Wed
Apr 28 2010 3:11pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.4, “The Siege of Gondor”

cover of The Return of the King We pick up the Lord of the Rings reread with the very long and interesting chapter “The Siege of Gondor,” chapter 4 of book V of The Return of the King. As always, spoilers for the entire book and comments after the jump.

(And in case anyone was wondering about the extremely long gap between posts: I was sick; SteelyKid was sick, yet again; I hit a wall of work deadlines; and then I hit writer’s block from being away from these posts for so long and from not knowing how to organize all this stuff. I’m very sorry, all.)

(Also, I reviewed a non-LotR book here, N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—check it out.)

What Happens

The morning of the Dawnless Day, Pippin sees Faramir return to Minas Tirith, harried by Nazgûl that Gandalf drives off with white light. He and Gandalf hear Faramir tell Denethor about meeting Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Ithilien. Gandalf is frightened; Denethor is angry and wishes that Faramir and Boromir’s places had been exchanged, so that he could have the Ring—only to keep safe, of course.

The next day, Denethor sends Faramir to defend Osgiliath and the river’s crossings. The day after that, the third day of the darkness, news comes that Faramir is retreating; early on the fourth day, the enemy breaches the wall surrounding the Pelennor fields. Gondor’s retreating soldiers are nearly routed between the enemies on the ground and the Nazgûl in the air. Though Gandalf and the knights of Dol Amroth drive back the enemy, Faramir is gravely wounded. Denethor retreats to his tower and a pale light is seen flickering in the windows; he comes back in despair. Gandalf and Pippin are told that the road from the North (by which the Rohirrim would come) is blocked by enemies.

The besiegers spend the fifth day digging trenches and setting up siege engines, with which they throw incendiaries and the heads of Gondor’s soldiers. Denethor abandons responsibility and Gandalf takes command. That night, Denethor commands his servants to take him and Faramir to the tombs and then to burn them both alive. Pippin, having been given leave to “die in what way seems best to” him, runs to find Gandalf to stop Denethor (asking Beregond for what help he can on the way). He finds Gandalf at the Gate, which has just been broken by the Lord of the Nazgûl.

Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.

And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.

Comments

So, as you can see, the “five nights and days” that the Rohirrim rode (starting on the Dawnless Day) does indeed match up; I wrote the summary that way to prove it, since I’d gone to the trouble of keeping track. But more importantly: just how AMAZING is that chapter ending, huh? Another demonstration of “you can break any rule as long as you do it well enough”: sentence fragments? Heck, a sentence consisting of the same word repeated three times? Absolutely.

Ahem.

This is a really long chapter and I’m going to focus on the following threads of it: Denethor and Faramir; military-ish stuff (Gandalf, the Nazgûl, and the siege); and Pippin. That’s the bulk of my notes to myself, but I’m leaving some things out just to make this post manageable, so please do chime in.

* * *

Denethor and Faramir. I’m not sure I’d remembered just how much of their relationship is packed into this chapter. Unless I am badly mistaken, this chapter contains all of their waking, in-person interactions in the entire book. My reactions were on a roller-coaster here, going from “that is BAD PARENTING” to “oh look, sense, though a bit late” to “that is so far beyond bad parenting that I don’t even have words for it.” And yet, throughout it all, I’m not sure that I have it in me to actually despise Denethor.

The first conversation is, of course, the one that made me caps-lock about BAD PARENTING, but it also made me understand why Denethor acts as he does. (It’s there in the text fairly clearly, I just hadn’t thought about it until now.) This is also an example of how changes in my life affect the way I see the text: I haven’t read this since I became a parent, and I literally cannot imagine ever telling SteelyKid that I wish she’d died in the place of a hypothetical sibling. I’m not sure that I could have imagined myself doing that to a hypothetical kid either, but now it leaps out at me as simply horrific.

But going back to Denethor’s motivations: someone-or-other remarks in the text that it’s odd that he should prefer Boromir to Faramir, when Faramir is much more like him. When Denethor says the following to Faramir, though, I suddenly understood:

Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old, gracious, gentle. That may well befit one of high race, if he sits in power and peace. But in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death.

Denethor is, of course, quite thoroughly wrong (see: Gollum). But he is also ruled by the belief that Gondor is (a) the sole defense against Sauron and (b) doomed. And while I’m not sure how long he’s believed it was doomed, instead of just facing very long odds, these beliefs shape his entire worldview. (Here I delete a half-formed tangent about living in a fallen world; we’ll talk about it next chapter.) Of course Denethor prefers Boromir, who has greater military skill [*] and interest, as more inclined to his view of the world—which, depending on how much calculation you ascribe to him and how much charity you view him with, could be only another way of saying “a more useful tool,” or could also include “more worthy of respect” or maybe even “more likely to survive and therefore safer to care about.” Which is to say, the first is textual, because Denethor says later that all wise great lords use others as their weapons, but Denethor’s contempt for Faramir—and himself, perhaps? [**]—also suggests to me the second.

[*] Or at least a reputation for it? Faramir doesn’t seem to be any slouch.

[**] Does the sleeping in armor feel like a hair shirt to anyone else?

Faramir puzzles me a bit in this conversation, though. Why does he look at Gandalf throughout his tale of meeting Frodo? He has to know of Denethor’s dislike for Gandalf, and I don’t know what he hoped to learn that would make it worthwhile. And just what did Faramir say about the Ring, anyway? Denethor says “little of what you have half said or left unsaid is now hidden from me,” which suggests that Faramir held back more information than simply doing Charades to avoid saying “the One Ring” out loud. Did he hope or expect to keep Denethor from realizing precisely what was at issue? I think he might have, but I find it difficult to imagine how he could have avoided revealing that he knew Frodo’s quest without flat-out lying.

As for their second conversation, when Denethor sends Faramir to delay the enemy’s advance at the River and Pelennor [*] . . . well, it’s also bad parenting, no question, but really it makes me want to kick Denethor in the shin. Twice. “That depends on the manner of your return,” indeed. *kicks*

[*] Which I originally called “foolish,” because the arguments against it seemed so strong and because Denethor called it “needless peril” after Faramir returned. But by the end of the chapter, I think we’re supposed to understand that the delay was a good thing, what with Rohan arriving just as the Witch-king was riding in. However, on a smaller scale, if Denethor had released the rescue sortie earlier, Faramir would not have been injured.

I found very effective Denethor’s silent despair when Faramir returns unconscious; understated angst is my kind of thing. (Did anyone guess that he had a palantír at this point?) Well, I suppose “tears on that once tearless face” may not be that understated, but I still buy it. I should say here that my earlier remark about finally getting some sense applied to his regret for being a bad parent, not his refusal to lead. As someone with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility (it’s going to get me into trouble some day), I am unable to approve.

On a slight tangent: I wondered before what Denethor sees in the palantír that casts him into such black despair. He tells Pippin that Gandalf’s “hope has failed. The Enemy has found it.” Since I was paying so much attention to timing in this chapter, I checked Appendix B, which says that Frodo was captured the day that Faramir was wounded. While Denethor only saw what Sauron wanted him to see, I don’t imagine that Sauron would have bothered to block him from looking for hobbits. Sauron doesn’t know that Frodo has the Ring, but Denethor does, and seeing Frodo in captivity would account for just how far over the edge Denethor is pushed. (I never realized how tight that timing was before, and what it implies about the care with which the plot was constructed.)

And then Denethor’s brief emotional improvement goes completely off the rails when the motivations behind both these episodes—belief that Gondor is doomed, recalling that he does love Faramir—feed off each other in the worst possible way, straight into a murder-suicide attempt: “We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West.” He may be genuinely sad that Faramir is burning up with fever, but the proper response to that is getting a healer, as Pippin so rightly says, not literalizing the metaphor! 

(What’s the in-story explanation for disapproving of cremation? The Internet tells me that in Catholicism, cremation was seen as denying belief in resurrection of the body until a couple decades after LotR was finished. But that can’t explain the characters’ attitudes. Is it supposed to be an unquestioned cultural default?)

And there we leave them for the chapter, in the uneasy quiet of Rath Dínen, the Silent Street (the hush is mentioned at least six times in the scene where Denethor and Faramir are brought there).

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, err, war . . .

(Sorry. I read a bunch of Lemony Snicket when I was an impressionable young-ish person, and even after the end of the series, it’s hard to shake.)

We get a positive action that’s explicitly supernatural in this section, with no “as if” equivocation, when Gandalf drives the Nazgûl away from Faramir: “Shadowfax bore him, shining, unveiled once more, a light starting from his upraised hand.” (The first time this happens, it only “seemed to Pippin” that light came from Gandalf’s hand.) Gandalf also literally shines on these two occasions, which I believe is the first time since he revealed himself to Aragorn and the others in Fangorn.

Gandalf reveals more of his strength because his opponents have grown in strength. I remember that we discussed the early ineffectiveness of the Nazgûl, and those who said that they got more powerful later were right; we get an explicit statement that their power has increased with Sauron’s increased strength and will. And while Mordor’s conventional military strength is necessary, it’s not sufficient to allow them to ride into the city after only a day of siege: the text makes clear that it’s the psychological effects of the Nazgûl’s voices that weakens the defenders, and then the Witch-King’s “words of power and terror to rend both heart and stone” that helps break the gate.

Oh, and writers of all types, take note of the power of repetition, on the one hand, and of varying sentence length and structure, on the other:

In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.

All save one.

I love discovering what a good writer Tolkien was on the sentence level.

Other notes about the military portion:

Gandalf’s statement about the Lord of the Nazgûl, when Denethor asks him if he is overmatched: “It might be so. But our trial of strength is not yet come. And if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall, and hidden from the Wise is the doom that awaits him.” I also recall some discussion about whether Gandalf intended to attempt to, or thought he could, destroy the Witch-king; I read this as Gandalf saying “I might be overmatched, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not ultimately my job,” but I can see that the other reading is possible.

(Also, the statement that set up this exchange was, to me, a rare example of Gandalf’s dialogue clunking: “Yet now under the Lord of Barad-dûr the most fell of all his captains is already master of your outer walls. King of Angmar long ago, Sorcerer, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgûl, a spear of terror in the hand of Sauron, shadow of despair.” I quite agree with Denethor’s deflation of this portentousness: “Is this all that you have returned to say?”)

I like the way that the attackers’ movements are described through the appearance of their torches, first as “little rivers of red flame . . . winding through the gloom” then “flowing torrents,” then “scattering like sparks in a gale.” Intuitively visual and menacing.

The Men who hold the north road are “of a new sort that we have not met before. Not tall, but broad and grim, bearded like dwarves, wielding great axes. Out of some savage land in the wide East they come, we deem.” Which brought to my mind stereotypes of Mongolians (e.g., the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

The battering ram Grond is named after Morgoth’s mace, which I had to look up in The Silmarillion. And how wonderfully ominous is the statement that “now and again some great beast that hauled it would go mad and spread stamping ruin among the orcs innumerable that guarded it”? Yes, this battering ram is so badass that just being near it drives creatures crazy!

* * *

Finally, Pippin. He shows that he’s matured a lot in this chapter, it seems to me.

