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Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 6

Many Partings
"'Here then at last comes the ending of the Fellowship of the Ring,' said Aragorn"
The next two chapters cover the journey home for Frodo and his friends and were written by Tolkien in one continuous text. The division comes when the hobbits stay for a while at Rivendell. That is the point where "Many Partings" ends and "Homeward Bound" begins. The separation into two chapters is appropriate in the context of refocusing the narrative on just Gandalf and the hobbits, with the remaining characters having said their goodbyes.

In mid-July, Frodo tells Aragorn that he is anxious to return home. The King assures him that in a week's time they will set out northwards. The Fellowship will ride together for one last time. The occasion would be Eomer's return to Gondor for the purpose of bringing back to Rohan the body of Theoden, who has been lying in state in the Rath Dinen. Before they set out, Arwen gives a gift to Frodo. She tells him that because she has chosen a mortal life with Aragorn, her place on a ship sailing to the Undying Lands will be unused.
"'But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. But wear this now in memory of Elfstone and Evenstar with whom your life has been woven!'

And she took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain about Frodo's neck. 'When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you,' she said, 'this will bring you aid.'"
And so on July 19th, the funeral escort of Theoden set out. Merry, as the King's squire, rode in the wain that carried the body. In the company rode Aragorn and Arwen, Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli and Gandalf astride Shadowfax. Also, Celeborn and Galadriel rode with Elrond and his sons. Pippin accompanied the Princes of Dol Amroth and Ithilien and the other Captains and knights of Gondor. When the company reached Edoras, Theoden King was honored and laid to rest in the barrows where his forefathers lay. Eomer was hailed as the new King of Rohan and, at a feast in the Golden Hall of Meduseld, he gave his blessing for the betrothal of Faramir and Eowyn.

Arwen did not journey any farther and said her final bittersweet goodbyes to Elrond. Faramir and Eowyn remained at Edoras as well. But the rest continued on, stopping first at Helm's Deep. Remembering their agreement, Legolas joined Gimli for a tour of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, behind the Deep. From there they went to Isengard to find that the Ents had torn down all of the stone wall that encircled it and planted gardens in the land within. They learned from Treebeard that the old Ent had allowed Saruman to leave some seven days earlier. Treebeard believed that since the war was over Saruman was no longer capable of any mischief; "A snake without fangs may crawl where he will," he said. But Gandalf suspected that Saruman's one remaining tooth - his voice - was what was able to persuade the Ent to let him leave. Aragorn told Treebeard that the vale now belonged to the Ents to do with what they wished as long as they agreed to see to it that no one entered Orthanc without leave of the King.

Now it was time for Gimli to return the favor and he and Legolas turned east to visit Fangorn Forest once more. They bid farewell to their friends. The company journeyed on towards the Gap of Rohan, but when they arrived very close to the spot where Pippin had looked into the Orthanc-stone, Aragorn announced that he would ride no further. He said his goodbyes, reminding Pippin that he was still a knight of Gondor in the service of the King. He also told them that he would one day visit his lands to the north and see them again.
"With that they parted, and it was then the time of sunset; and when after a while they turned and looked back, they saw the King of the West sitting upon his horse with his knights about him; and the falling Sun shone upon them and made all their harness to gleam like red gold, and the white mantle of Aragorn was turned to a flame. Then Aragorn took the green stone and held it up, and there came a green fire from his hand."
Now Gandalf, the hobbits and the Elves turned north into the land of Dunland and it wasn't long before they came upon Saruman and Wormtongue. The old man was now dressed in rags, as a beggar, and his servant groveled like a dog at his feet. Galadriel, once a fellow member of the White Council, offers him forgiveness one last time and the wizard refused in his arrogance. He had harsh words for the hobbits, warning them that the might not "find things good" when they returned home. Kicking Grima and ordering him along, he went away off into the woods.

Saruman's words of the Shire concerned both Gandalf and Sam, but Frodo insisted that they must first visit Rivendell for he greatly missed Bilbo. As they reached the entrance to the pass of the Redhorn Gate of Caradhras, Celeborn and Galadriel set off eastwards over the Misty Mountains to return to Lothlorien. Since the Ring had been destroyed and the power of the Elven ring Nenya waned, that land would soon diminish and Galadriel would have to make preparations to leave Middle-Earth forever and take the ship over the Sea.

Now the last of the remaining party reached the valley of Rivendell on September 21st, the day before Bilbo's One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth birthday. Gandalf and the hobbits stayed there for about two weeks, enjoying the hospitality of Elrond and the Elves. In the beginning of October, Frodo and his friends made ready to set out on the final leg of their journey home. Gandalf agreed to ride with them as far as Bree. When they said goodbye to Bilbo, the old hobbit said he was growing very tired and he asked Frodo if he would gather up all his notes and papers and finish his book for him. Frodo was delighted to accept.

The next day, October 5th, Frodo said farewell to Elrond. The Elf wished him a safe journey but told him that he need not worry about rushing back to visit Bilbo because it would not be long before he would ride out with him to the Shire on a westward journey towards the Sea. Frodo understood. He did not share Elrond's words with his companions.

[Chronology: Mid-Year's Day through October 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Homeward Bound

(revised 11/10/06)


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 5

The Steward And The King
"'Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endur!'"
At this point in the story, Tolkien could very easily have written: "And so, with Sauron destroyed and peace spreading throughout the land, the remaining members of the Fellowship went back to their regular lives and they all lived happily ever after." No one would have blamed him considering all the work he had put into this epic. But there were many loose ends to wrap up - so many loose ends that it took five whole chapters to do it. The rest of Return of the King is focused on what they used to teach you in English Lit was "the resolution phase" of the narrative. So we continue, chapter by chapter, as the scope of the story winds itself back down to the point of view of the Shire, right where we started. It's almost as if the reader, having been taken on a wild ride, now needs to "decompress" as he moves away from the bigger picture of Middle-earth.

First off we have two very important characters to deal with who are convalescing at the Houses of Healing. Chronologically, Tolkien goes back in time about a week or so to Minas Tirith which lay in doubt and dread over the fate of the army of the West that marched out of its gate a few days earlier. Eowyn was recovering quickly save for her frozen arm and her aching heart. She yearns to join the host heading for Mordor but the Warden of the Houses of Healing insists that she must return to her bed. Eowyn does not care to wait around like a victim and declares that "those who have not swords can still die upon them". She demands to see whomever is in command of the City. That would be the new Steward, Lord Faramir, who is also recovering from wounds there at the House.

The Warden brings Eowyn to Faramir and the sight of the Lady of Rohan pierces his heart. She begs Faramir to allow her to leave. But Faramir holds to the counsel of the Warden that she must remain but she can at least be free to walk throughout the City and he ensures that her quarters are changed so that she has a window that faces east. Eowyn, like Faramir, is drawn to gaze in the direction of Mordor in anticipation of either a victorious army or a great calamity. Faramir asks Eowyn if she would stay with him for a while and help ease his care. She asks how she would do this.
"Then, Eowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still."
Eowyn was non-committal at his request, but she walked with him back to the House of Healing. Faramir sought out information about Eowyn and the Warden suggested he speak with Merry, who was brought to him. The more he learned about Eowyn, the deeper the love he felt for her. The next morning, he saw her standing upon the walls, clad in white and gleaming in the sun. They walked together, sometimes in silence and sometimes speaking. By the fifth day since their first meeting, Eowyn came to him and they looked out upon the City together. Soon, their hands met and clasped, "though they did not know it".

As time passed without word from the host, Faramir became more pessimistic about their fate. Then suddenly on the morning of March 25th, a vast darkness rose about the mountains with lightning flickering above it; "a tremor ran through the earth, and they felt the walls of the City quiver." Faramir tells Eowyn that while his head tells him a great evil has befallen, his heart tells him otherwise. The shadow departed and the light of the sun came through. From the east, a great Eagle flew in to bring the news that the Dark Tower was thrown down.

