Mar 8 2010 4:18pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.2, “The Passing of the Grey Company”

cover of The Return of the KingBefore we get started on “The Passing of the Grey Company,” chapter 2 of book V of The Return of the King, two things. First, my apologies for the long delay between chapter posts; it’s amazing what a big hole a sick kid can put in one’s schedule. (You might be saying at this point, “Gosh, Kate, you’ve said your kid’s been sick a lot when you’re begging our pardon for not being around much.” To which I say, “Thanks for noticing.”)

Second, I am currently auctioning the opportunity to be me! Or, more precisely, to make a guest post on this very re-read or have me write about a topic of your choice. Bid on the auction at this LiveJournal post, after reading the instructions. Bidding closes Saturday, March 13, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern; more cool stuff is highlighted here.

And now, without further ado: “The Passing of the Grey Company.”

What Happens

Merry, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli ride with Théoden after Gandalf and Pippin depart. They are found by Elrond’s sons and a group of Dúnedain, who bring counsel from Elrond and a standard from Arwen. They sleep at the Hornburg, and in the morning Merry swears service to Théoden.

Aragorn announces that he must move more quickly, so he and his kindred will take the Paths of the Dead. After the Riders leave with Merry, Aragorn tells Legolas and Gimli that the night before, he looked in the Orthanc palantír. He revealed himself to Sauron as the heir of Isildur and wrenched the palantír away from Sauron’s control, barely, to see a threat to Minas Tirith coming from the South. Aragorn tells the others about the men cursed by Isildur to never rest until they fulfill their broken oath, whom he intends to summon to his aid.

Aragorn’s party rest that night at Dunharrow. Éowyn asks to ride with his company, which he refuses. They enter the Paths of the Dead and find whispers and the sense of a following crowd. Aragorn summons the Dead to the Stone of Erech; the company rides hard and arrives there just before midnight. There Aragorn declares himself Isildur’s heir, unfurls Arwen’s standard, and promises the Dead peace if they assist him now. They travel south in great haste, into the dawnless day with the Dead following after.


Another long, fabulous chapter! The opening of this book is, I think, my favorite sustained sequence in the re-read so far.

There’s a nice reference back to the end of Book III, when Merry says that he doesn’t want to be “like baggage to be called for when all is over”: on checking, he was the one who asked Gandalf about their being “small rag-tag dangling behind,” and obviously that still rankles. As of course it should, since it’s only been a few hours, but it’s easy to forget that with a whole book in-between, so I appreciate the reminder. (This is probably anachronistic: called for where, at a train station? But I, at least, didn’t notice until I was proofreading this post.)

Merry and Théoden also pick up their relationship from Book III, with Théoden immediately having Merry sit by his side and naming him his esquire. Merry’s swearing to Théoden is an instructive compare-and-contrast with Pippin’s swearing to Denethor. Théoden offers Merry the kindness of riding with him without prompting or apparent ulterior motive, and Merry responds:

Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. ‘May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap, Théoden King?’ he cried. ‘Receive my service, if you will!’

‘Gladly will I take it,’ said the king; and laying his long old hands upon the brown hair of the hobbit, he blessed him. ‘Rise now, Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld!’ he said. ‘Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune!’

‘As a father you shall be to me,’ said Merry.

‘For a little while,’ said Théoden.

So: Merry offers his service in response to kindness, not scorn and suspicion, and out of love, not pride. Théoden receives it with a blessing, not a binding oath, and positions them as family to each other, not as master and servant, while acknowledging the inevitability of a coming end, instead of fiercely denying it. Instructive, indeed. Also, it makes me sniffle a bit for the both of them.

* * *

I don’t have much to say about the Dúnedain and Elrond’s sons. They have never made much of an impression on me and that hasn’t changed now. In fact, if we met on the street and you asked me the names of Elrond’s sons, I’d have to look them up (Elladan and Elrohir). Anyone have anything to say about them?

* * *

This is a very Aragorn-centric chapter, though not told from his point of view; insofar as the latter sections have an individual point of view, it’s Gimli’s. Again, I wonder what the book would have been like if it had managed to integrate Aragorn’s backstory into the text proper, instead of leaving it mostly for the Appendices. A statement like “Always my days have seemed to me too short to achieve my desire” has a much different resonance to me now than it did in the past, before I had really looked at Aragorn’s character in light of the whole text.

I believe there’s been discussions in the past about whether it was a good decision of Aragorn’s to look in the palantír? Me, I can’t get particularly passionate about it: he did it, it worked, so he was correct that he was able to do it. (Again, this is informed by the hints we get at all the things he’s been through in the Appendices, which to me makes his belief that he could pit his will against Sauron’s a lot more reasonable.) I welcome other viewpoints in the comments.

I wonder what “other guise” Aragorn showed Sauron, besides the reforged sword? Did he just de-scruff for the occasion, did he wrap himself in Arwen’s standard, or is it something less material/more mythic? I have no idea.

While we’re talking about the use of the palantír, I’ll note for later that apparently I don’t remember the logistics of the battles here. I’d vaguely assumed that the unlooked-for peril Aragorn saw in the palantír was the Corsairs, except that Gondor’s already heard about a black fleet: the people watching the Captains of the Outlands arriving refer to it as common knowledge.

Finally for this bit, am I right that the words of Malbeth the Seer are in alliterative verse, the kind with implicit pauses in the middle of lines?

at the Stone of Erech || they shall stand again
and hear there a horn || in the hills ringing.

(Notice how I pick two lines from the middle, because they’re the ones that I feel most confident in my guesses about the pauses? Yeah, fear my l33t poetry skillz!)

* * *

Oh, now for the painful bit: Éowyn.

These conversations made me very nearly writhe in my chair as I read, because here’s the thing: they’re both right, in different ways. Aragorn is correct that she can’t abandon her duty, and Éowyn is justified in feeling bitter that she is always given this duty.

(By the way: I do not want to hear that she should have been left behind because she’s a woman and therefore not as good a fighter as the men, i.e., as every single man who wasn’t left behind. She KILLED A FUCKING FELL BEAST, that argument is not on the table. Appoint as leader an older man who is respected for his age and wisdom but no longer young and fast and able to KILL A FUCKING FELL BEAST.

Ahem. I hope we’re clear on that.)

I do have to say, however, that I thought Aragorn a bit less than tactful when he offers Éowyn “valour without renown.” Éowyn hears this, and I think quite reasonably, as another way of saying “when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.” I suppose he was actually demonstrating the difference between high Númenóreans and the Rohirrim, the different emphasis they put on known valor and warriors and so forth. But it still hardly seems an argument likely to reach Éowyn at this point.

Anyway. Gorgeous, painful section; I’m sure we’ll be revisiting it extensively in chapters to come.

* * *

The Paths of the Dead. This is mostly from Gimli’s point of view, which I think is a terrific choice, as well as the only realistic one. Legolas isn’t afraid of the dead generally, Aragorn is out-of-bounds as a POV character, we don’t know any of the new people, but “Gimli Glóin’s son who had walked unafraid in many deep places of the world”? If he’s scared, so am I.

And I was. I particularly liked the torches that went out and could not be re-lit, which is either a demonstration of just how creepy the Dead are, that the torches can’t even cope in their presence, or a manifestation of the active, deliberate powers of the Dead—I strongly prefer the former. Gimli, poor thing, is reduced to “crawling like a beast on the ground,” which is another instance of fear making people animal-like, as John Garth pointed out.

(The dead man they find is Baldor, which is explained briefly in the next chapter.)

Does anyone have a theory why Aragorn says they have to come to the Stone of Erech before midnight? Does his summons have some implicit good-for-this-day-only condition in it, and the Dead would turn on them after it expires? That strikes me as rather less than useful, if so, and also not apparent from his verbal summons to them. Or maybe the Dead are like gremlins and get special powers after midnight?

What did the bit with the standard do for you all when you first read it? Specifically,

And with that he bade Halbarad unfurl the great standard which he had brought; and behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness. Then there was silence, and not a whisper nor a sigh was heard again all the long night.