He starts in fairly typical hobbit fashion, asking Gandalf if Denethor will “provide breakfast.” He also mentions songs “about food and drink, of course” to Denethor when asked. But in both conversations he also shows the good judgment to not respond to comments, when Gandalf reminds him that it’s his own fault that he was brought to Minas Tirith, and when Denethor pokes at him about yesterday’s meals. Not only that, but these early comments about food and drink underline the importance of his comment that same afternoon, when he says, “Indeed what is the good even of food and drink under this creeping shadow?” The Nazgûl haven’t even made their appearance yet and Pippin’s already lost his joy in eating: these are serious times.

When the Nazgûl arrive shortly after, there are a couple of interesting bits. He cries “Gandalf save us!”, which highlighted for me the lack of religion in Middle-earth, because that’s a prime situation for a religious reference. (Yes, I know Gandalf is something like an angel or minor deity, but Pippin doesn’t know that and so it doesn’t count.) And then when Gandalf appears, Pippin “shout(s) wildly, like an onlooker at a great race,” which I found jarring and clunky; perhaps it’s a tone-content mismatch.

Pippin’s initial response to Faramir also interested me for two reasons. One, it’s explicitly contrasted with his response to Boromir, “whom Pippin had liked from the first, admiring the great man’s lordly but kindly manner.” It seems rather late to tell us either that Pippin liked him or that he had such a manner; those would have been much more useful when Boromir was alive. Two, Pippin seems to be positioned as a reader stand-in here, telling us how we should react to Faramir: “Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed, less high perhaps, yet also less incalculable and remote.” (As an aside, Aragorn as “incalculable” at least suggests that Tolkien was doing it on purpose, though I still think that it was suboptimal to put all his backstory in an Appendix.)

Pippin also shows good judgment when Faramir tells Denethor about Frodo, picking up Gandalf’s warning look and keeping quiet. Talk about being caught between terrible old men again—this time he feels that Denethor and Gandalf’s glances almost “were like blades from eye to eye, flickering as they fenced.” Which is an image more comical than menacing to me, honestly (“I? Am not left-handed either.”), but I don’t think it was intended to be a less formal tone like the shouting-at-a-race one. That’s okay, though, because I will forgive a lot for the quiet poignancy of Pippin taking Gandalf’s hand when they are at last away from Denethor and asking him if there’s any hope for Frodo.

Finally, there’s how he reacts at the end of the chapter, with a nice combination of loyalty and sense. Pippin at first thinks that Denethor has decided to wait for enemies to come burn him, rather than understanding what Denethor actually intends, and I don’t blame him, because who could imagine such a thing? But I think it’s significant that first Pippin kneels to Denethor and then, when he stands and “look(s) the old man in the eyes,” he is “suddenly hobbit-like once more” when he tells Denethor: trust Gandalf, don’t despair, I will stand by my word and you.  

When he does understand that Denethor means to immediately kill Faramir and himself, he acts promptly and sensibly, bolting to find Gandalf. On the way, he attempts to get others to help, asking a servant not to act before Gandalf comes and asking Beregond if he can help. In both cases he shows a hobbit’s practicality unencumbered by awe for hierarchy. When the servant asks, rhetorically, who is master of Minas Tirith, Pippin retorts, “The Grey Wanderer or no one, it would seem.” He also cuts right to the chase with Beregond: “you must choose between orders and the life of Faramir. And as for orders, I think you have a madman to deal with, not a lord.” I don’t know how much illegal orders were an issue in Tolkien’s experience of WWI, either personally or as a matter of general knowledge, but this section certainly seems to be one of the ways that Tolkien complicates matters of hierarchy and authority.

Right. I have now babbled for *checks* over three thousand words, which means it’s time for me to stop and turn the floor over to you. What did you think about this chapter? What did I leave out that we should discuss? Let’s hear it.


« Return of the King V.3 | Index | Return of the King V.5 »


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.

99 comments
David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
Wow, so much stuff here.

We've gone over a lot of the family dynamics with Denethor and sons, so I think I'll leave that. I suspect that the reason Faramir spends most of his report on Frodo staring at Gandalf is that Frodo told him he was dead. (Can't remember if it was on screen or not, but if it wasn't he must have said so.) Now, Faramir is either amazed at Gandalf's return, wondering if Frodo lied to him (and if so, whether he made a mistake), or possibly both.

Cremation here is probably simply meant to signify barbarism. Denethor explicitly equates it to the time before the Elves brought the light of the Valar to Men. It's interesting, though, since most of the Germanic peoples who were Tolkien's inspiration practiced it. Not sure where I'm going with that.

On the military side, you've made me wonder about the walls around the Pelennor Fields. It's an immensely long fortification and would have required enormous numbers of men to properly defend. Either Gondor had a much larger population when it was built, or they had powers and magic they could call on. Either way, the current Gondorians don't have what they need and the wall serves little purpose, militarily and in the narrative.

Gandalf and Denethor fencing I have always read as though there is a lot more going on than just their verbal sparring. I think there is a mental duel going on between them, a test of wills, maybe even outright telepathic combat. Pippin, of course, can't perceive that, and all we get is the faint echo of it in their glances.
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
Oh, gosh. This is why I would be terrible at palace intrigue: I cannot remember who knows what and who doesn't. Of *course* the last time Faramir heard of Gandalf, it was that he was lost in Moria. Thanks.

We are told in chapter 1 of this book that Minas Tirith's population has fallen considerably; otherwise I can't speak to the original military purpose of the wall.
Geoffrey Dow
3. ed-rex
I confess, I have been neurotica - er, periodically checking in to see whether you'd updated and so am pleased to see that Kate has come at last! (Horns blowing or not.)

I basically agree with your analysis of Denethor and very much appreciate the charity with which you approach him. Like Boromir, but more so, I think there's a traditionally tragic feel to Denethor's story, a good man and a strong one destroyed by his own pride.

As for your question, "What's the in-story explanation for disapproving of cremation?", my sense was that it wasn't cremation per se that was the problem but suicide and murder. Denethor was taking his own life "like the heathen kings of old" and, worse, taking his son with him.

Finally, I just have to thank you for reprinting the chapter's closing paragraphs. Rohan had come at last is one of those lines, like "Well, I'm back," he said, with which Tolkien managed to communicate bloody volumes of emotional information in a few deceptively simple words.

I thrilled to that line when I first read the book at the age of 12 or so, and it sends shivers up and down my spine still.
j p
4. sps49
I had no clue Denethor had the palantir, just that Something was Up with the flickering light.

I do not think Sauron blocked Denethor from certain views, I always thought he had a large measure of ability to steer the thing to where he wanted, showing evidence of Mordor's strength but not the bople beside and with the West.

I think the burning bier just suggests that Middle-Earth was "pagan" before the Eldar and Valar showed up.

Lemony Snicket ended?

Gandalf may also mean that facing the Witch-King is something he may have to attempt, but will not succeed at. Does he consider himself as a Man? Would a male Elf or Dwarf count? Am I overanalyzing a(n upcoming) cool moment?

Are Mongolians generally broad?

Illegal orders, and the responsibilty of the ordered to refuse illegal ones (although I always wondered what that would get me) generally date from Nuremburg. WW1 featured incredibly stupid orders that weren't really disobeyed on the front, but soldiers resting in the rear did refuse to travel back to the front. I dunno about a palace servant, but I am sure that individual refusals get Nazis and communists shot on the spot, and anyone on any front risks the same.

Glad to have you back, Kate!
Kate Nepveu
5. katenepveu
ed-rex @ #3, thanks for the welcome back. And yes, of course the murder-suicide was disapproved of, but in the full context I also saw a contrast being made about burial methods:

I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West.


And yes, "Rohan had come at last" is yet another serious high-fantasy moment. Gosh this book is good so far.

sps49 @ #4, yes, A Series of Unfortunate Events concluded a few years ago. I was not impressed (really big spoilers, no I mean it, REALLY!).

I can't imagine Gandalf considers himself a Man. And I don't know anything, basically, about actual Mongolians, but there's something about stoutness in the _Hitchhiker's_ reference.
Rob Munnelly
6. RobMRobM
This was the chapter that was so messed up in the movie version that I was screaming at the screen. Denethor is briliant but despondent, not the drooling idiot of the Peter Jackson film. ARRRGGGGHHHHH.
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7. Your mailbox is full.
kate@5: but in the full context I also saw a contrast being made about burial methods:

I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West.


I see what you mean, but in the wider history that Tolkien sometimes seems to just assume that we all know (how's that for being caught up in one's own act of sub-creation?), in the wider history the long, slow sleep of death embalmed came about after Gondor had begun its slow decline, and men in dusty towers began to be more concerned with their lineage than with the light of day (can't remember the exact quote, or where from, but I liked it).

I think that the more one analyzes it, the darker becomes the picture of despair that Denethor's madness paints. It's not that the West has failed; that happened, at least in the Gondorian collective subconscious, many generations ago when tomb-building became an obsession of the ruling classes. If we can imagine them believing, in their heart of hearts, that all they had really was all that there was, then the desire to make a lasting, glorious death-monument makes more sense.

No, Denethor believed that not only had the Mystical West failed, but the West-that-is-Gondor, which had slowly taken shape by the hand of Men over the centuries was also coming to naught. In his mind, Denethor really has nothing left.

You say that, even after everything he did, you can't bring yourself to hate Denethor. Neither can I. In fact, I pity him.

I think that he would have found hate easier to handle.

(btw: sorry to hear about your overdose of Stuff. Someone recently pointed me to a recent 10th Circuit appeal, SCO v. Novell. Having read through the convoluted story of that appeal (and the aftermath), I gibbered, rocked on my chair for a while, and felt very glad that I practice law in a tiny little backwater country on the other side of the Atlantic. :))
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8. peachy
I think the safest assumption is that the Rammas were never intended to be properly defended against a full-scale invasion. Instead the notion was to hamper raiding parties (which wouldn't burden themselves with the kind of heavy equipment necessary to make a breach, and so would have to rely on escalade - very difficult with riding animals - or seizing a gate), and if possible to act as a speed-bump or trip-wire in the face of a larger attack. It wasn't really possible in this case, because the numbers favoured Mordor too heavily.

There are plenty of examples of strategic fortifications of this kind in history - the Romans and Chinese were both very fond of them on their more unsettled frontiers.
Tony Zbaraschuk
9. tonyz
We have plenty of evidence that the Gondorians, and the Numenoreans before them, were really into the preservation of the physical body -- it was originally, we see in the Akallabeth, the tale of Numenor in the Silmarillion, an outgrowth of Numenorean longevity research -- they could preserve the body, but not keep life in it. This is because in Tolkien's mythos the natural home of the human soul is not within the world at all -- it's why Bilbo feels "stretched" by the unnatural longevity of the Ring, and why the Ringwraiths are continually in torment. The Numenoreans wanted immortality and built tombs instead. And the former kings of Numenor were recorded as "sleeping on golden beds" under the Meneltarma, the holy mountain at the center of the island. So they definitely do monumental inhumation rather than cremation. Tolkien pointed out in one of the Letters that one should consider Gondor to have a very strong "Egyptian" element monumentally and culturally.

So by choosing cremation Denethor is basically giving up on the whole Numenorean project, on everything they've ever done in the last sixty-three centuries; measure the depths of his despair by that. Consider that he and Faramir were alike, and consider Faramir's obvious love of history and respect for what has gone before. (This, again, is where one looks at the Akallabeth, where Tolkien is big on the original culture-uplift the Numenoreans provided to the Men of Middle-earth, which throws into sharp relief Denethor's words about "before ever a ship sailed hither from the West.")