A party was organized to sail up the Anduin from Osgiliath to Cair Andros to meet the returning Captains. Merry was sent to join them. But even though Eomer sent for Eowyn, she refused to go. Faramir asks her if it is because it was not Aragorn who sent for her or because she didn't want to leave him. She tells him that "she wished to be loved by another" but "I desire no man's pity." Faramir tells her not to scorn the pity of Aragorn which was a "gift of a gentle heart." But he also tells her that he does not feel pity for her. He loves her and he asks for her hand in marriage. Eowyn comes to the realization that she loves Faramir, too.
"'Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor?' she said. 'And would you have your proud folk say of you: "There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?"'

'I would,' said Faramir. And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many. And many indeed saw them and the light that shone about them as they came down from the walls and went hand in hand to the Houses of Healing.

And to the Warden of the Houses Faramir said: 'Here is the Lady Eowyn of Rohan, and now she is healed.'"
Back when Aragorn tended her physical wounds before he left for battle, he told Eomer that he could heal her body, but if she woke to despair then she would die "unless other healing comes which I cannot bring." And it was her love for Faramir that wholly cured her.

At some point in 1963, Tolkien received a letter from a fan who was very critical of the way he had written the Eowyn/Faramir love story. The letter is not available but based on Tolkien's response it seems to have focused on the speed with which they fell in love, especially considering Eowyn's love for Aragorn. The reader also seemed to think that the whole "courtship" was too rushed and that it seemed unrealistic. Tolkien's defense was that Eowyn's feelings for Aragorn and Faramir were very different:
"It is possible to love more than one person (of the other sex) at the same time, but in a different mode and intensity. I do not think that Eowyn's feelings for Aragorn really changed much; and when he was revealed as so lofty a figure, in descent and office, she was able to go on loving and admiring him." (Letter No. 244)
And as to the "speed" of the relationship, he writes:
"In my experience feelings and decisions ripen very quickly (as measured by mere 'clock-time', which is actually not justly applicable) in periods of great stress, and especially under the expectation of imminent death. And I do not think that persons of high estate and breeding need all the petty fencing and approaches in matters of 'love'. This tale does not deal with a period of 'Courtly Love' and its pretences; but with a culture more primitive (sc. less corrupt) and nobler." (Letter No. 244)
It's too bad that more of this love story wasn't presented in the film version of Return of the King - I don't think that even the Extended Edition gave it the attention it deserved. I think readers are able to relate better to this couple than the Numenorean-Elven pairing of Aragorn and Arwen.

Aragorn finally arrives at the gates of the City. Faramir meets him and as the last Steward, "begs leave to surrender his office." Aragorn insists that the office will remain with him and his heirs. Faramir asks the crowd for their permission to let Aragorn enter as King and they all shout out a hearty unamimous "yea". The Steward presents the crown of Earnur to Aragorn but the new King in waiting insists that Frodo bear the crown to Gandalf, who should place it on his head for the wizard has "been the mover of all that has been accomplished." And thus, the reign of King Elessar began.

He designated Faramir as Prince of Ithilien, with Beregond serving as Faramir's personal Guard. Minas Morgul, however, was to be destroyed. The Prince would dwell in the Emyn Arnen, the hills that lay between the Ephel Duath and the Anduin that marked the border between north and south Ithilien. He reaffirmed the close ties between Gondor and Rohan as he gave leave to Eomer and Eowyn. The Lady was to journey back to Edoras to assist her brother in the rebuilding of Rohan and the laying to rest of Theoden, after which she planned to return and wed Faramir.

But one problem of Gondor remained. Aragorn was concerned for the future line of Kings and whether or not it would be renewed. Gandalf led him up Mount Mindolluin and they followed an ancient path to a high hallow that overlooked the City. Gandalf directed him to look in the direction where it was most barren and cold.
"Then Aragorn turned, and there was a stony slope behind him running down the skirts of the snow; and as he looked he was aware that alone there in the waste a growing thing stood. And he climbed to it, and saw that out of the very edge of the snow there sprang a sapling tree no more than three foot high. Already it had put forth young leaves long and shapely, dark above and silver beneath, and upon its slender crown it bore one small cluster of flowers whose white petals shone like the sunlit snow."

Here was a remnant of the White Tree that now lay dead in the courtyard of the Tower in Minas Tirith. It's lineage could be traced all the way back to Telperion, one of the Trees of Valinor. It's presence was likely the result of a seedling that of the White Tree that was planted long ago and had lain dormant for many generations. Aragorn took this as the sign of the renewal of the Numenorean Kingdom. The old, dead tree was dug up with reverence and the new sapling was planted in its place. Soon afterward, Elrond arrived at Minas Tirith with Arwen and he presented to Aragorn the Sceptre of Annuminas, which was the heirloom of Elendil who ruled both Kingdoms from Arnor.

Annuminas had been the capital of Arnor and the Sceptre that Elendil bore was one that he had brought with him in his escape from the destruction of Numenor. When the Kingdom of Arnor was divided it passed to the King of Arthedain until the year 1974 of the Third Age, when it was handed down to the Chieftains of the Dunedain. Elrond kept it in Rivendell until the day came when the rightful King would take up the throne and reunite the Numenorean Kingdoms in exile.

On Midsummer's Eve (the day between the end of June and the beginning of July), Aragorn and Arwen wed and the fruit of their long and tortured courtship had finally come to fulfillment.

[Chronology: March 20th through 1 Lithe 3019 T.A.]

Next: Many Partings

(revised 11/7/06)


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 4

The Field Of Cormallen
"But Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice: 'Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.'"
As the Ring is unmade, so is the battle before the Morannon. With the appearance of the Eagles of the North, the tide turned. The great birds bore straight down on the Nazgul, even as their Fell Beasts began to flee towards Mount Doom heeding the call of the Dark Lord. Now the eyes of the enemies showed fear and confusion. Behind them the Towers of the Teeth collapsed and the Black Gate was thrown down in ruin. Gandalf and the Captains of the West knew that the hour of doom was at hand.
"'The realm of Sauron is ended!' said Gandalf. 'The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.' And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell."

Most of the Orcs and Men of Sauron's army fled in terror but some of the Easterlings and Southrons threw down their weapons and begged for mercy. Then Gandalf summoned Gwaihir to him and asked the Eagle to bear him one last time. Along with two other Eagles, Landroval and Meneldor, Gwaihir sped away south with Gandalf on his back.

The appearance of the Eagles which heralds the destruction of Mordor and the Dark Lord is a moment that Tolkien calls a "eucatastrophe". This was a word he coined to refer to "the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears" (Letter No. 89). In a nutshell, a eucatastrophe is diametrically opposed to a catastrophe, a great and sudden calamity. By adding the prefix "eu" which is Greek for "good", Tolkien's philological invention designates a great and sudden fortunate turn of events.

There are actually several moments throughout The Lord of the Rings that would qualify as eucatastrophes. They always come, like a "deus ex machina", just when things seem their bleakest: the sudden rising of the River Bruinen to wash away the Nazgul in "Flight To The Ford", the arrival of Gandalf and Erkenbrand's army in "Helm's Deep" and the blowing of the horns of Rohan to announce the Rohirrim at "The Battle Of The Pelennor Fields" to name a few. But these moments always seem to come in answer to characters holding onto hope and making decisions of selflessness, sacrifice or altruism. Certainly Sam's feeling of pity for Gollum when he had the chance to kill him on the slopes of Mount Doom led directly to the destruction of the Ring, something Frodo found he ultimately could not do.

The origins of this idea that a sudden positive event in the face of despair no doubt is derived from Tolkien's Catholicism. For he considered the Resurrection of Christ to be the ultimate eucatastrophe. Does this imply some kind of Divine Intervention? When the hobbits ask Tom Bombadil about his hearing their cries for help in the Old Forest, Tom replies "Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it." He says it wasn't his plan to be there. Was it someone else's?

