May 7 2010 12:11pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.5, “The Ride of the Rohirrim”

cover of The Return of the King We continue the Lord of the Rings re-read with “The Ride of the Rohirrim,” chapter 5 of The Return of the King. The usual spoilers for the entire book and comments follow after the jump.

What Happens

On the fourth night of the eponymous ride, Merry and the Rohirrim are in Drúadan Forest, less than a day’s ride from the outer walls around Minas Tirith. Scouts have already reported that the road is held against them. Merry has been hearing drums and is told by Elfhelm, one of the Marshals, that the Wild Men of the Woods use them to communicate and are now offering their services to Théoden. Merry sneaks up and sees the headman, Ghân-buri-Ghân, who looks like one of the Púkel-men of Dunharrow. Ghân-buri-Ghân tells Théoden that the Riders are badly outnumbered and that, though the Wild Men will not fight, they will guide them to a forgotten road that will bypass the enemy. In return, he wants the Rohirrim to “not hunt (the Wild Men) like beasts any more.” Théoden agrees.

When the Riders come near the main road, the Wild Men tell them that the out-wall has been broken, that all attention is on the siege of Minas Tirith, and that the wind is changing; they then leave, never to be seen by the Rohirrim again. During the Riders’ rest, they discover Hirgon’s body; he appears to have been killed before he could tell Denethor that Rohan was coming.

The Rohirrim pass through the breach in the out-wall with no trouble and come near the city unnoticed. Théoden pauses, perhaps in doubt or despair; then, at a great boom (the breaking of the Gate), he springs to action, calls the Riders to battle with words and a horn-blast, and leads them forth in the morning sunlight:

darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.


I seem to be starting with chapter endings because, well, they’re right there when I come to write this section. So I’m curious what people think of this one, particularly in comparison to the last.

Me, while I know intellectually that singing in battle has a proud literary history, I just cannot believe in it. I can conceive of the emotions behind it, but if you’re fighting, don’t you need your breath?

As a more literary objection, this is the first chapter that doesn’t ratchet forward the timeline. Well, okay, technically the last chapter ends with hearing the horns, and this chapter ends a paragraph after that, but it doesn’t add anything significant. I’m sure some of my disappointment is that I know we have lots of great stuff coming up and I thought this chapter would have more in it, but all the same. Note: I haven’t re-read the next chapter yet and I’m not sure whether it contains a break point; maybe it doesn’t, in which case, oh well, can’t be helped. And I’m sure if I weren’t reading chapter-by-chapter, I’d barely notice.

* * *

This is a short chapter and is mostly about the Wild Men, the Drúedain, a name that as far as I can tell [*] appears nowhere in LotR proper but comes from Unfinished Tales. (Thanks all for reminding me of the existence of that essay, which meant I read it ahead of time for once.)

[*] While the e-book edition of LotR has a sad number of typographical errors that makes text searches less definitive than they ought to be, I didn’t see it in any of the obvious places, either.

From the description in Unfinished Tales, I was putting them down as quasi-Neanderthals: people of an entirely different kind, with short broad bodies, wide faces, heavy brows, and deep-set eyes. (I say “quasi” because I somehow doubt that there is any evidence that Neanderthals’ eyes glowed red in anger.) So I was nodding along with the description of Ghân-buri-Ghân until the end:

a strange squat shape of a man, gnarled as an old stone, and the hairs of his scanty beard straggled on his lumpy chin like dry moss. He was short-legged and fat-armed, thick and stumpy, and clad only with grass about his waist.

 . . . grass about his waist? A grass skirt? Seriously? In early March, in the equivalent of Southern Europe, where Pippin is wearing a surcoat and mail without complaining of the heat? What?

I checked and there’s no mention of the Drúedain’s skin color, which means they were white, so it’s not like Tolkien was going all-out with the tropical native stereotype. But it is a really weird clothing choice.

Moving on to their language, I tried to determine something about their native tongue from the way Ghân-buri-Ghân spoke the Common Speech, but all I could get was that his language maybe didn’t use definite or indefinite articles, since he used only a few in his speech. I sometimes had the feeling that the level of grammatical sophistication varied oddly; compare “(W)e fight not. Hunt only. Kill gorgûn in woods, hate orc-folk.” with “Over hill and behind hill it (the road) lies still under grass and tree, there behind Rimmon and down to Dîn, and back at the end to Horse-men’s road.” Yes, I realize I’m wondering whether Tolkien, of all people, got a matter of language right; but I don’t know that philology actually concerned itself with the speech patterns of non-native speakers. Comments?