Though that itself is a failure of imagination and knowledge on Denethor's part: there was a history before the men of Numenor sailed back to Middle-earth, even a history of Men (Beren? Turin? Tuor? Earendil?) Denethor needed to remember that it wasn't just about the Men of the West and their gifts and concerns, but that the world was in the care of the Valar, and the creation of the One beyond them. (Which Faramir remembers, and which is in fact the case, as Gandalf's presence should remind him.)

On another topic, Men "broad and grim, bearded like dwarves, with great axes" suggests to me Russians rather than Mongols. (Among other things, Mongols would be mounted... these sound more like infantrymen.)
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10. MKUhlig
I have always found Denethor one of the most fully realized characters in the book. He is lined up on the "good" side, but so deeply flawed. And his exchanges in the chapter with Faramir, ring so true as the kind of awful things that family can throw at each other. And even Faramir throws at his father, that it was Denethor's fault that Boromir was chosen to go on the quest that killed him.

And I also wondered in this chapter about all the men from the far east who fought for Sauron. Why? Are they some form of mercenaries? They seem very far removed to have any personal grudge against Gondor.
Mari Ness
11. MariCats
On my first reading, it never once occurred to me that Denethor might have a palantir. I thought he was just using a candle.

I thought that Pippin's sudden memory of Boromir was thrown in more to remind us just why Denethor might have favored Boromir so strongly. Most of our previous views of Boromir tended to come from Frodo's more negative viewpoint. Given Frodo's considerably more positive interactions with Faramir in the previous book, I thought it was important for someone to point out that, pre-Ring influence, Boromir was decidedly one of the Good Guys; not just able to trundle through heavy snow carrying young hobbits and kill trolls and orcs and so on, but also possessing a genuine courtesy and kindly spirit. And that's another reason for Denethor to mourn his son and go off the deep end.
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12. Kvon
I believe that Gondor once extended all the way to Minas Ithil across the river. Over time the populace decreased due to plagues and wars, and Mordor gradually pushed them back, retaking Minas Ithil around 2000 (3rd age). Around then Gondor pulled back to Minas Tirith and and the Rammas was built as a defense against Mordor; by the time of the Ring a thousand years later, Minas Tirith has had further decrease in the number of people to defend the borders.

I never connected Denethor with seeing Frodo captured before, that makes a lot more sense than just listening to Sauron's pr.
Tony Zbaraschuk
13. tonyz
It's the capture of Frodo, but it's also Denethor seeing the massive armies Sauron has gathered against him (the Corsairs, the Easterlings, the Orcs of Mordor...)
Kelly McCullough
14. KellyMcCullough
I don't have a lot to say on the chapter but thought I'd chime in with the others who are glad to see you back, Kate.
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15. Techne
I always presumed that Denethor, rather than seeing Frodo captured, saw the black ships. Thus you get the crowning irony that Denethor misreads a sign of hope as a sign of doom and that pushes him finally over the edge.
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16. pilgrimsoul
@Kate Good to see you on screen again. Tom Shippey agrees with you btw that Denethor saw Frodo captured and despaired and gives it as an example of JRRT's irony in tensing up the plot.
@Techne 15 I always thought that as well, but there's nothing to say he couldn't have seen both. He was a busy guy.

This was Pippin's finest hour!
Tony Zbaraschuk
17. tonyz
Denethor obviously used the Stone of Anor repeatedly -- and note that when we see it at the pyre, he exclaims "Even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee, and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails", so he's probably looking at the Corsairs right then. I've got no problem with him seeing all sorts of things at different times.
Kate Nepveu
18. katenepveu
RobMRobM @ #6, I very much suspect that I will have considerably more issues with the movie's portrayal of Denethor this time around, now that I've spent more time really thinking about him.

Your mailbox is full. @ #7, it was Faramir in "The Window on the West":

Death was ever present, because the Númenóreans still, as they had in their old kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.


Interesting. I had assumed, on no positive evidence, that "the mansions of the dead Kings and of their Stewards" included *all* past dead Kings, but even if that were the case, Denethor could be drawing a parallel to tombs that were _mansions_, as in the quote.

Denethor does say that the West itself has failed, next time we see him. So while I'm unsure whether I agree with your reading of this particular line, I agree with your overall point about the scope of Denethor's perception of defeat.

(As for that case, a glance at a summary suggests to me that it was the kind of thing that involved multiple walls of boxes, whereas so far I've stuck with cases that fit on a single wall, at most!)

peachy @ #8, I gather that "escalade" = scaling the walls, yes? Now I know what that is when it isn't a ginormo SUV . . .

tonyz @ #9, ah, I bet the Akallabeth was one of the things in the back of my mind when I assumed that all the Kings were entombed in the Silent Street . . .

And yes, to expand on past comments, I think the very real responsibility Denethor labors under has completely warped his conception of the universe until it all rotates around himself, as the leader of Gondor. Well put.

As for the new Men, I never think of Russia as East, let alone "the wide East," but I freely admit that my associating these with Mongols is an gut-instinct leap based on the thinnest amount of data.

MKUhlig @ #10, I agree with both your points.

MariCats @ #11, thanks for the data point on the palantir. I agree with you on the purpose of being told these good things about Boromir now, I just wish we'd been told them earlier too so we'd have mourned him more when he died!

Kvon @ #12, yeah, I hadn't made the Frodo-captured connection either, and I wonder if it wasn't too subtle? We'll see when we get to the next Denethor chapter, maybe.

KellyMcCullough @ #14, thank you, it's good to be back.

Techne @ #15, except that the rumors of the black ships are already common knowledge in chapter 1 of this book; we talked about this when Aragorn looked in his own palantir. And that's not _Gandalf's_ hope that has failed or something that the Enemy has found, so I don't think Denethor's statement fits them. (Oops--tonyz @ #17 quotes him as calling the wind Gandalf's hope, but Faramir's injury was well before that and still wasn't something that the Enemy had found.)

pilgrimsoul @ #16: then I shall appeal to authority! (Except not really. But it's good to know someone so smart agrees with me.) And go, Pippin!
Andrew Foss
19. alfoss1540
Kate Welcome Back

Great Chapter - and my only comments for now are on the end

Like EdRex @3 - Shivers down my spine just remembering reading about the Horns of the Rohirrim. Can't wait to get back to it!
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20. Confutus
On hearing Faramir's report, Gandalf momentarily feared that the ring had been captured, but Faramir managed to reassure him that Frodo had not had time to reach Minas Morgal before the dawnless day and the assault began. And later, Gandalf senses Sauron's fear and haste, instead of the overwhelming triumph that would have come if he had actually recovered the Ring. Denethor, in contrast, is convinced that the Ring has been captured.

And here is where I'll call Aragorn's use of his Palantir to challenge Sauron inspired, because the timing of his little distraction worked so perfectly. Recall that Frodo and Sam had watched this very army now besieging Gondor marching out of Minas Morgul, Ringwraith at its head. The Nazul even sensed something...and let it go, because he had a massive army to lead and a city to besiege.

If the army had still been in Minas Morgul, Frodo and Sam could never have gone through, any more than they could have gotten past the Bladk Gate to the North. But it had moved out to deal with the wrong threat and a pair of hobbits with the real one slipped in the back way behind it.
Tony Zbaraschuk
21. tonyz
I'm going to agree that the sound of the horns of the Rohirrim is one of the great moments in literature. It's a glorious turning point, and it lifts my heart every time I read it. (Not quite as much as the unveiling of Aragorn's banner, but perhaps as much as the golden fall of Eowyn's hair).
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22. EmmaPease
The corsairs had been rumored but Denethor and the other leaders had probably hoped they would be stopped at Pelargir. What Denethor saw was the corsairs upstream of Pelargir which implies that Pelargir which seems to have been the second city of Gondor after Minas Tirith had fallen. If this had been true, the temporary upswing of Rohan arriving would mean nothing in the long run.
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23. Marc Rikmenspoel
As I've said before in the re-read, Faramir is one of my favorite characters. The movie really did a disservice to his character, for example in having him choose to go to Osgiliath (with Frodo!) instead of being ordered there by his father.

This chapter made a deep impression on me when I first read it at around age 13, over 25 years ago. Like so many of you have indicated, that final section about the horns blowing used to give me a chill up my spine, in a good way!

A lot of Metal bands have a strong Tolkien influence, most notably Blind Guardian and Summoning. But another band, not as good as the first two IMHO is Battlelore. They have a beautiful instrumental piece titled Horns ofGondor that I now think of when I read about, paradoxically, the horns of Rohan...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv1VYxYYMsg
Soon Lee
24. SoonLee
DemetriosX @1 & Kvon @12:

Re: the wall.

The capital city of Gondor was formerly Osgiliath, & Minas Anor (Minas Tirith) & Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul) were the cities of the princes Anarion & Isildur.

So yes, Gondor used to have a much greater population, presumably enough to defend the wall. I get the sense that the defense of the wall was more symbolic, a sign of Gondor's strength for so many years; the Gondorians were loath to simply abandon it even though militarily it would have been the wiser option.
David Levinson
25. DemetriosX
It's interesting that the arrival of the Rohirrim here is so stirring and a tremendous sign of hope. Yet, in my memory at least, the arrival of the Grey Company is rather anticlimactic. You would expect their arrival with Aragorn, the rightful king, at their head to be the major harbinger of hope as a sign of his validity.
Michael Ikeda
26. mikeda
EmmaPease@22

Plus Denethor probably doesn't think the Rohirrim will even be able to REACH Minas Tirith.

(He probably does know that they're on their way, given that he does have a Palantir, but he also probably knows about the army entrenched in their path.)

DemetriosX@25

Not sure "anticlimatic" is the right word. Aragorn raising his banner and leading his reinforcements ashore basically decides the outcome of the battle.
David Levinson
27. DemetriosX
mikeda@26

It's true that the Grey Company are the hammer that smashes the bad guys against the anvil of the Rohirrim. And when the fleet arrives everybody goes "Uh-oh" until Aragorn unveils his banner, but it just lacks the impact of the arrival of Rohan at the end of this chapter. It's more like, "Oh, the good guys. That's all right then." I don't know, it just doesn't have the punch this does.
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28. joyceman
I think the "bearded grim" men with axes are later identified as "Variags out of Khand". Which given the description, specifically bears and axes, and the similarity of Variags to Varangians puts me more in mind of Vikings or at least the eastern version, the Kievan Rus.
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29. Doug M.
30 comments in, can we discuss the fact that this is Tolkein's single biggest kick-ass set-piece battle scene?

There's Helm's Deep, but we don't really get the widescreen view there.

There's the battle at the Black Gates, but that's barely glimpsed -- it's over in half a page.

This, though... this chapter and the next are capital-W War. We zoom out for the big view of the enemy flowing across the Pelennor Fields; we zoom in on Pippin and Gandalf.

I really think there's a lot to be said here (and in the next chapter) WRT (1) Tolkein's wartime experiences and how they came into his writing; (2) war in Middle-Earth; and (3) how Tolkein wrote a frickin' awesome battle, or rather, several of them.

Especially (3). Yeah, Gollum and Galadriel and Bombadil and backstory and fully realized secondary world and all that, but for a lot of us who came to this as kids? There are basically three things that absolutely /glow with radioactive light/ in the memory: the Mines of Moria, the final scene at Mount Doom, and this.


