Feb 8 2010 5:10pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.I, “Minas Tirith”

cover of The Return of the KingBefore we get started with The Return of the King (home stretch, everyone!), I have pretty awesome news. I’m going to be on several panels at Boskone this coming weekend, including

The Problem of Glorfindel—and Other Issues in Tolkien

Tolkien’s elves never re-used names (they were immortal, after all) yet a Glorfindel lived and died in the First Age of Middle-Earth and another was a character in Lord of the Rings six thousand years later—what happened? One of the joys of Tolkien’s world is that it is so well-realized that minor anomalies (which in a lesser writer would be assumed to be sloppiness) only make it seem more real, since the history of the real world also abounds in puzzles. Enjoy a walk through Middle-Earth’s lesser-known byways. Who was Eldest: Treebeard or Tom Bombadil? What were orcs, actually, since Morgoth could not create anything new? Why are the wood-elves such jerks in The Hobbit? Whatever happened to Ungoliant? Arwen became mortal, but what happened to the sons of Elrond when he took ship for Valinor? Where did Sauron hide the One Ring when he was taken captive to Númenor? Let’s take the time to explore these and other intriguing curiosities of Middle Earth.

Mary Kay Kare, Kate Nepveu, Mark L. Olson (moderator), Tom Shippey

Not to take anything away from Mary Kay or Mark, both of whom are very smart people, but: I’m going to be on a panel with Tom Shippey. As in, the scholar who wrote The Road to Middle-earth and J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. You know, that Tom Shippey. (Eee!)

And it’s almost entirely because of you guys: not only do you keep me going and make this project a lot of fun, but I’ll be able to bring your perspectives to this discussion—indeed, I really want to. So let’s hear it: what would you want to talk about, or hear other people (like Tom Shippey!) talk about, in relation to that description?

If you’re in the vicinity of Boston, the panel is on Friday February 12th at 9:00 p.m.; Friday-only memberships are just $15. Directions and more information at Boskone’s website. (And if you’re there for more than just Friday, feel free to say hi to me; here’s where I’ll be, and here’s what I look like, except less pale.)

And now for the usual discussion of the chapter, with spoilers for the entire book and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Pippin and Gandalf arrive in Gondor after seeing the beacons lit and are immediately brought to Denethor. Gandalf cautions Pippin before they enter not to mention Aragorn, and Pippin is astonished to hear that Aragorn would claim the kingship. Denethor asks Pippin how he survived when Boromir did not, and in response Pippin swears service to him. Denethor spends an hour questioning Pippin (who cannot evade all reference to Aragorn) while ignoring and angering Gandalf.

After they leave, Gandalf goes to a council. Pippin is shown around by Beregond, a member of the Guard: they visit Shadowfax, have another breakfast, and watch the city’s evacuation while sharing stories of Gondor and of Pippin’s travels. Despair touches them briefly when they hear and feel a Nazgûl pass over, but they shake it off with thoughts of Gandalf and Faramir, respectively. Pippin then spends the afternoon making friends with Beregond’s son, Bergil, who brings him to see the arrival of soldiers from the outlying areas.

Pippin returns to his and Gandalf’s room at night and goes to bed. He is woken by Gandalf, who says he will take Pippin to Denethor not at dawn, but when the summons comes: “The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.”


I really like this chapter, and I always have. It’s great to see Pippin again and the ways he’s changed, especially by inference from the way other people see him. I like the introduction to Minas Tirith. And I—well, I don’t like Denethor, but I have a great deal of sympathy for him.

The other thing about this chapter overall is that I realized once again just how terrible a reader I was as a child (and I suspect may still be in some ways), because so much the description felt brand-new to me. There’s paragraphs and paragraphs of geography and architecture! Did I really just skim right over it all these years to get to conversation? I fear I must have. *hangs head in shame*

* * *

The chapter starts with the ride to Gondor, which is just sketched, with Pippin remembering the key events briefly as he wakes at the start of the chapter. What I like about this section (besides its brevity) is the way it shows how Pippin is still feeling the effects of looking in the palantír. He wakes fully at that memory, and suddenly everything becomes frightening: he hears “menacing voices” on the wind; he mistakes the moon’s rising for “a blaze of yellow fire”; and he jumps to the conclusion that the beacons are dragons. He does pretty well once he’s distracted by Minas Tirith (except for one incident), so it’s important that we get this reminder early of what he just experienced in his chronology, but was a whole book back for us.

Another reminder comes in this section, when the narrative tells us that Pippin “wondered where Frodo was, and if he was already in Mordor, or if he was dead; and he did not know that Frodo from far away looked on that same moon as it set beyond Gondor ere the coming of the day.” This alone didn’t clue me into where the timelines were relative to each other, but there’s a later mention that Frodo is in Ithilien, which did.

* * *

The arrival at Minas Tirith. Do you suppose Gandalf was attempting to tweak Pippin and get him interested in things again by referring to him as “a very valiant man”? Or was he just looking for the shortest way possible past the guards? I lean toward the latter, with the former being a happy bonus. The bit from the Appendices about Gandalf “rekindl(ing) hearts in a world that grows chill” was much on my mind this chapter, as I noticed how much time he spends rousing those around him to readiness: the men at the gate, the men at the walls (“the end of Gondor that you have known”), and of course Denethor. But in heartening ways too, like laughing with Pippin after he’s questioned by Denethor, and even by example: when Pippin despairs upon hearing a Nazgûl in the air, he comes out of it by saying “Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us.”

Pippin, of course, denies both that he is a man and that he is valiant, “save perhaps now and again by necessity.” He spends a lot of time in this chapter disclaiming status as a warrior and not wanting to talk about himself. I love that this isn’t false modesty, either. (It’s so nice to really like Pippin, after he got on my nerves a bit early.) I’m puzzled what he was thinking, though, when he just blurted out Boromir’s death: “And Boromir of your City was with us, and he saved me in the snows of the North, and at the last he was slain defending me from many foes.” It doesn’t even flow well from the previous sentence about traveling with Frodo, besides lacking emotional sense. That, alas, does not ring true for me at all.

* * *

Now we get a long-ish description of the geography, including that “The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner [grain storage and processing], fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin.” Of course it then goes on to say that “the herdsmen and husbandmen that dwelt there were not many,” and that people lived either in the City, near the mountains, or near the sea. But I’ve heard the sources of Middle-earth’s food questioned so often that the mention of agriculture caught my eye. I still have no idea if the space mentioned would be sufficient to feed the City (which, we’re told later, is much depopulated) or if—as would be entirely unremarkable—foods needed to be imported from other areas of Gondor, and honestly there’s so little data to work with here that I would be very suspicious of any numbers that purported to be definitive. But there is at least a gesture in that direction here.

We also have yet another mention of “tall . . . and proud with sea-grey eyes” = “high blood” and “short and swarthy” = low blood, just in case we forgot.

And to close this section, a serious high-fantasy moment:

Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost wall, shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets.

Where do I sign up for the Tower Guard?

* * *

Only one thing about the description of Minas Tirith’s structure struck me as warranting comment here. The narrative states that it was “not to be taken by a host of enemies . . . unless some foe could come behind and scale the lower skirts of Mindolluin, and so come upon the narrow shoulder that joined the Hill of Guard to the mountain mass.” Normally I would consider that a big flashing sign saying “plot point, get your plot point here!”, but as best I can recall it never does become one. I can’t decide if that should get points for misdirection/nonobviousness or lose points for being a gratuitous red herring.

* * *

Pippin is amazed that Aragorn is heir to the throne of Gondor, and it took me more time than I care to admit to figure out if he should be. First I checked the Council of Elrond (not present) and the passage of the Argonath (also not present), before I finally remembered the flight after the palantír, when Gandalf tells him that Sauron may learn that Aragorn claimed to be a heir of Elendil. It was rather buried in a long speech about how they were heading into greater danger, though, so I personally forgive Pippin for not connecting the dots there. If there’s somewhere else, I can’t think of it.