Finally, in return for his help, Ghân-buri-Ghân asks Théoden to “leave Wild Men alone in the woods and do not hunt them like beasts any more.” This was the weirdest thing about this entire chapter to me. Elfhelm tells Merry at the start that the Drúedain “liv(e) few and secretly, wild and wary as the beasts (and) go not to war with Gondor or the Mark.” So why are the Rohirrim hunting them like beasts? Why does Théoden not only talk to Ghân-buri-Ghân, but show absolutely no sign of thinking of him as sub- or non-human? It’s such a whiplash line that I think the story would have been better off without it.

Anyway. Tidbits from Unfinished Tales: in prior days, they were loved by the Eldar and the humans they lived among. They are astonishing trackers, never became literate, had a “capacity of utter silence and stillness, which they could at times endure for many days on end,” and were talented carvers. They were thought to have magical abilities, such as the ability to infuse watch-stones carved in their images with their power: one watch-stone was said to have killed two Orcs who attacked the family it was guarding. They have terrific laughs. According to a note of Tolkien’s,

To the unfriendly who, not knowing them well, declared that Morgoth must have bred the Orcs from such a stock the Eldar answered: “Doubtless Morgoth, since he can make no living thing, bred Orcs from various kinds of Men, but the Drúedain must have escaped his Shadow; for their laughter and the laughter of Orcs are as different as is the light of Aman from the darkness of Angband.” But some thought, nonetheless, that there had been a remote kinship, which accounted for their special enmity. Orcs and Drûgs each regarded the other as renegades.

(Christopher Tolkien goes on to note that “this was only one of several diverse speculations on the origin of the Orcs.”)

* * *

I promised last time to talk about the idea of a fallen world with regard to humans in Middle-earth. This was prompted by a chance association while thinking of Denethor [*], which reminded me that I needed to go back to The Silmarillion and see how compatible it was with a Christian Fall. I checked “On Men,” chapter 12, and it theoretically could be consistent, because it provides basically no detail about the very first humans—perhaps the whole tree-apple-snake-knowledge-loss of immortality thing happened off-page and then they agreed never to speak of it again. But it doesn’t feel like it:  “the children of Men spread and wandered, and their joy was the joy of the morning before the dew is dry, when every leaf is green.”

[*] Footnoted because a tangent: some time ago, in a conversation about dispiriting matters, a Christian friend said something like, “At times like these, it’s a comfort to think that we live in a fallen world.” Which was intended, and taken, as black humor, but stuck with me because I’m not Christian (or religious at all) and the idea of a fallen world just doesn’t resonate with me. Denethor, of course, finds it decidedly not a comfort to think that he lives in a world that’s not only fallen but keeps falling, and here we are.

What we get is subgroups making choices, on more or less information, and living with the consequences. (It reminds me of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, where each sentient species makes a choice to accept or reject entropy, thus determining their lifespan.) The Númenóreans existed because their ancestors chose to align themselves with the Noldor, and then were destroyed because they chose to listen to Sauron, except the remnant that didn’t. Of course this also isn’t inconsistent with a Christian Fall, because of that whole free will thing, but I sometimes get the impression that the group choices have the potential to be mini-Falls, what with entire societies apparently permanently gone to the dark side.

And that led me to the Drúedain, to see what, as Wild Men, their place in this is. To the extent that innocence gets associated with lack of knowledge or sophistication, and given their hatred of Orcs and their general position as remnants of an older, more nature-focused time, they might be read as unfallen. But on the other hand, they once lived with Elves and Númenóreans, and they made at least a road and statues that endured (at Dunharrow), so they seem to be diminished from what they once were. And while they are clearly positioned as sympathetic—trustworthy, skilled, intelligent, worthy of respect—I can’t imagine anyone reading LotR and thinking that they are the model to which we should aspire. Consider also the marked contrast with Tom Bombadil, that other innocent character who is close to nature and will help travelers but stays within his own borders. (In the first attempt at this re-read, Jo Walton and other people had some very interesting things to say about Bombadil as a thematic unfallen Adam.) I’m not really sure what to make of all this from an in-text perspective, frankly, but I think I’m going to try and see it as “you don’t have to have stone buildings and bright swords to be awesome” and leave it at that.

* * *

Wow, for a short chapter I sure blathered a lot. I have only three quick comments left:

Elfhelm tacitly approves of Merry’s presence. Does he know who Dernhelm is as well? I can’t decide.

Merry thinks of Pippin and “wishe(s) he was a tall Rider like Éomer and could blow a horn or something and go galloping to his rescue.” (Underline added for emphasis.) Nice.

I didn’t quote all of the last paragraph of the chapter in the summary because it was long, but look at the opening sentences:

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken.

(Underlines added for emphasis.) Isn’t that a great way to convey momentum?

Okay, big doings next time; see you then.