Doug M.
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
alfoss1540 @ #19, thanks!

Confutus @ #20, thanks for extending the timeline implications! Nicely done.

EmmaPease @ #22, good point about the perceived fall of Pelargir, but I'm still stuck on Denethor saying the Enemy had "found" Gandalf's hope.

Marc Rikmenspoel @ #23, thanks for the music link; for those like me who aren't into Metal, it's not, and it's worth listening to.

joyceman @ #28, wow, what a memory! I would have sworn that I'd never read the words "Variags" or "Khand" before. The quote is "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields":

new strength came now streaming to the field out of Osgiliath. There they had been mustered for the sack of the City and the rape of Gondor, waiting on the call of their Captain. He now was destroyed; but Gothmog the lieutenant of Morgul had flung them into the fray; Easterlings with axes, and Variags of Khand, Southrons in scarlet, and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues.


I _think_ that's identifying four separate groups (she says, quietly banging her head against her desk at the last).

Doug M. @ #29, I would love to have you discuss the battle! To me, honestly, it didn't _feel_ very kick-ass so far, because we are fairly far from the action and it's all grim and stuff until the Rohirrim come, which they only do at the end. And, honestly, as a reader it takes a lot to get me interested in troop movements and tactics and big-picture battle stuff; it's not what thrills me. So I do and shall certainly need other people to chime in on this point.
Alex L
31. Quercus
Doug M. - absolutely! When I read LotR the second or third time (oh to have the reading time and concentration I did 25 years ago) these were precisely the sections I looked forward to. All the Frodo-being-miserable-in-Mordor chapters were to be speed-read as fast as possible to get to the exciting parts again.

Which missed the point utterly. Dave Langford said it perfectly:
The great dramatic irony of The Lord of the Rings is that its stirring chapters of high pageantry, full of mighty lords with ancient names going nobly to war, are mere diversions -- far less important than the doings of those exhausted little hobbits sneaking around behind enemy lines in hope of destroying the One Ring.

This is also a reason why I find it hard to condemn Denethor too much, as he recognised the ultimate futility of fighting a war against Sauron but was without any counterbalancing hope in the exhausted little hobbits.
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32. peachy
Tolkien has a real fondness for decisive flank-marches and late-arriving allies/reinforcements; the Eorlingas at Celebrant, the Rivendell elves at Fornost who turn victory into rout, the Iron Hills dwarves who turn the tide at Khazad-Dum, the Eagles & Beorn who save the battle at Erebor, Gandalf et al (and the Huorns) at Helms' Deep, the Rohirrim and the Grey Company et al at Pelennor Fields... even the Eagles at the Morannon, though their contribution isn't decisive.

It's all very dramatic, but perhaps not so realistic; I can't think of too many historical examples of armies conveniently arriving on the field just in time to save their friends. (Certainly not pre-gunpowder, before the phrase "march to the sound of the guns" is coined.)
Tony Zbaraschuk
33. tonyz
This chapter is mostly setup for the big active battle scene, though there's a lot of vivid stuff.

The Nazgul flying overhead shrieking is a haunting image.
Tony Zbaraschuk
34. tonyz
This chapter is mostly setup for the big active battle scene, though there's a lot of vivid stuff.

The Nazgul flying overhead shrieking is a haunting image.
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35. buzzbaileyport
SoonLee @ 24: Realize also that Minas Anor and Minas Ithil were originally fortresses, more like Angrenost (Isengard) and Aglarond (the Hornburg or "Helm's Deep") than Osgiliath.

Re: the Rammas Echor, in Ch. 1 (Minas Tirith) we have the wall being constructed "after Ithilien fell under the shadow of ." There is debate over when precisely that was, but the earliest date mentioned is after Minas Ithil fell (2002). (Another possible date is 2901, as the entry in the Tale of Years reads, "Most of the remaining inhabitants of Ithilien desert it owing to the attacks of Uruks of Mordor.") With the former date, it is possible that there were enough men to man the walls.

My take on the purpose of the wall, though, is that it was never meant to repel a full-scale invasion. Rather, it was to protect the towns and fields of the Pelennor from small-scale raids. Therefore, it would only really be necessary to guard strategic areas (e.g., gates), with the understanding that those troops could be quickly dispatched to other sections of the wall as needed. In case of a serious incursion à la 3019, the best thing to do would possibly have been to close the gates and pull everybody back to the city.

Denethor's strategy, on the other hand, seems to have been one of attrition: fight the enemy at Osgiliath, Cair Andros, the Rammas Echor, so that only the remnants of the enemy would reach the White City. Tolkien doesn't really say if the strategy was sound or if it worked (all the places listed above fell, but they were "supposed" to), but I believe that it ultimately spread Gondor's forces too thin against an overwhelming enemy. I would chalk it up to the fog of war (that is, that it is impossible to fully comprehend the disposition of one's enemy), except that Denethor had that palantír and thus should have known better. I say all this because of one particularly worrying remark by the Steward: "We should not lightly abandon...the Rammas made with so great a labour." This sounds like Denethor only wishes to defend the wall because it was expensive--obviously, a supremely bad way to plan strategy.

And re: the palantíri, Gandalf mentions the whereabouts of the four Gondorian stones at the end of Book III (11, The Palantír): "They set up Stones at Minas Anor, and at Minas Ithil, and at Orthanc in the ring of Isengard ." If anyone remembers that Elrond (during his Council, all the way back in Book II) mentioned that Minas Anor became Minas Tirith, then it is possible to piece together that Minas Tirith has a Seeing-stone. I think Denethor's erratic behavior hints at his use of the palantír, but then again it's probably just my hindsight talking.
Hugh Arai
36. HArai
Hi Kate, thank you for another re-read post. I'm glad Stuff has decided to behave, at least for a while.

I have to agree with you about the great chapter ending. On my first reading, I did think Denethor had a palantir. There was one boast he had while talking to Gandalf. I don't have my text here, but it was something like "The Stones maybe lost, or so it is said, but I can still see". Then the image of him up in the tower with a flickering light. Just added up to a palantir to me.

I find the parallel between what Morgoth did to Hurin and what Sauron did to Denethor to be a strong one. They both got to see what was happening, and it was real just _crooked_. And they both ended up doing ill because of it. I feel sorry for Hurin, I don't for Denethor. I think it's because Denethor's despair just seemed so selfish in the end.

Rohan had come at last. Yay!
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37. Jamsco
I appreciated the (not one but two) Princess Bride references. Thanks.
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
peachy @ #32, hush, I'm pretending I can't hear you. =>

tonyz @ #34, the Nazgul are actually a place where the movies have helped me, because *shiver*.

buzzbaileyport @ #35, I don't get the impression that anyone else thought Denethor was right to defend the walls.

HArai @ #36, go you for figuring out the palantir! I'd forgotten about Hurin because I find that story so depressing, but doesn't surprise me that Sauron would be using his master's tricks.

Jamsco @ #37, two? I only did one on purpose--what was the other? =>
Hugh Arai
39. HArai
Kate@38:

I suspect this is the second:

As someone with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility (it’s going to get me into trouble some day)


Although I believe Inigo's problem was the overdeveloped sense of vengeance. You got Count Rugen's line down cold though so if it was unintentional your subconscious is _good_ :)
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
Oh, that! Too funny--I've adopted that so thoroughly that I didn't see it when I was skimming over the post.
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41. Jamsco
Yes, 'Overdeveloped' and 'I'm not left handed' were the two I meant.
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42. Foxessa
Denethor is a great character, all the more so, as you point out, that this chapter is about all we see of him in the entire work.

There was that tragic grandeur about him, from repelling the incursions of Mordor for his entire long life, guarding this city that he'd come to regard as his own through such efforts and the efforts of all his line. Single-mindedly focused on Mordor to hold his line against Mordor, Mordor's cunning breached the most intimate of his defenses, his own mind. That this is utterly believable is a great achievement of the author's in such a comparatively few number of words.

Denethor is one of the greatest of Jackson's sins, for which he cannot be forgiven.

Love, C.
Gabriele Campbell
43. G-Campbell
Amen to that, Foxessa. I can to some extent understand the changes they did with Faramir, and he becomes the book character after some time, but Denethor's portrayal was just horrible all the way. I love the familiy dynamics in the book, and the scriptscrewers despoiled that for me. Though Denethor's hall IS a great visual.

I've finally managed to read up on the whole re-read adventure. Lots of interesting stuff, but I don't think it would be of any use if I added comments to posts that date back several weeks.

But now I want to reread LOTR. Once again. :)
Francesca Forrest
44. Asakiyume
Tonyz @21--"Not quite as much as the unveiling of Aragorn's banner"

--that was the greatest moment ever for me, for the longest time.

But Kate, you've reminded me of great moments in *this* chapter.

I feel like I *did* think Denethor had a palantir, even on my first reading, but that seems unlikely--I probably simply remember only my subsequent rereadings.

Everyone is very supportive of Denethor; I never liked him at all. The contrast between him and Theodin was just so great and unfavorable, to my mind. Theodin has some basic strand of humility running through him, however much kingly pride he may also have--he is willing to play a supporting role in the world-heirarchy that's set up, whereas seems to resent that very role... but I say this not having done a reread recently, so my impressions may be based on faulty memory.
Hugh Arai
45. HArai
Askaiyume@44: I'm not a Denethor fan. His charge was to be a Steward and in the end he betrayed that charge. Also, BAD PARENTING as Kate put it doesn't score many points either.
Kate Nepveu
46. katenepveu
G-Campbell @ #43, your call on commenting on old posts! I will see them, at least.

Asakiyume @ #44, I don't _like_ Denethor, but he's *remarkably* vivid and comprehensible to me, particularly in the overall context of _LotR_.
Gabriele Campbell
47. G-Campbell
Yeah, but he didn't deserve to be turned into a dottering old man with bad table manners who gets smacked around by Gandalf. Plus Denethor never neglected the defenses of Gondor. Sure, the scene of the beacon fires is great, but I would have prefered if Denethor had lit them and not Pippin*.

Denethor is proud, but therein also lies his tragic. For countless generations the stewards where the actual rulers, but Denethor knows deep inside that he is defending Gondor for the king to come, and that the stewards will be reduced to second rank again. Denethor doesn't like the idea that Faramir would be able to cope with the new situation where he - and Boromir - could not. It's one of the many reasons that underlie the tension between them.

I begin to wonder if not the Song of Roland has given Tolkien some ideas; there are a number of parallels between Roland and Boromir, Charlemagne and Denethor (except that Charlemagne came from a line of stewards that _did_ claim the kingship) and Olivier/Faramir.


