Mar 19 2010 4:19pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.3, “The Muster of Rohan”

cover of The Return of the KingWe continue our Lord of the Rings re-read with chapter 3 of book V of The Return of the King, “The Muster of Rohan.” As usual, spoilers for the entire book and comments after the jump.

What Happens

The Rohirrim, accompanied by Merry, arrive at Dunharrow, where Éowyn tells them that Aragorn has taken the Paths of the Dead. A messenger from Gondor arrives with the Red Arrow, requesting their aid. Théoden says they will come, but it may take a week so that they have strength to fight when they arrive. However, the next morning is the Dawnless Day, and in response Théoden changes his mind and decides they will ride in haste.

Théoden releases Merry from his service; Merry protests, and Théoden says at least they shall keep company until Edoras. There, however, Théoden again refuses to let Merry accompany them. A young Rider, who asks to be called Dernhelm, quietly approaches Merry and offers to take him. They depart Rohan to rumors of attacks on the eastern borders.


A quieter, more somber chapter, which is probably a reasonable change of pace at this point but still made me, well, sad. Also, hello, landscape! How relatively absent you’ve been.

The chapter starts with an explicit orientation in time and place for the reader:

Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of war and the onset of the Shadow. And even as Pippin stood at the Great Gate of the City and saw the Prince of Dol Amroth ride in with his banners, the King of Rohan came down out of the hills.

Thank you, narrator, I appreciate it.

(Later, the poem tells us that they spend five days riding to Gondor, which I presume will help when we go back to Gondor in the next chapter.)

* * *

As I said, we get a lot of landscape early, which I admit I found a little hard going in places. However, there’s a passage that combines description with characterization in a way I found nicely effective, where Merry contemplates the mountains:

It was a skyless world, in which his eye, through dim gulfs of shadowy air, saw only ever-mounting slopes, great walls of stone behind great walls, and frowning precipices wreathed with mist. He sat for a moment half dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound. He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.

“The insupportable weight of Middle-earth”—that’s a comment I expect to hear from someone old and frail and tired of mortality, not a young sturdy hobbit. And “the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound” perfectly evokes the shivery feeling in the back of my mind when I’m in the wilderness (of course, I grew up in the suburbs). Finally, do I read too much in, or is there a hint of Merry’s having heightened non-physical senses in this passage? Perhaps I’m letting the Barrow-wight episode influence me too much.

* * *

The Riders smile at the sight of Merry riding next to Théoden, another small way in which the Rohirrim maintain different social codes than Gondor and the Tower Guard.

* * *

Dunharrow. Here’s a remnant of the forgotten past, made to a forgotten and now unknowable purpose by people who “had vanished, and only the old Púkel-men were left, still sitting at the turnings of the road.” Merry again shows awareness of and sensitivity to his environment, looking at them “with wonder and a feeling almost of pity.” It reminds me of Hollin, actually—I’m sure Legolas would also hear these stones saying “deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone.” Between these and Baldor, below, this is a chapter full of history and the depths of time.

(And I have no idea how one “squat(s) cross-legged”; to me squatting implies crouching with your feet spread apart to give you stability.)

* * *

Éowyn. We get the tiniest glimpse at her leadership of the people when we come to the orderly camp. As she says, “There were hard words, for it is long since war has driven us from the green fields; but there have been no evil deeds.”

To jump ahead in the chapter, I’m sure I didn’t spot her as Dernhelm when I first read this, but I was just a kid. Who did, and why? (The narrator does assign a gendered pronoun to Dernhelm, which isn’t quite fair: “‘Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,’ he whispered.” That could easily have been, “the Rider whispered,” or even “Merry heard.”)

* * *

The story of Baldor. If I’m parsing this right, it’s told out of chronological order. When the Eorlingas first came to the region, Baldor and his father came to the Door and were told by an ancient man at the threshold, “The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.” (Which, by the by, just sounds great.) Then they built Meduseld, and at the celebratory feast, Baldor vowed to go in, possibly while intoxicated. He was never seen again (until Aragorn and the others found him last chapter, which the Rohirrim don’t know about yet).

Let’s go to the Appendices: Baldor disappeared in 2570 of the Third Age—which is actually quite recent as Middle-earth goes, it’s 3019 now. Isildur, of course, died at the end of the Second Age (GONDORIANS: *change calendar*). Judging by the words of the ancient man, the oathbreakers have already become the Dead, which makes sense given the time frame; but, who, then is the ancient man who speaks in the Western tongue, once tall and kingly, who speaks to them and then dies?

* * *

The messenger from Gondor, with the Red Arrow (any particularly significant historical parallel there, guys?), is very much a messenger of Denethor. I suppose technically reminding Théoden of “oaths long spoken” isn’t a command, and yet . . . And, of course, he makes the confident and completely incorrect assertion that “it is before the walls of Minas Tirith that the doom of our time will be decided.”

(Noted without comment: the messenger refers to Minas Tirith’s fall as “Orcs and Swarthy Men . . . feasting in the White Tower.”)

* * *

Contributing to the somberness of this chapter is its pervasive acceptance, and sometimes anticipation, of death. Théoden makes a number of comments about how he might not come back. When Merry first sees Dernhelm, he thinks it “the face of one without hope who goes in search of death.” Merry himself doesn’t want, I think, to die, but he does want to fight, and by this point he knows that his death could be a consequence.

As for Merry and Théoden: just as with Aragorn and Éowyn, I don’t think Théoden was wrong, but I was disappointed when he said that he accepted Merry’s service “for your safe-keeping, and also to do as I might bid.” I know, it’s probably asking too much for an elderly king, who’s only just met hobbits and who has a lot of other things on his mind, to perceive what took even Gandalf a while to learn, the toughness of these child-sized people. But Merry offered his oath out of love and to get that in return? Ouch.

And we close on another downer travel ending, which makes us two for three so far this book (take out the “travel” and we’re three for three): “All the lands were grey and still; and ever the shadow deepened before them, and hope waned in every heart.”

On that cheerful note: see you next week.

« Return of the King V.2 | Index | Return of the King V.4 »

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.

j p
1. sps49
I don't recall recognizing Dernhelm, but I thought he was a retainer of Eowyn's who was therefore more sympathetic. I think.

The only historical parallel I get from the Red Arrow is calling for the cavalry (the Rohirrim, of course) and the Black Arrow of Bard's from The Hobbit. Is there something else?

I like the landscape descriptions, and wanted more. Often, as here, Tolkien uses it to describe mood, not countryside.

My comment: Poor JRR. I don't think he met very many people who didn't look like him in the first part of the century (even with this WWI experience), and they would likely all carry the connotation of Not Us; Outsider. Knowing intellectually that normal people can be from afar and look different that what you are used to isn't the same as growing up with diverse ethnic & racial groups.

I never wondered who the Doorman was much; durrr. The last surviving Oathbreaker, maybe?
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
I thought at first that he was, but then I didn't know if the timeline worked. Does it take 2500 years for a group of people to die out? True we don't know how many, but gosh, that's a long time. But that may be the only answer.
3. Foxessa
As I grew up in the context of the Western as our communities' mythic perspective the Red Arrow was immediately reminiscent of one of the favorite Indian motifs of the 'war arrow,' 'broken arrow,' etc.