(Also: nice work, Gandalf, predicting Aragorn will come to Gondor “in some way that no one expects.”)

* * *

The Citadel is beautiful but cold, with the dead tree outside and nothing but stone in the great hall, for all that it may be in the shapes of flora and fauna. That last seems thematic enough that I’ll try to remember and check the descriptions of the decorations after Aragorn is crowned.

And now Denethor. What do people think of him? As I said, I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for him, seeing him as a great leader and a tragic figure who has broken under pressures and responsibilities that are more than anyone should bear and that few could resist. Which is not to say that I approve of his actions, including the minor choice to rake poor Pippin over the coals.

I think of Pippin swearing to Denethor as another high-fantasy moment: the heartfelt stirring gesture, the formal language of the offer, the swearing on the sword, the rhythm of the oath (“until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end”). And I pretty much eat it up with a spoon. (Note that it’s “Peregrin son of Paladin,” which can’t possibly be a coincidence.)

* * *

More psychic powers in this chapter, with the duel o’ wills between Gandalf and Denethor (“as if reading the other’s mind”), and Gandalf saying that Denethor can perceive what is in the minds of those far off. I still have a hard time feeling like this fits in my conception of the human characters, honestly, but I’m getting there.

Speaking of Gandalf: scholars of mythology and religion, is he echoing/evoking something specific when he says to Denethor, “For I also am a steward. Did you not know?” It has a weight to it that made it stand out for me. Or perhaps it’s because just before this, Pippin wonders “what” Gandalf is, and so this is A Clue.

* * *

I mentioned seeing Pippin from outside, by inference from other characters’ reactions to him. Beregond is the most obvious example of this, his amazement at Pippin’s stories and modesty. But I do think that Beregond is pretty impressive himself, to so solemnly treat Pippin from the beginning. I mean, this is partly because my culture has an unfortunate short = comical tendency; nevertheless, to respond to a questiona bout breakfast, from someone who looks about nine years old, with a grave remark that the asker must be an “old campaigner”—well, that’s courtesy. Or a really overwhelming faith in the judgment of your lord.

* * *

I had gotten confused about the history of Osgiliath earlier, so I should note here that Beregond says it was won back as an outpost when Denethor was young, lost less than a year ago, and then won back by Boromir only in part.

While we’re doing big picture, Beregond also mentions the corsairs of Umbar and the rumors of movements “in the far East beyond the Inland Sea”—which I don’t think I know anything about—and in Mirkwood and the South. Again, setting up the context and the pieces early.

* * *

I feel like I’m slighting Bergil and the Captains of the Outlands, but I don’t particularly have anything to say about them or the rest of the chapter, except that the last lines (which I quoted in the summary) are awesome. But you all knew that. If you’re not just relieved that I’m finally done with this post, tell me what you think about the last sections of the chapter. And don’t forget to chime in on the Boskone panel!

« Two Towers movie | Index | Boskone panel with Shippey »

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
This is a good chapter and we meet a lot of very interesting people. In some ways, Bergil is the most important person in this part of the narrative, because we finally begin to see Pippin as an adult. From the very beginning, he has been the youngest and least mature. Even Beregond's acceptance leaves Pippin young in our view. But Bergil really is a child (albeit rather mature for his years), and he grasps that Pippin is much older and more mature than he.

My perception of Denethor is forever colored by my knowledge of what comes after, so it is hard for me to judge him on this chapter alone. Still, I seem to remember expecting him to be more noble and to come around and be supportive of Gandalf. I had a hard time understanding his failure to do so. Nor do I think that Tolkien expected us to feel real sympathy for him. Perhaps a bit of understanding and pity, but not sympathy. The key factor here, I think, is that Denethor has fallen into despair. And, as I understand it, within Catholic belief, despair is a sin and a rather grievous one. By abandoning hope, Denethor has fallen in a spiritual sense, and his refusal to rally and at least go down fighting damns him.
Rob Munnelly
2. RobMRobM
Kate - I can't attend the Con but am in Boston and can be available to answer practical questions (restaurants, directions, etc) if you have any. Have a nice visit. Rob
David Goldfarb
3. David_Goldfarb
Normally I would consider that a big flashing sign saying “plot point, get your plot point here!”, but as best I can recall it never does become one.
Tolkien had a certain naïveté about what have become conventions of narrative structure. Another that sticks in my mind: nowadays when the wizard says "The Enemy desires the Macguffin above all things -- but he must not get it," the audience can be quite certain that before the story is over the Macguffin will indeed have fallen into the Enemy's grubby little paws. But

(I hope no-one thinks this needs a spoiler warning)

not in The Lord of the Rings.

When I was a child I found Denethor very cool and impressive. I could totally understand why Pippin would swear service to him. (And I absolutely hated what Jackson did to him.)
4. pilgrimsoul
I'll make a coherent comment later but for now

5. Elaine Thom
Wow. Sharing a panel with Tom Shippey. Wow.

Ok. Comments on the chapter. I've been struck in the past by the contrast between the warmer, softer - fabric/tapestry/etc - Meduseld, and the cold, harsh hall of Minas Tirith. If anything, the stereotypical barbarians ought to have the harsher surroundings.

I don't like Denethor. He's a know it all who doesn't. And he's too limited, thinking only of Gondor.

Gandalf as steward - I'm not really aware of anything other than what the words say in what Tolkien wrote. But I'm Catholic, and in modern Catholic apologetics (I honestly haven't the slightest idea if JRRT would have heard about it the way I've been running into it for the last few years) there's a passage from Isaiah about the king passing on responsibility to his steward and it is referenced in the famous (to Christians) passage in the Gospels about "You are Peter and upon this Rock, and I give you the keys....". So it is possible he's claiming a grant of high authority from Eru. Not that Denethor seems to grasp that, and as I said, this is highly speculative.

I'll be interested in your take on Merry's upcoming swearing of fealty to Theoden. There are some interesting contracts, especially in motivation, in the two.

On the passage about the city not being taken unless...yeah, in modern writing, that would be foreshadowing. instead it works as foreshadowing, I guess, of the great power that comes against the city, that it doesn't need to take that route, yet the city falls. Shocker.
6. Foxessa
First -- no reason to feel any shame at not catching everything when you were a child reader. It's impossible for adult readers to catch everything either, on first reads. This is why our really good books get read and re-read and re-read many, many more times. There's always something new, and as the reader grows and changes, the text of the really good books change too, keeping our interest, continuing to reveal more to us, in many ways. Funny that, about really good books, really good art, really music, really good thinking, etc.

Second -- the Gandalf and Denethor exchange around 'steward.' A steward in the good old English way of things was a very high position, supposedly one of greatest trust, for the steward acted for the aristo who actually owns all of it, though perhaps absent, perhaps too young, whatever. The ideal steward is one who treats his master's property, goods and famiy as even more important than his own (we see this in the King James version of the New Testament parables of Jesus even). The good steward will increase his master's wealth, love his master's children -- including serfs and other bonds people -- see that his herds and woodlands and grain field increase, and KEEP THEM IN KEEPING FOR THE RIGHTFUL HEIR AND TURN THEM OVER WITH PROPER ACCOUNTING WHEN THAT HEIR ARRIVES.

Gandalf is the steward of all Middle Earth's peoples for the Valar or whatever -- I'm not really up on Middle Earth mythology. He's doing his job. Is Denethor doing his?
Erick Chase
7. TheMarchChase
I live outside Boston, but won't be able to make it to the panel. Good luck. I've been following the re-read (mostly silently) since the beginning, and am always impressed with the intelligent and cordial discourse about one of my favorite works.