* But I had issues with the movies since Aragorn fell down the Cliff of Uncanonicity and Gimli was turned into comic relief which is an insult to every dwarf in LOTR and legend. ;)
Gabriele Campbell
48. G-Campbell
Kate, maybe I'll tackle some of the more recent chapters if I can come up with something interesting and hopefully intelligent to say. ;)
Francesca Forrest
49. Asakiyume
G-Campbell @47

LOL Aragorn's Cliff of Uncanonicity :-)

And speaking of uncanonical, we all roundly derided that uncanonical feature of film-Gondor's architecture, the Flaming Steward Leaping-off Parapet. Seriously, what would an architect have been thinking, putting in that runway to nothing?
Gabriele Campbell
50. G-Campbell
The whole Flaming Steward thing was just silly. And it changed the context of Gandalf's solemn line, "Thus passes Denethor, son of Ectehlion," so it made me giggle. It's such a dramatic and emotional scene in the book, but the scriptscrewers managed to turn it into something you'd expect in a parody of a Superman movie.
Peter Schmidt
51. PHSchmidt
Kate, happy you're back, so everyone else is, too. I missed you guys. This stands almost alone as an online community that is thoughtful, creative, supportive, erudite, and troll-free. I'm grateful every time I get to read a new post and comments.

Say, how about we have a distributed party to celebrate the end of the read? Boston, London, San Francisco - and any other places there may be a critical mass "nearby". What say we all?

I'll volunteer to organize the Boston part...
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52. Elaine Thom
Welcome back, Kate!

On Denethor's strategy, somewhere, I think in the Last Debate chapter, it is compared to children sitting on sand castles while the tide is running in.

Not flattering. ALthough, IIRC, Gandalf also remarks it is the prudent way, because it delays defeat just a little longer.

Gandalf and Aragorn are gambling that a hobbit with the Ring can get through Mordor. Looked at in cold, plain 'common sense' they're nuts. As far as that goes, Denethor is right.
It's only faith in the created world where powers will help those who try that makes it come out right. Denethor, as Steward, had the responsibility to uphold that faith and he didn't. May never have had it. That's why he despairs at the last.
Tony Zbaraschuk
53. tonyz
Denethor is a well-drawn character, yes, and a plausible one. (People who accuse Tolkien of having just black-and-white characters have obviously never studied his portrayal of Men. Or read the Silmarillion.)

He's wrong, and unlikable, but not stupid and not unrealistic. (Thinking of the black and silver of the Guard triggers up images of the SS and the last days of the Reich. And Denethor as the despairing warleader of a doomed realm. I don't know if Tolkien was intending that comparison here -- though one wonders if all the parallels, including abandoning the True Faith for its heathen predecessors, can have been quite so unnoticed. Then again, I never saw them till just now -- and d*mn the Nazis for ruining so much of Nordic mythos, and some really striking color combinations, anyway! but -- erch. Do I want to keep thinking about this?)

One doesn't like Denethor. One can respect most of his decisions, given his premises, but the way he treats Faramir is completely unforgivable, and as Gandalf reminds him, at the bare minimum he can still go out and fight, even with the cold courage of despair, instead of burning himself and his son. (The last emperor of Constantinople did a better job...)

Still, going braino-a-braino with Sauron can't possibly have been good for him, so perhaps some of what we're seeing is Sauron's influence instead of Denethor's native decisions. (Then again, nobody made him use the palantir either; he may have taken the risk with eyes wide open, but he didn't have to take it.)

As far as the siege goes, it does seem that Gondor mismanaged the defenses here as well -- it should have taken days, or weeks, to get a ram up to the Gate past the defending archers and siege engines, not to mention that one would have thought a moat of some sort an obvious addition to even such an impenetrable wall as the Numenoreans had built. I suppose we can credit the Nazgul for that -- "men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned", and perhaps Gondor can be forgiven for not anticipating Sauron's development of air power and terror weapons (is the similarity to siren-bearing Stuka dive bombers intentional, or just a recognition of the impact of air power on those facing it for the first time? Perhaps we should add this to the list of WW I/II experience impacting the work?)

I think the Steward has to get some blame for that as well. Sauron returned to Mordor 70+ years ago; Denethor has basically been preparing for this attack all his life, and yet the siege defenses are pretty minimal.

As far as the coordination issue goes, it almost doesn't happen. Aragorn knows how fast the Rohirrim will get to Minas Tirith, and he times his arrival for the same day. Plus he can use his palantir to monitor things (and does, and hurries his forces as a result). He and Theoden are still hours apart on reaching the field, and almost get destroyed in detail as a consequence. Would have, if the besieging army hadn't been careless about its lines of circumvallation. (Once again, Sauron's haste and hate get in the way of successful prosecution of the war.)
Geoffrey Dow
54. ed-rex
Asakiyume @44:

Everyone is very supportive of Denethor; I never liked him at all. The contrast between him and Theodin was just so great and unfavorable, to my mind. Theodin has some basic strand of humility running through him, however much kingly pride he may also have--he is willing to play a supporting role in the world-heirarchy that's set up, whereas seems to resent that very role... but I say this not having done a reread recently, so my impressions may be based on faulty memory.

I think you're take is right on the money - Theoden is a much more approachable, more likeable, character. But I don't think we're meant to like Denethor so much as we are meant to respect. In him the blood of Numenor runs nearly true and those people were serious (good) bad-asses. Smarter, stronger, faster, than you and I.

Which to me makes Tolkien's accomplishment with Denethor all the more admirable. Because I think most of us end up feeling pity for him, for the wreckage of a once-great man.

Now that I think (more) of it, I'm reminded of Lear, who I never much liked, but whose fall definitely moved me.

Huh. Is Denethor the only significant "good-but-flawed" character in The Lord of the Rings who get no redemption whatsoever?

I think so. Even Boromir repented before his end, but Denethor literally went up in flames, shouting his despair beyond the grave.

God damn, what a great adventure story!
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55. Confutus
What I found least forgivable about Denethor was that in his despair, he abandoned his post as leader of Gondor to grieve over the fallen Faramir, who was not yet dead. This was a betrayal of every other man on the walls who looked to Denethor for leadership, or an example of courage.
If courage is the ability to persist in the face of fearsome, even apparently invincible opposition, Denethor provides a vivid example of what it is not.

I see Denethor's extended defense as little more than a token show of defiance than an effective strategy. Faramir has a better grasp of its grim military arithmetic. Denethor's little speech about "keeping hope while they may, and after hope the hardihood to die free" sounds a bit hollow in light of what he actually did when put to the test. The bit about wearing armor under his clothes is another piece of the same thing. By such things Denethor manages to convince himself that he is defying the Enemy, while he is by now only the hard shell of a man, eaten from within by jealousy and pride.
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56. goshawk
I remember this chapter being full of uncomfortable pins-and-needles waiting, followed by horror and oh-my-god-no-the-good-guy-city-can't-FALL!, which I suppose means that Tolkien was doing it right. This is all the ugly parts of the war with nothing held back: there's waiting, then static siege, then psychological warfare in the catapulted heads and the constant Nazgul flyovers, then chaos and despair as soldiers desert their posts and the lowest circles begin burning, then you add Faramir falling and Denethor going mad, and cap it off with Grond smashing the until-now invincible Gates and the Lord of the Nazgul crossing the archway (after some subtle indications that there are more protections on that threshold than wood and metal) - the whole chapter is like a huge slide towards the bad, only briefly alleviated here and there.

Then Tolkien pulls out all the stops and gives us back the light with the ending. Whenever I reread, I look forward to the horns of Rohan with all my heart. I remember my hair standing on end and my eyes filling with tears the first time I read this, and whenever I do a properly immersive reread, it happens again.

I also think Gandalf could have defeated the Lord of the Ringwraiths - he's not a Man, and the way I read it the prophecy didn't specify any particular method or circumstance of that slaying, but only denied one. There's a moment later on where Gandalf says that much woe could have been prevented if he had been able to take the field against the Nazgul, rather than dealing with Denethor's madness. I've always seen the fact that Merry and Eowyn were there and able to carry it out as a bit of Providence - not like fate, not like they only did it because Eru was puppeteering them, but that the opportunity for the prophecy to be proven was provided, in Gandalf's absence.

And I will just have a horse-geek moment and say that it makes my heart happy that Shadowfax "alone among the free horses of Middle Earth" (as close as I can remember the quote) stood firm with Gandalf against the Ringwraith. GO PONY!
Yehuda Porath
57. Yehuda
Kate @18 - About the wind of hope - the wind is Manwe's, its one of the free things whose source is in the West, in Valinor. To Denethor, the wind bringing the Corsairs is another level of the failure or betrayal of the West and of Gandalf.

These chapters of Return of the King are among my favorites. Just reading this makes me want to pick it up again today. (maybe I will...)
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58. Jason Langlois
One aspect I've always found fascinating is the way Denethor repeats the sins of his own father, in many ways.

Aragorn, in his guise of Thorongil, serves Denethor's father (Echthelion) and is pretty much a great hero. He defeats the Corsairs of Umbar, counsels that Gondor listen to Gandalf, and becomes Ecthelion's closest advisor and retainer.

Denethor, in contrast, is more bookish and prone to thought than action. He is also quite jealous of Thorongil.

Advance the years, and Denethor has two sons, with who he repeats the pattern of his own childhood. He favors Boromir, the heroic and active one, and slights Faramir, who is the most like himself.
Soon Lee
59. SoonLee
Overall impression of the chapter? It's a totally awesome chapter that has everything, characters, plot, breathtaking action.

sps49 @4 & MariCats @11:
I too completely missed the clues that Denethor had Palantir first time reading.

MKUhlig @10 & ed-rex @54:
Denethor was a tragic character that for me evokes pity more than any other emotion; this was one screwed-up person who believed he was doing the right thing.

buzzbaileyport @35:
Definitely. And it adds to the grandeur of the Numenoreans that the glorious city of Minas Tirith was once 'merely' a fortress of Gondor.

G-Campbell @43:
Go ahead, post comments. Registered users can track threads in which they have posted in their "User Profile" page; the "My Conversations" box allows one to see if a new comment has been posted on an old thread. There has been at least one LotR re-read chapter where the conversation restarted after weeks of inactivity.

One thing I noticed from the beginning of the chapter when Faramir first returns & Pippin watches Gandalf (the flash of white & silver coming from the north):

It seemed to Pippin that a pale light was spread about it...

And shortly,

...but it seemed to Pippin that he raised his hand, and from it a white shaft of light stabbed upwards.

Tolkien is being rather coy here in describing Gandalf's magic. He's explicit on Faramir's second return later in the chapter:

... Shadowfax bore him, shining, unveiled once more, a light starting from his upraised hand.

It seems like there's a shift in this chapter on how magic is portrayed.
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60. buzzbaileyport
tonyz @ 53: I always imagined Denethor wanting to burn himself and Faramir in order to deny the enemy that pleasure (the "heathen kings" thing was just a random historical reference, and further evidence of the morbid state of Denethor's mind). Seems a bit premature--they haven't even broken through the first gate, for crying out loud. Although, with the Steward's cold calculations, death a couple of minutes or hours earlier doesn't make any difference. ("Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must.")

And I think that Denethor can perhaps be forgiven his neglect of anti-Nazgûl devices--I am imagining that there weren't any, and I don't think that simply stuffing cotton balls in the entire army's ears would work. Moreover, the Nazgûl haven't been heard from for a Very Long Time (the last time they're mentioned in the Tale of Years is in 2050, nearly a millennium ago), and they only show up in 3018, one year before the Siege of Minas Tirith--hardly enough time to test effective counter-measures. As for the WWI/II analogy, I suppose the Ju 88 is strikingly similar, even if there are two differences: (1) the Nazgûl were initially land-based, and (2) the Stuka became dramatically less effective as the war went on, as it was very easy to shoot down.