But as I also grew up reading the classics, it was most reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson's Company of the Black Arrow -- The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1888).

Then there was a superhero kid sidekick to the Green Arrow called the Red Arrow, whch I encountered sporadically in stashes of my dad's old comic books.

I never twigged that Dernhelm was Éowyn on first reading either. At the time of my first reading, lo these many years past, women passing as male hadn't become the Fantasy fiction convention is now is. Shoot, Fantasy as a publishing term/demographic was just getting invented, for that matter.

Love, C.
j p
4. sps49
Oh, right, Kate; Second age.

Still, the only other situation (aside from Narrative Convenience/ Convention) is he was a covert messenger from the Valar.


I never read that RLC work.

I remember Speedy sidekicking around with Green Arrow, and he wore red. Was he also called Red Arrow?
Gray Woodland
5. Greyhame
Yeah, this is one of the biggest downer chapters for me. Merry may not be the greatest of the hobbits, but he's the gayest and most adventurous, and would be the most gallant if he had the steel of a Frodo rather than only of a plucky country squire to back it up. He also, to this nerd, has the most interesting mind. What does he get here? The insupportable weight of matters too great for him - in too great part because other people have patronizingly decided that they shall be.

He's a flatlander, and the oppression of the mountain-walls is doubtless real; but it's more a reflection of his general mood at this point than anything else. I think that's well done.

Dernhelm: I think 'he' is justified by Merry's point of view: he unambiguously thinks the Rider is male just then, and weaselling his error would be more cute than apt.

Race: Whatever problems we may admit with Tolkien's perspective on this, I doubt it's a good idea to identify his view with that of the Gondorians. He makes it amply plain in various places that, however many dodgy 'High' attributes he gives them, they have a big problem with race-mindedness and it's been hurting them badly for a long time. Consider, even in the main text, the terms in which Éowyn will later mock her own expected reception in Gondor, and Faramir's response. And she's from a people Faramir claims the Gondorians love.

Aragorn has been around, and he's grown up. Does he ever talk like that?
6. DavidA
@ sps49: JRR Tolkien grew up in South Africa, so he certainly had met many non-European people. You can't excuse his Northern European bias as inexperience with the rest of the world. But its equally true he is no worse than most in his generation.
7. MKUhlig
Couple of comments -

1. They built this wonderful engineering project of the road that winds up into Dunharrow, and then lined it with Pukel Men statues. Why? I did not have the impression that the Pukel Men ancestors were the road builders, but that the Numenorians were. So why would they honor the Pukel men so?

2. Eowyn refers to a great host passing up through Harrowdale and vanishing in to the hills. I don't believe she is referring to Aragorn and the Dunedain, who only left the day before, so are we to think that the Dead started assembling even before Aragorn enters the Paths?

3. Why do they light beacon fires and have messengers bringing arrows? Do they mean two separate things or is it a back up plan in case one doesn't work?
j p
8. sps49
Grayhame- Thanks for those points.

DavidA- Non-Europeans he met in SA would not be considered equals, though.

MKUhlig- I think the Numenoreans paved the existing road, the Dead maybe knew what was up, and backup/ formal request with the Arrow.
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
It's been so long that I don't remember if I picked up anything on Dernhelm or not. Plus I was only 12. I may have had a sense that there was something significant about "him", but certainly not that he was really Éowyn.

The doorkeeper might well have been one of the Oathbreakers. It could be part of the curse, condemning him to stay there until he could impart his message that the way is closed until the appointed time. Since he was "tall and kingly", he can't have been one of the Drúedain, but he could have been one of the Oathbreakers. (Maybe even the king?)

The red arrow certainly feels like it has historical or at least legendary precedents. Not that I can think of any, I might just be remembering something from Scott or Stevenson.

Merry's reaction to real mountains as opposed to the idea of mountains is interesting. I do think there's more than just a growing sense of general dread. People who have no experience of mountains often react oddly to the real thing. I see this a lot where I live. I think the highest elevations around us are under 3000 feet, but when the Dutch tourists arrive, they have absolutely no idea how to handle steep climbs or winding roads. Of course, Merry has encountered real mountains by this time. It could be a bit of authorial forgetfulness on Tolkien's part, or it is just that we didn't have Merry as a viewpoint character on the slopes of Caradhras.
David Levinson
10. DemetriosX
I think Greyhame @5 makes a good point about race. We never see that sort of attitude from Aragorn. DavidA @6, Tolkien did not grow up in South Africa. He was born there, but moved to England when he was three. We can say that his experience of the non-European world was essentially that of any other Englishman of his generation who had not spent any time abroad.

MKUhlig, I think the Numenoreans built the road and the Drúedain built the statues later. Éowyn was probably referring to the Grey Company. They passed by at night, IIRC, or in a fog, both of which could make their numbers seem larger than the 50 or so they were. Also, the arrow is a formal request, saying "we are going to need your help, please start mustering and getting your supplies together." The beacons are an alarm, saying "we need you now!"
Yonatan Zunger
11. zunger
DemetriosX: Even if Merry had seen them before, that wouldn't necessarily acclimate him. I grew up in Colorado, and remember how Kansans would still feel mildly uncomfortable and "hemmed-in" whenever they didn't have several miles of line-of-sight, even after a few years. (I get the "where the hell are the landmarks?" feeling in big flat places, so I guess it's only natural...)

And I had the same thought as you did about the doorkeeper's identity; his death at that moment seemed far too convenient even for a legend unless its being a part of his purpose was understood to be part of the curse by the listeners.
Susan James
12. SusanJames
Eowyn- I was also only 12 on first read and don't think I caught on. When I read it to my kids (ages 7 and 10, they did not catch on though I was heavy on the hints).

Merry- I just finished a reread of The Hobbit last night and these thoughts of Merry's are reminding me quite of bit of Bilbo. Young though Merry is, I always thought of him as both sensible and sensitive- he's the only one of the young hobbits who knew of Bilbo's ring-he actually saw Bilbo use it but still had the sense to keep it a secret. The movie version of Merry is a silly youth, but I never thought him so in the book.

the doorkeeper- I never thought about who he might be! That's why I love these posts, Kate, (and these books)- reread after reread and there's still new things to think about.
Andrew Foss
13. alfoss1540
Kate - Thanks for bringing up the scenery. Though I have read this countless times, I had not focused this close on this passage. Very reminiscent of the trail out of Moria - discussed before.

Dernhelm - Had no clue the first read - complete shock. Though "He" is stated explicitly, the implication was that though slight, everyone assumed that Dernhelm was male. Later I think it becomes well known to all the horsemen who she is - understanding between Dernhelm and Elfhelm - and Merry "Master Bag" But for this chapter, the desparate and without hope part is a fitting description to an infantry facing very long odds.
14. pilgrimsoul
I appreciate previous comments about Merry. He's consistently presented as intelligent, observant, and sensitive. My beef is that JRRT says he doesn't realize who Dernhelm is--being surprised in a subsequent scene I'm not going to discuss at this point. Eh?
I mean I know he's a Hobbit and not a Man, but come on! How could he not know--or suspect? Riding on the same horse, camping, sleeping in the same area, seeing D sneak away to do (ahem) personal business. So I'm wagging my finger at you JRRT.