I think I tended to pass over it with a bit of a “well, that was weird, whatever” feeling. Looking at it now, I am not sure what effect it was supposed to produce on me, but I find it . . . odd. “Behold!”, a standard that could be just plain black for all we know? Arwen couldn’t have made something that gave off light on its own accord, which would be very symbolic and useful and such? (Someone should market a black flag with a glow-in-the-dark White Tree, seven stars, and crown. I would absolutely buy one for SteelyKid’s room.) The Dead accept that as proof, when anyone can make a flag? Enh.

Very soon after we get the chapter’s closing paragraph, which is a mix of place names that meant nothing to me until I pulled out the folded map at the back of my one-volume collector’s edition and excellent creepiness:

They passed Tarlang’s Neck and came into Lamedon; and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them, until they came to Calembel upon Ciril, and the sun went down like blood behind Pinnath Gelin away in the West behind them. The township and the fords of Ciril they found deserted, for many men had gone away to war, and all that were left fled to the hills at the rumour of the coming of the King of the Dead. But the next day there came no dawn, and the Grey Company passed on into the darkness of the Storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight; but the Dead followed them.

With bonus orienting us in time relative to the prior chapter! I appreciate it, at least.

All right. I will do my best to make the next post at a shorter interval. Meanwhile, go forth and bid on the auction to make a guest post here!

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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.

Yonatan Zunger
1. zunger
I remember that long ago, when I first read this, the standard was one of the scenes which really stuck out for me. The fact that the POV character couldn't see what was on it, and had no idea what was on it, increased the sense of "this is some great message, possibly magical in nature, which establishes Aragorn's right to order them."

On subsequent readings, I assumed that the dead could both see what was written on it, and could tell that it was Elven-work, and that the combination of these two was a sign to them that he had been acknowledged as the heir by the people with the knowledge to do so, and thus could speak ex officio. Both ways, it seemed like a clear sign that Aragorn had started to assume the mê of kingship, and thus a sign that we were entering the end-game of the story.
2. Lsana
On the Dunedain and Elrond's sons:

These always struck me as a Missed Moment of Awesome. Initially, my reaction was the same as Theoden's: we all know that Aragorn is a badass, we just got 30 more Aragorns, we are going to kick some serious ass! But we never really get to see them doing anything.

I wish we had stayed with this plotline more. I would have liked to see the further adventures of Aragorn and his group and see the Dunedain live up to their reputation.

On the palantir:

I'm firmly on the side that Aragorn was right to use it. As well as learning from the appendices just how strong Aragorn is, there's also the factor of just how much the palantir prefer their rightful owners over interlopers; Sauron does not have the right to his, and it will never work as well for him as it will for someone like Aragorn. The "rightful owner" clause was enough for even Denethor to use his palantir without falling to Sauron for years. Aragorn had good reason to believe that he could win this contest.

On Eowyn:

I do understand her frustration with not being allowed to go to the front lines, but on the other hand, she's acting queen of Rohan. Does she really think that being made acting queen is the equivalent of being told to "stay in the kitchen"? I think that's the part that Aragorn says is Wormtongue's influence: despite the importance of the task she was given, she seems to believe she only got it because they don't respect her abilities in other areas.
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. tonyz
Aragorn's "other guise" to Sauron probably included Anduril (the reforged Narsil, the sword that cut the Ring from Sauron's hand three millenia ago), Arwen's banner, and the Star of Elendil, the Arnorian royal diadem (subject of a long essay in Unfinished Tales, but I believe Aragorn will be wearing it again at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields). At any rate, it seems to have been sufficient for Sauron to recognize him by. As for what he saw, I think we can conclude it was the Corsairs, both because news of them hasn't reached Rohan yet so it fits the advanced warning thing (Theoden will only hear about it when the Red Arrow reaches Dunharrow the night of his arrival), and because Aragorn's actions are unhesitatingly directed at stopping the Corsairs (bringing the Dead with him through south Gondor to Pelargir).

One of the things that seems to be harder and harder for fantasy writers to get right (or have at all) is time-and-distance stuff: we live in a world where something known in one place is known swiftly all over, and where everywhere is only 24 hours apart (if you have enough money). So people either bypass it or just assume that handy magic spells fix it all -- which leads to a loss of landscape; distance doesn't matter anymore, and you don't spend time going through the land and learning what it's like. (Not that I mind being able to visit my parents quickly several states away, but I do miss learning what the world is like between us -- so I've been taking the train the last couple of years.) Tolkien gets those distance relations right, though it seems to have taken him rather some pains.

As far as Eowyn goes, the one thing you haven't really touched in yet is that this is also an example of Gruff Old Guy Telling Frustrated Teen The Way Things Are -- because of his Numenorean longevity, and because he seldom makes a point of it, it's easy to forget that Aragorn is eighty-eight years old in TA 3019. Aragorn understands Eowyn's problem perfectly well, and sympathetically -- as we will see when he hits Eomer over the head with a Giant Cluebat in the Houses of Healing later! -- but you can't run away from your responsibilities when you're in command, unfair as it may be if you are. But he can't force Eowyn to listen to him; that sort of advice never sticks unless the person is already ready to hear it, and Eowyn isn't. And, as you point out, Kate, Aragorn knows that valor need not be public to be worthwhile, which is something I don't think the Rohirrim have in their cultural mindset, where public recognition of the deed, praise by one's lord, is a necessary completion of accomplishment.

The Dead can probably see in the dark, so they know what the flag is (and, yes, I'd totally buy one of those glow-in-the-dark banners too), but this is a wonderful foreshadowing (and contrast, alternating dark and light again) of the moment when the banner is unveiled once more, in the sunlight and new wind of the bright morning on the Fields of Pelennor before the City.
David Levinson
4. DemetriosX
Nice summary this week. Let's see:

Palantir: I think I opened the snark on Aragorn's use of the palantir with the "Hey, eye boy!" remark. The only real argument against its use here is that Gandalf had just (over a book ago, but only a few hours in time) urged great caution with it. Obviously, you can't argue with success, and Aragorn is aware that everything they are doing is only a distraction. This is certainly a good way to deflect Sauron's attention to the west and away from Frodo. As for the "other guise", apart from the reforged sword and the Star of Elendil as others have pointed out, he probably also began to unfold his "kingly aura" if you will. He has been hiding his true identity for his whole life, and now he has given Sauron a quick glimpse.

Eowyn: Lsana @2 makes a good point about her being acting queen. Another factor here is that even if they are successful, should both Theoden and Eomer be killed, Eowyn is the last of the royal line. She has a duty to prevent if from dying out. Her reaction to "being given permission to be burned in the house" is probably an aftereffect of Wormtongue's poison. She would certainly be expected to go down with a sword in her hand, taking as many of the enemy with her she can. The doomed last stand was a powerful form of glory in the Germanic cultures that served as a model for the Rohirrim (and for a lot of other cultures too; think Thermopylae, the Alamo, Gordon in Khartoum). Consider Theoden's charge at Helm's Deep. They were all expecting to die, but they were going to make it count. No less would have been expected of Eowyn. Of course, her presence and Merry's at the Pelennor Fields was a prophetic necessity.

The banner: The dead could probably see the device on the banner, but mortal eyes seeing it as only black also recalls the type of the mysterious knight without a heraldic device. This is often the missing heir or what have you.

Merry: I think Merry's oath is much more moving (and is meant to be). One way of looking at it is that Pippin swore his oath to Gondor, while Merry swore his to Theoden. Merry's has a much greater emotional impact, but Pippin's is probably more powerful, being sworn to an abstract.
5. Rabscuttle
Regarding 'valor without renown' I think that is a theme that comes up a lot. Faramir uses about the same line with Eowyn, and Theoden wants to make an end worthy of song at Helms Deep, I think Treebeard even says something more or less like that. Always the valor is worth it even if there is nobody to sing "Nine Fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom" afterward

I think this may be an echo of Tolkien's time in the trenches. He no doubt saw lots of courage that was not done with a field-grade officer watching and thus was not worth a medal (our equivalent of a song). Presumably he thought it was worthwhile anyway.

I would also agree with the commenters that Eowyn not going to war is not because she lacks skill, it is because she is the last of the House of Eorl, and thus nobody can lead the people as well as she can. I think Hama says as much at one point.