Certainly, chance plays a part. But many times these chances present themselves because on the actions of Tolkien's characters who have free will. The paths that they choose lead to positive or negative events based on what motivates them. The decisions of Denethor and, to a lesser extent, Boromir are motivated by a desire for power to defeat their enemies. But this leads to their downfall. Faramir decides, against the wishes of his father, not to bring the Ring to Minas Tirith but rather to allow Frodo to continue on to Mordor. He is motivated by wisdom and prudence.

For Aragorn and Gandalf, they had to march towards the danger of certain death on the belief that Frodo and Sam would fulfill their Quest regardless of whatever dangers they encountered or whatever sacrifices they had to make. As it turned out, their faith was rewarded. And for Tolkien, when faith and hope win out over despair, a eucatastrophe occurs. The idea that there is just as much reason to believe in the possibility of a eucastastrophic event as a catastrophic one stirs the optimism of the reader and is, I believe, one of the reasons the story is so popular among so many different nations and cultures.

As we return to Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam wait for the end on a lone hill surrounded by the lava that is bursting from the heart of the mountain. Sam tells Frodo that despite the hopelessness he doesn't want to give up just yet. "It's not like me, somehow, if you understand", he says. As if in response to Sam's hope, Gwaihir and the other Eagles spy them on the mountain. And as the hobbits lay there worn out and collapsed from the heat and fumes, the birds swoop in and, taking great care, lift them up with their talons and fly back northwards away from the Black Land.

Sam wakes a full two weeks later to the fragrant smell of Ithilien and the sight of Gandalf, now dressed all in white, beside his bed. Frodo is there, too. The Wizard tells him that it is April 8th, the fourteenth day of the new year. Ever after in Gondor the new year would begin on March 25th to commemorate the overthrow and destruction of Sauron. He and Frodo are to be taken to see the King.

When they are able, the hobbits are brought onto the Field of Cormallen, which lay in North Ithilien between the refuge of Henneth Annun and the island of Cair Andros. As they are taken to the King, they see that he is in fact Strider whom they haven't seen since that terrible day at Parth Galen when the Fellowship was broken. A great ceremony takes place and the host that is assembled praises the two Ring-bearers for their heroic deeds. And then Aragorn, to the surprise of the hobbits, lowers himself on his knee and bows to them. In Peter Jackson's Return of the King, this scene is written a bit differently. At his coronation, all four hobbits bow to Aragorn who says in surprise, "My friends. You bow to no one!", before he and Arwen both bow to them, which everyone else does as well. It is a very emotional moment in the film, assisted by Howard Shore's powerful score, and it's perhaps one of my favorite moments in any of the movies.

Later, at a great feast, Frodo and Sam are reunited with the rest of the Fellowship: Merry, Pippin, Gimli and Legolas. They have a lot of stories to share with each other. After the celebration, the host makes ready to journey back to Minas Tirith, where the rightful King would officially return and enter the gates of the City.

[Chronology: March 25th through April 30th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Steward And The King

(revised 11/6/06)


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 3

Mount Doom
"'Now for it! Now for the last gasp!' said Sam as he struggled to his feet."

Frodo and Sam lay quietly in the pit as the sounds of the troops passing into the Isenmouthe died down. They passed the evening sleeping in uneasy fits. The next morning, March 19th, they started out again. Southwards in the distance, the mountain loomed. Sam estimated it to be about fifty miles and a week's march away. The other conclusion that hit home was that their provisions were almost gone and, if they managed to make it to the mountain and complete their task, there could be no return. But despite Sam's loss of hope, a new resolve grew in him.

He woke Frodo and they climbed up to the road to Barad-dur that followed along the foot of the northern mountain range. Sauron's forces were moving only under the cover of darkness, for the Dark Lord sought secrecy with the thought of spies traveling in his lands. So the hobbits walked during the day, resting and hiding at night. It was a slow, plodding journey.

"There came at last a dreadful nightfall; and even as the Captains of the West drew near to the end of the living lands, the two wanderers came to an hour of blank despair. Four days had passed since they had escaped from the orcs, but the time lay behind them like an ever-darkening dream. All this last day Frodo had not spoken, but had walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes no longer saw the way before his feet. Sam guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and torment to his mind. Anxiously Sam had noted how his master's left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look into them. And sometimes his right hand would creep to his breast, clutching, and then slowly, as the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn."

The time had come to turn southwest, off the road and straight for the fiery mountain. And at one point when Sam looked back he thought he could see the pale lights of eyes following them.

On the evening of March 23rd, the hobbits decided to cast away all that they carried to lighten their load. Only Sting was kept by Sam, as a last means of defense in this desolate land. It was hardest for Sam to toss aside his cooking gear. It made him think longingly about the rabbit that they cooked back in Ithilien. But Frodo said that while he remembered that such things happened, he couldn't see them. The images, sounds and feelings that once comforted him were fading.

They pressed on toward the their destination. At the end of the day, they rested again. While Frodo slept, Sam held a debate with himself in a fashion not unlike Gollum had when his two personalities argued over how they would get a hold of the Ring. But here Sam was considering how weak Frodo was and trying to decide whether or not they should press on despite the suffering of his master. In the end, he knew that they must keep going no matter what it took to get there.

The last stage of the journey was tortuous. The air close to the mountain was full of fumes and it was difficult to breathe. But they continued throughout the day and at the moment that sleep took them the army of the West was setting up camp outside the desolation of the Morannon. The Sun poked through the clouds on the morning of March 25th. Lying at the foot of Mount Doom, the hobbits struggled to climb.

Frodo could barely crawl at this point. Sam wept at the sight of Frodo, weighed down by the Ring and pulling himself forward on all fours. He reached down to him saying, "Come Mr. Frodo! I can't carry it for you but I can carry you and it as well." Sam pulled him up onto his back.

"As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off."

They slowly ascended up the Northern side of Mount Doom. The base of the mountain rose as high as three thousand feet and after hours of steady climbing they drew closer to the narrow central cone. To their surprise, they reached a road that wound its way up from around the southern face. This road - originating from Barad-dur - led to the Sammath Naur, the Chamber of Fire. Step by step, Sam continued along the road, carrying Frodo until at last he could no longer bear him. They lay there for a while gathering their strength for the final crawl to the Crack of Doom.

Sauron's Eye was fixed Northward toward Udun, where the army of the West now challenged the Dark Lord. The last part of the road followed a bend to the right. They were now on the Eastern side, facing the Dark Tower. As they turned the bend, Sam was struck from behind by Gollum. When he got himself back up, he saw Frodo and Gollum locked together in a struggle. Frodo fought with a sudden fury that surprise Sam as much as it did Gollum, who at this point was "a lean, starved, haggard thing."

Soon Frodo appeared to Sam as a towering figure standing over the pititful crouching shape of Gollum. It was reminiscent of how he saw Frodo at the Emyn Muil when he tamed Smeagol. Frodo, clutching the Ring at his breast, said to Gollum sternly, "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom!" With that, he turned toward the open fissure in the mountain and walked the remaining length of the road. Now Sam could at last finish off this creature that he hated so much. His head was filled with anger and wrath and it seemed that killing Gollum was the logical thing to do. Sam held Sting, poised to strike down the miserable creature.

"But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum's shriveled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no worlds to express what he felt."

He screamed at Gollum to be off or he would kill him. But as Sam turned to join his master, the creature likewise turned back up the mountain and crept behind him, slinking among the stones. Sam entered the chamber to see Frodo on the brink of the Crack of Doom. He called to him and Frodo turned to Sam, declaring that he no longer chose to destroy the Ring. He would keep it. "The Ring is mine!" he said. It had taken complete control of Frodo and as he slipped it onto his finger he disappeared.

Now Sauron was suddenly aware of him and the Eye shifted across the plain to the eastern opening of the chamber. His vulnerability and danger was now fully revealed to him.

"From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom."