And yeah, Kate. "I would not have it said of me in song only that I was always left behind." Reading it the first time, I thought he would be, and I was far more upset at that than Gandalf's death. It was so unfair.
15. mark-p
It might not be the fault of the mountains. But if Merry is tired and melancholic after traveling for days, separated from his friends and missing his home then the mountains would seem a much darker place than on a day when he is feeling cheerful and relaxed.

The old man at the door always seemed strange, I guessed he was one of the inhabitants of the region before the Eorlingas arrived but what happened to the rest of them if he was one of the oath breakers? Maybe they were absorbed into the population of Rohan or were driven away.

is there a link between Dunharrow and the Dunland or are they just similar names?
Andrew Foss
16. alfoss1540
I always took the man at the gate as an enchantment - rather than a person. What would be waiting for a lifetime only to die at the right time after the heir, who could rightfully pass, to arrive. He/it is an embodyment of the curse itself - like the face of Jacob Marley on Scrooge's knocker. The message needed to be sent at that time to tell the story. It certainly gave me the heebie jeebies the first time - and the second . . .
Azara microphylla
17. Azara
I think part of the difference in how oppressive Merry found the mountain scenery comes from the aspect. Tolkien was meticulous in his map-making, and the valley to Dunharrow is drawn as going north-south, with steep walls. That kind of northerly aspect is going to be pretty dark and gloomy all day long in March. When the Fellowship were travelling down the Misty Mountains, they were on the open west-facing slopes most of the time; when they were trying to climb Caradhras the snow came down at a fairly early stage. The gate of Moria seems to have brought them out far enough to the east that the mountains were not towering over them. So overall, I think that the valley up to Dunharrow is actually more oppressive than the mountains Merry's seen before.

I definitely remember being snagged by the description of Dernhelm, thinking 'this is someone I'm supposed to know'. So yes, it did occur to me that it was Eowyn. But I totally missed that amazing time gap for the warden at the door to the Paths of the Dead.

Rereading, I'm struck again with how high-handed and ungracious the messengers are.
18. Elaine Thom
2. Eowyn refers to a great host passing up through Harrowdale and vanishing in to the hills. I don't believe she is referring to Aragorn and the Dunedain, who only left the day before, so are we to think that the Dead started assembling even before Aragorn enters the Paths?

I certainly took it that way. She says it was in the moonless nights but a little while ago.... let's see. Frodo saw a full moon when he looked at moonset through the waterfall at Henneth Annun, that was on the 7th of March. Moonless nights would be, I assume those when the moon is very old, or very new. Either that, or it is covered by cloud or darkness, but the darkness out of Mordor hasn't happened yet. There were clouds along the way to Helm's Deep and Isengard, but they weren't mentioned at Edoras. Fourteen days earlier, approximately, going by the lunar cycles. That's about the breaking of the Fellowship.

hmmm....interesting. I've never worked out that timing before.

On the Pukel-man statues, somewhere in the HoME volumes there's a story that these carvings had power. "The faithful statue"? Anyone remember it? I think if the Numenoreans made the road, they carved the figures, too.

is there a link between Dunharrow and the Dunland or are they just similar names? From Tolkien?! Got to be a link.

I didn't guess about Dernhelm/Eowyn my first time through at about 12. As far as Merry not guessing - I remember when US forces first went into the Middle East recently, the people there couldn't tell that some of the uniformed throngs were women. They weren't getting the cues they were accustomed to use to tell. So I certainly find it plausible that Merry, in his context, didn't catch Eowyn's masquerade.

On the Red Arrow, I have vague memories, uncertainly sourced of small (hand carried) crosses being carried from settlement to settlement in Ireland or Scotland as a call to arms. Maybe that's where JRRT got the idea?
19. Stephen Morrison
The story, from the essay on the Drúedain in Unfinished Tales, is called “The Faithful Stone”. But as for the Scottish custom of using crosses as a summons to war, is this by any chance what you’re thinking of?
20. Teka Lynn
Wasn't "shearing up the war arrow" a Norse custom?
21. Confutus
To be somewhat spoilerific, in two chapters Merry notes the similarity of the Wild Men, or Woses of Druadan Forest, to the Pukel-men on the road to Dunharrow. They claimed to have been there "before Stonehouses; before Tall Men come up out of Water".

It would seem that the Dead were a related people, probably more advanced in technology and general culture. It is explicitly said that the road into the mountains and the statues were built "before ever a ship came to the Western shores, or Gondor of the Dunedain was built", and both Merry and Aragorn make reference to their presence in Dark years, when Sauron ruled in Middle Earth before he was taken captive to Numenor.

According to Appendix F, they or at least their language were also related to the Dunlendings. The resemblance of the names Dunland and Dunharrow is not accidental: they were given by the people of Rohan and derived fron a root word dunn, which apparently meant something like "dark".

I took the watchman at the Door who met Brego and Baldor to be the last survivor of the Dead, because of his extreme and unnatural old age. It could have taken a very long time for them to dwindle and die out completely following Isildur's curse. Considering the other unnaturally old and long-lived survivors from ancient times that we have met, it doesn't seem to be wholly impossible.

Apparently the ghosts of the dead were prone to come out of the mountains in times of fear, uncertainty, and war, in both Rohan to the north and the Gondorian side to the south. The great host that Eowyn mentioned as vanishing into the mountains as if to keep some tryst a couple of weeks before seems to have been an unusual event. Since she had personally watched Aragorn and company go just the the day before, she cannot be referring to them.

Theoden predicted up to a week before could reach Gondor, and his estimate wasn't too far off. He shaved (only? a whole?) two days from this estimate by hastening the departure after the scheduled weapontake and by riding openly and as fast as possible, doing the journey in five days. By comparison, Shadowfax took about three days to cover the same distance.
Wesley Parish
22. Aladdin_Sane
dern, for what it's worth, is Old English for "secret" (Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, derne see dyrne; dyrne (e) secret), and I suspect I didn't notice that the he was a she, and Eowyn herself, on my first reading. Again, FWIW, in Old Saxon cosiety - around the time of their subjugation by Charlemagne - young women fought in battles when the battles got too close to home. Fastrada was one such, daughter of a noble, fighting baresark.

"He sat for a moment half dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound." He'd never paid much attention to the Wild as they travelled from The Shire to Rivendell, and then down from Rivendell to Lorien, and then down to Edoras? I don't think so - he was in a company of friends then, and had very little occasion to just sit down and collect his thoughts.

And the Púkel-men - I wonder if JRRT had at any stage ever read anything on this: ANCIENT TURKIC STATUES: EPIC HERO OR WARRIOR ANCESTOR?* I think there was some obscure Roman or Byzantine writer who wrote about these statues or at any rate, about squatting statues in the Black Sea/Dnieper and/or Oxus region, and I've wondered if he used that as the inspiration for them?
Agnes Kormendi
23. tapsi
I don't know about the Red Arrow, but in these parts, it was a custom that they sent around a red or bloodied sword to summon nobles to war. I just assumed it was a variation of that.