Great re-read, by the way. I just stumbled across it, and am enjoying it a lot.
Hugh Arai
6. HArai
I agree with Lsana@2: The reason Eowyn is expected to stay is because because as Hama points out earlier in the story, the people put their trust in the House of Eorl and with Theoden and Eomer going, she's the last representative of the House.
If Eomer had a younger brother instead of a sister, he would have been left in the same position I think. Although Eowyn doesn't want to hear it, you don't put just any chump in charge of protecting/ruling the people that remain while the King and army are away.
Wesley Parish
7. Aladdin_Sane
at the Stone of Erech || they shall stand again
and hear there a horn || in the hills ringing.

Old English alliterative verse had four stressed syllables per line - fwliw they're still a feature in English verse - and these four syllables coincided with the major stressed syllables of the major words in each line. Eg, with the ' indicating the following syllable is stressed and thus poetically important:

at the 'Stone of 'Erech || they shall 'stand ag'ain
and 'hear there a 'horn || in the 'hills 'ringing.

Three syllables were supposed to start with identical consonants, the fourth syllable could be assonant, or start with a vowel: vowels did not have to be identical. Minor stressed syllables were frequently used to break up the steady "thump-thump-thump-thump", using the ` to indicate minor stress:

and 'hear `there a 'horn || in the 'hills 'ringing.

With the caesura in the middle, breaking up the lines into two - you've got that correctly.
Wesley Parish
8. Aladdin_Sane
Just a thought about "valour without renown" - that has been Aragorn's daily lot, ranging the North to keep the "foes that would freeze his liver" from affecting the likes of Barliman Butterbur, and all he has got from that is a barely courteous right to sit somewhere at a table and have a drink every now and then.

He's speaking from hard-won experience. And Eowyn's not in any position to contradict him.
Wesley Parish
9. Aladdin_Sane
Another exceptionally painful aspect of this chapter is that Eowyn has fallen for Aragorn - worship at a distance. And he sees it and knows it and the only response he can make, is "You're not the one. I've already chosen, and she's somewhere else."

That I think is what drives her to abandon her post and seek death as an (anonymous) warrior in the war-band of her uncle.
10. pilgrimsoul
Merry's oath to Theoden based on love is very moving even when one doesn't know what's coming, and so Theoden's perfectly understandable rejection of martial service from Merry and Eowyn later on is wrenching.
Whatever rational arguments for her holding to her duty--and I can't dispute them--the pain she feels and the love and longing she feels--and not just for Aragon--aches.
I picture Aragorn in shining armor with Arwen's banner behind him and the Dundedain standing by as his retainers. His strength and virtue come as a shock to the Dark Lord who did not know of his existence.
And yet Gimli is the best pov character for the "Passing." He is young and inexperienced for a Dwarf, and like Hobbits can stand in for the reader because of his limited vision. For this reason I regret JRRT's revision of Aragorn's anger at him in the first edition. Like the rest of us Gimli can't quite get it.
Andrew Foss
11. alfoss1540
Baggage, Baggage, Baggage - a little easier that when he was being hauled across Rohan - and later behind Dernhelm. Still a modern reference.

Aragorn looking in the Palantir - Was a funny change in him. The entire story he has been the reluctant king. Now he just goes for it with a "hey, It's my right and I knew I could do it no matter what you thought Elrond." He has become a baddass.

Eowyn - No matter what the honor in it, she was left at Meduseld against her will in the first place by an Uncle/Father trying to protect her. Being left home again is a snub. And the whole in love with Aragorn thing (horribly melodramatized in the the movies) should have been nipped in the bud from the beginning. Aragorn is Way taken. The scene at the doorstep is painful.

Riding out of the Paths of the Dead - I did exactly as you did with the maps about 4 readings ago. It helped then.

Kate - Hope the kid feels better. My 4 young ones have been passing around the same thing - Baby may get tubes soon.
Tony Zbaraschuk
12. tonyz
It may be partly to protect here, but Eowyn is left behind in charge of Edoras because people trust her, and the House of Eorl, to be their leaders in time of danger. Yeah, it's staggeringly unfair, but let's not forget all the people in Rohan who need leadership and good government and a symbol of hope and continuity in times of wrenching change.

Aragorn is taken, and knows it (and it's not just "loves someone else", it's "formally betrothed to someone else"), but he has to deal gently with Eowyn for many reasons, not least of which is compassion: it would be brutal to just crush or dismiss her, so he has to be courteous all the way through, and it's heartwrenching.
13. Rabscuttle
Actually, I don't find the Eowyn/Aragorn thing to be so heartwrenching, since it is such an old fashioned thing. She is not in love with him, in a modern sense, in that she has barely spoken to him and he has never given her the slightest bit of encouragement. I find it hard to swallow that any modern female (or male) character you could take seriously could be really in love without someone who is clearly not interested. You could have a crush on them, be lustful for them etc., but not in love. Well, maybe if Aragorn was enough of a cad to lead her on, but that's not happening in the book.

She is infatuated, or in love with him, like a lady in a medieval romance, which requires a lot less in terms of heart-to-heart connections and a lot more admiring how he looks in a suit of armor. I never really saw it as a modern-type love story like Eowyn and Faramir or Sam and Rosie. (That's why I accepted P. Jackson's silly Arwen leaving thing, since its the only way to make the love triangle work as a modern relationship.) Or maybe I'm just reading it wrong. I'm not female, but it seems weird to me to try and put E and A in the model of modern romance.
14. EmmaPease
On the corsairs, I think Aragorn saw that the fleet was much larger than what the lords of Gondor expected and would overwhelm the forces set to stop them on the lower Anduin. Even Denethor probably didn't know at this time as Sauron probably hid that bit from him until his last look at the palantir.

From the appendices we also know that Aragorn had given the corsairs a crushing defeat when serving Denethor's father.
Sam Kelly
15. Eithin
Aladdin Sane @7 is entirely correct regarding the words of Malbeth the Seer, but allow me to add something.

at the Stone of Erech || they shall stand again
and hear there a horn || in the hills ringing.

This is possibly just because I'm used to looking for it, but I'm seeing a lot of Welsh poetic tradition here - it's a pretty good attempt at doing cynghanedd in English. That's not a denigration, because it's incredibly difficult to do cynghanedd in English while still making sense, and of course Tolkien knew a lot about it.

Cynghanedd works by repeating patterns of sounds, mostly consonants, across the caesura - here we have

-- th -- st-n -- ech-- || th -- st-n -- (en)
-- th- h-rn || - th- h -- r-n--

The assonance within words is an extra feature not present in the standard AS verse structure.

There's a lot of crossfertilization between the Welsh (ie. old British) and Anglo-Saxon traditions, and people have been picking them up on and off ever since - Gerard Manley Hopkins used a lot of it.
16. goshawk
In terms of Aragorn's use of the palantir, I think it's useful to think of it as a kind of gamble - a calculated risk. Aragorn's been taking those kinds of risks with his and presumably others' lives for decades, albeit at a lower intensity. Now everything is coming to a head, he's able to judge the risk and take the gamble, and it pays off thanks to years of preparation. One of the marks of a good officer is that he can keep his head and make cool judgment calls like that under fire, which Tolkien might have seen and internalised from his time in the trenches.

The standard! Ah, the standard. I've read quite a few "disappointed" opinions of people who are upset that of all things Arwen might have done for him, she made him a pretty flag. But consider this: Arwen is the descendant of Luthien, daughter of Elrond Halfelven, and related to Galadriel. She is a powerful elven lady in her own right. Is it really that likely that "pretty" is the only thing that standard has going for it? Think about it. It apparently solidifies Aragorn's hold over the dead. When it's unfurled at the Pelennor, Mordor's soldiery was immediately "filled with dread and terror" because they somehow instantly understood that their ships were full of enemies. And all of Gondor's defenders were suddenly filled with joy and hope and fresh energy at the sight. Remember that very little of the magic in Tolkien's Middle Earth is flashy and ostentatious, particularly elven "magic". My opinion is that the standard had a great deal of "oomph" woven into it.

