TTT: Bk 3, Ch 7
"Aragorn looked at the pale stars, and at the moon now sloping behind the western hills that enclosed the valley. 'This is a night as long as years,' he said. 'How long will the day tarry?'
'Dawn is not far off,' said Gamling, who had now climbed up beside him. 'But dawn will not help us, I fear.'
'Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,' said Aragorn."
This has always been the part of the book that most confused me. You have a tremendous amount of action to keep track of while at the same time there are events taking place "off-screen" so to speak that make the action all more difficult to follow. Tolkien of course doesn't tell us about these events in order to make the chapter more exciting and give the reader a surprise or two. But in order to tell take stock of events having to do with the Battle of Helm's Deep in a coherent manner, I think it's necessary to be aware of the big picture. Plus, at this point I think we all know what's going to happen by the end. So my narrative here will include things that are not written about in this chapter, but are revealed later on.
To keep a little perspective, Tolkien had a little trouble himself keeping everything chronologically correct. At the end of Chapter Five "The White Rider", Legolas sees a great smoke and Gandalf says it is "Battle and war." Originally, by that point this was supposed to be a tell-tale sign of the defeat of Erkenbrand's forces at the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen. However, when Tolkien revised the timeline, this event was supposed to happen a day later. Through all of the revisions, this was never corrected. Most people just assume the smoke is generated from the evil-doings at Isengard. In "The War of the Ring: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part 3", Christopher Tolkien writes:
"It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that the end of the chapter 'The White Rider' (Legolas' sight of the smoke in the Gap of Rohan on Day 2, January 30) escaped revision when the date of the (Second) Battle of the Fords of Isen was changed to January 31."Note that these dates were eventually pushed forward a month when Tolkien revised the amount of time that the Fellowship stayed at Rivendell.
So, if you follow the sequence of events as a whole, the events leading up to this chapter take place as follows:
- March 2, 3019 (TA): The Entmoot breaks and Treebeard leads the Ents on a march towards Isengard (the Huorns follow closely behind). Gandalf and company arrive at Edoras and later Theoden begins a journey with one thousand men towards the Fords of Isen
- March 3, 3019 (TA): Just after midnight, ten thousand Orcs and Men from Dunland empty out of Isengard towards Helm's Deep to capture the stronghold while the Men of Rohan are scattered. Later that day, the Ents arrive at Isengard and start working their mojo against Saruman, who is now undefended
The host turns southwards towards Helm's Deep which lay in front of a crook in the White Mountains. As they approach the cliffs, they see the stronghold:
"At Helm's Gate, before the mouth of the Deep, there was a heel of rock thrust outward by the northern cliff. There upon its spur stood high walls of ancient stone and within them was a lofty tower. Men said that in the far-off days of the glory of Gondor the sea-kings had built here this fastness with the hands of giants. The Hornburg it was called, for a trumpet sounded upon the tower echoed in the Deep behind, as if armies long-forgotten were issuing to war from the caves beneath the hills. A wall, too, the men of old had made from the Hornburg to the southern cliff, barring the entrance into the gorge."They find that Helm's Deep is defended by one thousand old and young men, left behind by Erkenbrand to defend the fortress. With the forces that Theodon has brought, they number two thousand in total - against Saruman's force which is advancing toward them and numbered five times their strength.
In the film, the character of Gamling is a fit warrior who comes from Edoras. But here he is an old man, left to lead the men that defend Helm's Deep, which is the tactical command post of Erkenbrand's forces. Gamling tells Theoden that seventy-five percent of the Westfold's population is hiding back in the Glittering Caves under the White Mountains behind the fortress. Theoden knows the army of Saruman is coming and orders his armies to take defensive positions in the Hornburg and along the Deeping Wall.
While all this is happening, what the reader does not know is that Gandalf has arrived at Isengard to witness the destruction of Isengard. He confirms that Saruman's forces have emptied the stronghold to march on Rohan. He also learns that a large group of Huorns is following the Orc army to Helm's Deep. Now the idea of Huorns has always thrown me. Are they trees? Are they tree-like beings? How the heck are they able to move across land? According to "The Complete Tolkien Companion" by J.E.A. Taylor, Huorns are "sentient trees (or possibly regressed Ents) of Fangorn Forest, who dwelt only in the deepest dales of that land." When Treebeard says that many Ents have become "treeish", I take this to mean that they have become what are known as Huorns - not exactly Ents but not completely trees. In any case, they harbored a hatred for Orcs and at this time they seem bent on exacting their revenge against them.
The defenders of Helm's Deep can see the torches of their enemies approaching. "It was now past midnight" on March 4 when Saruman's army assault the outer defenses at Helm's Dike and advance toward the fortress. The Orcs, huddled beneath shields, advance up the causeway that leads to the gate of Helm's Deep. Eomer and Aragorn lead an assault out of the side door to drive them back (no, there is no "dwarf tossing" with Gimli here). The Orcs use ladders to try and scale the Deeping Wall but they are fought back by the defenders. Gimli saves Eomer's hide by cleaving the heads off of two Orcs attacking him.
Thus begins the contest. "Two!" cries Gimli. Legolas says he has killed twenty with his arrows. There is a bit of a competition going on between the Elf and the Dwarf that Peter Jackson thoughtfully included in the movie. Many Orcs break upon the wall but they are able to exploit a weakness in the defenses. After the battle had raged throughout the night and just before dawn, "there was a crash and a flash of flame and smoke". The Orcs had used an explosive device, crafted by Saruman to blow a hole in the Wall at the spot of the culvert where the Deeping Stream emptied into the valley below. Orcs streamed through the opening into the Comb. Gimli leads Eomer, Gamling and a host of Men to pursue the Orcs that where heading toward the Glittering Caves.
All seems lost. Though the Hornburg is still intact, the Orcs are close to breaching the gate. Theoden and Aragorn decide to ride forth in a last assault upon their enemies. They sound the horn which echoed throughout the Deep. Both the Orcs and Dunlandings tremble at its sound. The charge of Theoden throws them off guard and the Rohirrim are able to drive them back towards Helm's Dike. At that moment, charging down over the western ridge of the valley is Gandalf, leading the army of Erkenbrand with a thousand men on foot. While the Men of Dunland fall on their faces and surrender, the Orcs are driven out of the Deep. However, as the sun rises they see that the land has changed.
All escape has been cut off by a forest of Huorns. The Orcs nevertheless run into a gap in the forest and the Huorns take their revenge on them. The army of Isengard is engulfed. Not a single Orc emerges from the forest.
"Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again."------
[Chronology: March 2nd - March 4th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Road To Isengard