Great job Kate, great job everyone.

Regarding Denethor:
My image if him was always influenced by the Rankin/Bass animated movie (and by the LP I played over and over and over). He was just a crazy old man, raving "The West has failed!" And it's hard to get over that image from childhood.
Wesley Parish
8. Aladdin_Sane
As far as Gandalf claiming stewardship goes, I myself connected that with his claim while facing the Balrog to be a wielder of the Secret Fire - he has authority delegated to him to maintain Ea, or the specific segment inhabited amongst the vastness of it all.

As far as Denethor goes, I always took it, once I had gotten through to the horrible tragedy of his death, that he had placed too much trust in his ancestry - his Numenoreanness - in facing up to Sauron, rather like an ancestral relation of his, you will remember, ar-Pharazon, who thought he could overawe Sauron as well as his orcs and human vassals.

If you could find out from Tom Shippey just what conclusions Tolkien came to concerning orcish origins at the various stages in his writing career, I would be extremely please - and the precise form of the orcish relationship to the Druedain? I thought, from reading The Book of Lost Tales, and various hints in HoME, that Druedain were orcs who repented and repudiated their orcishness and a la Aule and the Khazad, were raised by Eru to a new place in the Song.
9. pilgrimsoul
One of the things that JRRT does in this chapter is show us how, despite the city's beauty and heritage, and despite Denethor's experience and undoubted ability, Gondor really does need Aragorn--and Gandalf, too.

Tom Shippey's books express an attitude toward class I have always wondered about. The Tooks and Brandybucks own land and lots of it. Merry and Pippen take deference as their due. They are obviously gentry, and yet Shippey asserts there's no Hobbit aristocracy. I don't think I'd have the nerve to ask him about this, so if you don't, Kate, I can't complain.
Eric Braddock
10. EricBraddock

Hey guys! Been anxious for Kate to post up the review for Minas Tirith, and so I chose Denethor for my character sketch. Hope you like it! For the full image, please head over to my blog here.
Andrew Foss
11. alfoss1540
Denethor - despite the many flaws that we know from past readings, I am still always impressed by his bearing as a leader. He is a great and powerful facede. I always see his chief character flaw as the Palantir - Sauron broke Sauruman, Denethor was just a plaything in comparison.

VOTE - How many people imagined Minas Tirith in the way depicted by Jackson??? - When I saw it the first time, I had to reread it to compare the description from the book. I just had not seen it. My imagination saw it as a natural formation - not a smooth surface.

At this point, Pippin surpassed Merry as the cool NPC hobbit of the bunch. Merry comes close when he knifes the Nazgul, but Pippin gets huge cool points for swearing fealty and coming of age.

Love the Chapter.
Tony Zbaraschuk
12. tonyz
The hobbits do have an aristocracy, even if it's a relatively minor one (The Took and the Master of Buckland are the only ones who seem to have titles), but it's an English rather than a Continental aristocracy/gentry: you can move in and out of it and it's not particularly oppressive (we hope).

Denethor is strong and tough... but he has no hope. As Gandalf says of Sauron, he weighs everything to a nicety (though perhaps not in malice) but all he can see is that the balance has swung against the West; he refuses hope, because there is none. And that destroys him.

I always felt that Denethor was dangerous. Stern, undiplomatic, cold -- as Gandalf says, of far greater lineage and power than Theoden. And yet Theoden can joke. Did Denethor ever learn how?

There's things I didn't catch till my tenth or fifteenth reading through the series, and I agree that a child can't be expected to catch everything an adult has failed to. Gandalf at least beats Pippin over the head with "...wake up now!" and we're expected to pay close attention during all of Gandalf's talks with Denethor. Both of _them_ are certainly paying close attention to everything that's going on.

The film version of Minas Tirith felt too small and cute, like an fifteenth-century Renaissance town masquerading as Jerusalem the Golden with the Temple still standing, even if deserted. (Minas Tirith is more than thirty centuries old; it should feel vast and ancient, but I don't suppose any city now on earth could really play the part...)
13. Anna_Wing
Tom Shippey. My.

Glorfindel: I recall vaguely that there was some indication in HoME that he was killed heroically at Gondolin, then subsequently reincarnated in Valinor and sent back to Middle-earth at some point thereafter, possibly to help Elrond hold things together.

Denethor: He is behaving in a reasonable way as the de facto King of Gondor. Both the Lines of Isildur and Anarion are assumed to be dead, though this isn't known for certain (and thus Denethor is Steward, not King) and Denethor has not received any evidence to the contrary. There must have been an awful lot of people trying it on in the past thousand years, claiming to be the heir. Denethor is facing an existential threat to his realm, on the verge of a war that he is confident he is going to lose, and there is no reason why he should hand over the whole thing to some unknown adventurer, especially one sponsored by Gandalf, whom he (not unreasonably - Gandalf is a bit short on explanations about what he's doing) mistrusts, and who was in some way, possibly involved with the death of his beloved son and heir. Denethor makes perfect sense as a responsible and sensible ruler doing the best he can in extremely difficult circumstances.
14. Marc Rikmenspoel
Tolkien, late in life, decided he needed to do something about the fact that he accidentally used Glorfindel ("Golden-Haired") as the name of one of Elrond's advisors in Rivendell, after already using it in his Silmarillion legendry as the name of the Elf who heroically gave his life killing a Balrog during the sack of Gondolin.

He wrote some notes about this that were published in the final volume of The History of Middle Earth. Tolkien's decision was that these would be the same being, though that was never his original intention. The early Glorfindel joined the Noldor exodus rather reluctantly, and was quite repentent over his part in the Noldorin misdeeds. He then sacrificed himself to make the escape of Idril Celebrindal and Tuor possible, without which there wouldn't have been an Earendil to sail west and plead for divine intervention for the inhabitants of Middle Earth.

Glorfindel was reborn in the Undying lands, and there became friends with the Maia spirit Olorin. While the Istari (including Olorin, aka Gandalf/Mithrandir) were sent to Middle Earth to rouse the free peoples against Sauron, they were not the only ones. Glorfindel was also sent back, to help Elrond maintain the refuge of Imladris/Rivendell. Glorfindel performed this heroic service until the end of the Third Age, before eventually sailing back over the sea as one of the most noble and moral of all the Noldor. His efforts help to off-set some of the damage caused by his kin, and represented the Eldar at their best, something not often seen in The Silmarillion.
15. Confutus
Beregond at first thought Pippin some kind of noble page. As Tolkien notes in his appendix F on language, Pippin inadvertently created the impression of high rank for himself by freely using the familiar forms of language and address, even to the Lord Denethor, instead of the more formally respectful language most Gondorians use toward nobility.
Whatever his military experience, this "Prince of the Halfings" must certainly have traveled a long way to reach Gondor, and the rumor that Pippin encountered later that he had come to offer allegiance and five thousand swordsmen to Gondor may have already sprouted.
Although Beregond doesn't seems to have much personal experience with long marches and long watches on short notice and short rations (he wouldn't, as a member of the Guard of the Tower of Gondor), he does know of veterans who do have such experience and an accompanying reputation for taking maximum advantage of mealtime and sleep breaks whenever and for as long as they can get them.
j p
16. sps49
Glorfindel- I have heard they are the same character, but don't know the source (maybe taking out a Balrog is a Get Out of Mandos Free card). There is a precedent, however- after the fall of Nargothrond, there is a brief mention of Finrod walking around somewhere with Finarfin his father, impolying that Mandos had let him out.

I think Beren was reborn temporarily and lived with Luthien in Ossiriand, but it has been a while; and he was a Man.

I also think (I was 14 for my first read) that my reaction to Aragorn's kingship was much like Sam's- Strider? Really?