This scene with Eowyn makes me cry, every time. At the point she meets Aragorn, her pride is all she has left, and that's why seeing her fall to her knees and beg is such a tragedy. It's not so much that she loves him, in the modern or even mediaeval-romance sense. To her, Aragorn represents one last chance to bind her (tarnished, thanks to Wormtongue) name to something worthwhile and honourable. Failing that, all she wants is a clean and honourable death. That's the thing the movies got really wrong with her: she went to war not out of some feminist impulse but to seek death. That she is instead granted renown and honour for her courage and skill is one of things that makes Tolkien's world so wonderful - it doesn't have to be a tragedy. Grace and redemption are possible.
17. Foxessa
Welcome back ... you were missed. I'm so sorry your child has been ill. That's an extra-special stress on all fronts for mothers. (Though sometimes it is the fathers, but not as often.)

That 'checked' baggage struck me from the very first reading, and did for every subsequent re-reading. As anachronisms usually bump me out of the page, this one didn't matter, though unable to say why.

Aragorn showed himself to Sauron as the Heir to one who'd previously defeated the Dark Lord, as the King Who Has Returned, his true self, for the first time. His unveiling, as it were, provided the greatest goad to Sauron's self-confidence, an enormous distraction from seeking his Ring.

This action allows an added authenticity to Aragorn's stark response to Eowyn's desire to travel with him. As was mentioned above, Aragorn has been fighting without renown himself for these endless years, long before she was ever born. That's catastrophes, great and small, public and private. People of all kinds perform heroic acts without recognition. Sometimes indeed the most heroic act is just keeping on despite the lack of joy or hope. LOTR repeats this to the reader many times, probably more often than most readers want to read it. Nevertheless, it remains as true now as it was within the world of LOTR.

I re-read The Children of Húrin again this winter, which tells the tale of the rise of Morgoth and the disappeared lands referenced in LOTR. This tale ends without hope. Yet, somehow, out of this, ages later, we are now here ....

Love, C.
18. Elaine Thom
General remark about Eowyn.

I don't see Eowyn as in love with Aragorn. Has a crush on, yes. Sees him as a way of escape from something she scorns but feels dutybound to stick to, yes. She feels trapped by Wormtongue's words and harrassment, by Theoden's long illness - she wants OUT. Home is associated with all that. I can understand her not wanting to stay, but as others have said, she's the last of the royal line and that's who the people trust.

Someone... #4, DemetriosX wrote that her presence and Merry's at Pelennor, was a prophetic necessity. I don't think so. Yeah, I know. Not by the hand of man etc. Still, remember Gandalf in a hurry to go out of the city and Pippin drags him away to Denethor's pyre? Gandalf was hurrying out to deal with the Witch-King, and later says that much harm has fallen that because he had to deal with Denethor instead. Gandalf isn't a man, either, he could have fulfilled the prophecy just as well, and it reads to me as if he intended to.

On 'baggage'. It never bothered me, and so when I saw people complaining about it, I looked it up. It's not modern, although it's from Middle French, which makes it an odd choice for Tolkien, who tended to prefer AS. One of the oldest uses is as military equipment not carried personally by the warriors. OTOH, the full line from Merry certainly sounds modern.

Later, in the Frodo/Sam section we get a glimpse of what Sauron saw from Aragorn's time with the palantir. Something like 'the tower was wrapped and brooding, a bright sword and stern and kingly face it saw..." Aragorn's idea that it would cause Sauron to look out, within his land panned out.

Now in #11, alfoss1540 wrote that Aragorn had been all along in the story a reluctant king. No. Not at all, that's the movies talking, not the story. He's been working towards the kingship probably all his life, and certainly since he and Arwen declared their love. That's one of the reasons he was going to Minas Tirith, the prophecy called him, so he took it as a sign the time was come. With the fellowship he didn't make a big deal of it - maybe also for Boromir's sake - because they didn't need it. But he announces himself upfront as rightful king of Gondor to the first strangers he meets - Eomer and the Rohirrim. He doesn't do 'kingliness in command ' at Helm's Deep, because Theoden is doing quite a good job of it already, and Theoden is allied with Gondor - you don't treat the allies rudely.
19. Confutus
Kings who lead armies are usually suppored to have a body guard, an elite royal escort, or as in the case of Theodn, a company of men of their own household. That these show up for Aragorn when he is about to lead an army gives weight to his claim that he is a king in his own right, not just a lone warrior in Theoden's company. The fact that they showed up without him summoning them is an important clue that this is Power confronting Power, not a simple squabble between rulers. The mention of the fall of one of the rangers in the minstrel's song following the battle of the Pelennor helps give them a face.
It also seems appropriate that Elendil and Elrond, leaders of the last Alliance to defeat Sauron, be represented by their heirs, as well as significant that this is primarily a battle between Men, and the elves, who are already leaving middle earth, send no army this time.
As for Aragorn's challenge, to recap, Sauron "knows" that Saruman captured a hobbit or two, and that they might have the One Ring. Saruman refused to yield a prisoner and was incommunicado when Sauron sent a Nazgul after him, a sure sign of betrayal, and the follow-up messenger reported that he was overthrown. Within a few days, this man bearing the tokens of Elendil's heir shows himself and wrests control of the Orthanc Palantir. The new Ringlord?
One of Aragorn's lines here has always tickled my fancy. "Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough--barely."
Combining multiple forces on the field against a single objective is supposedly one of the trickiest of military problems: It requires exact timing to get them all together at the same time so they aren't defeated one after the other. Sauron has three wings of his assault: a main invasion force from Minas Morgal, the Corsairs from Ubmar, and a host of orcs sweeping through and past defeated Rohan instead of expected aid. This force has now been smashed. The timing of Aragorn's challenge is unreasonably effective. As we see later, it provokes Sauron into a fatal strategic and military error with the rest of his forces. One might think it inspired.
20. Nicholas Waller
Baggage - I don't find that out of place. My Shorter Oxford says that "baggage" does tend to be used in the US for modern transport where in the UK we use "luggage", as in "Left Luggage" offices at railways stations and Rincewind's Luggage in Discworld, so maybe it is a transatlantic thing (Heathrow Airport baggage handlers notwithstanding).

Baggage also the portable equipment of an army (as in "baggage train"), and also "a worthless or vile fellow" and various other insults around 1600.

My problem with the Paths of the Dead is the way, as far as I recall, we suddenly get bounced into going down them. "My way is not clear", says Aragorn. "I am going to Dunharrow" says Theoden. Later, Aragorn has seen a new threat in the Palantir and says "I will go by the Paths of the Dead". And the gate to these paths is indeed in Dunharrow, says Theoden, which is a bit of a lucky coincidence.

The only real need for the Paths to be where they are is so Aragorn and Eowyn can talk, and Theoden can later have news of them passing that way. The idea of that route could probably have been better planted; it has always struck me (maybe I am wrong) as perhaps a late idea stuck in a bit clumsily.
Eric Scharf
21. EricScharf
Nicholas @ 20: I agree that the Paths of the Dead seem precipitous, particularly since there has been so little direct foreshadowing of it (perhaps there have been parallels I've missed; the Barrow Downs?). What I found odd was that employing the Oathbreakers as Aragorn does seems like such a no-brainer to someone who has spent decades contemplating a martial confrontation with Mordor that Aragorn needing to be reminded of them by Elrond seems wrong. I can only solve this by acknowledging that summoning the Dead is certainly "creepy" (as Kate put it) and possibly risky, and Aragorn had previously decided against taking the Paths, but the success of his gambit with the palantír encouraged him to take another risk.

Nevertheless, the Paths remain a bit too convenient: "Look! It's a shortcut to intercept the threat I just discovered and the means to counter that threat!"
Hugh Arai
22. HArai

I think summoning the Dead was a tremendous risk. After all, their defining trait was that they were oathbreakers. What happens to Aragorn (and Gondor) if out of spite or fear the Dead decide to fail his family again? High risk, high reward.
Andrew Foss
23. alfoss1540
Elaine Thom @18- By reluctant I was also referring to the suprising lack of decision making that he made in Books 1-2 and immediately after the death of Gandalf - not knowing where to go or what to do. The prophesy was calling him, but he was not clear. I agree with all your reasons, but his clarity only arrived when the Dunedain arrive - with the Standard - all unlooked for. All the pieces in place for one hell of a set up.