Concerning Minas Tirith's siege defenses: I'm not sure why Denethor didn't install a moat either, as it seems like it would have been a wiser investment of resources. The trebuchets in the movies were, alas, an invention of PJ's (possibly to show that the situation wasn't quite as hopeless, although I do wonder how they managed to get the rubble loaded in the thing); Tolkien only mentions archers on the walls. Also, siege towers were only brought forth after the Witch-king judges "that the valour of the City was already beaten down." (Even then, not all of the siege towers make it to the walls.) Until that point, the only siege weaponry in place were the catapults, out of bowshot.

I also liked two images: one from the extended edition of the movie (heretical, I know), where a regular-sized battering ram fails spectacularly to do anything to the Gate; and the other from the book, as I interpreted the Grond-pulling beasts "going mad" as "having been shot once too many times" by the few archers still remaining on the wall.

One more (hopefully last) thought on Denethor and his palantír: I believe that up until the end, Denethor was calling Denethor's shots; the only influence of Sauron's was the visions in the Seeing-stone.

And as for the coordination, I think this is precisely what Denethor wanted to avoid: by having all his forces at the same point (or points of his choosing), he could avoid the helter-skelter "General Attack" that very nearly ruined the day for the good guys. Looking ahead a couple of chapters, I think the council of war is what Denethor wanted to hold with Théoden, another reason the latter was summoned so desperately (or it may have been the lounging by the pool thing; we will never know).

ed-rex @ 54: The closest parallel to Denethor is, in my mind, Gollum. While the latter was unquestionably bad, he teeters so close to the side of goodness that I couldn't help feeling sorry when he finally seized the Ring.
Michael Ikeda
61. mikeda
G-Campbell@47

I see the changes to the movie-Denethor as mostly a difference in timing. The movie-Denethor simply falls into despair sooner than the book-Denethor does.

Although I do agree it would have been more interesting to follow the book's course of events with respect to Denethor.

(Note that as Confutus says at #55 above, even the book-Denethor does abandon the defense of the city once the despair fully takes hold.)
Wesley Parish
62. Aladdin_Sane
That depends on the manner of your return,

Actually, there's a precedent for Denethor's loveless pride and death-bed realization of how much he actually loves his child, in Llywarch Hen, a cycle of songs-poems in Welsh from the ninth and tenth centuries CE.

The first sequence tells of the death of Gwen, the son of Llywarch Hen. Llywarch Hen had twenty-three other sons, of whom he was intensely proud. His honour rested in their prowess in battle, and he was forever taunting them, daring them to great feats of courage, One by one he drove them to a warrior's death.
The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse, transl. by Anthony Conran, pg. 83.

Tolkien was fluent in Welsh. And intensely interested in that period of British history. Just as he wrote a radio play that commented on the Old English heroic tradition, and likewise he commented on Shakespeare extensively throughout the Lord of the Rings, I think he was commenting on those expectations of vain and empty "heroism" through contrasting Boromir and Faramir, and Denethor's contradictory behaviour towards them.

As far as Faramir's behaviour goes:

Why does he look at Gandalf throughout his tale of meeting Frodo? He has to know of Denethor’s dislike for Gandalf, and I don’t know what he hoped to learn that would make it worthwhile.

Gandalf is perhaps the only current living example everything that Faramir holds in deep respect - Numenore, the Eldar, the Valar. He knows his father too well; he doesn't need to ask what his father thinks, or if his father approves. But Gandalf? What he thinks or does is unpredictable, and is of immense importance.

I view it in the light of Gandalf's words, that he shouldn't throw his life away needlessly in bitterness, because his father will remember he loves his son before it's too late.
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63. Silvertip
Peachy @32:
I can't think of too many historical examples of armies conveniently arriving on the field just in time to save their friends.


The example uppermost in Tolkien's mind was probably Waterloo. Wellington, famously, was hoping for "night or Blucher" to save his bacon from Napoleon's superior forces ... Blucher got there first. That battle had to be a major part of the mental landscape for a Briton of Tolkien's generation.

Kate, I have thought for a long time exactly what you said about the end of this chapter, that it's the best example I know of being able to break the rules if you do it well enough. It can be said the other way too -- if you can't write like *that*, follow the d--n rules! You have to understand a structure thoroughly before you can do a good job of subverting it.

@everybody, also agreed that Denethor was a major disappointment in the screen version. Somebody above said the difference was one of timing, but to me, his scene in Osgiliath in the extended version really demonstrated that PJ was thinking of Denethor as a fool from square one, which utterly destroys the tragic arc of the character. I was astonished at this after Boromir was handled so spectacularly well in the first movie, achieving almost Shakespearean stature. For whatever reason, the third movie (to me) was by far the weakest as an adaptation. (Sorry Kate, I know there will be another post on the movies later, but I think the comparison throws light on what Tolkien achieved with Denethor in the book.)

And welcome back!

S
David Levinson
64. DemetriosX
There's been so much talk about Tolkien's use of landscape, color, and so on, but has anyone ever considered his use of sound? We've all commented on how stirring the horns of Rohan are here. Consider this passage from "The Bridge of Khazad-dum":

They looked back. Dark yawned the archway of the Gates under the mountain-shadow. Faint and far beneath the earth rolled the slow drum-beats: doom. A thin black smoke trailed out. Nothing else was to be seen; the dale all around was empty. Doom. Grief at last wholly overcame them, and they wept long: some standing and silent, some cast upon the ground. Doom, doom. The drum-beats faded.


There are some other uses of the drums in that chapter and the one before it as well. He also makes interesting use of the absence of sound. But I feel (rather more than really see) a strong parallel between this passage and the "Horns, horns, horns" at the end of this chapter.
Gabriele Campbell
65. G-Campbell
Mikeda @61

The problem isn't that Denethor despairs earlier in the movie but that we don't see any other Denethor. In the book, he's been fighting a retreat war against Mordor for years. Gondor held the harbours, Osgiliath, Ithilien (and still has a force there at a time the troops are already massing before Minas Tirith). Osgiliath was only lost shortly before the Council of Elrond, the fords retaken for a time, and even now Denethor isn't willing to abandon them so easily. He orders the Pelennor defenses to be repaired and sends errand riders to Rohan ... he's an active military leader, moats or not, though he leaves the actual fighting to his sons. "Known for years and done nothing," - SO not true.

But Denethor knows Gondor is losing the war. He doesn't ride into battle with a song, Viking stlye, like Théoden does. He's more like the Elves, accepting the inevitable - maybe more grudgingly accepting it - but still fighting on.

Then he loses Boromir which must have been terrible enough, but at least Denethor knew that Boromir went with his father's blessing. Next, Faramir is mortally wounded, and he rode without a blessing but with scornful words instead which I'm sure Denethor now regrets. That's where he starts to break. He sees the Corsair fleet in the Palantir, and I'm pretty sure he also sees Frodo, naked, bound and _without_ the ring. With both his sons gone, his line ended, his realm in shambles and his city only hours from being looted -- well, Roman generals regularly fell upon their swords in such a situation.

I think there's geat tragic in Denethor's end, but he does indeed fail his people (not to mention he should not have taken Faramir with him).

He is proud, too, and that is part of his undoing. He does not want the king to return, he wants to chose the time of his death (wich for Tolkien was a sign of pride, I think) but he's not much different from some characters in the Silmarillion, or from Nordic and classic heroes who all meet death in the end - if they're lucky, a glorious and heroic death.

But being turned into a torch by a kicking horse is not heroic. Poor Denethor deserved better. In the book version there IS an aspect of heroic dignity in his burning. And the image of the Palantir later showing only his aged hands and flames is moving, at least to me.
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66. peachy
Sure - and for American readers there was Hill's march to Antietam, say. (And for Roman readers - ahem - there's Telamon.) Fortuitous reinforcements did happen, but not very often, and they generally involved separated components of the same army, or allies who'd had a chance to consult just beforehand. This particular case is relatively unobjectionable, since there was a certain degree of coordination involved, but a couple of the others are definitely iffier. (The Battle of the Camps strikes me as being more realistic - the reinforcing army didn't get there in time, but was able to take advantage of the enemy's relaxation after victory to "win on appeal", so to speak.)
Gabriele Campbell
67. G-Campbell
(And for Roman readers - ahem - there's Telamon.)

*grin*

I admit I got bitten by the Roman bug pretty bad. Blame it on Rosemary Sutcliff and all that Roman stuff one keeps stumbling over in Germany and Britain. :)
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68. Jerry Friedman
I too missed that Denethor had seen Frodo captured, so thanks! That reinforced another point: we don't know what the palantíir can do for telepathy, but it's a good thing that Denethor managed to keep Sauron from finding out about the Ring, even when all seemed lost.

I found it interesting that Denethor couldn't follow Boromir with the palantíir and couldn't look into the past to see his last hours with the information Pippin gave him. If he had, he probably wouldn't have said Boromir would have brought him the Ring.

Speaking of the Romans, compare "That depends on the manner of your return" to "Come back with your shield or on it."

People have been talking about how they can't forgive Denethor's treatment of Faramir. But from Denethor's point of view, Faramir is guilty of BAD CHILDING AND CAPTAINING. He tries (and fails) to keep secrets from his father and commander, and he allies himself with the person who is trying to demote his father from the rulership he's prepared for and held all his life. Of course, he has the excuses that he has aligned himself with God's and the author's purpose and helped save the world. But Denethor doesn't see that. Denethor feels what's sharper than a serpent's tooth.

I too think he's an excellent tragic character.
David Levinson
69. DemetriosX
@68 Jerry Friedman

I had meant to compare "That depends on the manner of your return" to "Come back with your shield or on it," but forgot. That was the Spartans though, not the Romans.

Also, an interesting point looking at Faramir from Denethor's view. We've talked before about the question of when a steward becomes a king. This would seem to indicate that, at least subconsciously, Denethor feels that the line has been crossed.
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70. radagastslady
DemetriosX referenced the use of sound. Several years back I had a regular commute of 90 miles each way to school. I chose to use that to listen to LOTR. When the battle before Gondor came, I heard something that I had totally missed in my many readings of the text. In the charge of the men of Rohan, the pace, the word choice, all contribute to give the listener the rhythms of the horses charging across the field. Sometimes I think we as readers lose Tolkien's mastery of sound.
Gabriele Campbell
71. G-Campbell
Jerry @68

The palantiri, resp. their holders, can communicate with each other. Sauron has one, as did Saruman (later Aragorn uses that stone to reveal himself to Sauron and make him strike too fast), the third we know of is in Minas Tirith. Four are lost, as far as I remember.

So Denethor couldn't follow Boromir because there was no palantir connection.

As far as I understand, the holder of a palantir can, if strong of will, chose what to reveal, and I'm pretty sure Sauron showed Denethor something about Frodo, and the corsairs Aragorn sees as well. Denethor seems to be more a receiver of information, not strong enough to actively wrestle information from Sauron the way Aragorn can.
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72. a-j
peachy@66
And for Scottish readers there's Bannockburn, though that supporting army turned out to be Robert the Bruce's servants etc coming to have a look. The already badly battered English army mistook them for reinforcements and broke.
Personally, I wonder if the repeated use of allies turning up at the last moment is not just used for dramatic reasons, but also as part of Tolkien's 'help from unexpected places' theme that runs through the story.
Ron Griggs
73. RonGriggs
I'm not sure I agree that Sauron has shown Denethor something about Frodo. Remember that Sauron is not aware of Frodo's capture for some time, being distracted by Aragorn. He only knows, from Shagrat presumably, that one hobbit as been captured, sans Ring, and has escaped with the help of another (supposedly an Elf-warrior or soldier of Gondor.) It isn't clear that Sauron believes that Frodo had the Ring: later, at the Morannon, the Mouth of Sauron refers to him as a spy and asks a leading question about his errand, fishing for a response.