Denethor may have almost given up to despair, but I don't think it was until viewing the forces arrayed against him later that he gave up entirely. Here he is willing to use Pippin to learn more than what he believes Gandalf will relate to him, and uses the fate of Boromir as a lever. Pippin is growing up rapidly here, but is still young enough to talk as fast as his thoughts to say something positive about Boromir (who did lose his life trying to save him, after all) to Denethor.

Pippin may have been given the benefit of the doubt at first, but to the Men of Gondor he does appear worthy of respect- he has traveled with Gandalf, which is unusual, and he comports himself as many combat veterans- he doesn't think of himself as a hero, but admits to valor when he has to. Compare this with statements of many who wear the Victoria Cross, Medal of Honor, and the like- few, if any, intended to "be a hero". Also, what Confutus wrote.

I had to read carefully to picture how the City was laid out. The movie is in the ballpark, but I think it needed to be more spread out, less vertical.

The shoulder of Mindolluin- Depending on the terrain, I expect cavalry and siege engines would be very difficult, and numbers impossible. If the Enemy could pull a Masada, they would be doomed (Dooomed!) anyway.

Aladdin_Sane @8- Druedain have the -Edain in their name, which should make them Men.

Have fun, Kate, and let us know if you hear from Helmuth (speaking for Boskone) this weekend.
17. JV Mallory
As a kid reading for the first time, I loved this chapter, and often returned to it. I was particularly fond of the scene with Bergil, because we learn exactly how old Pippin is, and I loved how impressed Bergil was with the fact that this short person was, in fact, an adult.

As an adult, I still love it.
David Levinson
18. DemetriosX
Re Gandalf's stewardship, I have always assumed this referred to his role as the current keeper of the ring Narya.

I thought the films got Minas Tirith reasonably close. That isn't really all that surprising, since they used Tolkien's own drawings and sketches as the basis for most of the artwork.
19. Doug M.
I think the parallelism between Theoden and Denethor is interesting. Both will die within an hour of each other. Merry swears fealty to one, Pippin to the other. And both end up doing real service -- Merry avenges Theoden by helping kill the Nazgul, while Pippin saves Faramir.

(Hm: in both cases, the service comes at the moment of the lord's death. Interesting.)

Theoden and Denethor both fight despair. Theoden wins and Denethor loses; why?

Doug M.
Jeff Weston
20. JWezy
Whether I liked Denathor or not was never the question (for me). In Denathor, I came to understand the Nazgul. I could see how a strong, wise, commanding man could be affected, influenced, overwhelmed, and ultimately corrupted by Sauron.

When Tolkien portrays him at the tipping point, we are allowed to see both the great man that was and the pitiable man that would be. In him, you could see the decay of the men of Numenor, feel the despair, and his plight underscored the peril that faces the West. I wished for him to redeem himself, but clearly there was no room in the story for that.

For the discussion, I have always felt that Bombadil was a problem, something from an earlier incarnation of Middle-Earth that was thrown in to the story to get out of the troubles with Old Man Willow. However, once he was introduced, it was immediately necessary to dispose of him, to exclude him from the rest of the story in (what I felt was) a relatively contrived way.

I'm not sure how I would recast the story - it is clearly important that the Hobbits not get themselves out of trouble at this point in the story, they are still finding their feet in the world and must be seen as relatively powerless.

So my topic/question is: Would LOTR be better without Bombadil? Assuming some contrivance that fits the needs of the story could be found that distorted the world somewhat less?
Jason Ramboz
21. jramboz
Gandalf as Steward - I think this one operates on multiple levels. The Ainur (of which race Galdalf is a member) were given stewardship of Creation by Eru. The big guy more or less handed off the world after it was created and said, "Here, take care of this for me, would you?"

On another level, Gandalf as one of the Istari was sent by the Valar to guide (I believe that's the word used) the people of Middle-earth in their opposition to Sauron. This could also be seen as a stewardship of sorts.

The only problem with this is the "Did you not know?" Gandalf tacks on the end. Would Denethor be aware of either of these facts? Would Gandalf have told him any of this previously? Or is Gandalf expecting that, as a Gondorian and a descendant of Numenor, Denethor should be familiar with "Elf-lore" and the history of the world?

Glorfindel - As has been pointed out, Tolkien seems to have made the two names identical by accident. But--and here's really an example of what makes Tolkien a unique genius--instead of writing it off or changing a name, he got curious about it. In The Peoples of Middle-Earth (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 12), Tolkien writes an essay examining how the two could be the same. In essence, it concludes (as I recall--I'm going from memory here) that Glorfindel became the only being ever to be reincarnated. He was released from the Halls of Mandos and sent back into Middle-earth. If I recall correctly, there's a bit of discussion on whether Glorfindel got a new body and sailed back over or was literally reborn as a baby to parents already in Middle-earth. I believe Tolkien eventually decided on the former.

In that same volume, there's also a fantastic essay (or two, I believe) on the "orc question." Tolkien starts from the assertion that orcs can't be twisted versions of Elves, but eventually argues himself into a corner and halfway convinces himself that they might just be. I don't think he ever really reached a resolution (at least in that writing).

If you haven't read The Peoples of Middle-Earth, it's an absolute must before your panel! It's my second-favorite volume of The History of Middle-Earth (after The Lost Road), and an amazing example of an author who deeply pondered the implications, nuances, and morality of his created world.
22. Confutus
As strong and far sighted as he is, Denethor's besetting sin is his pride. It grates on him, as it did on his son Boromir, that a Steward is still not a King. He is unwilling to surrender his stewardship, even when he knows or suspects that a competent heir with a rightful claim to the throne exists. He deems himself competent to wrestle in thought directly with the Enemy, never suspecting how overmatched he is or that Sauron is toying with him, feeding his despair, and through him subtly undermining the will and strength of the entire realm of Gondor. Perhaps most importantly, by rejecting the advice and assistance of Gandalf, he also unknowingly rejects the aid and counsel of the Valar.

Theoden, on the other hand, accepts both Aragorn and Gandalf, and never seeks more than is rightfuly his. His honors as King of Rohan are sufficient for him. Doing his duty as king, fighting to protect his people against Sauron's minions and Saruman's attempts at conquest and coming to Gondor's aid as a sworn ally is sufficient challenge. He doesn't try to shoulder the burdens of the whole world, so he isn't overwhelmed by them.
Kate Nepveu
23. katenepveu
Hi all!

DemetriosX @ #1, you're right about Bergil, and yet that they become such good friends so quickly says to me that Pippin is still retains his essential lightheartedness. And maybe sympathy is the wrong word when it comes to Denethor, but yes, understanding, empathy, regret.

RobMRobM @ #2, thanks for the offer! I've been going to Boskone for several years, but I appreciate it all the same.

David_Goldfarb @ #3, you are absolutely right about the grubby paws of the Enemy! I can't believe that hadn't occured to me before. Good call.

pilgrimsoul @ #4, I KNOW!!

Elaine Thom @ #5, Foxessa @ #6, thanks for the information about the Bible. That makes a great deal of sense to me.

TheMarchChase @ #7, you make me ever-more-glad I escaped Rankin-Bass in my childhood . . .

Aladdin_Sane @ #8, I would remark on the rest of your sensible and interesting comment except I am struck wordless by the idea of the Druedain as ex-orcs.

. . .

pilgrimsoul @ #9, Shippey asserts there's no hobbit aristocracy? Do you remember if it's in _Road_ or _Author_?

EricBraddock @ #10, yay, art!

alfoss1540 @ #11, Pippin is definitely in the lead at the moment! But by the end I think of them as such a unit that I don't try and rank one to the other.

tonyz @ #12, there are certainly much worse personality warning signs than "genuinely lacks sense of humor."

Anna_Wing @ #13, yeah, I figured Glorfindel was reincarnated (based on _The Silmarillion_?) as well. And no, Gandalf isn't exactly good at explanations, you're right . . .