This moment of the story was long foreseen by Tolkien. In an outline dated as early as 1939, he wrote of Frodo's inability to destroy the Ring and that Gollum would take it from him: "They wrestle and Gollum takes the Ring and falls into the Crack." In later outlines, Tolkien wrote that Sam would actually push Gollum into the fiery chasm. But in the final version as published, Gollum pushes Sam aside and then wrestles with an invisible Frodo. Bringing the hobbit's right hand to his mouth, Gollum digs his teeth into his finger and rips it from his hand. Frodo cries out as he becomes visible once again and Gollum dances with glee at the recovery of his "precious". But in his delirium, Gollum steps back too far and is hurled into the fiery depths. The Ring is destroyed.

All of Mordor then rumbled. The mountain shook and began to spew forth lava. Sam carries Frodo out of the Sammath Naur and his master, though pale and worn, is himself again. The burden was gone. It was only because of Gollum that the quest was fulfilled. Frodo recalls Gandalf's words that the creature may yet have a part to play in all of this. But now they looked around them and saw the end, for they knew that escape from the mountain would be impossible.

[Chronology: March 19th through March 25th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Field Of Cormallen

(revised 11/3/06)


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 2

The Land Of Shadow
"'Now down we go, Sam,' Frodo whispered. 'Down into the valley quick, and then turn northward, as soon as ever we can.'"

According to Christopher Tolkien, based on his father's papers it seemed very clear that this chapter was written "swiftly and in a single burst of writing". In the draft there is very little that is different from the version that we know in The Return of the King. Frodo and Sam ran down the road from the gate, down around a bend and underneath a cliff to get out of sight. Then, down the eastern face of the Ephal Duath they plunged until they reached the road the ran along the bottom. Between the foot of the mountain range and the Plateau of Gorgoroth was a deep ravine in which the Morgai flowed north and south. They came to a stone bridge and had no sooner reached the far side when a "hue and cry" of Orcs came down from the direction of the Tower.

Quickly they scrambled underneath the bridge to hide. After the rush of horses and Orcs crossed the bridge and died own, they decided it was safest to travel along the length of the Morgai valley rather than up on the road. Traversing across the boulders, bramble and thick thorny briar, Sam and Frodo journeyed north. They knew at some point they would have to turn eastwards but for now they couldn't risk being seen. Looking at the map insert above, it's clear that the hobbits were less than a few days journey eastwards from reaching Mount Doom. But Tolkien's problem at this point was that the Army of the West was not due to reach the Black Gate until March 25th. By having the Plateau of Gorgoroth covered with camps of the Enemy, he forced them into a rather long detour - first Northwards, then due East and finally turning Southwest, essentially circumnavigating a loop around the valley to the Northeastern side of the mountain. What follows in this chapter are the circumstances that lead to this longer journey.

They continued for many miles, making several stops to rest. Frodo in particular was weary from the weight of the burden the hung around his neck. Since they first headed east from the cross-roads on March 10th, the sky had been covered in darkness. But now they noticed a change.

"They stood up, and then they both stared in wonder. Away to the left, southward, against a sky that was turning grey, the peaks and high ridges of the great range began to appear dark and black, visible shapes. Light was growing behind them. Slowly it crept towards the North. There was battle far above in the high spaces of the air. The billowing clouds of Mordor were being driven back, their edges tattering as a wind out of the living world came up and swept the fumes and smokes towards the dark land of their home. Under the lifting skirts of the dreary canopy dim light leaked into Mordor like pale morning through the grimed window of a prison."
It was the morning of March the 15th and the wind was coming from the south. It consoled them. Perhaps their fortunes were taking a turn for the better. Overhead, a dark shape flew out of the west towards Barad-dur. From it came "a cry of woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower."

On the westward slope of the valley they noticed an Orc-path so they crossed the stony ravine and continued on this easier road. They later encountered a gully out of which trickled a stream. Being parched from their journey, they drank their fill of the unpleasant tasting water and filled their bottles. The weight of the Orc-mail shirt was too burdensome for Frodo. In his exhaustion, he decided to discard it. Then they collapsed into sleep. When they woke up, Frodo was still weary for his sleep was uneasy. They climbed the eastern side and looked out onto Mordor where they saw many camps of Orcs. One of the largest, ordered like a city, was right below them as the plain sloped below the top of the ravine. Sauron was reassembling his armies but for what purpose they did not know. They continued for a ways along the slope, staying out of sight.

A few miles down, they heard Orc voices and they hid in a small cave as they listened. Two Orcs - one small tracker and a large soldier - were speaking. They were looking for something, or someone. From the conversation, Frodo and Sam learned that the Orcs were seeking whoever it was that escaped the Tower as well as the "gobbler with the flapping hands". It seemed that Gollum was also about. Apparently, he was following the hobbits and, because he found and moved Frodo's cast-off mail shirt, the Orcs had lost track of their scent. The tracker Orc was fretting over rumors of bad news about the war. They feared that "they've done in Number One." He meant to desert and the Orc-soldier tried to spear him. But the smaller Orc put an arrow through the soldier's eye and fled.

Frodo thought back to the maps he had studied in Rivendell of this land. He knew they were approaching a point where the northern and western ranges met in a strange way. Inside the Northwestern corner of Mordor was an open area called Udun. It was framed underneath by two spurs that came out of each range. Looking down on Udun, the mountains would appear to wrap around an area in the center similar to one that would be made by touching the index fingers and thumbs of both hands in the shape of a circle. Between the points where the thumbs would meet, was a small opening called Carach Angren, the Isenmouthe. It was through this gap that Sauron's armies were entering the dale that lay behind the Morannon, awaiting a great battle.

Seeing the Isenmouthe in the distance, Frodo decided that it would be a good point to start heading east toward the fiery mountain. While the region was crawling with Orcs, they realized it was necessary to take to the road and try to sneak by. Before they set out, however, they decided to rest. As Frodo nodded off, Sam went in search of water. He came upon a small pool and as he filled his water bottle, something caught his eye. It is notable that in the original draft, there was no mention of Gollum. But in one of the revisions, Tolkien had the tracker make the reference to the "gobbler with the flapping hands" and included at this point the following passage:
"At that moment he caught a glimpse of a black form or shadow flitting among the rocks away near Frodo's hiding-place. Biting back a cry, he leapt down from the spring and ran, jumping from stone to stone. It was a wary creature, difficult to see, but Sam had little doubt about it: he longed to get his hands on its neck. But it heard him coming and slipped quickly away. Sam thought he saw a last fleeting glimpse of it, peering back over the edge of the eastward precipice, before it ducked and disappeared."

Before he plunged into sleep, Sam resolved to be diligent in looking out for Gollum.

The next day they traveled many miles. And it wasn't long before they were overtaken by marching feet. Frodo and Sam tried to huddle off to the side of the road, hoping not to be noticed but slave-drivers spied them and, taking them for Orcs, ordered them to fall into line. They had little choice but to comply. Keeping up with the column of marching Orc was a torment for them both, but especially for Frodo. As they approached the Isenmouthe, his strength gave out. Sam tried to pull him up but his efforts were in vain. He thought they were done for.

But just at that moment, there came an unexpected bit of luck. There were other columns of Orcs heading through the gap from other directions as well. And, in the turmoil of the different marching lines merging together to fit through the opening, the hobbits fell to the ground and crawled on their hands and knees to the edges of the road. Soon they were able to dive into a shallow pit and hide. The armies continued to fill the desolate dale of Udun. It was the morning of March 19th.

Elsewhere during the War of the Ring: The day after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Captains of the West debated their course of action and two days later set out from Minas Tirith. As Frodo and Sam elude the column of Orcs, the army of the West pass through the Cross-roads, set the head of the king back upon the body of the statue and begin their journey north through Ithilien.

[Chronology: March 14th through March 19th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Mount Doom

(revised 11/1/06)


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 1

The Tower Of Cirith Ungol

"'Am I still dreaming?' he muttered. 'But the other dreams were horrible.'
'You're not dreaming at all, Master,' said Sam. 'It's real. It's me. I've come.'"