I didn't realise Dernhelm was Éowyn (and we do not have gender specific pronouns in Hungarian, so "he" couldn't have lulled me) but then I was only 8 when I first read LoTR... and I think that if Éowyn was not a particularly well rounded type, and she was wearing full war gear, it is possible that Merry did not realise Dernhelm was a woman and not just a very young lad.
David Levinson
24. DemetriosX
Azara @17: Rereading, I'm struck again with how high-handed and ungracious the messengers are.

I think this is reflective of Denethor and his attitudes. He's got that whole "High Men" thing going and undoubtedly perceives the Rohirrim as primitives who are only not subjects because he doesn't have the resources to subjugate them. They aren't allies, they're tools.
25. pilgrimsoul
I don't think I realized who Dernhelm was either on my first read.
People who say Merry wouldn't have known make some good points, but I'm not convinced.

I find your report on Iraqis not realizing that some soldiers were female plausible, but it's not the same kind of situation. Merry did not recognize Eowyn got up as a rider in armor. He'd not been around her much and didn't know her well. But they rode together and camped, etc. for days. That's what I'm not finding credible given Merry's keen intelligence.

@Tapsi23 Yes, she was wearing armor and a helmet, which would conceal her gender, and she probably slept in the armor--but the helmet? I have a hard time picturing this.
Tony Zbaraschuk
26. tonyz
I've always considered that the guy who spoke to Baldor was the last survivor of the original builders. There must have been quite a flourishing kingdom on both sides of the White Mountains before Isildur and Anarion started building their kingdom in the Anduin valley. Oh, for volumes 34-73 of the Archaeological Survey of Western Gondor! ;)

I didn't twig to Dernhelm the first time through; of course, I was 12 years old at the time. I'm pretty sure Elfhelm knows about the extra person riding in his company, but I've got no problem with Merry not figuring it before the big reveal.

And we might note in passing that Eowyn is a shieldmaiden; she is a trained fighter, capable of wearing armor and keeping up for a hard fast ride. So (a) someone must have been giving her some training, and (b) this probably means the Rohirrim have at least some kind of tradition of shieldmaidens, maybe more so than Gondor. Even if it's not common, my guess would be that Eowyn probably isn't the only woman in the thousands of Riders heading out.
27. EmmaPease
Merry may not have noticed in part because he was unfamiliar with Big People. As for not noticing her hair, Eowyn may have been careful to keep her helm on (she may also have used a hairnet and kept that on even when sleeping) and remember that there is no daylight during this ride (the darkness has begun). As for who did know, Elfhelm must have known.

IIRC the Rohirrim specifically deny that other women have ridden. My guess is that those women, few or many, trained in arms were considered part of the defensive guard for individual settlements in Rohan and not available for the general muster.
28. Foxessa
4. sps49

I should have been more clear; the comic books of my dad's referred to, were actually bound books, with cardboard covers, and paper that was very pulpy, things he got during WWII. As for the comix as we know them, I didn't, and don't, see any of those.

6. DavidA

But Tolkien only lived in South African until he was barely three years old. This is where he was bitten by some big spider, but he said he had no personal memories of the event at all. So, he's no more likely to have had much memory of anything else either. Am I recalling correctly now, that memory seems to develop in most us much earlier than that?

Love, c.
29. Foxessa
Gack -- that was supposed to be, " ... that memory seems NOT to develop in most of us much earlier than that?"

Though re-considering -- babies remember the faces of their mother / primary caregiver / food provider very quickly.

Love, C.
30. buzzbaileyport
Re: the recollections of babies - I think that traumatic/Very Important events tend to carve a niche in the long-term memory of a person; however, things like a mother's face would only be imprinted on a baby's short-term memory, and more "mundane" things (e.g., people's normal interaction with each other) would not be remembered at all.

Re: the beacon hills - the hill of Halifirien is the last one mentioned by Gandalf (V 1), and according to Unfinished Tales is the "westernmost of the beacons of Gondor along the line of the Ered Nimrais." This hill marked the border between Gondor and Rohan--that is to say, the King and his company would not have even seen the beacons, riding as they were from Isengard to Dunharrow (both on the western portions of the Riddermark). Therefore, Hirgon would have been the only warning to Théoden about Gondor's dire need of aid.

And on that note...

Re: Hirgon - I think that much of his speech is indicative of desperation, rather than arrogance. He notes that Minas Tirith is under the imminent threat of being besieged, and that the city might not even survive for seven days. Unlike Boromir at the Council of Elrond, Hirgon has been sent to beg a boon--namely, to secure the promise of aid from Gondor's staunchest ally.

Also, I've always interpreted Hirgon's pronouncement of "the doom of our time" as being somewhat analogous to a "game point" in certain sports (tennis comes to mind). That is to say that if the weaker side prevails, they get to keep playing/fighting; however, if the stronger side wins, it's all over.

Finally, it's important to realize that Hirgon is simply a messenger from his lord Denethor, and therefore must pass on Denethor's thoughts rather than those of Hirgon. And although Denethor's got the whole "Me or Mordor" thing going on (which isn't incorrect, just somewhat extreme), other more thoughtful men under him (Faramir and Beregond, the only other men of Gondor who get to express their own thoughts and feelings in The Lord of the Rings) reject the notions of blood superiority and the two-side exclusivity, respectively.

So, in summary, here's my take on what Hirgon said to Théoden King:

" Gondor is in big trouble, and the situation of Minas Tirith is Really Really Bad. You'll need to come quick, as we're probably under siege already, and we definitely won't last a week. Did I already say that our situation is really bad? Denethor begs you to do this favor as a friend *cough oaths cough*. Oh, and please remember that if we fall, you won't last too much longer."

Again: not too subtle, but obviously in desperate need of aid, and fast.
Kate Nepveu
31. katenepveu
Hi everyone--let's see how many comments I can get through before SteelyKid demands me.

Greyhame @ #5--you're right that the "he" may be a Merry-POV judgment instead. I tend not to consider that _LotR_ extends its POV down that far, however.

MKUhlig @ #7, as I believe people say below, the text is unambiguous that the road & the Pukel-men were from the same source.

I think the great host is meant to be the Dead coming to his summons; if he left yesterday, the summons would have been last night, and while "in the moonless nights but little while ago" is not the way I'd say "last night," well, it seems the only thing that fits.

Aaaand here we go, back later.
Tony Zbaraschuk
32. tonyz
EmmaPease @27 : Yes, you're right. I'd forgotten that passage with Imrahil on the Pelennor Fields. So it does look as if the Rohirrim had fewer shieldmaidens than I had thought.
33. goshawk
Re: shieldmaidens

Some friends of mine posited an interesting theory about this, although without much evidence. It's based on some things Faramir said about Gondor and Rohan becoming more alike: he mentions that while they have somewhat civilised the Rohirrim, the Gondorians in their turn have become more like the Rohirrim in some ways. The theory, as proposed, is that Rohan has a much OLDER tradition of shieldmaidens, (see: Old Saxons, as Aladdin_Sane mentioned), but long association with Gondor has "civilised" them out of it. As such, in training his niece to fight, Theoden (before he was Wormtongue'd) might have been trying to set an example and bring back some of the older ways to strengthen his people against increasingly evil times.