PS - Viggo is not nor never was Aragorn.
24. buzzbaileyport
alfoss1540 @23 - Again, in Books 2-3 (which I'm assuming you're talking about, as they contain most of the indecisiveness of the man who would be king), Aragorn is torn between fulfilling the call of Gondor--which conveniently corresponds to his heart's desire, and is the true reason he is part of the Fellowship--and his duty to accompany the Ringbearer if need be. He is faced with circumstances beyond his control (Gandalf falling, the Fellowship going crazy below Amon Hen), but other than moan a little about his bad luck and evil choices, he ultimately makes competent (and fortuitous) decisions.

Regarding Éowyn (alfoss1540 @11): In this day and age where women are admitted into the ranks of most militaries, being left behind specifically because of gender would count as a snub. However, the concept of women fighting was totally alien to the mindsets of the cultures Tolkien was portraying in his work (note Imrahil's exclamation at the end of ch. 6). Also, I find it rather difficult to sympathize with your line of reasoning: you seem to imply that since she was left behind "against her will" last time, she should be allowed to go this time around. I would daresay that a lot of the characters in the book are doing things against their wills--e.g., most of the protaganists.

Regarding the use of the palantír: Aragorn seems to have had dual motivations in looking into the stone: to turn it to his own purposes (i.e., for intelligence-gathering), as well as to draw the attention of Sauron--away from the Ringbearer, hopefully. The risks were also twofold: one, that Sauron's will might overmaster Aragorn's, and two, that the "hasty stroke" would not go astray. Just as in the beginning of Book III, Aragorn is (as has already been stated) making calculating decisions, assessing the risks involved. One also wonders if the message from Elrond had anything to do with him looking into the seeing-stone. ("H'm, Elrond's reminding me of this Paths of the Dead thing, wonder if there's any reason for it...")

Aragorn taking the Paths, however, I always chalked up to sheer desperation rather than any sort of long-formulated plan. In my opinion, Aragorn has much of the same reservations about summoning the Dead as he did about entering into Moria.
David Levinson
25. DemetriosX
Spoilerific comment to follow. If you don't know what's coming, skip this one.

Elaine Thom @18 argues that Gandalf could have fulfilled the prophecy regarding the death of the Witch King as easily as Eowyn and Merry. I'm not so sure of that, else any elf could have served the purpose.

The prophetic necessary also goes beyond the simple destruction of the foe. There are a number of consequences that fall out from this. Not only is the Witch King destroyed, but ultimately Aragorn's right to the kingship is demonstrated (hands of a healer, and so on) and close ties are forged between Gondor and Rohan through a semi-royal marriage.
Michael Ikeda
26. mikeda

Another point is that it isn't a certainty that Aragorn will even be able to ENTER the main portion of the "Paths of the Dead". After all, it had been closed for a very long time.

But when Elrond and Galadriel separately draw Aragorn's attention to the Paths, Aragorn can reasonably assume that the Paths will now be open for him.
27. Elaine Thom
#25, maybe any elf indeed could have served. There weren't any around, and in the Appendices Glorfindel wasn't interested in tackling him, just stopping Earnur (?) from doing so. And I only thought of the whole angle, yesterday. But what else was Gandalf so urgent to get out of the city for? and how else to make sense of his statements about much harm and bitter loss he could have prevented had he been on the field, instead of dealing with Madman Denethor.

23 & 24 join the argum//// discussion over Aragorn, Reluctant King. I don't think he's nearly as reluctant as 23's words describe him. Yeah, he doesn't know what is best to do after Gandalf's 'death', so he waits for a sign. What he gets is at Amon Hen, when the party splits. And you're overlooking his extremely blatant announcement of his identity to the Rohirrim. IOW, as soon as possible after the sign of Amon Hen which lets him off the hook for going with Frodo to Mordor. He's not reluctant at all. He's moving to claim it as the first possible moment with Gondor's long-time allies.
Iain Coleman
28. Iain_Coleman
The character significance of Aragorn's decision to use the palantir is not that he is finally taking up the kingship - as others have said, he's quite upfront about that from the breaking of the fellowship. But this is the first time he has acted against Gandalf's advice. Hitherto, he has always deferred to Gandalf or tried to act as Gandalf would want - here he acts on his own wisdom and authority. And quite right too: if he is going to be king, he'd better rise above the need for Gandalf's guidance at some point.
Kate Nepveu
29. katenepveu
Hi, everyone. Sorry for letting comments build up--a toddler doing her best Cling Monster impersonation and Con or Bust (buy a guest post here! Ending Saturday!) have sucked away all of my time this week.

zunger @ #1, yes, of course it becomes clear later that the Dead could see what was on the standard; I just find the way it's described odd. But I like that the mystery made it work for you, instead of diminishing it as it did for me.

Lsana @ #2, I wonder if the Dunedain might have been a way to get Aragorn's backstory out before the Appendices, if maybe Gimli had befriended one of them? I'll be interested to see what I think of the off-stage nature of the Corsairs bit when we come to it.

Is she really acting queen, or a steward, to tie things back to earlier discussions? *goes back* Hama suggests her as the true last of the House of Eorl when Theoden would have overlooked her: "Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone." Hmmm. Ambiguous. I'll also note that Rohan has no precedent for a woman ruling in her own right, unlike Gondor.

Anyway. On one hand you're right that this idea of cages is very Wormtongue, yet on the other the suggestions that Theoden stay behind are rejected by him as Wormtongue-speak, more or less, so it's not as though Wormtongue made it up out of whole cloth where the Rohirrim are concerned.

tonyz @ #3, a quick skim of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields reveals Aragorn with the Star of Elendil on his brow and no mention of a diadem. *makes a note to dig out her copy of _Unfinished Tales_*

I though the advance warning was a reference to Gondor not Rohan, which is why I got confused about Aragorn's actions which are, as you say, directed at the Corsairs.

Time-and-distance, yes, good point. And Tolkien is working hard in these first chapters at keeping us oriented in relative time and space, too, as the narrative fractures, which I appreciate because I always have a terrible time with that kind of thing.

"Gruff Old Guy Telling Frustrated Teen The Way Things Are" -- hee! I'm not sure if it makes it better or worse, from Eowyn's POV, that she doesn't know how old he is (right? I think so).

DemetriosX @ #4, right, that's what it was about Aragorn and the palantir, thanks for reminding me. And I like the connection to the mysterious knight, thanks!

Rabscuttle @ #5, thanks for the other examples of people being concerned with valour without renown. And yes, Hama's comment is in III.6, "The King of the Golden Hall". (And thanks!)

Aladdin_Sane @ #7-9: excellent about Aragorn's own "valour without renown" experience--same response as to tonyz @ #3. And I wonder if the cringe-inducing nature of her crush on Aragorn is what led me to skip right over it? Because I think most people have probably been there and done something like that and shrivel up inside at the reminder. =>

Also, thank you for the poetry discussion, I appreciate it.

pilgrimsoul @ #10, yes, absolutely. I'm taking notes on the next chapter now and while it's still excellent, adding Merry's pain to Eowyn's makes it harder going.

alfoss1540 @ #11, I'm thinking of Aragorn right now as somewhere between a pessimist and a realist. On one hand, he's been honing his skills and knowledge for decades, but on the other, during that time I can't imagine how he could see a way to his goal. So we got that odd comment early about his not thinking any good of the course--but he's still a person who's going to do a thing right if he's going to do it at all, and here that means using the palantir.

(SteelyKid is doing better, thanks, this round of congestion and fever doesn't seem to have been a bacterial infection; the congestion is still lingering a bit but now she has plenty of energy to explore the joys of separation anxiety.)

Rabscuttle @ #13, no, I don't see it as a true romance, which is partly why it's so hard to read! See my response to Aladdin_Sane @ #7-9, above.

EmmaPease @ #14, "lots more Corsairs than expected" would probably account for it.