« Return of the King V.4 | Index

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.

Hugh Arai
1. HArai
It seems to be a pretty direct reversal. Instead of Falling and losing immortality, in Tolkien's stories the Men Fall whenever they try to obtain immortality. Death is the Gift to Men and they fail in their purpose when they try to avoid it.
Marc Rikmenspoel
2. Marc Rikmenspoel
My conceptions of Middle Earth were shaped 20+ years ago by Iron Crown Enterprises' line Middle Earth Role Playing products. Their MERP was like a more complicated D&D, and most gamers who bought the highly detailed supplements then adapted them to other game systems, without using the MERP rules.

The supplements were highly entertaining, full of information from Tolkien's books, but also well-reasoned additions to Tolkien's canon. What really helped sell the product was the outstanding paintings by Angus McBride (RIP), who was previously known for his work illustrating the Osprey line of historical booklets. is his cover for the MERP book on the Riders of Rohan. This next one shows Druedain blowing darts at a Cardolan knight-errant and his squire. Lots more of McBride's work can be seen via a websearch, the images might shapre your imagination, as they did mine!
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. tonyz
The thing that always struck me about the Wild Men is: here they are, within a day's ride of Minas Tirith, and yet neither Rohan nor Gondor has entirely displaced them. (Possibly they moved back in from the mountains as Gondor became depopulated, but it still feels like Tolkien doesn't really understand demographics. Same-same with Arnor and no Men repopulating the area over the last thousand years.)

The grass skirt is weird, true, but compared to (say) the Patagonian natives in Darwin's time (who had no clothes and lived in Tierra del Fuego) it's not too surprising.

As far as the hunting thing, it's very usual for adjacent human groups to dislike each other A Lot, particularly if they have different manners of living. Pastoral nomads and forest hunters don't meet terribly often, but I don't see any particular reason why conflict would be unlikely. Perhaps we should be giving Theoden credit for statesmanship here (or just for cynical necessity -- he needs the Wild Men to guide him around Sauron's army, so needs to make the treaty.) Note that Aragorn will later officially cede the Forest to the Wild Men, so there seems to be at least some concern for native rights among the modern rulers of the West. (It's also possible that Aragorn felt that the distant kin of those Dead who had aided him at Pelargir should be rewarded.)

As far as Dernhelm goes, I'm pretty sure that Elfhelm (at least) knows that there's an extra Rider in his company, and who that Rider is. Eowyn had to get her armor and horse somewhere, after all, and the companies of Rohan are small enough that a commander can usually know all the Riders.
j p
4. sps49
Yeah, Elfhelm knows. "Where did the new guy with the King's little halfling buddy come from?" He had to know from the get-go.

And what kind of name is "Elfhelm"?

Geographically, the Druedain live in the mountainous areas that are probably not suited for pasture or tilled crops, so they aren't in conflict with Gondor or Rohan. I can see them as similar to the Montagnard/ flatland Vietnamese situation.
Marc Rikmenspoel
5. Doug M.
“you don’t have to have stone buildings and bright swords to be awesome”

I'd go a bit further. Including the Druadan is important because it helps separate morality from level of civilization.

The Numenoreans and their Gondorian descendants are very advanced -- they have cities, literacy, libraries, embalming, huge statues, cool armor and weapons, and various sorts of leftover magic stuff. The elves, too, come across as very civilized, even if it's a pretty alien civilization. Even the Rohirrim, while well below Gondor, are clearly well above the orcs.

Meanwhile, on the dark side, we have the Haradrim (who seem to be roughly at the level of the Rohirrim); various Easterlings (who we don't see much of, but who come from lands with no cities marked on the map; the crude and disgusting orcs; some monsters; and the backwards and primitive Dunlanders.

So, I think it's really important for Tolkein to have this clearly-very-primitive group of Free People choosing the side of good. Without the Druadan, you could get the idea that it's all about who launders their clothes regularly. Their presence drives home the point that right and wrong are largely orthogonal to "civilization" or the lack thereof.

(This will come up again, of course, in the next-to-last chapter.)

Doug M.
Kate Collura
6. dreamwalker
I've been following along with this re-read but was late in catching up so this is my first comment.

I agree the Elfhelm had to be aware of Dernhelm, and therefore probably knew it was actually Eowyn. I've also wondered how many other riders knew. It is hard to hide the fact that a small hobbit is riding behind one of them over the course of several days, and that would call attention to this unfamiliar rider, at least to those riding nearby, but no one says a word.