After a largely unproductive year, Tolkien set out to finish the first full draft of "The Lord of the Rings" in 1948. As late as November 1944, he had confessed to his son Christopher that he had "got the hero [Frodo] in to such a fix that not even an author will be able to extricate him without labour and difficulty" (Letter No. 91). The truth is that while Tolkien knew how this part of the story would end at Mount Doom, he hadn't the foggiest idea as to how he would get Frodo out of that Tower and manage to stretch the events over another week and half (from March 14 through March 25). By having Sam knock himself unconscious at the undergate at the end of The Two Towers, Tolkien had limited possibilities for what could happen within the Tower of Cirith Ungol. After much thought, however, he finally invented the quarrel between Shagrat and Gorbag as the necessary event to allow for Frodo's escape.

As the chapter begins, we find Sam right where we left him. Lying outside the undergate, Sam woke in bewildered pain, wondering where he was. How long he had been unconscious, he couldn't tell and from behind the doors he could faintly hear the voices of Orcs. Piecing together in his mind the events that led him to this spot, his thoughts turned to the friends he had left behind and he wondered what might be happening to them at that moment. He might have despaired at the vision of Minas Tirith being besieged, had he seen it. It was about noon of March 14th and he was determined to find his Master. So he went back the way he came, climbing back over the blockage in front of the passageway.

Exiting back out to the Pass, he began to climb the stairs that led to the Tower. For no reason in particular, he draws out the Ring and puts it on. As before, his hearing was sharpened and the sound of clashing Orcs came from the Tower. It sounded very much like Orcs were fighting among themselves. He hurried up towards the Tower and, having reached the top of the Pass, he crossed into Mordor. As he did, he took off the Ring and stared out onto the Plain of Gorgoroth with the fiery mountain looming in the distance.

It does seem curious being so close to Barad-dur that Sam's wearing of the Ring does not alert Sauron of its location. This question actually came up once in a comment toward the end of Fellowship of the Ring. I reproduced it on the "Questions & Answers" thread here (sixth question down). In a nutshell, the best explanation I've ever read is that since the Ring's power had not yet had a chance to work on Sam, his will did not "amplify" it. In a similar way, even Frodo's wearing of the Ring at The Prancing Pony wasn't able to draw Sauron's gaze as he hadn't actively possessed it for very long (though Peter Jackson changed this in his version).

In any case, now Sam could see the Tower up close. Originally written as having four great tiers, Tolkien changed this to three with a turret set on top of the third level. Each tier was smaller than the one below and, strangely, it's eastern face looked into Mordor.

"As he gazed as it suddenly Sam understood, almost with a shock, that this stronghold had been built not to keep enemies out of Mordor, but to keep them in. It was indeed one of the works of Gondor long ago, an eastern outpost of the defences of Ithilien, made when, after the Last Alliance, Men of Westernesse kept watch on the evil land of Sauron where his creatures still lurked. But as with Narchost and Carchost, the Towers of the Teeth, so here too the vigilance had failed, and treachery had yielded up the Tower to the Lord of the Ringwraiths, and now for long years it had been held by evil things. Since his return to Mordor, Sauron had found it useful; for he had few servants but many slaves of fear, and still its chief purpose as of old was to prevent escape from Mordor."

As he stood gazing into the Black Land, the Ring which now hung around his neck began to try and tempt Sam. But it was his humility and the love he felt for his Master that kept him in tune with his "hobbit-sense". He shook off the visions of strength and heroism shown him by the power of the Ring. He knew that these notions were "only a trick".

Looking up at the turret atop the Tower, he realized that the only way in was through the front gate. As he tried to pass through, two great monstrous statues emanated an invisible force that held him back. Sam took out the phial of Galadriel and its light broke the spell of the Watchers. As Sam passed the gate, a shrill cry and the harsh ring of a bell signaled his unbidden entrance. But there was no answer to the alarm. All around him were bodies of slain Orcs, some bearing the Red Eye of Barad-dur while others were marked by a symbol of Minas Morgul: a "Moon disfigured with a ghastly face of death". It occurred to Sam that the fight he heard could very well have come about over Frodo's Mithril coat.

As he began to climb the stairs, a small Orc spotted him and, fearing that the hobbit was the rumored "Elf-warrior" with the deadly blade that wounded Shelob, he turned and ran back up the stairs in terror. Sam followed all the way up to the open parapet of the third level. Inside, he heard Shagrat speaking to the smaller Orc, whom he referrred to as Snaga. In Appendix F, Tolkien writes that "Snaga" means "slave" in the Black Speech and he doesn't indicate here whether this is truly the orc's name or if it is being used more as a general form of address. Here Sam learned that his guess about the Orcs' quarrel had been correct and it was Gorbag who lost the fight. According to Shagrat, it was Gorbag who started the struggle "trying to pinch that pretty shirt". The Captain of the Tower was commanding Snaga to return to Lugburz (the Dark Tower) to send news of what had transpired with the Orc patrol of Minas Morgul, being sure to point out who was at fault. But Snaga refused to go and Shagrat chased him out of the Tower and around the parapet. Under Shagrat's arm, there was a large black bundle. The smaller Orc eluded the hunter but was ultimately forced to escape back inside.

The body of Gorbag, apparently not quite dead, made a sudden move towards Shagrat and his precious prize but was too weak from his wounds. Shagrat finished off the Morgul Orc with his knife. At that moment, Sam decided to charge him with Sting. Shagrat snarled at him but, realizing that he couldn't both fight him and hold on to his bag of tokens, leapt aside and ran down the stairs. He would go to Barad-dur himself. And the contents of this bag would turn out to be what was presented to the army of the West by the Mouth of Sauron.

Now Sam knew there was still one Orc left with Frodo and he went back into the Tower. Once inside he climbed the stairs up into the turret. Inside, however, was nothing but a passageway that ran through its middle. Sam pondered where Frodo could be and suddenly Snaga appeared from a door at the other end and thrust a ladder to the ceiling. The uppermost chamber of the turret could only be reached by a trap door and the Orc soon disappeared up through it. The next thing Sam heard was the crack of a whip.

In a fury, Sam scrambled up the ladder into the upper chamber to see Snaga about to bring down the whip on Frodo a second time. He leapt across the room and slashed at Snaga's arm with Sting. The Orc whirled around and, trying to escape through the trap door, fell down to the floor of the level below and was killed. Sam roused his Master back to consciousness. Frodo tells Sam that the Orcs took everything (meaning the Ring, as well) and that the quest had failed. "No, not everything, Mr. Frodo" said Sam, producing the Ring from around his neck. Then he offered to share the burden with him.

But for a moment, Sam appeared to Frodo as a foul Orc holding his treasure and he grabbed it away from him, calling him a thief. When the moment had passed, Frodo realizes that it is only Sam.

"'O Sam!' cried Frodo. 'What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don't mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can't be altered. You can't come between me and this doom.'"

Sam was taken aback, but he understood and he knew that they had to leave quickly if they were to escape. Searching among the dead Orcs, he found some helmets and armor for them to wear so that they might enter Mordor in disguise. They also found the lembas bread untouched among Frodo's things, thought the Orcs had taken what was left of the food that Faramir gave them.

They went down the stairs to the lower level and there again the Watchers blocked the gate. Drawing out the phial and calling the name of the Valar, Elbereth, Sam once again broke their spell and they ran through. The wall of the gate crumbled behind them and out of the dark sky a Nazgul swooped down towards the Tower.

Elsewhere during the War of the Ring: The City of Minas Tirith is being bombarded by great weapons, hurling projectiles behind its walls. Gandalf is commanding the defenses of the City. Denethor has seen visions of Frodo in the Tower and grieves for Faramir as he lay with a burning fever. Theoden is meeting with Ghan-buri-ghan in the Druadan Forest, preparing for their journey through the Stonewain Valley. The Shadow Host defeats the Men of Umbar at Pelargir and Aragorn sails the black ships north up the Anduin. The Elves of Mirkwood and Lorien prepare for assaults upon their lands by Sauron's forces.