Eithin @ #15, thanks for the Welsh poetry/assonance information.

goshawk @ #16, I would certainly *like* to believe that the standard is more than a pretty piece of fabric, but I admit it had never occurred to me before that it wasn't; I'd been attributing its effect to its content rather than it form. And I'm not sure that I still don't, but I like the idea and will keep it in mind.

Yes to Eowyn, pride, and hono(u)r.

Foxessa @ #17, thanks for the sympathy. I haven't been able to work up the fortitude to tackle _Children of Hurin_, which I know makes me a bad Tolkien reader. One of these days.

Elaine Thom @ #18, re: Gandalf & the Witch King: interesting. I have a vague recollection of someone making an argument, and I don't remember if it was here or elsewhere, that Gandalf wouldn't have been able to fulfill that prophecy for metaphysical balance reasons, but I don't remember the details. I will say that it would have been much less interesting.

And thanks for remembering that quote; it's in VI.2: "The Dark Power was deep in thought, and the Eye turned inward, pondering tidings of doubt and danger: a bright sword, and a stern and kingly face it saw, and for a while it gave little thought to other things; and all its great stronghold, gate on gate, and tower on tower, was wrapped in a brooding gloom."

Confutus @ #19, those are excellent thoguhts on the Dunedain and Elrond's sons, thank you. And d'oh, how did I miss the possibility that Sauron might've thought him the new Ring bearer? I think this even gets mentioned later on.

Nicholas Waller @ #20, EricScharf @ #21, you may well be right about the convenience of the Paths; I think this is a place where familiarity is getting in my way. (But it seems to me Aragorn is only thinking of the Paths & the Dead now because of the extreme need for speed, and would probably have gone for a corporeal force if given the opportunity--see HArai @ #22.)

Iain_Coleman @ #28, nice point about Aragorn's relationship to Gandalf, a useful little nuance here.
30. Elaine Thom
On the standard, elsewhere on the net, somewhere in Usenet, someone deeply involved in SCA was talking about standards, how visible they are, etc. And Arwen's standard came up. This person (might have been Dorothy Heydt) said there was NO WAY a normal unmagicked standard would have been so visible across such a large swathe of territory as the battlefield. Maybe to see that it was black and white, but not to make out the details. Conclusion, Arwen had put some elvish magic into it - which makes sense of the note from Halbarad that 'long was the making'. If it was just weaving and embroidery, it wouldn't have been all that long, compared to her lifespan.

how did I miss the possibility that Sauron might've thought him the new Ring bearer? I think this even gets mentioned later on. Chapter of the Last Debate.

she writes helpfully.

Glad to hear your child is doing better. Been there with the clingy kid (got used to doing things in a chopped up fashion).
31. Ariels
On the standard: My first impression, even on rereading, was that Arwen had woven something into it that was visible only to the dead; in many ways, a glow-in-the-dark standard would have been *too* visible. As it is, it leaves the living standing there wondering, "what is on this banner, that the wandering dead acknowledge it?" The mysterious and unknown is always more impressive than the blazing and obvious, especially when dealing with fell doings at night.

Besides, there's clearly *some* elven magic in the gems such that the stars of Elendil's heraldry glow as later described; it seems entirely reasonable for the message received by the dead to be rather different than the one received by the living.
32. revgeorge
What a great article, Kate, and lots of great comments on it! All I can add is that if you walked up to me on the street & asked me the names of Elrond's sons I could tell you! :)
33. pilgrimsoul
And Aragorn was wearing the Elendirmir,too, when he looked in the Palantir and was brandishing Anduril. I wish I had remembered that before because it explains how he would make an impression on Sauron.

The Black Banner is a device--it puzzles the reader or it did me on first reading. Eh? Black=bad--or not but then the relief and resolution of the Good Guy Symbols comes along.

@Kate I hope you and yours stay well--not entirely for selfish reasons!
34. Elaine Thom
I once read an interesting commentary on the colors of Tolkien. Black isn't necessarily bad, nor white good. (See Saruman.) Arwen's dark beauty is seen as a conterpart to the darkness that is evil. The elite soldiers/warriors of Minas Tirith wear black with touches of silver.
Soon Lee
35. SoonLee
One of my favourite chapters. The first time I read this chapter, I was amazed when Aragorn revealed that he had used the Palantir despite warnings from Gandalf. It was at this point that I began to think Aragorn was strong enough to reclaim the kingship; I mean, he stared down Sauron!

Re:"valour without renown"
Not only Aragorn, but the Rangers too had been guarding the peoples of the Shire & surrounds for generations without recognition. It was quite telling that the Rangers had come to join Aragorn; doom is indeed near at hand.

Of the Rangers, only Halbarad was named, and he is also mentioned in coming chapter, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields". I've always wondered about the other thirty Dunedain & would have liked to have seen more of them.
Kate Nepveu
36. katenepveu
Elaine Thom @ #30, oooh, I love hearing from people with practical experience that I don't share, even second-hand. That does add weight to the magically-enhanced argument indeed. (I wonder if Tolkien's audience generally would have known that, or if it would have been better to put in a "despite the distance, viewpoint-character could clearly make out the design" kind of clue.)

Ariels @ #31, are you talking about when the banner is unfurled at the Pelennor Fields? "And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold." That doesn't strike me as necessarily magic; what are you interpreting differently?

revgeorge @ #32, if I ever need to know the names of Elrond's sons I will certainly come to you! =>

pilgrimsoul @ #33, thanks! I'm hoping to get a good bit written on the next post this weekend before I start pulling single-parent duty for most of next week.

SoonLee @ #35, yes, I know there are already a lot of characters but I would also have liked to get more of a sense of the Dunedain as a people.
Andrew Foss
37. alfoss1540
Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler question

On the Palantir, I am trying to put things together on timeframe - Aragorn looks into the Palantir about 48 hours prior to the darkness overtaking Middle Earth. Where is Pippin a this point?

Denethor is about to go Mad - after Faramir is struck down, and while Minas Tirith is under attack. Before he goes all out cookoo, he goes up in the Tower - and looks at his own Palantir - for which we believe that Sauron shows him his demise. Might that have included seeing Aragorn in all his Glory? I had not thought that before. Something to consider while reading the next chapters.
38. buzzbaileyport
alfoss1540 @37 - Aragorn looked in the palantír at the Hornburg ("Helm's Deep"), sometime between the "early morning" and "midday meal" on March 6. Pippin and Gandalf had only departed the night before (March 5), and were currently at Edoras, having arrived at dawn (along with a Winged Nazgûl).

Also, the entry in the Tale of Years for March 9 (three days after Aragorn uses the Stone) contains the sentence "Darkness begins to flow out of Morder." On the same day, Gandalf and Pippin reach Minas Tirith.

As for your second paragraph, I was always under the impression that the palantíri were like long-distance videophones--useful for communication, but not exactly "crystal balls" able to see into the future (although Gandalf hints that they may be able to see into the past, somehow).

Also, based on Denethor's and Gandalf's words immediately prior to the former's demise, I assumed that for their last videoconference, Sauron just showed the Steward his amassed armies still in Morgul and Mordor proper ("To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched"), as well as the Corsair fleet heading towards Minas Tirith ("up Anduin a fleet with black sails"). Denethor's knowledge of Aragorn I took to be from off-screen debriefings from Pippin ("in our speech together I have learned the names and purpose of all thy companions").

kate @29 - Re: The Children of Húrin, if you've read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, you've basically read this latest book as well. Most of the book seemed to be direct quotes from either of the earlier two sources, and if I remember correctly there was only one piece of new information in TCoH.

Elaine @34 - While I agree wholeheartedly with your argument, I would like to note that the first hint that Gandalf (and the reader) gets of Saruman's treachery is that he is no longer "the White."
David Levinson
40. DemetriosX
alfoss1540 @37, that's an interesting point about Sauron showing Denethor the coming of Aragorn as king. It would be a way to potentially sow some dissension in the ranks of his enemies. And just because Denethor says he got all his information from his talk with Pippin, as buzzbaileyport notes @38, doesn't mean it's true. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
jon meltzer
41. jmeltzer
We find out in the Appendices that Denethor and Aragorn not only knew each other, but knew each other well enough to have policy disagreements - and that Denethor had a good idea even then as to who Aragorn really was. I suppose if LOTR had been written as an "Aragorn's Saga" we'd get some idea as to how Aragorn thought he was going to deal with Denethor, and winning Boromir over was likely part of that. But we don't know.