Again, there's not much evidence in the text, but it would explain her having the warrior-training (and armour and gear that fit), and Elfhelm's "understanding". I really doubt he would have turned a blind eye to the KING'S NIECE riding in his company - that's a bit too much like treason - but I'd bet there are a few young women in the host keeping their faces hidden, with marshals and comrades turning a blind eye. I mean, it's not like they don't need every spear they can muster.

As for whether or not she could hide it - consider that in earlier times, masculine and feminine modes of dress were far more rigid. Merry or your average Rider wouldn't be _looking_ for a woman, and if they didn't get the right cues they'd likely not _see_ one. The ride was conducted in darkness and extreme haste. Any stops for food were going to be just that: get off the horse, make food, eat quickly, get on the horse. By the time they stopped for camp, they'd all be exhausted enough to just do camp chores and other duties and otherwise roll into bed. As long as Eowyn stayed armoured, showed "himself" to be taciturn and withdrawn, spoke as little as possible, and slept rolled up in bedding, I'd say it's quite possible she could have avoided detection.

Hell, there was a woman in the American Revolutionary War who passed herself off as a man and fought as a soldier for seventeen months. Deborah Sampson. If she could do it for that long, Eowyn could do it for five days.
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
Okay, where was I?

DemetriosX @ #9, alfoss1540 @ #16, oooh, I like the idea that it was the curse that kept the doorkeeper alive (or the curse itself), and I shall adopt it forthwith.

DemetriosX, As for Merry & mountains, good point about Caradhras; I have the vague impression that the landscapes were different, but I can't immediately substantiate that on looking at the chapters.

(And I see that Azara @ #17 has done so! Thanks.)

pilgrimsoul @ #14, I hadn't thought about the logistics of Dernhelm's concealment yet. I'm going to agree with people that it was plausible; the only thing that gives me pause is Eowyn's hair, but I imagine they're eating on horseback and so it would be reasonable for her not to take off her helm. Still, good question.

Elaine Thom @ #18, oh, you think Eowyn was talking about the dark of the moon? Well, that's possible too, but it's explicitly pitch-black when Aragorn summons the Dead ("And thus, just ere midnight, and in a darkness as black as the caverns in the mountains, they came at last to the Hill of Erech."), so that's what I figured she was talking about.

Aladdin_Sane @ #22, thank you for the meaning of "dern"--I knew there was something I forgot to ask!

tapsi @ #23, I didn't know that about the red/bloodied sword. Cool.

goshawk @ #33, indeed, Deborah Sampson is just one example; Wikipedia has a whole category of Female wartime crossdressers.
35. Elaine Thom

pilgrimsoul @ #14, I hadn't thought about the logistics of Dernhelm's concealment yet. I'm going to agree with people that it was plausible; the only thing that gives me pause is Eowyn's hair, but I imagine they're eating on horseback and so it would be reasonable for her not to take off her helm. Still, good question.

Ch "The Riders of Rohan" in TT: The Men that rode them matched them well: tall and long-limbed; their hair flaxen pale, flowed under their light helms, and streamed in long braids behind them...."

I don't think even seeing her hair (from the back, at least) would make someone not expecting a woman to see a woman. Now someone who knew her as Eowyn seeing her hair down out of her helm plus her face would recognize her, but just the long hair being a female giveaway, nope.

Elaine Thom @ #18, oh, you think Eowyn was talking about the dark of the moon? Well, that's possible too, but it's explicitly pitch-black when Aragorn summons the Dead ("And thus, just ere midnight, and in a darkness as black as the caverns in the mountains, they came at last to the Hill of Erech."), so that's what I figured she was talking about.

I don't follow. You're saying the dark of the moon was when Aragorn summoned the Dead at Erech? It wasn't. Appx B puts Aragorn at Erech on the 8th of March, the night after Frodo's full moon at Henneth Annun. The darkness was part of the Dead curse and working out thereof, IMO. The Dawnless Day is two days away. Back in TT we had various comments about the lousy light for tracking orcs and hobbits by night, and if the full moon was March 7th, it was indeed a very young & dark moon around the 27-30, when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were hunting. "Moonless nights but a little while ago.." is what Eowyn says about the strange host in Harrowdale. There haven't been any other remarks about the moon being dark - in fact, on the ride to Isengard, it rises and lights their paths and is 'waxing towards full" so I think it was then - the dark of the moon - that the host went up to the Paths.
Clark Myers
36. ClarkEMyers
#34 - "I imagine they're eating on horseback and so it would be reasonable for her not to take off her helm."

The reference is "helm of her secrecy" but I doubt it. This a divided division-equivalent of armored cavalry - ".... ten thousand spears I might have sent....." actual effectives five and fifty hundreds fully armed with many hundreds of other men with spare horses lightly burdened - riding to a fight and expecting to fight as cavalry on arrival - (mounted infantry may detail 1 in 4 - many hundreds of other men - as horse holders).

Most of the down time will be caring for the horses and watering the horses and giving the horses grain - nose bags? - (neither time nor space - traveling more or less in column and not as a line, the tail could only eat dust) nor grass to graze that many animals and arrive fit to fight) and adjusting the cinches and saddles and swapping off horses -- horses aren't motorcycles -- I doubt helms full of water will be offered to the horses ten gallon hat style (ten gallon was not actually a liquid measurement for the cowboy hat) but likely enogh the camp followers will be doing a line of one pot stew/soup kettles while each trooper tends his/her current horse then lines up for a dipper of hot food - perhaps in the very helm?

Hair, especially golden hair is an important theme - pays in richness of the story to know the back story on Galadriel's hair when Gimli brings it up - and Eowyn's hair gleams in the twilight - later bright hair released from its bonds - but I don't recall any reference to short hair on the men? Much is assumed based on the cultures we know were models but I see no reason - do you? - to expect absolute fidelity to the detailed reality of the cultures as Tolkein might have understood it or as we might understand it - plausible reality and willing suspension of disbelief another issue.

As for folks not noticing I'll posit that just as he realisation that one is to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully so too do the events here. "Do you not" is a tip off and foreshadowing - I was pulling for a marriage of state between Gondor and Rohan myself and I think I noticed but it's been so long I can't be sure.

I rather imagine that in the circumstances all hands welcome and in line with a warlike tradition limits thoughts of treason - that belongs more I think to a tradition of asking for written orders.
37. EmmaPease
On when the host of the dead moved on moonless night, I think it was some time before. Just as Elrond might send a message to Aragorn about considering the Paths of the Dead, the Dead may have received some foreboding that now might be the time for them to fulfill their vow and so gathered.

As for timeframe, I would say shortly after Aragorn makes his decision to follow Merry and Pippin rather than Frodo and Sam. I would also say that is when the Dunedain head out from the North though the time may be too short (Feb. 26 for the breaking, Mar. 6 for meeting with the Dunedain )
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
Elaine Thom @ #35: ah, current-day gender norms tripping me up. But in my defense there was a textual reason for thinking she hid her hair: "But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders."

(Which I see ClarkEMyers @ #36 has also referenced.)

And no, I'm not saying I thought the moonless night was the dark of the moon, I'm saying I thought it was _when no moon was visible_.