Marc Rikmenspoel @ #14, ah, and now we've got details on the reincarnation. Thanks.

Confutus @ #15, thanks for mentioning Pippin's use of forms of address, which I should have.

sps49 @ #16, yes, Beren got a second lease on life too, with Luthien. I'm sure I didn't understand about Aragorn's kingship either when I was a kid, chalking it up with all that mysterious Earendil stuff, probably.

Doug M. @ #19, off the top of my head I would say that Theoden accepts Gandalf's rekindling and Denethor does not--which leads back to Denethor's pride, as Confutus says @ #22. But I'm sure we'll return to these parallels again and again in the next chapters.

JWezy @ #20, ooooh, I love your linking Denethor to the Nazgul. That is terrific. And thanks for the discussion suggestion.

jramboz @ #21, The only problem with this is the "Did you not know?" Gandalf tacks on the end. -- yes, that's precisely what makes it an odd statement to me too. And I'll get right on reading _The Peoples of Middle-earth_--just as soon as I start an LJ auction fundraiser going, prepare to run a bake sale at the con, comfort my cold-afflicted toddler, prepare for an oral argument before an appellate court, and draw up notes for my solo talk and other three panels at Boskone. Got a Time-Turner I can borrow?
24. Martin in Dublin
Kate - re the 'red herring' of Mt Mindolluin, I think that's just Tolkien's hugely detail-oriented mind at work, closing a logical gap - i.e. the city abuts a mountain, but here's why the enemy can't just come over the back of the mountain.

As for Denethor and his attitude, there's a wonderful piece (or pieces - it's been a while) in the Appendices, maybe in the history of Aragorn and Arwen, or in the timeline too, that describes Aragorn's first visit to Gondor in his youth under the Nom-de-Guerre of Thorongil.

He wows the then-steward Ecthelion, beats off a huge Corsair fleet and then vanishes. He also leaves a lasting (negative) impression on the Steward's son Denethor, particularly 'Thorongil's close relationship with Gandalf. What we have here is basically festering jealousy...
Tony Zbaraschuk
25. tonyz
Glorfindel's not the only Elf ever to be reincarnated (cf. Finrod) -- the Elves were meant to be immortal, so if they die the Valar have been given the power to restore their bodies (though some, like Feanor, refuse).
26. Confutus
I'm thinking that Gandalf's comment "I am also a steward. Did you not know?" implied that Denethor should have known, and would have if he had been paying attention.
But Denethor had never liked or appreciated Gandalf or his news or his counsel, and it seems no accident that Gandalf Stormcrow was met in Gondor with an attitude resembling Wormtongue's.
27. Stephen R. Morrison
The connection between the Orcs and the Drúedain is from an authorial note to the essay on the Drúedain in Unfinished Tales:
To the unfriendly who, not knowing them well, declared that Morgoth must have bred the Orcs from such a stock the Eldar answered: ‘Doubtless Morgoth, since he can make no living thing, bred Orcs from various kinds of Men, but the Drúedain must have escaped his Shadow; for their laughter and the laughter of Orcs are as different as is the light of Aman from the darkness of Angband.’ But some thought, nonetheless, that there had been a remote kinship, which accounted for their special enmity. Orcs and Drûgs each regarded the other as renegades.

The whole essay will be well worth reading when it’s time to discuss Ghân-buri-Ghân and his people.
28. Elaine Thom
#20 - Possible solutions to the Old Man Willow problem that get rid of Bombadil. Maybe bring in Ents earlier? But then they wouldn't have nearly the impact they do in Fangorn.

Apparently JRRT hadn't thought of Ents when he wrote that section, but he could have gone back and added them.

I rather like Bombadil, but I'm glad he doesn't continue in the story. If everything is explained the story is less rich. I think Tolkien put him in to be the spirit of the local countryside. And I get around the two 'oldest living things' by thinking "if he hasn't got a father, and doesn't age (apparently) he's not alive as we know it."

#24 Aragorn and Denethor. Not only did Aragorn turn up and wow everyone, Ecthelion, Denethor's father loved and respected him, and Denethor came second in every Gondorian's esteem to Thorongil/Aragorn. It's all in Appendix A. "Therefore, when all was made clear, many believed that Denethor, who was subtle in mind... had discovered who this stranger Thorongil in truth was, and suspected that he and Mithradir designed to supplant him."

Goes back a long way, Denethor's jealousy and unwillingness to yield as a proper Steward should.

In one of the later HoME books, there're some drafts where JRRT played with a confrontation(s) between Denethor and Aragorn after Pelennor. He ultimately decided there wasn't room in the story for such a thing and killed Denethor off instead. But they still make good reading.

#25 As I remember the Silmarillion, Feanor doesn't get reincarnated because of all the damage he did. He doesn't get a choice. IMO rightly. It was his mother who refused to come back.
Andrew Mason
29. AnotherAndrew
Old Man Willow was part of the Bombadil legend from the beginning, before it became linked with Lord of the Rings; he appears in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. So Bombadil cannot have been introduced to deal with the problem posed by Old Man Willow; if anything, Old Man Willow was introduced to give Bombadil an excuse to turn up. If Tolkien had not wanted to introduce Tom, he would probably have sent the hobbits straight from Crickhollow to Bree (as in the film).
30. radagastslady
I believe somewhere in the appendices it is mentioned that Denethor knew the young Aragorn who came to Gondor in disguise. Rivals for the affection and respect for the then steward. The use of the Palantir would probably allow Denethor to realize who Gandalf was bringing to Gondor.
David Levinson
31. DemetriosX
All these references to the Denethor/Thorongil/Echthelion triangle made me realize that there is a strong parallel in the events of LotR and one which is deeply influenced by it: namely, the Denethor/Boromir/Faramir relationship. I think we can safely assume that Aragorn as Thorongil would have been both an outstanding warrior and a scholar, much like Faramir. How much did his father's favoring of Thorongil influence the way he treated Faramir? I wonder how much of that was actually planned by Tolkien and how much just sort of happened.
32. Elaine Thom
#31. Tolkien didn't plan to bring Faramir into the story at all, until he got to Ithilien in the writing and there Faramir was. So I think it all just sort of happened.

BTW, I was skimming [i]Letters for where he remarked on that - didn't find it - but did run across a reference to Deneothor being 'tainted' by politics. He only looked at things politically. Sauron was just another rival, not the Evil Spirit Who Wants to Conquer The World.

Which seems a rather major mistake.

Also that the Kings of Numenor and Gondor ruled in accordance with ancient law, they weren't supposed to run roughshod over everything. No Louis IV's for Gondor. At least there weren't supposed to be. Denether seems to have lost track of that, as well. And it flows well with JRRT's Catholicism, again, and Catholic thinking on natural law.
33. Elaine Thom
Oops. italics off
34. pilgrimsoul
Kate @23

Author of the Century p. 11 He's discussing Bilbo and describes him and other Hobbits generally as middle class although some are lower, "though none quite reach the upper class, even the Tooks and Brandybucks"

@ Everyone
If you have not read Tom Shippey's books you ought. He presents the most illuminating Tolkien commentary in existence.
35. Darwinista
As for the agriculture--I always like this part, and its the first place (quite possibly the only place outside of a crossword puzzle) I ever saw the word "oast." My other comment on the notorious lack of agriculture is to note when Sam looks out over Mordor from Cirith Ungol (I think) and wonders where the fields are, not realizing about all the enslaved lands that ship their produce to support the armies of Sauron.

I've always liked Denethor as a character as well--he's been described by a few critics (possibly including Shippey?) as Shakespearean, a real tragic hero. Many of the deaths in this novel are heroic, but fewer rise to the level of tragedy in the classical sense. He is a great man with a flawed character that brings about his downfall.