(It also looks like Imrahil (who is "kinsman of the Steward" and revealed in Tolkien's notes to be Denethor's brother-in-law) must also have known Aragorn; he accepts his claim very quickly at a point when he could have, as the most powerful noble in Gondor and uncle to the new Steward, just said "no" and made that stick.)
Kate Nepveu
42. katenepveu
jmeltzer @ #41, you really think Imrahil could've? That is not an impression I ever got, though to be fair I'm not sure I gave it a great deal of thought before now.
Iain Coleman
43. Iain_Coleman
buzzbaileyport @38:

I don't think your characterisation of The Children of Hurin is quite fair. Yes, the bits and pieces had almost all been published before, but The Children of Hurin pieces them together into a single compelling narrative. For me at least, this makes the story come alive far more than the previously published treatments.

It's a glimpse of what might have been, had Tolkien either lived long enough or stopped niggling long enough to put his Silmarillion legends into a definitive and accessible narrative form. I would recommend it to anyone who loves The Lord of the Rings, more so than the published Silmarillion.
44. Stephen Morrison
Re the necessity of keeping at least one of the royals away from battle at a time, there are at least two places in Unfinished Tales where this very issue crops up:
In part (i) of Cirion and Eorl, there’s an account of the battle between King Ondoher of Gondor and the Wainriders. Ondoher and his elder son Artamir went to the war and both died in combat. His younger son Faramir had orders to stay in Minas Tirith to serve as regent, and indeed the law required this; but Faramir went to battle anyway in disguise, and was killed as well.
Then, in the appendix to "The Battles of the Fords of Isen", we’re told that Éomer as king reorganized the Marshals of the Mark:
It is recorded that after Théoden’s funeral, when Éomer reordered his realm, Erkenbrand was made Marshal of the West-mark, and Elfhelm Marshal of the East-mark, and these titles were maintained, instead of Second and Third Marshal, neither having precedence over the other. In time of war a special appointment was made to the office of Underking: its holder either ruled the realm in the King’s absence with the army, or took command in the field if for any reason the King remained at home. In peace the office was only filled when the King because of sickness or old age deputed his authority; the holder was then naturally the Heir to the throne, if he was a man of sufficient age. But in war the Council was unwilling that an old King should send his Heir to battle beyond the realm unless he had at least one other son.
There’s nothing that applies directly to Rohan at the time of the War of the Ring, but the parallels are clear enough.
45. peachy
Oh man, Elladan & Elrohir have always been two of my favourite tertiary characters - compared to the mellow and circumspect elves of the Third Age (at least in Rivendell and Lorien), they seem a bit of a throwback to the hot-blooded head-breakers of the First. (Ah, the First Age, when - to paraphrase another great author of a non-trilogy trilogy - "men were real men, elves were real elves, and little furry creatures from Beleriand were real little furry creatures from Beleriand".)
46. Rabscuttle
you really think Imrahil could've? That is not an impression I ever got, though to be fair I'm not sure I gave it a great deal of thought before now.


I'm sure he could have at least tried to block Aragorn's ascension if Gondor was anything like a historical feudal society. It's sort of a Fantasy Feudalism, however, where everyone actually obeys their liege-lord. One of the thinks I like about the books is that Tolkien, unlike so many others, actually knows a lot about the source materials he is drawing on. On the other hand, he does not let this bog the story down.
Kate Nepveu
47. katenepveu
peachy @ #45, tell me what I'm forgetting about the two of them that gave you this impression! I seriously can't think of a single thing they've done except go to Lorien after Frodo shows up at Rivendell.

Rabscuttle @ #46, fair enough. I read an interesting article--which is at home, I'll get the cite later--which points out both the intensely hierarchical nature of Tolkien's entire universe and the ways he permits movement within the hierarchy, by replacing corrupt people with the virtuous (e.g., Saruman and Gandalf) and by removing entire layers of hierarchy (Iluvatar, the Valar, and the Eldar, each in their turn). So it was something Tolkien put a lot of thought into.
48. peachy
It's all in the back-story - their mother Celebrian was captured by orcs in 2509 while crossing the Redhorn pass to visit her parents in Lorien. A rescue party managed to pluck her away in time, but she was so shaken by the horrifying experience that she sailed for the West the following year.

Elladan & Elrohir, for their parts, devoted the next five hundred years to hunting orcs - that's the kind of attention to avenging injuries to the family that the Elves used to be famous for. But, after all, they're descended on the maternal side from the House of Finwe...
50. Jerry Friedman
If I can jump in with some comments...

It's made clear later that Éowyn doesn't really love Aragorn. Nevertheless, "you have leave to burn in the house" and "because they love thee" are two of my favorite lines.

How does Merry know, and how did Pippin know, that you offer a lord your sword to enter his service? This can't happen often in the Shire. (Unless it's how the Shirrifs are sworn in?) Maybe they've heard it in old tales told by the fireside.

The Dúnedain got a message to join Aragorn without knowing who it was from—very strange. And Legolas and Gimli conclude it was from Galadriel, though they've heard her say, "...nor in choosing between this course and another, can I prevail." I guess they know that wasn't true from the advice in her messages through Gandalf.

Aragorn not only would have to ask Thé'oden's leave for Éowyn to accompany him; he'd have to ask her brother's. Rather sexist society, Rohan.

The description of Éowyn "stumbling as one that is blind" is one of the book's POV puzzles, like the fox in the Shire, since the next sentence says no one saw her. Did she describe to Frodo later how she thought she must have looked? Otherwise, if we take Tolkien's pose as the translator seriously, Frodo or another hobbit could have added it later, or the fictional Tolkien could have added it from his imagination, like the express train.

The bit about "so deep and so narrow was that chasm that the sky was dark, and in it small stars glinted" is an ancient and untrue belief. I wonder whether Tolkien believed it.

Maybe midnight was the only time Aragorn could conjure the Dead to follow him, so if he missed that midnight he'd have to wait for the next.

I'm grateful that Tolkien didn't break the chapter at a more obvious cliffhanger, say right after Aragorn and the others go through the door and realize the Dead surround them.
51. joyceman
Is there ever any explanation in any other published work as to what is behind the door at which Baldor died clutching. I dont have the books in front of me, but it appears to be some side passage that remains locked. Aragorn says something to the effect that the dead can keep thier hoards and secrets from the 'accursed years' and allow him to pass.

Anyone ever read anything further about this?
Kate Nepveu
52. katenepveu
Jerry Friedman @ #50, I agree that it's old tales by the fireside or the equivalent; I've never known anyone taken into a lord's serivce and _I_ know how it's done, after all! =>

And you've put your finger on one of the reasons why I don't believe in Tolkien-as-translator.

I don't like the idea that Aragorn could only bind the Dead at midnight, because I didn't see that as a *binding* and indeed think it would be diminished by that; I think the Dead chose to fulfill their oath.

joyceman @ #51, I don't know what was behind the door canonically, but the first thing that leaps to mind was the Dead punishing him for entering by messing with his mind.
53. Jerry Friedman
Thanks for the replies!

So Merry and Pippin knew how to swear fealty from old tales, the way we do from three-volume fantasy novels. But which of us could do it? I'd have a serious struggle with self-consciousness. It reminds me of Bergil challenging Pippin to wrestle on first meeting him. I don't remember any ten-year-old doing that—we wrestled with our friends and relatives. Maybe back in Better Times, people were bolder.

I find Tolkien the translator fascinating, maybe because the idea is so problematic. More later. (See, I can be mysterious too.)

I'm changing my theory about midnight: It was the best time for Aragorn to point out to the Dead Men that they had a good opportunity to fulfill their oath, if they chose to.