However, I'm now somewhat attracted to EmmaPease's theory in #37 that the same impulse that moved Elrond moved the Dead--it would fit with the weak supernatural good we've been seeing throught.
39. Elaine Thom
And all I'm saying there isn't any textual evidence of nights when the moon isn't visible (supernaturally or otherwise) from the Breaking of the Fellowship to Erech, and then the Darkness out of Mordor. The latter two being set after Eowyn's words of the shadow host, can't possibly be when the host was passing through Harrowdale.
So the dark of the moon looks like when it must have happened.

And yes, I agree with Emma that it was a supernatural impluse that moved the Dead, as we are told they move when there is upheaval. That they moved in a great host this time, may be because the powers of good were poking them. (kinda like Sam's later prodding "up or it will be too late!" If the Dead miss the muster, would they still be bound, I wonder? Bet so.)

Appendix B doesn't include that information on the shadow host, nor the date of the riding of the Grey Company out of Rivendell, although I'd bet it was in late Jan/early Feb. while the Company was in Lorien. I wonder if they crossed Caradhras via the Redhorn Gate..? They had to move fast, but still be functional and in fighting trim, after all, so no marathons.
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
The latter two being set after Eowyn's words of the shadow host

Huh? Yes, the Darkness hasn't happened yet, but Erech has: Aragorn leaves Eowyn early in the morning, and they depart the Paths "still two hours ere sunset of the day on which they had set out from Dunharrow." They summon the Dead at midnight the same day, on a pitch-black night (when the moon may have been up, but wasn't visible).

Eowyn tells Theoden that Aragorn left "yestermorn." So Aragorn had already summoned the dead a few hours before.

I'm not arguing for this position any more, I just want it clear that I'm not out of my mind to have said it in the first place!
41. EmmaPease
How fast can the dead move? Faster than mortals but I think they have limits.

The reason why I like the breaking of the Fellowship as a key point is it is at that time Aragorn makes the fateful decision of which direction to go. If he had gone after Frodo, the Dunedain would have never found him and he could not have called the dead.

Another option is the mirror of Galadriel. Galadriel may have seen something that made her realize how things might play out and so decide to send a message to Elrond (something she probably can do mind to mind). This would give the start date for the mustering and ride of the Dunedain to be Feb. 15 or shortly thereafter which gives about 20 days for the ride. A bit more doable than 9/10 days.

The Dunedain btw came down the west side of the Misty Mountains; they did not cross them. I'm not sure if they went cross country (or by minor trails) parallel to the Bruinen to Tharbad and picked up the old south road there or took the road from Rivendell to Bree and the south road from there. Most of the Dunedain IIRC apparently lived to the south of Rivendell. They came in haste, but, they don't have horses like Shadowfax.
42. Rabscuttle
As long as we are on the dead, does anyone know how Elrond, or Aragorn, or anybody knew they were there? Yes Isuildur cursed them, and curses often have effect in this world, but I'm not sure they always do. How was the knowledge of where to go and what you can ask them for and such handed down? I realize that Tolkein does not want to bother with the backstory too much, but I always wondered if Elrond or somebody had actually been there and talked to them. Not that that makes much sense, but then neither does going to a place nobody has seen for thousands of years and assuming that the dead souls of the oathbreakers are sill there and that they will serve a heir of Isildur and that will break the curse. Maybe Galadriel saw them?
Gray Woodland
43. Greyhame
Rabscuttle @ 42: Nobody can say for sure, but Elrond is supposed to be the greatest loremaster of Middle-Earth, and he has several reasons for being particularly interested in every tale that touches on Isildur. Also, that whole body of lore would surely have been right at the top of his, 'Things I'm going to teach Aragorn' list, from the beginning...
Soon Lee
44. SoonLee
Greyhame @43:
Oh to have been a fly on the wall during those history lessons!

I didn't find Eowyn's ability to conceal herself to be unrealistic especially given the context of the Riders heading to fight in a battle from which they might not return. It would to make one at least somewhat introspective, and perhaps not that observant of surroundings.
45. Elaine Thom
#42, Something Elrond says before Frodo & Co. leave Rivendell may apply by inference: "I can forsee very little of your road; and how your task is to be achieved I do not know. The Shadow has crept now to he feet of the Mountains, and ... under the Shadow all is dark to me."

The implication I get out of this is that Elrond can see things far off, even without a Mirror like Galadriel has. As one counted among the High Elves, with great power over seen and unseen, and a Ringwearer, he may well be able to see/feel/sense the Dead and know things about them, and how to summon them, even from Rivendell.

Since as set down by JRRT, Isildur didn't put into detail how to break the curse he laid, maybe Elrond just figured it out. He knew Isilder and fought by his side (more or less) at the end of the Second Age. ... So, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm going to speculate firmly that the horn Aragorn blew to summon the Dead was the same horn Isildur had used umpteen thousands of years before. It had come back to Rivendell, perhaps with the shards of Narsil. Or maybe Isildur gave it to Elrond foreseeing that he'd live long enough to get it to the right guy.

Backtracking to something I think I saw way up thread, why Aragorn was in such a great hurry to get to Erech, I wonder how much was due to the requirements of lifting the curse, and how much to his very great urgency to get to Pelargir? Right now I'm leaning towards most of being Gondor's need.

Although my intuitive side thinks there's a necessity for the Paths to be traveled and the Dead called in one day, or it won't work.
Soon Lee
46. SoonLee
Elaine Thom @45: "Although my intuitive side thinks there's a necessity for the Paths to be traveled and the Dead called in one day, or it won't work."

Narrative necessity? It's very symbolic for the hero (Aragorn) to descend into the underworld, face his fears and emerge from the darkness. Very heroic myth.
47. vicsolo
I did spot Dernhelm as Eowin when I first read LOTR at age sixteen (1968). However, by then I had spent years putting myself to sleep by imagining stories in which I disguised myself as a boy and was able to do the many things which were forbidden me as a girl. I identified with her wish to go to battle and never doubted that she would find a way. Of all the characters in LOTR, Eowin was the one I most wished I could be.

This chapter is also one which I feel emphasizes the Viking nature of Rohan. They are very Norse in their acceptance and even celebration of death, especially death in battle.
Kate Nepveu
48. katenepveu
Elaine Thom @ #45, farsightedness in the literal sense seems to be an attribute that many more people in _LotR_ have than I realized, so I'm sure Elrond does too.

SoonLee @ #46, ooh, nice, I like it.

vicsolo @ #47, in that case, what did you think of Eowyn's eventual fate?
49. Jerry Friedman
I wonder whether anyone's still reading this or will read it again.

I first read this chapter when I was 11 or so and absolutely did not suspect that Dernhelm was Éowyn. Heck, I remember discovering in a reread that Rohan was the Mark!

Thanks to Kate for emphasizing that paragraph with the weight of the mountains, which I'd never noticed sufficiently.

mark-p @ #15: The Tolkien Wiki gives the etymology of "Dunharrow". Nothing to do with Dunland.