At this point, the most likely scenario is that Sauron believes Aragorn has the Ring and is heading to Minas Tirith. He unleashes war in anticipation of this. This fits with Gandalf's assessment of the Sauron's mindset after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Gandalf's next strategy is predicated on the idea that Sauron imagines he can trap the rash new Ringlord if he plans properly. (Sorry for looking ahead too far!)

I think Sauron shows Denethor the waxing power of his armies and the endless reinforcements coming from the East. Denethor interprets this as evidence of Sauron's acquisition of the Ring and his greatly magnified power of Command. Denethor claims to understand enough about the Ring and it's powers for his own counsel, but I think he has a limited understanding of it, similar to Boromir's, who saw the Ring primarily as the tool of a general. He refuses to listen to Gandalf, who could have given him a more nuanced understanding of the Ring's many powers, another failure that leads to Denethor's ultimate despair.
Gabriele Campbell
74. G-Campbell
a-j @72

Those forces were not servants but the fighting men of Highland clans not used to knightly warfare. They would not have stood a chance against a line of mounted knights with lances, and Bruce knew that so he kept them in the back. When the English lines started breaking, he called them forth because they were good against the English foot, and may indeed have added a psychological element.

They were no unexpected, or only half hoped for, reinforcements as in the case of Rohan; Bruce knew about their presence all the time.
Susan James
75. SusanJames
Such wonderful insights. I love these posts and comments. Thanks to Kate and all of you.

As to Faramir looking to Gandalf; yes, he's surprised to see him alive I'm sure; but nothing of that is ever mentioned. I think its more simply that he and his father had never agreed; he knew his father would hate that he'd let Frodo go and he's looking to the one he thinks would approve, maybe even console him. He had always admired Gandalf, been "the wizard's pupil" as his father called him. Sadly, his actions at this time add to his father's isolation.

On the pyre- I see it as a cop out for one whose been bitter all his life- why face death by hacking axes? end it on your terms, dramatically.

RobMRobM and foxessa- I so agree about the movie. I hated all the scenes involving the men of Gondor-Jackson made them out to be no better than thugs and bullies, kicking scrawny Gollum when the text clearly says they held him gently and tied him loosely.

Marc Rikmenspiel- Faramir is one of my fave's too- after Sam.

peachy- there's a saying about fiction- it has to be believable while real life often isn't.
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76. Jerry Friedman
G-Campbell @ #71:

It seems that an unassisted palantíir can look at various things. Aragorn says in "Many Partings" that he plans to use the Orthanc palantír to keep track of what's going on. Maybe Denethor's not capable of this, especially with Sauron involved.

I see no one discussing "The Breaking of Tthe Fellowship" mentioned a possibility I've long wondered about: Was Sauron using his palantír to look for Frodo when he wore the Ring on Amon Hen? Or was it just some power of his? (Maybe nobody mentioned it because there's no way to settle it.)

Anyway, there may well be another reason Denethor couldn't follow Boromir. Boromir left Rivendell with Gandalf, and Galadriel could never see Gandalf—"a grey mist is about him". It might certainly shield him from other magical observation as well. So when the Company emerged from Moria, even someone who had been following Boromir to Rivendell (if anyone had) wouldn't have known to look at the East Gate. By the way, I assume Rivendell is also shrouded, and Galadriel more or less says Lórien is.

Maybe I should have wondered why neither Sauron nor Denethor seems to have followed the Rohirrim on their way to Minas Tirith, since that's crucial to both of them and I'd think an army would be easier to find than one wanderer or eight or two. Does Sauron's darkness help hide them, as Théoden has already suggested (though he doesn't know about palantír)?

On another subject, people have been talking about what scenes "glowed" in their minds after the first reading. I remember only that Lothlórien did.
Hugh Arai
77. HArai
Jerry Friedman@68,DemetriosX@69:

"And this I remember of Boromir as a boy,when we together learned the tale of our sire and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" he asked. "Few years,maybe, in other places of less royalty," my father answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."


If Denethor is going to consider Faramir an ungrateful son for not going along when he decides he's unwilling to surrender rule to Aragorn, he should have taught his sons differently. Of course, if he never really believed what he was saying, it shows another reason he favoured Boromir.

@several:

Regarding the movies: I wonder if after their (in my opinion very poor) decision to make Movie!Faramir seize Frodo and basically act much more like Book!Denethor, they then felt they had to make Movie!Denethor that much worse, resulting in the near parody they came up with. "Abandon your posts,please, flee while you can!"

Regarding last minute rescues/arrival of armies: I don't know if I have the words to explain it but maybe Tolkien isn't concerned as much with military accuracy as with his idea of 'eucatastrophe'
Gabriele Campbell
78. G-Campbell
Don't remind me of that scene. Faramir would never have allowed his men to treat a prisoner like that, and I'm sure they'd never gotten the idea in the first place. PJ may love the book, but I doubt he really understands some of its many aspects.

Re. your last remark:
Fiction also can play with the POVs. There's a situation in the aftermath of the Varus battle where the garrison of at least one Lippe fort breaks through the German besiegers in hope to reach the Rhine. They're met by the legate Asprenas with two legions (the ones not involved in the Varus battle) and thus saved. It's one sentence in the sources. But if you write that episode from the POV of one of the men in the fort, it offers the chance for a very dramatic scene where the sounds of the Roman trumpets in the night may feel a bit like the horns of the Rohirrim. :)
Hugh Arai
79. HArai
Jerry Friedman@76: Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf and Sauron are all known to both see things far off and cloak things from others as far as I can tell. The first 3 have rings to assist them and Sauron has a palantir. I'm not sure if we can tell what is an innate ability and what's done using aids.
Michael Ikeda
80. mikeda
neither Sauron nor Denethor seems to have followed the Rohirrim

Another possibility (in addition to Sauron's darkness) is that both Sauron and Denethor could have assumed that the Rohirrim didn't matter any longer, because Sauron's army in Anorien would prevent them from even reaching Minas Tirith.
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81. Confutus
Sauron surely would have wished to use the Ithilstone to find the Ring, but had been searching for it in vain for centuries.
I suspect it was not visible through that means, and neither was the Ringbearer. The Orthanc stone had been so attuned to communication with Saruman, that Pippin's mind was drawn straight to the Dark Lord: It required all Aragorn's strength to turn it back to his own use.

I suspect that Denethor's stone had been similarly attuned to Mordor to show Sauron's might. Denethor probably saw such things as the war in Dale, the attack on Lorien, the force blocking the road from Rohan, a second wave of assault being mustered in Mordor, and yet more recruits gathering from the East and the South, as well as the Black Fleet coming up the Anduin.

So I'm not ready to conclude that Denethor saw Frodo, even though the timing was right. To me, there are questions about whether Denethor had the right or the strength to direct the Palantir to show him anything about the Ring (he certainly cared nothing for the 'witless' ringbearer), and whether it would have revealed anything even if he had.

Although Sauron would have gladly have let him see a naked, bound Frodo for his torment, if he had the slightest clue of Frodo's location or mission, he didn't. It was fortunate that Denethor didn't give this away, too, in his struggle in the tower.
Soon Lee
82. SoonLee
In the text, it's mentioned that the palantiri could be used to see far-off places as well as to communicate with each other. But if Galadriel can keep Lorien obscured & Gandalf is likewise shrouded, could Sauron not equally keep Mordor from being surveilled? He could then allow Denethor to see selected scenes to misdirect him.

AFAIK, the palantiri do not confer night-vision, so that would be consistent with Sauron's Darkness impeding his own view of the landscape. That would also explain why no-one was looking for the Rohirrim: they couldn't.

Theoden is at Harrowdale when the Darkness arrives, so there was no way for Sauron or Denethor to see their progress through the Druadan Forest. Sauron thinks his forces camped in the way will obliterate the Rohirrim riding to Minas Tirith & if Denethor saw that too, it probably contributed to his despair.
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83. pilgrimsoul
@ All Faramir Lovers

ME TOO!! JRRT's description of Faramir being somehow more accessible than Aragorn is one key to his appeal. Aragorn is too far above the common herd,but Faramir, while superior, seems somehow within reach. This is why Eowyn's turning to him feels right.
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84. Stephen Morrison
Jerry Friedman @ #76, SoonLee @ #82:
You’re correct about the properties of the palantíri; here is another excerpt from Unfinished Tales, specifically from the concluding essay on the palantíri:
Alone the palantíri could only ‘see’: they did not transmit sound. Ungoverned by a directing mind they were wayward, and their ‘visions’ were (apparently at least) haphazard. From a high place their westward face, for instance, would look to vast distance, its vision blurred and distorted to either side and above and below, and its foreground obscured by things behind receding in ever-diminishing clarity. Also, what they ‘saw’ was directed or hindered by chance, by darkness, or by ‘shrouding’ (see below). The vision of the palantíri was not ‘blinded’ or ‘occluded’ by physical obstacles, but only by darkness; so they could look through a mountain as they could look through a patch of dark or shadow, but see nothing within that did not receive some light. They could see through walls but see nothing within rooms, caves, or vaults unless some light fell on it; and they could not themselves provide or project light. It was possible to guard against their sight by the process called ‘shrouding’, by which certain things or areas would be seen in a Stone only as a shadow or a deep mist. How this was done (by those aware of the Stones and the possibility of being watched by them) is one of the lost mysteries of the palantíri.
A viewer could by his will cause the vision of the Stone to concentrate on some point, on or near its direct line. The uncontrolled ‘visions’ were small, especially in the minor Stones, though they were much larger to the eye of a beholder who placed himself at some distance from the surface of the palantír (about three feet at best). But controlled by the will of a skilled and strong surveyor, remoter things could be enlarged, brought as it were nearer and clearer, while their background was almost suppressed. Thus a man at a considerable distance might be seen as a tiny figure, half an inch high, difficult to pick out against a landscape or a concourse of other men; but concentration could enlarge and clarify the vision till he was seen in clear if reduced detail like a picture apparently a foot or more in height, and recognized if he was known to the surveyor. Great concentration might even enlarge some detail that interested the surveyor, so that it could be seen (for instance) if he had a ring on his hand.
But this ‘concentration’ was very tiring and might become exhausting. Consequently it was only undertaken when information was urgently desired, and chance (aided by other information maybe) enabled the surveyor to pick out items (significant for him and his immediate concern) from the welter of the Stone’s visions. For example, Denethor sitting before the Anor-stone anxious about Rohan, and deciding whether or not at once to order the kindling of the beacons and the sending out of the ‘arrow’, might place himself in a direct line looking north-west by west through Rohan, passing close to Edoras and on towards the Fords of Isen. At that time there might be visible movements of men in that line. If so, he could concentrate on (say) a group, see them as Riders, and finally discover some figure known to him: Gandalf, for instance, riding with the reinforcements to Helm’s Deep, and suddenly breaking away and racing northwards.

