffing, inhaled some of the vapors, and he gagged and coughed, nearly dropping the pipe in his distress. Elrohir seized the pipe from his nerveless hand and put the stem in his own mouth.
"I don't think," he said, talking around the pipe stem, "that you are supposed to swallow the smoke. Just hold it in your mouth a minute and then blow it out, like so."
Elrohir blew out a cloud of smoke and smiled triumphantly. Chagrined, Anomen grabbed for the pipe and popped the stem back in his own mouth. Mulishly, he drew some of the smoke into his mouth, clamped his lips shut, and after holding his breath for a moment, opened his mouth and blew out the vapors. Still, for all he tried to look insouciant, tears came to his eyes, and his stomach ached.
Elrohir now took the pipe in his turn and tried to see if he could blow a smoke ring. He failed. He forced a grin, however, not wanting to admit that his stomach was starting to feel queasy. His eyes, too, were now filled with tears. He passed the pipe back to Anomen. That elfling held it for a minute without bringing it to his mouth.
"Um, Elladan, would you like to try it?"
Anomen held the pipe a minute longer and then, as Elrohir was staring at him with a taunting expression, he slowly put the pipe back in his mouth. His throat hurt. He took the smallest puff he could without letting the pipe go out and then hastily passed the pipe back to Elrohir. That elfling likewise took the briefest of puffs and quickly returned the pipe to Anomen.
This went on for several minutes until suddenly, just after passing the pipe to Elrohir, Anomen retched, bending over double and wrapping his arms around his waist.
"Ooooh," he groaned. "I am sick, so sick."
He staggered in the direction of the window. Unfortunately, he did not make it, and, as Elrohir and Elladan watched in horror, Anomen collapsed onto his hands and knees and lost his lunch upon a very fine carpet that had but lately arrived from Lothlórien as a gift from the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel.
"Anomen's dying," shrieked an appalled Elladan.
"No, he's not—he's—oooh, he's not dying—I am!"
Elrohir did not even try to make the window, instead collapsing where he stood and scoring a direct hit upon a chair that had been carried all the way from Minas Tirith as a mark of the esteem of the Steward of Gondor for the Lord of Imladris.
Elladan now began to retch in sympathy but that did not prevent him from staggering toward the door. Once outside, he revived in the fresh air and ran as fast as his legs would carry him in search of his father. He found him in the garden, where Elves and their guests often gathered before entering the dining hall.
"Ada," he shrieked, "Ada! Elrohir and Anomen have been poisoned. They're dying, Ada! They're dying."
An alarmed Elrond seized Elladan's arms.
"What do you mean, my son? What have they eaten? What have they drunk?"
"They haven't neither, Ada. They smoked pipeweed!"
"Pipeweed! Where are they!?"
"In the library!"
Elrond set off at a run for the library, with Mithrandir right behind them. When they arrived, they found both elflings wallowing upon the floor, groaning and retching. Only a parent or a very powerful wizard would have been immune to the awful stench that now filled the library. Fortunately, Elrond was the one and Mithrandir the other. Elrond scooped up Elrohir, Mithrandir took Anomen in his arms, and together the two friends carried the younglings out into the open, making for the fountain in the garden. Once there, they stripped off the elflings' soiled clothing and began to bathe them. Shortly thereafter, Glorfindel joined them, carrying a vial of miruvor, and Erestor arrived with their night dresses. After dosing the elflings with miruvor and dressing them in their night clothes, Elrond and Mithrandir carried the younglings up to their chamber and put them to bed. Elladan, who, not too surprisingly, had lost all appetite for dinner, joined them in their chamber, and soon all three were asleep. Elladan slept in elvish fashion that night, with eyes open but veiled in dreams, but Elrohir and Anomen slept with their eyes closed and groaned and hiccoughed from time to time. Even though their faces had been bathed, the tracks of tears could be seen upon their cheeks.
After all the excitement had died down, Elrond returned to supervise the cleaning of the library. Both carpet and chair could be salvaged, he decided, and he gave orders for them to be scrubbed and well aired. Then he turned his attention to Mithrandir, who had followed him into the library and stood sheepishly by the fire.
"Mi-thran-dir," growled Elrond through his teeth.
"Quite right, Elrond, quite right," said the wizard hastily. For the next century or so, I promise you that I shall not light my pipe in any place where I may be o'erlooked by an elfling."
"It would be better if you gave up the habit altogether!"
"I know," conceded Mithrandir, "but it has such a grip upon me."
"You'll have to give it up eventually," Elrond pointed out. "You will be turned back from the Grey Havens if you show up reeking like a creature of Mordor. And I have never heard of pipeweed being grown in the Undying Lands!"
"You are correct, Elrond. If I make my way to the Undying Lands, I shall have to abstain evermore from pipeweed."
"If you make your way to the Undying Lands!? I see no reason why you should not—unless you do away with yourself first by indulging in this abominable practice!"
"Well, well," said Mithrandir humbly, "I do not claim to be perfect—merely nearly so. And, as I have said, I will not let the elflings see me smoke—and I will never again leave my pipe about where they may find it, you may be sure!"
Mithrandir was as good as his word. He did not at first give up smoking altogether, but he was more judicious in choosing when and where to indulge himself. Moreover, he is supposed to have given up the pipe altogether when he set out for the Uttermost West. And it is true that the descendents of Samwise Gamgee for many generations carefully preserved a long-stemmed pipe, never used but kept well-wrapped in soft leather, that the Istar is supposed to have entrusted to the Periannath before he passed over the waters in the company of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
Mithrandir's precautions as regards the elflings may, however, have been unnecessary. Neither Elrohir nor Anomen was ever again tempted to venture at smoking. In later years, in the guise of Legolas, Anomen went about in the company of a Man and a Dwarf, both of whom had a fondness for pipes, but he was never seen to touch the stem of such an instrument, and it is said that from time to time he made away with the pipeweed pouches of his friends. Indeed, the Dwarf Gimli swore that the pouch he lost in Moria was not in fact dropped in the melee when they were attacked by Orcs but was instead tossed into a chasm by the Elf. Legolas always denied this, but it must be admitted that whenever he shared a chamber with Aragorn and Gimli, their pipeweed seemed to vanish. Legolas always accounted for this mystery by claiming that his friends had smoked the noxious stuff faster than they had realized.
Aragorn and Gimli never did come to understand the Elf's abhorrence of pipeweed, and Legolas did not try to explain himself, but, Reader, you know as well as I that his encounter with Mithrandir's pipe as an elfling was at the root of his feelings. Mithrandir in fact was once heard to say to Elrond, "You see, in the end it was a good thing that I left the pipe about, else Legolas would not have developed such a deep distaste for pipeweed."
To which Elrond replied, "But if there had been no pipe in the first place, he would never have gotten the idea of inhaling smoke from burning vegetation at all! One does not need to be inoculated against a temptation that does not exist!"
Whichever of the two was right, there was no doubt but that Legolas was well and truly cured of his early interest in pipeweed. And on one thing we can agree: his dislike of smoking was all to the good.