"The path turned round a huge bare shoulder of rock"

The Rohirrim rode along the top of the gorge of an unnamed stream, then climbed down into it, then at its end climbed down another steep wall into the wide valley of Harrowdale. Thus the gorge seems like a "hanging valley" entering the side of Harrowdale, which would be a valley deepened and carved into a U shape by a glacier (during Morgoth's reign?), as seems perfectly reasonable on the north side of the White Mountains. Tolkien must have seen such topography in the Alps. (I vaguely remember it from Yosemite when I was a kid.) Score one for Tolkien's careful geography!

"Such was the dark Dunharrow... For what purpose they had made this place, as a town or secret temple or a tomb of kings, none could say." What does that describe, just the road up the cliff? Is the upland at the top part of what was made? And nobody lives up there, right? There are just tents and booths. In fact, no permanent buildings in Harrowdale are mentioned. And why does the chorus of trumpets sound like it's coming "from some hollow place"?

In the paragraph starting "'Harrowdale at last!'" the repetition of "could be seen" isn't one of Tolkien's best moments, in my opinion, especially since the second one is pointless.

The NSOED says for squat, "Of a person: sit with the hams resting on the backs of the heels, or with the knees drawn up and the heels close to or touching the hams; esp sit on the ground in this way." There's nothing about having the feet apart. I wouldn't use it to mean "sit on the ground", but that seems to be Tolkien's meaning—they're sitting on the ground with their shins crossed and their knees up. Not graceful, but stable for a statue.

That seems like enough for now.
50. goshawk
Drive-by comment:

I always read the "squat" as an adjective, not a verb. So they were squat (as in short, square, thickset) figures, sitting cross-legged.
51. Jerry Friedman
But the description says "squatting cross-legged".

Théoden gets to make a true prophecy: "My heart tells me that I shall not see him again." Éowyn uses the same expression, pretending to be making a prophecy, but with a hidden reference to her plan: "For my heart tells me that you will need such gear ere the end."

So why does Denethor want the Rohirrim inside Minas Tirith, though they prefer to fight on open ground?

The arrogance I see from Hirgon is his answer to Théoden's promise to arrive in a week. He doesn't say how happy and grateful Gondor is that Théoden himself is coming; he just gets sarcastic about how late the Rohirrim will be.

"'No mail have we to fit you,' said Éowyn, 'nor is there time for the forging of such a hauberk, but here is also a stout jerkin of leather, a belt, and a knife.'" Why "also"?
Michael Ikeda
52. mikeda
Jerry Friedman@51

I didn't see Hirgon as being sarcastic. He's just stating how he sees the situation--if it takes a week for the Rohirrim to get there, Minas Tirith is likely to fall before they do.
53. Jerry Friedman
@mikeda @52:

I thought "you may at least disturb the Orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower" was sarcastic.

Since two people have responded to my comments here, I'll mention that I also made a number of comments (maybe better ones) on "The Passing of the Grey Company".

And does anyone know anything about the future of this re-read?
54. DonnaIsme
Hi Jerry,

Re your comment on Dunharrow being unrelated to Dunland, I'm not sure. The Tolkien wiki that you cited is contradictory in its entry on Dunland at at the beginning it says that dunland = hill land or hill country, which would be etymologically related to Dunharrow, 'dun' meaning 'hill' as in modern English 'down.' But at the end of the entry it gives dun = brown. Absent any more evidence elsewhere, I would favor the meaning of Dunland as "hill country," but don't know if it's possible to decide the question for sure.
Hugh Arai
55. HArai
Jerry Friedman@53: I don't know officially, but I believe most if not all the re-reads here on are done as a labor of love in the host's spare time. I suspect Kate has simply hit a really busy stretch and another post will come soon.
Kate Nepveu
56. katenepveu
Hi everyone--driveby comment of my own! Yes, I pinky-swear that a post about the next chapter is currently half-done on my netbook, really truly! But I got sick and then I hit a wall of work deadlines (which actually I haven't surmounted yet) and then SteelyKid got sick (yes, again, but only a little this time) and also that is a really, really long chapter.

But I haven't abandoned you all. Honest. And as soon as I get the next post written and put in the publication queue here I will go back and read new comments.

*flees back to rewriting a really terrible draft brief that is due all too soon, in sorrow and guilt*
57. Stephen Morrison
The information about the etymology of “Dunharrow" derives from a piece called “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings” which Tolkien wrote as a guide for translators. The entry on Dunharrow begins:
A modernization of ‘actual’ Rohan D?nhærg ‘the heathen fane on the hillside’, so-called because this refuge of the Rohirrim at the head of Harrowdale was on the site of a sacred place of the old inhabitants (now the Dead Men).
The Nomenclature can be found most easily in Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion.
Andrew Foss
58. alfoss1540
Thanks Kate - Life Happens. What kind of life do we have checking back each day. Looking forward to your comments!
59. Jerry Friedman
Hi, Donna. The other half of your comment is about the etymology of Dunland. Appendix F at the end of the section "Of Men" says, "Dunland and Dunlending are the names that the Rohirrim gave to them, because they were swarthy and dark-haired; there is thus no connexion, between the word dunn in these languages and the Grey-Elven word Dûn 'west'." I don't know where the Tolkien wiki entry got the "hill land" etymology, but I was going by LotR. (Maybe this means I shouldn't rely on the Tolkien wiki for other things either, so thanks to Stephen Morrison for the better source.)

Kate, I'm delighted that this will continue and I haven't missed all the fun!
Soon Lee
60. SoonLee

The reason we are all so keen on the next installment is because it is such fabulous fun & a lot of that is due to you. But speaking for myself, I'm happy to wait however long it takes; real life is more important.
Kate Nepveu
61. katenepveu
Okay, new post is in the queue and should go up in a day or two depending on how much else is scheduled.

Jerry Friedman @ #49, welcome! And I remember the Rohan - Mark confusion too! So glad it wasn't just me.

Thanks for looking up "squat"; in my idiom it involves your butt off the ground, so you can see my confusion.

And @ #51: why does Denethor want the Rohirrim inside the walls, even though they fight in the open? Because he's deeply self-centered, where "self" here is far too bound up in Gondor for his own good. As we shall see.

(Well, okay, I suppose militarily there must be an advantage to not splitting forces and lines of command and so forth.)
62. buzzbaileyport
Denethor's paranoia aside, I'm opining that there are some pretty good military reasons for the Steward to want the Rohirrim within the walls of Minas Tirith. (These are all just random thoughts off the top of my head, by the way.)

Mounted cavalry have had two functions, historically: shock and flanking. Both of these are tactics to disorient rather than annihilate the enemy, and must be properly supported by infantry in order to be fully effective. As cavalry tend to be numerically inferior to infantry (especially if said infantry are the orcs and men of Mordor and its allies), they (the cavalry) are in great danger of being surrounded and destroyed, as the Rohirrim indeed almost were.

Having the Rohirrim within Minas Tirith, then, serves a few useful purposes:

1) Ease of communication and, hence, coordination. At this point, Denethor can relay his commands and desires to his generals and allies, so that (colloquially speaking) everyone's "on the same page." (Of course, Denethor's paranoia and OCD-ness might well come into play here.)