The final paragraph has a note which among other things says that each stone had an optimum distance for remote viewing, which in the case of the Arnor and Orthanc stones was about 500 miles.
Kate Nepveu
85. katenepveu
Whoa! Comments!

G-Campbell @ #47, I also love "Cliff of Uncanonicity" (though allow me to point out that fanfic writers have coined a shorter way of putting that, "OOC," for out of character), though really it happened before that idiot cliff.

PHSchmidt @ #51, perhaps we should hold that idea until we get a better sense of when we'll actually be *done*?

However, anyone who'll be at Readercon this year or Boskone and WisCon next, do let me know and we'll arrange to say hi & get a soda or something.

Elaine Thom @ #52, ed-rex in prior comments had an excellent point about Denethor being a character from relatively-realistic political fiction being unfortunately all wrong for a fantasy world. Which I think is another way of saying what you are.

tonyz @ #53, it feels to me like Sauron was putting stress on Denethor to exaggerate his own personality tendencies.

(Here is where I say again that I have little useful to say about military things, but am reading with interest.)

ed-rex @ #54, ah, here you are! I was just talking about you. =>

Wellllll . . . what other good-but-flawed characters are there? Boromir, Theoden . . . Lobelia?

Confutus @ #55, I love your linking the armor with Denethor as a hollow shell--a connection that made me sit up and say "yes!"

goshawk @ #56, I think I'm going to save talking about the Witch-king's end for then. And yes, good horsie! (ducks, runs)

Yehuda @ #57, talk about your subtle supernatural-good interventions!

Jason Langlois @ #58, ouch.

buzzbaileyport @ #60, re: anti-Nazgul devices: shots of athelas-infusion in everyone's flask, like chocolate for Dementors? =>

Aladdin_Sane @ #62, re: Llywarch Hen: . . . BAD PARENTING.

And another good point about Gandalf in relationship to Faramir, thank you.

Silvertip @ #63, thanks, and yes, exactly, the rules are there for a reason.

DemetriosX @ #64, I think we did talk about "Doom" at the time and the silence here in passing, but I have to really work to "hear" stuff in text, so please do keep bringing it up.

Jerry Friedman @ #68, yes, Faramir is certainly very guilty from Denethor's POV. There are still some lines that parents ought not cross (not that I think you're advocating that).

(I'm skipping the palantir q. because it seems to have been pretty thoroughly hased out in my absence.)

radagastslady @ #70, see my reply to DemetriosX as well. I wish I could listen to _LotR_, but I'm very picky about audiobooks and I find it hard to imagine any adaptation that would work for me.

RonGriggs @ #73, Confutus @ #81, I wasn't suggesting that _Sauron_ showed Denethor a captured Frodo, or that Denethor searched for the _Ring_, but that Denethor looked for Frodo (he would have had at least a general idea where to start, from Faramir's remarks) and wasn't prevented from finding him. Which is parsing Gandalf's comment a little fine, but on the other hand, Gandalf may be speculating a bit . . . maybe?

Stephen Morrison @ #84, thanks for the typing and for saving me from going upstairs to get my copy of _Unfinished Tales_! Seriously--long day, tired, finishing this and now fall down go boom. Later, all.
Andrew Foss
86. alfoss1540
GCambell@71 (and all the rest) - Sam or Frodo saw a vision of Frodo in the Mirror - Whether in the book or in the Movie I cannot remember. But PJ's oft repeated image would not have been know to Sauron - or for that matter Denethor - Neither of whom knew that Frodo existed at this point, or where he might be going. REMEMBER - Only the Orcs knew of finding Frodo. Mordor T&T had not yet been wired and the Nazguls were busy gtting ready to sack Gondor. Sauron would be watching the Battle - and Denethor looking for anything he could use to save his soul and city.

As for the Diary of that Madman Denethor - one of the less pointed out parts of his unhinging has been the ring itself. He knew of the ring and wanted it as much as Sauruman - Sending Boiromir to look for Isuldur's Bane - with a pretty fair idea of what it was. Comments about Faramir doting on Gandalf while the big G was looking through the Archives.

Faramir's injury and nearness to death was the crowning blow to send Denethor straight into lunacy. Boromir Dead - Gondor Crumbling - Stewardship disintegrating - No chance for help - Black Fleet - and Sauron taunting him from over the mountains. We also brought up possibly seeing Aragorn sailing up river a few chapters back - though we also dismissed that thought as well. What part of his desire for the Ring helped that slide?

Stephen Morrison - Thanks for the Stones explanation. That was great.
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87. Elaine Thom
Apropos of . I wish I could listen to _LotR_, but I'm very picky about audiobooks and I find it hard to imagine any adaptation that would work for me.


I've listened to the audio book read by Rob Ingles, which I think is excellent. He just reads the text. He does different voices, but not excessively, rather, just right (IMO). He even manages to do Pippin quoting Treebeard and make it sound like Pippin's voice immitating Treebeard, which impresses me a lot.

It is not the dramatized BBC thing, which I couldn't stand when I ran across it. It is just a guy reading the text. All of it. That recording even does some of the Appendixes, IIRC.
Dominic Wellington
88. riotnrrd
buzzbaileyport @60, I also interpreted the beasts around Grond as going berserk due to being shot with arrows and pelted with stones by desperate defenders rather than because of any intrinsic qualities of the battering ram itself.

Speaking of which, I hated the film version of Grond, with all the fragile decoration. The description in the book is of something very purposeful and utilitarian, and while there is a bit about a wolf's head, I always thought of that as something on the shaft (if that is indeed the word) of the ram, not at the business end of it.
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89. Jerry Friedman
DemetriosX @ #69: Sorry, I forgot to thank you for the correction on Romans and Spartans. That's what I get for believing Robert Heinlein.

Stephen Morrison @84: Thanks for the information on the palantíri, which I think pretty much answers my questions.
David Levinson
90. DemetriosX
riotnrrd @88, I think the wolf's head was probably meant to be the business end of the ram. A serious battering ram like Grond would have had a metal end piece for strength and doing extra damage. It's not out of the question that it would have been worked into some sort of form. A wolf's head would be relatively pointy, meaning the weight and force would be concentrated in a smaller area and thus doing more damage.

Jerry Friedman @89, that seems an odd sort of error for Heinlein to make. Where did he attribute that to the Romans?
Ron Griggs
91. RonGriggs
DemetriosX @90, Heinlein made that error in Time Enough for Love:

Roman matrons used to say to their sons: "Come back with your shield, or on it." Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome.

But I think it's from Plutarch (writing about the Spartans,) so it's an understandable mistake.
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92. Doug M.
Heinlein was sloppy about all sorts of things! But that's a thread for another time.

I missed that the Nazgul only reappeared a year or two before the events of TLOTR's main narrative. But, yes, that's right. It goes a long way to explain why the Gondorians aren't ready for them.

Good-but-flawed characters: Galadriel is a dangerous hothead in the Silmarillion -- IMS she's Feanor's niece, and totally on board with his radical agenda. By LOTR, she's mellowed to the point where there's just that one moment of temptation. (I always saw this as mirroring Saruman and Gollum's brief moments of flirting-with-redemption. But let's not get into that here...)

Radagast is flawed by having become too close to the things of Middle-Earth; he loves the trees and birds and animals so much that he's no longer very effective against the Enemy. (IMS Tolkein explicitly says at one point that Gandalf is the only one of the Istari who did not fail.)

Thorin Oakenshield, of course. Note how his death foreshadow's Boromir's! High, haughty, proud, lordful, mighty warrior and rightful heir; enraged by a hobbit doing something tricky involving the Ring, he curses his hobbit companion. Then he falls in battle against a horde of orcs. Then on his deathbed he repents, asks forgiveness, and gets a heroic sendoff by his mournful companions. Later, a relative (who doesn't have the same character flaws) will be important in the narrative.

Okay, those are all pretty marginal to TLOTR. Theoden, Boromir, and maybe Lobelia, yeah.


Doug M.
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93. Stephen Morrison
DemetriosX @90: in Hammond and Scull’s Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings, the entry for this passage quotes the OED’s definition of battering-ram as ‘an ancient military engine employed for battering down walls, consisting of a beam of wood, with a mass of iron at one end, sometimes in the form of a ram’s head’ and notes that the wolf‘s head is appropriate since Sauron was once called the ‘lord of werewolves’. (No word, though, from the Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford as to whether or not this weapon has been replaced by even deadlier ones in civilized countries!)
Hugh Arai
94. HArai
Can anyone tell me why my post at #77 would have be held in moderation for most of the weekend? I've seen people add links before, and I only used one thread-relevant site. I'd like to know so I can avoid doing it again.

Anyway, one more thought about this chapter that I heard on a podcast the other day: Denethor actually manages to have a Ring temptation session without the Ring even being present. What does that say about him?
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95. Jerry Friedman
Doug M. @#92: Thanks for the parallel between Boromir and Thorin, which had never occurred to me.
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96. Your mailbox is full.
Woah... I go away for a week, and the comments start breeding!

kate@18: Thanks for finding the quote by Faramir. I do so like it. It also explains my point better than I did. I know that Denethor says that the West has failed, and that he believes it to be the West. I contend that it isn't, that the Ruling Stewards of Gondor, and their Kings before them, had slowly replaced the Mystical West with a West of their own creation. Mean folk will rule the last remnants of Men, not the glorious Men of Gondor who created such mighty memorials. I see his pyre in this context; he is rejecting not only the Mystical West, but also all of the accretions of history that the Numenoreans-in-Exile have (literally) built up. Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm over-analysing. I do that from time to time. :)

There have been several comments about despair, and it has just struck me (again) what the concept of despair would have meant for Tolkien the highly-educated Roman Catholic: despair, the flat rejection of all hope, is the "sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven". Tolkien's portrayal of Denethor's final moments must have been somewhat difficult for him to write: he was condemning a person to irrevocable annihilation. Not only was Denethor beyond salvation in this life, but he had cut himself off from any supernatural saving act beyond the grave. We see Denethor's fall as horrible, tragic and pitiable. I think that, for Tolkien, it would have been worse even than that.
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97. Confutus
I'd classify Saruman as another fallen hero, and one who succumbed to the lure of the Ring without ever seeing it. Saruman had occupied Orthanc in order to use the palantir and research ringlore, and seems to have hoped to either find the One Ring or make one of his own.

Besides both of them starting out on the side of good, secretly making use of the Seeing stones, and being trapped by Sauron thereby, sitting in towers, and becoming jealous or suspicious of Gandalf, what other similarities does anyone see?
Yehuda Porath
98. Yehuda
Kate @85: The importance of the wind and its supernatural-good nature is alot less subtle in chapters 5-6. Between the wind-guided premonitions, its inspiration of hope and its dissipating Sauron's influnce, we come alot closer to a classic case of divine intervention.
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99. sunjah
One can contrast the characters who fall to temptation (rather than to the sword, which is a less bitter loss) with counterparts who resist the temptation. For example, as has been pointed out, Saruman/Gandalf, Denethor/Theoden, Boromir/Faramir. Also possibly Isildur/Aragorn, and others.

The primary difference, the sin of those who fell, is pride.

I am not discounting despair (Two sins for the price of one!). I would argue that despair often is bred from pride in the situation of overwhelming adversity: "I am awesome. I am failing. Therefore, all is doomed."

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