Don't bite my head off for this, but I think the Glorfindel issue counts as an oversight, and to me it doesn't matter that Tolkien found a way to explain it away once he realized what he did. I can forgive him the mistake, and would have preferred if he didn't try to justify it after the fact.
36. Phleck
I've always enjoyed the entrance of the Captains of the Outlands. Quite likely I'm projecting onto the work, but to me it evokes the early part of the Iliad, where Homer similarly catalogues the captains of the Greek army in a long list of names and places--but that evocation also contrasts the destined-to-be-victorious besiegers of Troy with these defenders of Minas Tirith, "always too few, always less than hope looked for or need asked." I find the descriptions very moving. "From Lamedon, a few grim hillmen without a captain"--who were these men, what moved them to come to Minas Tirith, what happened to them? And the whole list gives context to Denethor's despair. It's not that he lacks the courage to resist the enemy, it's that he lacks the numbers to have any hope of victory.
37. anna_wing
One thinks of the Bagginses as town-based upper- middle-class and the Tooks and Brandybucks as 'County' or at least the upper reaches of the squirearchy. Basically rural aristocrats of the semi-feudal, pre-absolutist kind, much closer to the ranks below them than a court-based nobility would be. The crucial difference would have been that the Bagginses weren't landowners living on a more or less self-sufficient rural estate, though they were clearly rentier-class and therefore suitable spouses for a Brandybuck or a Took.
38. Doug M.
"Denethor being 'tainted' by politics. He only looked at things politically. Sauron was just another rival, not the Evil Spirit Who Wants to Conquer The World."

Interesting. Compare this to Saruman's rant back in TFotR, Book 2, where he says "Sauron is the rising power, doesn't it make sense to cut a deal with him?"

Doug M.
39. Gray Woodland
Firstly, just to congratulate you on Boskone, and to thank you for sharing this epic and thoroughly enjoyable re-read.

On "I also am a steward..." I think this line works precisely because it's true on several levels, and because he doesn't lay any special bounds to it. In one sense Gandalf really is a steward, and perhaps now the definitive steward, of Middle-Earth for the Valar under Eru. But he is the very reverse even of what Denethor is supposed to be - a Ruling Steward. There is no rightful rule for him to claim. Rather, his stewardship seems to be a trust to save all natural and kindly things from the looming Darkness, and only inasfar as they will be saved. And that is a non-political form of authority, undiminished by being shared.

"Did you not know?" is masterly: I'm pretty sure it's supposed to carry all the meanings people have been finding in it here. Firstly, per Elaine @32, it suggests that Denethor can't or won't recognise powers outside his own mould - he is only capable of seeing Gandalf as a political rival. Secondly, per Confutus @ 26, it hints that Denethor has quite enough lore and wisdom to recognize at least what kind of operator Gandalf really is instead - if he would. Thirdly, what Foxessa @6 said - a sharp question as to how far Denethor is fulfilling his stewardship at all.

And Gandalf, who is extremely angry at that point, deals all this with a quick light hand as he withdraws, to let it sink in if it will.

Not a simple saying, no, but a whole one. I don't think either we or Denethor need knowledge outside the tale to fathom it. It's more a typical piece of the layered density that makes re-reading LOTR so enjoyable: new meanings and shades revealed every time around.
40. formerly DaveT
Confutus @ 15:
My biggest angst in reading the Ledoux translations of LotR is that he failed to take the hint -- he didn't have the hobbits use the familiar forms of direct address. This causes a jar for French readers when they read about how the hobbits have been 'tutoying' everyone of every rank, when the book they are reading doesn't do that.

Confutus @ 22:
I think you're on the right track with the difference between Théoden and Denethor, but there's one last important element. So important, in fact, that Aragorn makes it the punch line to Théoden's eulogy: HE KEPT HIS OATHS.

This is one of those things that is (repeatedly) tremendously important in Tolkien's world, and totally baffling to many modern readers (including Peter Jackson).
41. peachy
Another aspect of Denethor's character, I think, is professional tunnel vision - all he sees is the contest between Mordor and Gondor (this might feed Boromir's own sense of despair over Gondor bearing the whole weight of the contest, though I don't recall how much that's played up in the books.) Gandalf undoubtedly agrees that the defence of Gondor is a necessity for victory, but he takes a much broader view. First, he is the prime mover in the strategy to destroy Sauron's power by destroying the ring, recognising that the Enemy is so formidable that he can only be defeated by eliminating his ultimate power-base; triumphs in toe-to-toe battles are always temporary, because Sauron is simply stronger than his opponents. Second, he understands that the Free Peoples have to win elsewhere for a tactical success at Gondor to really matter.

There's the preliminary campaign in Rohan, of course, which not only clears Gondor's northern flank but also frees the Rohirrim to ride south. But there's also a series of battles between Lorien and Dol Goldur, and a monstrous great battle and siege around Erebor. Losing any of them would give the Enemy a second chance at cracking Gondor - and, even if the Free Peoples "win" through destroying the Ring and thus Sauron, they can still lose by being over-run by his minions. (Or, at the least, be forced to spend much more blood and treasure to restore the situation - the Haradrim and Easterlings et al become independent powers, but they don't just go away.)

Really, the War of the Ring goes back to the beginning of The Hobbit. The reader sees it through Bilbo's eyes - the journey is often deadly dangerous, but ultimately it's just a rewarding adventure. But for Gandalf, it's a move of high strategy, which explains why he takes so very much trouble over it. It eliminates Smaug, a potential ally for Sauron; it greatly reinforces the northeastern end of the arc, both by restoring the Dwarves to the natural fortress of Erebor, and by forging strong ties between the Dwarves, the Men of Dale, and the Elves of Mirkwood; and it greatly thins out the Goblins of the Misty Mountains. So when the War of the Ring comes, the great invasion out of the East is stopped cold, and eventually repulsed following Sauron's destruction, and there's no army of unpleasant types to boil out of the Misty Mountains and descend upon Lorien or Imladris. There's a WWI analogy in here, but I fear I've burbled on too long already.
Wesley Parish
42. Aladdin_Sane
jramboz @21 and Stephen R. Morrison @27 - thanks for finding the source texts. My copies of those two books are unfortunately under piles of some other books, and I wasn't able to quote them.

"Orcs and Drûgs each regarded the other as renegades." is the foundation for my argument that Druedain are ex-orcs - FWIW; the tradition that orcs are twisted Avari seems too solidly founded in the overall mythology for even Tolkien to disprove - though his comments in The Peoples of Middle Earth about possible other original beings - such as Balrogs and other renegade Maiar - , and the throw-away comments in tLotR about humans who looked half-orcish would imply the necessity of Eru's intervention to bring some species coherence even to the orcs.

sps49 @16 - I think that "edain" attached to Dru - "wild" - merely means that as far as the Eldar can make out, they are mortal on the same basis as the Edain. But on the other hand, The Book of Lost Tales gives examples of Druedain "magic" that resembles Elvish and Maiar magic - the transferral of powers with the possibility of blowback ... the Ring itself being the prime example thereof.
44. Hirgon
The problem of Glorfindel is interesting, and 'twould be too easy to assume that Tolkien was just reusing a good name. After all, there are two elves named Legolas Greenleaf, and the characters are not at all related, right? Right. But there is only one Glorfindel, and since the use of the name was explained multiple times above, I'm not going to add yet another explanation.
45. Your mailbox is full.
You're going to be on a panel with Tom Shippey!

You know, I'm sure you wrote more words than that, but that's all I can remember. I think I'm getting fanboy-by-proxy syndrome.