[Chronology: March 14th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Land Of Shadow

(revised 10/31/06)


Book Five Chapters

Introduction to Return Of The King

1) Minas Tirith

2) The Passing Of The Grey Company

3) The Muster Of Rohan

4) The Siege Of Gondor

5) The Ride Of The Rohirrim

6) The Battle Of The Pelennor Fields

7) The Pyre Of Denethor

8) The Houses Of Healing

9) The Last Debate

10) The Black Gate Opens


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 10

The Black Gate Opens
"The two vast iron doors of the Black Gate under its frowning arch were fast closed. Upon the battlement nothing could be seen. All was silent but watchful."

And so, two days later on March 18th, the army of the West assembled and prepared to launch their challenge against Mordor. Fortunately, the company of Orcs and Easterlings that the Rohirrim had avoided in Anorien had broken and fled toward Cair Andros. Scouts reported that no enemies were in the area, so Minas Tirith would be in little danger in their absence. All of the Free Peoples would be represented among the host. For the Shire-folk, Pippin would accompany them. Merry was not allowed to go because of his injuries, to his dismay. The hobbit watched as they marched eastward towards the ruined city of Osgiliath. It occurred to him that everyone he cared for had gone away to the Black Land.

Many craftsman had been working feverishly to repair the crossings across the Anduin at Osgiliath. By evening those on horseback arrived at the Cross-roads. A fanfare of horns was blown to announce the arrival of the Lords of Gondor, who now reclaimed the land of Ithilien. Aragorn wore a uniform bearing the insignia of the White Tree and the Seven Stars of Gondor. When they came upon the statue of the king that Frodo and Sam had seen on their approach to Mordor, the men removed the ugly stone that the Orcs put on it and set into its place the head which had been cast down. It was still crowned with white and golden flowers.

Some had suggested that they assail Minas Morgul and take the Pass of Cirith Ungol to enter Mordor. But Gandalf, being aware of a great evil that lurked there counseled against the idea. Besides, he understood that if this was the way that Frodo had taken, it was crucial that they didn't draw the gaze of the Eye to that place. They did, however, leave a company of men to set a guard at the Cross-roads should it need to be defended. It was still another hundred miles or so to the Morannon, so they continued up the Harad road.

For several days, they marched and at one point they skirmished with a force of Orcs who tried to ambush them. But the army of the West dispatched them easily. Gandalf observed that the attack was probably nothing more than a feint designed to give them a false guess at the Enemy's weakness and draw them on.

As they got further north, they noticed the Nazgul following them astride their fell beasts like vultures searching for carrion. But they made no noises and kept their distance, often circling them from so high up that only Legolas could see them. On the fourth day out from the Cross-roads and the sixth from Minas Tirith - March 23rd - they reached the northern borders of Ithilien. Several of the younger men were overtaken by the horror of the desolate lands laying before Mordor. Aragorn took pity on them and released them to head west to Cair Andros, commanding them to re-take the outpost if they could and hold to its defense. With their departure, combined with the absence of the men they had left at the Cross-roads, they now numbered some six thousand. The army marched through the following day advancing slowly and coming around southeastwards. At last, they saw the Black Gate in the distance. They made camp for the night. It was March 24th.

Now it's important to point out that, unbenownst to the reader, there are other battles that were being waged beyond the southern lands of Middle-Earth. It will be revealed later by Gandalf in Book Six that all the Free Peoples had endured attacks ordered by Mordor. The arm of Sauron had a long reach. On March 22th, an army of Orcs striking from Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood launched a third and final assault against Lothlorien. The Elves, however, decimated this force. Galadriel then led a crossing of the Anduin and attacked Dol Guldur, throwing down its walls.

On March 17th, as the army of the West was being assembled, a host of Sauron's allies attacked the City of Dale in the valley below Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, in the north. After a great battle lasting three days, the Men and Dwarves of the those lands retreated into the mountain which was then besieged. Kind Brand of Dale, grandson of Bard the Bowman, and King Dain Ironfoot of the Dwarves were killed in the battle.

Dain had become King-Under-The-Mountain at Erebor after Thorin Oakenshield was killed in the Battle of the Five Armies as is told in "The Hobbit". They were still under siege on the morning of March 25th, when Aragorn led his army up to the Black Gate. At first all was silent, even after they called for the Lord of the Black Land to come forth. Suddenly, an emissary from the Dark Tower emerged. He was the Lieutenant of Barad-dur, the "Mouth of Sauron".

This character went through a bit of an evolution as Tolkien wrote and re-wrote his drafts. At first, it was to be the Witch-King that rode forth from the Gate (indicating that a different result was originally planned for him on the Pelennor Fields). Christopher Tolkien describes the development of the Mouth of Sauron not as a Ringwraith but rather as a living man:

"No more is said in the draft of the history of the Lieutenant of Baraddur, the nameless Mouth of Sauron, than that 'It is told that he was a living man, who being captured as a youth became the servant of the Dark Tower, and because of his cunning grew high in the Lord's favour...' In the fair copy this was repeated, but was changed subsequently to: 'But it is said that he was a renegade, son of a house of wise and noble men of Gondor, who becoming enamoured of evil knowledge entered the service of the Dark Tower, and because of his cunning [and the fertile cruelty of his mind] [and servility] he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour...' (these phrases being thus bracketed in the original)."

The final version in The Return of the King reads as follows:

"But it was told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Numenoreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron's domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any orc."
The Mouth of Sauron taunted Gandalf as "old greybeard" and presented a bag of tokens that he was instructed to give to him. He produces Sam's sword, an Elven cloak with a brooch from Lorien and the mithril-mail that Frodo wore. He says they belonged to the "spy from the little rat-land of the Shire" that Sauron now held captive. The Messenger declares that in order to secure Frodo's release they must agree to withdraw their forces, cede control of all the lands east of the Anduin to Sauron's control and offer the western lands as tributary to Mordor. The terms, he insisted, were non-negotiable.

To fully appreciate what must have been going through the minds of Gandalf and Aragorn, we must remember that they, like the first-time reader, know nothing of Frodo's or Sam's fate. But the words of the Mouth of Sauron reveal clearly that Sauron does not have the Ring and that he does not know about Sam, otherwise he wouldn't be wasting his time trying to parlay with the army of the West. Gandalf understands that, even if what he says is true and that Frodo has been captured, Sam may indeed now have the Ring and he could be continuing the Quest. So while hope is faint, it still exists. But this does not lessen their sorrow at the idea of Frodo's suffering.

With the power of his upraised hand, the wizard seizes the tokens and rejects the terms of the Lieutenant whose face becomes "twisted with amazement and anger." Even as the Mouth of Sauron turns and gallops back to the Gate, the signals are given for Sauron's forces to attack. Out of the gates, and down from the hills a great host of Orcs, Trolls and Easterlings pours fourth, surrounding the men of the West.

Standing atop two slag hills, they looked around them as the enemy closed in from all sides. The Nazgul began to swoop in with their terrible cries. The battle was joined. A great troll attacks Beregond and Pippin comes to his rescue, driving his Westernesse blade into the exposed hide of its loins. The Troll collapses, black blood pouring from the wound. Pippin sees the end coming as the army of Mordor closes in. Among the clamor, he hears the crying of eagles!

In a moment oddly reminiscent of "The Hobbit", Pippin hears voices calling out, "The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!" His thoughts went to Bilbo and his own adventure of so many years ago and then he saw no more.

Here ends Book Five of The Return of the King. The story concludes in Book Six, starting with Chapter One: The Tower of Cirith Ungol

[Chronology: March 18th through March 25th 3019 T.A.]

(revised 10/26/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 9

The Last Debate
"'I do not counsel prudence. I said victory could not be achieved by arms. I still hope for victory, but not by arms.'"

The next morning was a fair, clear day. Legolas and Gimli entered Minas Tirith and presented quite a sight to its inhabitants - the fair-faced Elf alongside the brooding Dwarf. Gimli comments on the good stone work of the city and observes that it has fallen into disrepair. Legolas sees the lack of gardens and growing things among the stone-work. Both resolve that, if Aragorn comes into his own, they will enlist the skills of their respective peoples to rebuild the beauty of this once-proud city. They bring a message to Eomer and Imrahil from Aragorn that a council is to be held at the encampment outside the city walls.