Maybe the presence of the Dead messes with people's minds whether the Dead want it to or not, unless of course the people are Aragorn and his followers.
Gabriele Campbell
54. G-Campbell
The difference between the fealty scenes of Pippin and Merry is not only that one does it out of pride and the other out of love ( great observation, it never occured to me) but they also demonstrate the difference between the Norman feudal system of vassalty and the Nordic hirð / Anglosaxon fylgd which is much more personal.

It's an interesting development. At some point the old Roman clientship merged with the Germanic Gefolgschaft (as described in Tacitus) into the Merovingian antrustiones, and over the centuries became more formalised and distant until we have a full fledged system under the Angevins that wiped out the AngloSaxon fylgd and even added some subtle changes to the Norwegian institution of ganga til hands we find in the sagas.

I won't be surprised if Tolkien delibarately showed two different ceremonies here and made the Rohan on the more sympathetic by adding another personal bond that went beyond that of a warlord and his handgengna men - the father motive. It works since Théoden is an old king and Merry still a young hobbit. We know Tolkien regretted the way the Norman invasion wiped out so much of the AngloSaxon culture.

In Gondor it's all about duty, rewards and punishment, not so much about an actual relationship.

/ Ok, I'll stop channelling my PhD here. :)
55. Jerry Friedman
Thanks, very interesting! I hadn't connected the ceremoniousness of the Gondorean version with the Normans.
Gabriele Campbell
56. G-Campbell
Jerry, it occured to me during one LOTR reread I did when researching feudalism. I'd been working on Norse translations / adaptations of Mediaeval French epics (Song of Roland, etc). Those chansons de geste, albeit set during the time of Charlemagne, represent the feudal system and its problems of the time they were written (12/13th centuries), and often the Icelandic and Norwegian translators had to make some changes in order to get the feudal conflicts across to an audience that was used to a different system of bonds and obligations between a lord and a 'vassal'.
Soon Lee
57. SoonLee
Jerry Friedman @53:
The Dúnedain got a message to join Aragorn without knowing who it was from...

Later in the chapter: "Word came to Rivendell, they say: Aragorn has need of his kindred. Let the Dunedain ride to him in Rohan!" Legolas guesses that the message came from Galadriel.

I think that we can be certain they knew where or from whom the message came & it was a reliable source (otherwise why else would they have undertaken the long journey?), even if they didn't openly name their source of intelligence; they'd just met the Rohirrim after all. Loose lips and all that.
58. pilgrimsoul
@G-Campbell 54

JRRT like other folks tended to idealize Anglo-Saxon society, and being anti Norman--I'm not saying you are--makes me tired. In light of your observation I find it ironic that that Meriadoc's name is Welsh.
Kate Nepveu
59. katenepveu
Jerry Friedman @ #53, I'm a child of the post-modern era. Like Sam Vimes, there's a part of me that almost always is watching the other parts and commenting (though I am not, at heart, a policeman). Of course I would have a hard time actually *doing* it. That doesn't mean I wouldn't want to be able to, though.

G-Campbell @ #54, let me ask you this: I found an article, which I have literally lost and therefore have not cited in the posts and may be misremembering, that asserts that Tolkien disapproved of Pippin swearing to Denethor out of pride and the reader could tell this by the fact that Pippin was made a servant not a (technical term for what Merry is) and that his service ended not just badly but in some particular, special kind of badness. (Like I said, I lost the article.) I found this deeply peculiar, in that it simply would never have occurred to me. Does this ring any bells with you?
Gabriele Campbell
60. G-Campbell
Kate, I don't remember any article like that, but I haven't read much literature about Tolkien - should remedy that, but I had to read so many essays about books at university that I got a bit tired of academically analysing everything I love. ;)

I'll have to go back and reread the scenes, but not right now (it's 5 am). Pippin's release from service IS odd, though. Usually those relationships ended with the death of one party and had to be renewed with the heir (in the feudal system that led to hereditary fiefs in the long run). A vasall was only dismissed - and often punished - for grievious breaks of the feudal oath, like disobedience, refusal to attend upon summons, rebellion, attempts to kill the lord; or more rarely, for lack in personal conduct like cowardice in battle. That Denethor sends Pippin away could point at him perceiving Pippin to be disobedient, or maybe downright a rebel and in that case he'd have broken his oath in Denethor's POV.
Kate Nepveu
61. katenepveu
Thanks. I would never have pegged Pippin's dismissal from service as odd, myself--part of Denethor's abandoning caring about his proper behavior and obligations.
Gabriele Campbell
62. G-Campbell
At closer look there is an undertone. Denethor dismisses Pippin from service and tells him to die how he sees fit, even following "your friend" who brought all this about (= Gandalf). Pippin says that he doesn't want to be released from service and that he doesn't consider himself to be, but Denethor gives him one last order - to get the servants - and then be off. I think Denethor considers Pippin not fully loyal to him but rather to Gandalf.

While Théoden sends Merry away in hope to save him (and he never releases Merry from his oath), Denethor doesn't consider Pippin worthy to stay.
Azara microphylla
63. Azara
Great insights into the whole business of fealty! I'm glad I noticed that this thread had some new posts.
64. Jerry Friedman
Kate @ #59: "And thus the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." I do find escapism from that appealing (though I bounced off Ivanhoe and The Three Musketeers).

SoonLee @ #57: Right after your quotation, Gimli says, "But whence this message came they are now in doubt." Of course we don't know what caused him to say that, but it seems likely that the Rangers really didn't know, not that these pure-blooded Númenoreans, above dissembling, were pretending to be in doubt to hide the origin. They could just avoid discussing it.

And there's still a contradiction between Galadriel saying (twice) she wasn't a counselor and her giving counsel. I suspect that when Tolkien had her disclaim choosing between one path and another, he wasn't thinking how useful she could be to the plot.
Soon Lee
65. SoonLee
Jerry Friedman @64:
You're right, I missed it. On the face of it, it's curious.
Kate Nepveu
67. katenepveu
G-Campbell @ #62, I think that's a fair reading, thanks.
68. Dr. Cox
I haven't reread LoTR yet but will soon! But based on the comments I've read and what I remember from my reading, this thought occured to me: it seems like Merry and Pippin got matched with the leaders who would best help them grow and be ready for the work that's done when they returned to the Shire, tho' they weren't with those leaders very long--Theoden was killed and Denethor killed himself. It seems odd, but it might be on track, interpretively??? Whatdy'all think?

About Eowyn, as I noted in another post, she had what Marion Zimmer Bradley described as a heroic age crush (don't have the book w/ me . . . I'm paraphrasing) on Aragorn--there was all that typical crush stuff but then she also wanted to be him in the sense of have the same opportunities for action etc. . . . Gotta get the book (I think her article is in Tolkien and the Critics) and see for sure. It is painful, that scene, because Aragorn can't really tell her what he would like to tell her, seems to me.

OT . . . I didn't see the movies because of the casting and from the little I read on here--and I've begun skipping 'em because I just don't want to know what happened!!!--I am soooo glad I didn't!!!! I am reealllyyy picky about adapations (w/one exception) and would've so not liked what they did to LoTR!!!
69. Judith Proctor
Jerry Friedman @ #53
"How does Merry know, and how did Pippin know, that you offer a lord your sword to enter his service? This can't happen often in the Shire. (Unless it's how the Shirrifs are sworn in?) Maybe they've heard it in old tales told by the fireside."

How about: “ I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

I think he offers Frodo his sword at that point. It's not quite swearing fealty, but it's darn close.
Kate Nepveu
70. katenepveu
Hmm. *checks* Shortly after he draws it to demonstrate that it's broken, but no mention that he offers it to Frodo.
71. Dr. Thanatos
Here's something that occurred to me and bothers me a little about Aragorn and his sword.

He did indeed draw a sword and show that it was broken.
Did he not engage in swordplay at any point? He would have had to have a working sword .

It also occurs to me that an heirloom sword, kept in the House of Elrond for thousands of years against the day that it will be reforged, might be the sort of thing that was left in Elrond's safe-deposit box until it was time; not carried around where a piece might get lost while wading through the marshes or running around Weathertop...

Thoughts, anyone?
Kate Nepveu
72. katenepveu
We had some discussion of this back in the day--here's the
relevant chapter, with a link to prior discussion in it.

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