I'm so very, very green with envy right now. :-)
46. Your mailbox is full.
Ahem. Control yourself, Mailbox.

kate @ #24 in response to Doug M. @ #19:
off the top of my head I would say that Theoden accepts Gandalf's rekindling and Denethor does not
I think you've nailed it. Despair is the denial of hope. Theoden saw a glimmer of hope and seized upon it ("the time for fear is past"), whereas Denethor stamped on it ("the West has failed"). This is fundamental Catholic and Orthodox Christian theology: redemption/salvation is offered to all as a free gift - but humans, as truly free agents, have the freedom to reject it. By rejecting the hope that Gandalf represented, Denethor shut himself off from all possibility of salvation. Think about the dwars in C.S. Lewis's "The Last Battle". They shut their eyes and refused to accept that anything could possibly be any good again. Even after they were taken out of their prison, they could not see Paradise because they chose to keep their eyes closed. Same idea.

Incidentally, this also fits well with Tolkien's conscious choice to prefer "doom" (what will be written), over "fate" (what has already been written), about which Shippey (SQUEEEE!!!11) has written at length. Theoden's choice, "to do the deed at hand", led him to a glorious, if sad, ending. The choices of Denethor, after erroneously foreseeing the inevitable triumph of Sauron, led to his own destruction.

Demetrios @ #31: I never noticed that before. Perhaps Denethor would have fared better had he sought some Transactional Analysis. :)
47. Elaine Thom
the tradition that orcs are twisted Avari seems too solidly founded in the overall mythology for even Tolkien to disprove - though his comments in The Peoples of Middle Earth about possible other original beings - such as Balrogs and other renegade Maiar - , and the throw-away comments in tLotR about humans who looked half-orcish would imply the necessity of Eru's intervention to bring some species coherence even to the orcs.

I don't see why - Saruman is the one associated with the half-man/half-orc looking beings, and he is undoubtedly capable of either breeding better looking orcs for looks, or forcing some orc/human matings. If Elves can interbreed with humans, probably orcs can, too.
48. pilgrimsoul

We need to hear the dish on the panel. Please.
49. Stephen R. Morrison
Phleck@#36, you're not reading anything into the passage that isn't intentionally there. Tolkien actually wrote "Homeric catalogue. Forlong the Fat. The folk of Lebennin." on one of his outlines for this book; it's quoted in the eighth History of Middle-earth volume.
50. Rush-That-Speaks
Huh. I always read Beregond's 'old campaigner' remark as very slightly, gently sarcastic, in a friendly sort of way.
51. SkinnyLeaf
If it's any consolation, I missed the whole Pillars of the Argonath sequence when reading the books as a kid. It wasn't until I saw the movie that I went back and re-read that section of the book and found it there. Somehow, in all my readings before that, I completely skipped over it - I remember the boats, the falls of Rauros, Tol Brandir, etc, etc, but not the Argonath. I think it's natural to miss things, especially when reading fast (as I most certainly was). It wasn't until I got older that I started to slow down, and then I started seeing a lot of new things in a very familiar text.
52. buzzbaileyport

Stumbled upon this thread while beginning my own re-read of TLotR. Unfortunately, that was only a bit earlier this month, so I've been scrambling to catch up, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the spirited conversation and insights contained here!

Anyhow, just a minor observance. Earlier, when Theoden and Wormtongue accuse Gandalf of bringing bad news (The Two Towers III 6), Gandalf responds in a less direct measure (i.e., it could be for two reasons). Here, when Ingold brings up the messenger-of-doom line, Gandalf's response is much more direct ("This is because"...).

I'm guessing that this may be because Gandalf is addressing men of different station (king + advisor v. officer). Or perhaps it's because there's more need of haste.
Kent Aron Vabø
53. sotgnomen
I always really loved the outer companies. I think this small entrance, combined with the counting of their deeds and sacrifices, and setting them next to the rohirrim, makes for one of the shortest but most stirring cameos in literature.
Just to get to know them a little bit from Bergil's view(stout heart, stout friend), and then see how they fell(alone, hewn by axes, or trampled while taking out mumakil), makes their tale heartbreaking.

An often noted problem in fantasy is the fate of the "unknown soldier", all the cannon fodder that fall while OUR HERO goes on to save the day.

The outer companies have got to be the best homage to the unknown soldier there ever was in fantasy. Their tale is stirring. You feel for them, you know that they heeded the same call as Theoden or Aragorn.
And then Tolkien gives them their due in the Markish verse counting the dead of Pelennor, giving them the same honor as Theoden, even though there was no room for them in the main story.
Andrew Foss
54. alfoss1540
Sotgnomen@53 - We see this with Hama at Helm's Deep - NPC's (Non Player Characters - D&D coming back to me) are humnaized similarly.

Part of the many reasons that LOTR is a classic. Tolkien helps us to care about every character.
Kate Nepveu
55. katenepveu
Hey everybody.

I think the Boskone panel went well--more on that in the next post, which I am working on now.

Some very belated responses to comments:

As far as Denethor and his relationships with Ecthelion and Thorongil, and Boromir and Faramir, yes, there's very much connections there, though I'm not sure I ever got the impression before that he saw Faramir as a rival the way that Thorongil was.

Elaine Thom @ #28, a Denethor-Aragorn confrontation seems almost like a Scouring of the Shire, and maybe there's only room for one of those in a book? I don't know, it might be the sleep deprivation talking.

Stephen R. Morrison @ #27, thanks for the cite on the Druedain and I'll be sure to read that essay when the time comes.

Darwinista @ #35, yeah, to preview my panel comments, I'm much more interested in things that give readers a way into the world, like Bombadil or the orcs, not explanations for the mere sake of consistency.

Phleck @ #36, sotgnomen @ #53, thank you for the defense of the entrance of the Captains of the Outlands. You are quite right.

Gray Woodland @ #39, you're welcome, and that's a lovely summing-up.

formerly DaveT @ #40, well, Tolkien also does that too, by not having the hobbits "thee"-ing everyone from the start, relying instead on their general tone. Which does make it more readable for modern readers, no question. But yes, that would be a real problem in languages that still maintain a grammatical distinction!

peachy @ #41, indeed, Denethor explicitly says that Gondor is all that matters to him. And no, no, give us your WWI analogy! Educate me (if you like)!

pilgrimsoul @ #48, next post, real soon now!

Rush-That-Speaks @ #50, the "old campaigner" remark would very plausibly be gently sarcastic, but it just didn't fit with my reading of the rest of the passage. *shrug*

buzzbaileyport @ #52, welcome! And I would add a third factor, knowing that the attitude toward him probably comes from Denethor and not having patience for *that*.
Soon Lee
56. SoonLee
Re: Mindolluin.

I did wonder at the time but it seems to me another example of the architects of early Gondor exploiting existent terrain features for maximum defensive potential. I think we saw a similar thing with Helm's Deep.
57. formerly Underhill
I was puzzled and then shocked as a child of 13 when I discovered on my second or third read that Sauron and Saruman were (gasp!) different characters. Well, hey! They were both really powerful bad guys who lived in impressive towers and had big armies and their names were both spelled Sa___m with a u and an r in the middle. (I'm still not always strong on catching the important details.) Maybe I thought the defeated S-guy from Orthanc just escaped and retreated to his stronger stronghold of Barad dur. Any other hints about the existence of two different S-bad guys were completely lost on me in my rush to consume the story.

About Pippin not making the connection, even if he had heard stuff about Strider being rightwise born king of all Gondor and so on, he'd also met him first as an impressive but scruffy and villainous looking stranger, drunk beer with him, gotten bitten in marshes with him, wandered around the long dark of Moria with him, sat around campfires with him... and that Strider-persona mades a pretty vivid and deep impression. In the midst of battle and capture and escape and rescue and all the epic events of the story, a little king-reveal buried in conversation could roll right off a person's brain. I'm not surprised that Pippin is surprised. And for the reader, it's like with Butterbur later, when they tell him the King likes his beer: it is a delicious pleasure to experience the character's astonishment. and it deepens appreciation of Aragon's character, and his deep deservingness of the crown.