They are led to the Houses of Healing where they meet their hobbit friends. Pippin implores them to recount their journey with Aragorn. Gimli doesn't wish to speak of it, but Legolas had no fear of the "shadows of men" deeming them to be powerless and frail. He shared the tale starting with the passage through the Paths of the Dead. From the Stone of Erech, where Aragorn summoned the Shadow Host, they journeyed several days across the southern provinces of Gondor. Across the river Ringlo, they entered into the land of Lebennin. Between there and Minas Tirith they had to cross several more rivers starting with the river Gilrain. Lebennin itself means "five rivers" (leben meaning "five" and nin meaning "waters").

The encountered some men of Gondor fighting with folk of the Haradrim over the ford at Gilrain. At the sight of the Army of the Dead approaching, members of both sides fled. Angbor, the Lord of Lamedon, was not afraid and met with Aragorn who asked that he bring whatever force of his men he could gather and follow them to the port city of Pelargir on the Anduin. For at Pelargir, the black ships were assembled.

When they arrived to find the main fleet of Umbar, the evil men laughed at the sight of the Grey Company approaching, which numbered so few. As Legolas recounts:

"But Aragorn halted and cried with a great voice: "Now Come! By the Black Stone I call you!" And suddenly the Shadow Host that had hung back at the last came up like a grey tide, sweeping all away before it. Faint cries I heard, and dim horns blowing, and a murmur as of countless far voices: it was like the echo of some forgotten battle in the Dark Years long ago. Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them."

The men of Umbar were driven into madness with fear and many leapt overboard to escape the dread army. Many drowned and the rest fled south back towards their own lands. Aboard the ships there were captives, men of Gondor who had been taken in raids and made to serve as slaves of the Southrons. Many of them were chained to the oars or locked away below decks. Aragorn and the Dunedain freed and comforted them. Now all the black fleet was under Aragorn's command. He then spoke to the Dead on the banks of the Anduin. Aragorn declared that their oaths had been fulfilled and he bid them to depart and be at peace. The King of the Dead came forward and broke his spear, casting it down. He then bowed to Aragorn and, as he turned away, the whole host vanished as if they had been blown away by a strong wind. The Men who once haunted the mountains were seen no more.

Now that the fear of the Dead had been removed, many men from throughout the lands of South Gondor came to join the Grey Company. Some Aragorn took with him aboard the ships. The rest he bid to follow him up the Anduin on foot towards Minas Tirith. Slowly the ships passed north up the river under the power of the oars. But they were going against the current and Aragorn feared that the would be too late. From afar, they could see a red glow and they knew Minas Tirith was burning.

But in the early hours of the morning of March 15th, a fresh wind from the Sea blew northwards, breaking up the darkness above them. This was the same wind that was perceived by Ghan-buri-Ghan as the Rohirrim emerged from the Druadan Forest. So they unfurled their sails and it helped drive them faster towards the city. Was this change in the wind, which had the effect of blowing away Sauron's manufactured darkness, an intervention by the Vala Manwe, or perhaps by Eru Iluvatar himself? Tolkein does not discuss this as a possible explanation but certainly it is implied. By daybreak they had reached the Harlond just in time to reinforce the defenders and help drive the enemy from the Pelennor Fields.

But Legolas and Gimli had seen the grave faces of Aragorn and Gandalf that morning and they knew that Mordor still threatened the Free Peoples, despite the victory. There was a meeting taking place to decide what to do next.

Assembled were the White Wizard, the sons of Elrond, Eomer, Imrahil and Aragorn. Gandalf told them that they had but two choices before them: to stay and await the onset of another siege or to march out across the river to certain defeat. While prudence called for the former, this was not his council. He recommended the latter, but for a different purpose than trying to defeat the forces of Mordor. There was still the matter of the Ring. Frodo and Sam were heading into the Enemy's lands. Sauron was now in doubt. He had seen the revelation of Aragorn and the sword that had once cut the Ring from his hand reforged. His black captain had been destroyed. And the "winds of fortune" had, literally, turned against him.

Gandalf declared that they must draw the Eye of Sauron away from Mordor. They should send out an army to lure his forces to the Black Gate. Sauron might believe that one among them wielded the Ring and he would undoubtedly empty his lands of his remaining strength to meet this threat. This would give Frodo a better chance to reach Mount Doom and destroy the Ring.

"We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dur be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is out duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless - as we surely shall, if we sit here - and know as we die that no new age shall be."

It was a grim choice to ride to certain death on only a faint hope for the Ringbearer's success. Aragorn thought, but not for long. Though the choice was difficult it was all too clear. He resolved to go and follow this plan. One by one, the others agreed. They resolved to assemble a force that was large enough to challenge battle, while leaving enough men to guard the city against an attack from the Orcs on the West Road, should it come. They would leave in two days time at the latest, when the four thousand or so men that Angbor led up the Anduin was expected to arrive. Their army would number six thousand on foot and one thousand on horseback, totaling seven thousand in all.

Aragorn knew that one way or another this would be the endgame.

"Then he drew Anduril and held it up glittering in the sun. 'You shall not be sheathed again until the last battle is fought' he said."

[Chronology: March 16th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Black Gate Opens

(revised 10/26/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 8

The Houses Of Healing
"But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgul. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died."
The chapter opens through Merry's perspective. The battle is over with the lower parts of the City still "wrapped in a smoldering reek". The wounded were being tended to. Merry, his right arm cold and lifeless, walked behind a procession bearing Theoden and Eowyn in a daze. The ascent up towards the top levels of the City seemed to take forever and at times he thought perhaps he was in a dream. He almost felt as if he were journeying to a tomb, where he they would lay him to rest. His dream-like state was then broken by a voice.

In the original draft it is Gandalf who finds him, saying "Well, Meriadoc, where are you going?" Later, Tolkien change this scene to have Pippin find his lost friend. Merry asks where Theoden and Eowyn were taken. He had fallen behind and the wizard sent Pippin out to look for him. Stricken by the "Black Shadow" from stabbing the Witch-King, Merry is delirious and feels all going dark.
"'Lean on me, Merry lad!' said Pippin. 'Come now! Foot by foot. It's not far.'

'Are you going to bury me?' said Merry.

'No, indeed!' said Pippin, trying to sound cheerful, though his heart was wrung with fear and pity. 'No, we are going to the Houses of Healing.'"
When they arrive, Gandalf was pleased to see them. He says how lucky for all of them that Elrond agreed to his request that both of the young hobbits accompany the Fellowship, otherwise "far more grievous would the evils of this day have been". So Faramir, Eowyn and Merry were all laid in beds and tended to. But their sicknesses required healing that were beyond their skills. Faramir was fighting a poison in his system delivered by an enemy arrow and both Eowyn and Merry were suffering from a malady brought on by their encounter with the Nazgul.

The eldest of the women who served in the house, Ioreth, lamented that what they needed were the skills of the Kings of old. "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known" she said, repeating a bit of old lore. Gandalf tells her that there is hope for indeed a King had returned to Gondor. At that moment, Aragorn was meeting with Eomer and Imrahil near the Gates of the City. He is reluctant to enter as one who is to claim the throne, for Minas Tirith had so long been in charge of the Stewards that he feared that doubt and debate would distract them while Mordor was still a looming threat. He asks Imrahil to bring him to Denethor as merely a "captain of the Rangers", for he did not yet know that the Steward was dead. He also orders the standard to be rolled up and gives all tokens of the North-kingdom to the sons of Elrond for safe keeping.

When they approach the guards, Aragorn learns of Denethor's fate and that Faramir is gravely ill, lying in the Houses of Healing. Both he and Eomer are also relieved to find out that Eowyn is not dead, as they had feared. Aragorn asks to be taken to them and he tells Prince Imrahil to serve as ruler of the City until Faramir awakens.