2) Chance to R&R. Though the Rohirrim must have had quite the adrenaline rush when they were charging, they are still attacking after a five-day forced march (ride). I can't help thinking that it might have been better for them to have taken a little break before meeting the enemy in battle.

3) Maintains a line of retreat. If the Rohirrim had been forced to flee, they could not be guaranteed any safe refuge (Rohan was being invaded, remember), and certainly none within easy riding distance. While this could possibly stiffen resolve (e.g., Cortéz burning his ships), it could also--especially when coupled with the apparently hopeless odds (orcs and trolls and mûmakil, oh my!)--induce despair.

Of course, these are some more common-sense theories from an amateur, and Denethor was a professional (well, he'd been doing it long enough). Furthermore, as most of us remember, Gandalf later explains that he does not "counsel prudence." Also, Denethor's chief reason in wanting the Rohirrim in Minas Tirith may well have been that he wanted to exercise direct control over them. I'm just proposing that there were other reasons he may have had in mind (or that he was using to rationalize this decision). Anyways, it certainly wasn't because he wanted to keep them cooped up or man the walls with them!
Kate Nepveu
63. katenepveu
buzzbaileyport @ #62, I appreciate your eminently sensible comments, or at least I will once I get over the image of Theoden and Eomer sitting by the pool and holding drinks with fruit on little sticks!
64. buzzbaileyport
Well, there has to be a reason for that pool right outside the Citadel!
65. Jerry Friedman
buzzbaileyport @ #62: Thanks for the interesting thoughts. You obviously know much more about this than I do. But then my only knowledge of cavalry in the real world comes from The King's Name and The King's Peace... wait a second...

Théoden seems to expect his men will be manning the walls and maybe fighting in the streets. Otherwise he wouldn't bring up their preference for fighting mounted in the open.

And if instead they could have been in the City and ridden out to attack the besiegers, they wouldn't have had the advantage of surprise or of attacking on a broad front the way they did. Would the advantages you bring up compensate for that?

I like your explanation that Denethor wants to control them. This also goes with his questioning Gandalf about the Rohirrim's capabilities and policies in the next chapter: He wants to know how to approach getting them under his command.

But what is Théoden thinking when he says Denethor "knows more than he sets in his message"?
Gabriele Campbell
66. G-Campbell
I agree, Denethor's strategy is not sound here. If he wants the Rohirrim inside the town in order to have a cavalry force for a sortie (in addition to the knights of Dol Amroth), that would be less effective to break a siege than a release attack from the outside (the way it's actually going to happen).

Though the Rohirrim can defend a besieged fortress, they've shown it at Helm's Deep.
Michael Ikeda
67. mikeda

Actually, one good reason for wanting the Rohirrim inside the walls is suggested by the actual course of events.

If the Woses hadn't shown the Rohirrim a secret path, they might not even have reached Minas Tirith. The Rohirrim might be more effective in the open, but being on the field of battle is better than not being there at all.
Soon Lee
68. SoonLee
Jerry Friedman @65:
I'd guess that there was more than one reason for his questioning of Gandalf. Denethor was a complex character who viewed himself as the leader (in all but name) of the forces of Good and so he'd have been very aware of the various elements involved & would have been greedy for intel. It's a game of chess he's playing.
Kate Nepveu
69. katenepveu
Since I have little to contribute to military talk:

is there chess imagery I've been missing? I'm inclined to say no, anachronistic, but it's not my game so I thought I'd ask.
Soon Lee
70. SoonLee
More in the sense that like Sauron, Denethor sits back, considers the whole situation & moves pieces around like a chess player, even if some of those pieces happen to be his sons. There's that distancing effect. But it all comes home to haunt him, firstly with the death of his elder son, then the seemingly imminent loss of his remaining son.
71. Jerry Friedman
Kate @#69: Yes, there's chess. In "Minas Tirith", Gandalf says, "...The board is set, and the pieces are moving.... But the enemy has the move, and he is about to open his full game. And pawns are likely to see as much of it as any, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor." Later in the chapter Pippin thinks, "'A pawn, did Gandalf say? Perhaps; but on the wrong chessboard.'"

Though interested in Tolkien the translator, I haven't speculated on whether he was translating the name of some other board game. It's just further evidence of Fritz Leiber's observation that chess is played in all worlds, real and fictional—if such an obvious proposition needs evidence. :-)

I agree with SoonLee that we should imagine Denethor as having more than one purpose in mind, as a chess master does. (Emanuel Lasker, world champion from 1894 to 1921, reportedly said every move should contain a drop of poison.) And I enjoyed the comparison to a chessplayer whose pieces happen to be his sons.

Incidentally, "son of Paladin" reminds us that, ironically, Pippin is the Prince of the Halflings, or as close as you can get.
72. buzzbaileyport
Thread bump!

Re: chess and Denethor - I wonder if he viewed it in that light? If so, did he view himself as either the king--err, make that Steward--or as the player? I'm guessing he realized that he (and Gondor itself, for crying out loud) were just pieces being manipulated by (from his point of view) Gandalf. Pippin's comment about being on the "wrong chessboard" implies (though he probably doesn't know it) that there are several games going on at once--Dale, Mirkwood, Lothlórien, even the Shire--and that really, all of these are merely pieces of a much larger game, which involves all of Middle-earth.

Also, as concerns Denethor's multiple purposes: some other chess master (I forget which) once commented that the ultimate objective of the game (checkmate) is rather obvious, so the player must first concentrate on smaller successes (materiel, position) until he or she builds up such an advantage as to be able to secure final victory.

There, that's my overanalysis of the whole chess thing :)

Jerry Friedman @65: In my opinion, just because you know an enemy has a certain capability doesn't mean that you can fully prepare for it. I mean, would the hosts of Mordor be more focused on beating off a counterattack or on sacking Minas Tirith?

I didn't see where Denethor was questioning Gandalf concerning Rohan in Chapter 4.

Moreover, on your question on Théoden's question: I think it's answered by the king's preceding statements, which I paraphrase as follows: "Denethor knows that we're a cavalry force and hence need our space. So why would he coop us up inside Minas Tirith...unless he knows something he's not telling me?" Not too sure about the "scattered people" part, as he negates it by noting that they (the Rohirrim) are already at war.

G-Campbell @66: I agree, but I once again repeat the whole coordination thing. If the Rohirrim had been present in the city, Denethor might well have decided to launch them in an attack against the flanks of the enemy (or something besides a frontal attack, which is suicide against a prepared enemy) while simultaneously sending the infantry of Gondor (et al.) against the distracted foe.

Also, the piecemeal commitment of haphazardly-arriving reinforcements to a battle against an overwhelming enemy is hardly a sound military strategy. As has already been said, the Rohirrim very nearly kill themselves off completely. Of course, this is Tolkien: unexpected aid comes in both major battles (the Hornburg and Pelennor Fields), and conventional strategy is flagrantly disregarded. Sending the Ring to Mordor was, after all, the pinnacle of folly, as Gandalf himself admits: "Just a fool's hope" (V 4).

And now that that's all been said, a parting shot from our favorite Steward:

"'If I had! If you had!' he said. 'Such words and ifs are vain'" (V 4).

Not that I'm trying to dismiss all of your comments, but I thought that was too good not to quote :)

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