I think 'genuinely lacking a sense of humour' is a pretty damning personality trait, actually. It associates with lack of empathy to me. Humour seems central to warmth, humility and morality. No humour is frightening and alien. That's what my gut says, not sure my head can explain it.
58. formerly Underhill
Did Thorongil have anything to do with Osgiliath being "won back as an outpost when Denethor was young"? I bet he did.
Kate Nepveu
59. katenepveu
formerly Underhill, somehow I missed the Sauron v. Saruman confusion, but _The Similarillion_ is vicious for me with all of its F---- names.

Agreed on the lack of humor.

The text doesn't mention Thorongil with regard to Osgiliath that I can see, mentioning instead Umbar as his big military triumph; but the timing would be plausible, certainly.
Geoffrey Dow
60. ed-rex
And now Denethor. What do people think of him?

Denethor, Denethor, Denethor ...

Kate, you said you don't like Denethor, but that you have a great deal of sympathy for him.

I wonder if you're responding to him as I do - as a character from psychological fiction tossed into (and destroyed by) a fantasy world.

Denethor seems to me a well-sketched portrait of a political animal, a machiavelian materialist in a world of magic. And when he finds out he's been playing the wrong game, he breaks - he's a truly tragic figure, whose only Sin is that he finally despairs when Reason 'proves' to him that his cause is lost.
61. peachy
So, WWI. Anglos (and I'm guessing most of us here are American, Canadian or British) have a tendency to conflate WWI with the Western Front (and perhaps the first Battle of the Atlantic); that was the theatre into which the vast majority of our blood and treasure was poured, though the Empire had some pretty major campaigns elsewhere (Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt/Palestine, Mesopotamia.)

But for Germany it was a much bigger and more complex struggle - besides the West, it included the campaigns in the Alps and Po Valley against Italy, the various shifting alliances and campaigns in the Balkans, and of course the tremendous struggle on the Eastern Front against Russia. After the war, when the Reichswehr was sifting through the lessons and trying to determine how Germany had lost so badly despite consistent success on the battlefield, one of the conclusions was that during certain periods - particularly in 1916 when Falkenhayn was running the show - the high command had become fixated on forcing the issue on the Western Front and neglected other, potentially more profitable, theatres. After his removal from office the strategy was changed - the Germans accepted a temporary stalemate in the West in order to concentrate resources in the East. The new strategy came much closer to working than we may recall; Russia was knocked out of the war in 1917, and when Germany's full force was turned back the other way in 1918 the very strong spring offensives nearly broke the Western Front open before they ran out of steam.

So, the analogy is this - Denethor is like Falkenhayn or most of the British and especially French commanders. His vision of the war is restricted to a single theatre, and he sees neither dangers nor opportunities in events elsewhere. (There's a definite resemblance between the Western Front and the confrontation line between Gondor and Mordor, too; the proximity of the centres of power, the emphasis on fortifications, the intimacy - so to speak - of the struggle.) Sauron and Gandalf have the broader vision of a von Seeckt (or a Churchill, for that matter) - they understand that the war encompasses the entire arc from Erebor to the delta of the Anduin, and from the Shire to Orodruin (well, Sauron doesn't realise that last bit, which is rather important.) Just because the confrontation along the lower Anduin had become a stalemate didn't mean that decisive moves couldn't be made elsewhere on the board, over a period of decades if not centuries. (And again, there's something appealing in the analogy between the Eastern Front and the wide-open, sparsely-populated spaces of Rhovanion and Eriador.)

I'm sure we could come up with other historical parallels for the strategic division between Denethor and Gandalf (there were similar arguments on both sides in WWII), but WWI struck me first... perhaps because of my non-fiction reading at that moment. :)

I should add that I don't want to be too harsh on Denethor, though he's possibly my least favourite character, Not-Absolutely-Evil Division; it's easier for the Maiar to take the long view. But that brings us back to his second fatal flaw, the degree to which he over-estimates his own gifts and consequently under-values the assistance of others.
Kate Nepveu
62. katenepveu
ed-rex @ #60, re: Denethor as a machiavelian materialist in a world of magic . . . (who's) been playing the wrong game

How interesting. Hmm. Hmm.

*wanders off, muttering to herself*

peachy @ #61: thank you for the WWI analogy! And yes, pride very much goeth for Denethor, doesn't it?
Travis Butler
63. tbutler
Re: Gandalf the Steward, "Did you not know?" - I think it's simpler than trying to link to his status as Maiar, or even Istari. Look at the context; he comes in to see Denethor, and the first words out of his mouth: "I am come with counsel and tidings in this dark hour." Denethor responds with an echo of Wormtongue's 'Gandalf Stormcrow,' followed (after Pippin's offer of service) by his dismissal of Gandalf's efforts in Rohan:

"For I have not ridden hither from Isengard, one hundred and fifty leagues, with the speed of wind, only to bring you one small warrior, however courteous. Is it naught to you that Theoden has fought a great battle and that Isengard is overthrown, and that I have broken the staff of Saruman?"
"It is much to me. But I know already sufficient of these deeds for my own counsel against the menace of the East."

So when Gandalf speaks of being a steward, I think he's talking about his efforts to stir up and organize the free peoples against the threat of Mordor; "Did you not know?" is a pointed rejoinder that the world is more than just Gondor, and that Denethor needs to look outside his own boundaries.

Kate@#23: Be very, very thankful you missed the Rankin-Bass RotK. :) But I have a soft spot for the Rankin-Bass Hobbit; it was my first exposure to Tolkein, and fit my early childhood's mindset very well. (I think I still have my pre-videotape box set around somewhere, combining LP records of the audio track with a large-format illustration book using cels from the show.) Their voice actors for Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond and even Gollum are still my mental voices for the characters. (John Huston in particular nails it as Gandalf; you can hear him reading the opening narration at ) Oh, and while Glen Yarborough can sometimes be cloying, and was not right at all for RotK, he works very well in Hobbit. :)

I will admit that while Gandalf's character design is superb, the R-B character designs for the dwarves and Bilbo are... bad.
64. Judith Proctor
When considering Denethor's attitude towards Aragorn, it's important to remember what he said to Boromir long before when Boromir asked him why the stewards could not become rulers after so long a time.

"When asked by his son Boromir how long must pass before a Steward could become a King, if the King did not return, Denethor II replied: "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty ... In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."

What caused him to go against his own words? Did he mean them when he spoke them? Would he have welcomed a king who was not Thorongil? Did he just use the concept of the absent king as a way of emphasising the noble blood of his line? (Ie. the kings of Gondor were very noble indeed and this emphasises the nobility of the stewards)

When Aragon challenged Sauron in the palantir, did Sauron promptly work hard on influencing Denethor to reject him? It seems plausible to me, but I've not seen any discussion of it.
Kate Nepveu
65. katenepveu
I would see that comment as King = super-extra noble, whereas Aragorn = not particularly noble and so unworthy. To mix my items of furniture, it's putting the throne on a pedestal. =>

And yes, plausible, though I think it hadn't occured to me because it hardly seems necessary.
66. fantasywind
It's also interesting that while many critics accuse Tolkien of writing only characters of noble class great lords and all here we have Beregond simple man-at-arms, basically a commoner that just happens to have position in elite Tower Guard in Third Company. This character has many noble traits (Beregond's son Bergil also says something about uncle in Lossarnach so possibly Beregond is from this province). As for hobbits class system, it appears to be less hierarchical than any other the only difference is in wealth but it is mostly the heads of families that govern the affairs in their respective spheres (so this Gaffer Gamgee would be head of his family :) ) and we see that Bilbo treated Hamfast Gaffer with great respect, despite the fact that this was his hired gardener.

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