He first went to Faramir. Knowing he would need whatever power and skill he could muster for the task before him, he wishes Elrond were there "for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power". It's interesting that Tolkien has Aragorn use the words "our race". Most readers forget that Aragorn's blood line traces ultimately back to Elrond's brother, Elros. Each of them were half-elven and were given the choice of which race, Men or Elves, that they wished to be. Elros chose to be mortal and from him the race of Numenoreans was descended. So the powers of healing that Elrond has are within Aragorn as well. In his ancestry, the races of Men and Elves are tied together.

Aragorn asks Ioreth for an herb called athelas. However, she doesn't recognize it until he uses the common name for it: kingsfoil. She wasn't aware that this plant had healing properties but sets out to find the herb-master of the Houses of Healing to ask him. When she returns with him, he tells Aragorn that they have none on hand but that they will search for it. Aragorn then went to Faramir.
"And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost."
At last, Bergil came in with some kingsfoil, though it has been cut for two weeks and wasn't fresh. Aragorn assured him that it would do. Crushing the plant and mixing it in hot water, Aragorn released its sweet fragrance and it filled the room. After a short time, Faramir stirred. When he opened his eyes to see Aragorn, he seemed to know who his healer was though he had never met him before. "My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?", he said. Aragorn tells him to rest and gain back his strength. He bid him farewell for now, however, for there were others who needed him.

As soon as Aragorn left, Ioreth exclaimed that Faramir had called him King. And he had the hands of a healer! Soon, word began to spread throughout the City that a King had returned to Gondor!

Next, he went to Eowyn. In her case, much depended on Eowyn herself. Aragorn could heal her body but if she awoke to despair then she would not survive. As Aragorn began to heal her, she began to breathe deeply and steadily.Repeating his use of the athelas, he applied the steaming water to her cold right arm. In speaking earlier to Eomer, Aragorn said:
"Few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man's heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned. Sorrow and pity have followed me ever since I left her desperate in Dunharrow and rode to the Paths of the Dead; and no fear upon that way was so present as the fear for what might befall her. And yet, Eomer, I say to you that she loves you more truly than me; for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan."
For this reason, as the life began to return to Eowyn, Aragorn put her hand in Eomer's and stepped away. Eomer called to her and Eowyn opened her eyes.

Tolkien's first outline had Eowyn die on the Pelennor Fields. From his notes summarizing the events of March 15th: "Theoden falls from horse sorely wounded; he is saved by Merry and Eowyn, but sortie from Gate does not reach them in time, before Eowyn is slain." Indeed in at least three other early outlines, Eowyn and Theoden are both set to die on the battlefield. Why Tolkien ultimately changed this is not made clear, but it probably has to do with this chapter in which Aragorn heals Eowyn, thereby giving more evidence of his claim to the throne of Gondor as the returning King. My other theory is that having Eowyn fall in love with Aragorn made his relationship to Arwen more complicated so having Eowyn die took care of that. Ultimately, he was able to come up with a way to have her live and still find happiness. In any event, I'm sure I'm not alone in my gratitude to the professor for not killing her off.

Then Aragorn moved on to Merry. It wasn't long before the hobbit was revived and asking for something to eat. At first he says he will never smoke again now that Theoden has died. Since he never had a chance to talk of herb-lore to the King as they had planned, he feared that he wouldn't be able to smoke again without feeling the sadness of his loss. But Aragorn tells Merry to dwell on the memory of his service to Theoden and that those memories should be glad and honorable to the end of his days.

By this time Aragorn is tired but since word had spread of his healing activities, many came to him asking for his aid with the other wounded. He had not slept or eaten since taking the Paths of the Dead but he nonetheless labored well into the night. When his work was done, he returned to the tent he had set up before the Gate of the City and slept. By now all of the people of Minas Tirith had heard of the return of the King. And because of the green stone that he wore, they named him Elfstone.
"And so the name which it was foretold at his birth that he should bear was chosen for him by his own people."
[Chronology: March 15th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Last Debate

(revised 10/25/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 7

The Pyre Of Denethor
"'Denethor has gone to the Tombs', said Pippin, 'and he has taken Faramir, and he says we are all to burn, and he will not wait, and they are to make a pyre and burn him on it, and Faramir as well.'"
Meanwhile, as the main battle takes place on the Pelennor Fields, there is another battle - for the life of Faramir - going on inside the Citadel. We return to the White Wizard after the Witch-King abandons the Gate. Pippin is hopeful about the sound of the horns and is never able again to hear a horn blow in the distance without feeling the same emotion. But the thought of Denethor and Faramir breaks the spirit of the moment. He begs Gandalf to return with him to the Tower because he fears for Faramir's life.

Gandalf is torn. He feels he must ride off to battle but Pippin tells him of what he has witnessed. The wizard knows that if he goes with Pippin, others may die. But he must save Faramir! Catching the hobbit up onto Shadowfax, Gandalf rides swiftly towards the top of the city. Finding the door to the building at the rear of the sixth level, they come to the Rath Dinen, or the "Silent Street". It leads to the Houses of the Dead where the tombs of the Kings and the Stewards are kept.

Gandalf calls for the soldiers of the Guard to "stay this madness". He springs up the steps and enters the chamber to behold the Lord of the City. Denethor's sword drawn, but, using an unseen power, Gandalf lifts it away. The wizard asks for Faramir. The Steward tells him that he lies with his flesh burning from fever, but he says soon they both will burn, by fire. So Gandalf rides forth, climbs the pile of wood that was constructed for the pyre and carries Faramir away. Denethor despairs that all is lost. He pulls out from its hiding place a Palantir!
"'Pride and despair!' he cried. 'Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against a Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves'"
Denethor accuses Gandalf of wishing to rule in his place. He tells the wizard of his conversations with Pippin and how he manipulated the hobbit into divulging the names and purposes of his companions in the Fellowship. He refuses to allow "this Ranger of the North to supplant me." In Tolkien's original draft, Denethor learned about Aragorn from the Palantir and was aware that he was the one aboard the black ship and what his coming meant. Christopher Tolkien writes:
"As first written, the different view of Denethor's knowledge of Aragorn and the black fleet is preserved, though changed later on the manuscript to the final form [in Return of the King]"
The version we know today uses Denethor's knowledge of the Corsairs as a final proof that Sauron's forces are too great to withstand. As he says in the passage quoted above "even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails", indicating he did not know that it was Aragorn and men of the southern fiefs aboard the ships.

At this point, Denethor leaps atop the table covered with wood and oil and, snatching a torch, he ignites the pyre. With both hands he holds the Palantir as he burns to death. Here there is one other minor change to Tolkien's first writing. In the original text Gandalf closes the door and says "Let the Stewards burn, their days are over". But this seemed a bit cold and perhaps a little out of character for Gandalf. Tolkien changed this to the final version, which reads:
"'So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion,' said Gandalf. Then to Beregond and the Lord's servants that stood there aghast. 'And so pass also the days of Gondor that you have known; for good or evil they are ended.'"
They carry Faramir to the Houses of Healing and along the way they hear a great cry coming up from the field. This terrible shrill sound was the last cry of the Witch-King as Merry drives his blade into the back of his leg. And Gandalf's heart was lifted up. He looked out as the light grew clearer and the sun broke through the clouds.

Later Gandalf reflects on the Palantir that was in Denethor's possession. Long had he suspected that the seeing stone of Minas Anor (the original name of Minas Tirith) was not lost, but rather hidden away in the Tower. With the Palantir, Denethor learned of the victory of Rohan at Helm's Deep and against Saruman. He also learned of the multiple forces that Sauron had sent from Mordor, including the black fleet. And the last vision that Sauron showed him was of Frodo locked in the Tower of Cirith Ungol and Denethor had believed that, having captured the hobbit, the Enemy now had the Ring. Sauron could not show things in the seeing stone that were false, but he could show Denethor only what he wanted, causing the Steward to give up hope.

As Gandalf looked out on the Pelennor Fields, he saw a great smoke where once there was fire. He saw that the great battle was over.

[Chronology: March 15th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Houses Of Healing

(revised 10/24/06)