This is probably just a small point, but if a good part of the eored knew and said nothing, it seems to be a sign of respect for Eowyn (and her wish to fight) from her fellow soldiers. Although you could argue that you just don't call out the king's niece. Then again, they also accept Merry by saying nothing.
David Levinson
7. DemetriosX
For no reason that I can really discern, Ghan-buri-Ghan has always been one of my favorite characters. It's a tiny little walk-on part, but I've always liked him.

As for his language patterns, I find them very similar to the way Native Americans often talked in dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and pulp westerns. This also clues us in that Tolkien is indulging a bit in the Nobel Savage.

Like tonyz@3, I was going to cite the native of Tierra del Fuego and their general lack of clothing. Although, as I understand it, they did wear small bark shoulder capes, which isn't much against the winds of the southern tip of South America. A grass skirt could also have been woven, not just long grass stalks stuck in belt.

On the hunting, it is entirely possible that it is something that the few Rohirrim who encountered the occasional Woodwose did, without it being any sort of policy.

Merry wishing he could blow a horn: Umm, he can. Anybody remember the Horn of Buckland? Actually, this could be a bit of foreshadowing, because blowing a horn and riding to rescue is exactly what he will do in "The Scouring of the Shire".

Singing in battle: This appears in a lot of the old Scandinavian legends, so it may have some basis in fact. It was probably more like chanting, and could thus even help with breath control. Consider also that the Spartans sang hymns to the gods as they marched forward into battle (which might have helped them maintain a steady rhythm and keep their lines straight).

Elfhelm was totally in on it. And sps49@4, Elfhelm is a perfectly cromulent name. Lots of Germanic names had elements with the same root as "elf". Aelfwine and Alfred come immediately to mind.
Marc Rikmenspoel
8. JoeNotCharles
That illustration of the Druedain looks just like Picts from some of the paperback covers of Conan and Bran Mak Morn. (Come to think of it, it's probably the same artist.)
Marc Rikmenspoel
9. Jamsco
The intro: I've been enjoying this reread set as I have been reading LOTR to 6 of my kids. We're caught up to the reread now.

The question: Does anyone know - is there ever an explanation give as to why the murk or Mordor (the reason for the dawnless day) subsided before Sauron meant it to?

The statement: If by non-fallen you mean the woodmen are sinless, I'd say you have a case. This is done to a greater extent in Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet."
Soon Lee
10. SoonLee
I have a different reading of the text: I don't think the Woses made the road through the Druadan Forest; the Gondorians did, then forgot/abandoned it as their kingdom waned.

From the text: Many paths were made when Stonehouse-folk were stronger. They carved hills as hunters carve beast-flesh. Wild Men think they ate stone for food. They went through Druadan to Rimmon with great wains. They go no longer. Road is forgotten but not by Wild Men.
Marc Rikmenspoel
11. Marc Rikmenspoel
Yeah, the Woses in the painting DO look like how I imagine REH's Picts appearing! McBride never painted REH characters, AFAIK, but his style is certainly similar to some REH artists.

About singing in battle, numerous accounts I've read from the World War 2 Eastern Front mention both Germans and Soviets charging into battle with repeated shouts of "Hurrah!" Just silently approaching the enemy, when you are in the open and visible, must be a morale-breaker, so singing or cheering serve to keep an attacker's spirits up.

Finally, one of the images I linked above is hosted at The Cimmerian. As I've mentioned before, I highly recommend that site for its thoughtful essays on Tolkien (especially The Silmarillion), Robert E. Howard, and Heroic Fantasy in general.
David Levinson
12. DemetriosX

As Ghan-buri-Ghan notes, the wind has shifted to come from the west, so there's probably a little divine influence going on. More likely, Aragorn has by this point, not only declared himself to Sauron, he has also publicly proclaimed himself as the heir of Isildur by unfurling his banner and summoning the Dead at the Stone of Harlech. Given the timing, he has also gained his first victory over Sauron's forces by defeating the Corsairs and capturing their fleet. Even though Sauron's army at Gondor is strong and seems nearly impossible to defeat, the tide has begun to turn.
Andrew Foss
13. alfoss1540
"There seemed to be some understanding between Dernhelm and Elfhelm, the Marshall who commanded the eored in which they were riding. He and all his men ignored Merry and pretended not to hear if he spoke."

I doubt that the riders were as dense as Merry.

As for the ending. If the end of the previous chapter gave me chills, this one was far far superior. Theoden is the uber stud - total warrior king. His speech may seem corney to some, but always brings me to tears - from my first read 25 years ago. Try to imagine what would have to go on in the minds of men riding for glory toward a likely death. The odds they are facing should bring only despair.

This is the stuff of Heros going to battle - told as well as I have heard it. Despite still being outnumbered by far, With Theoden comes the only chance at saving Gondor. 10000 Horsemen against 50000 Evil creatures (Someone correct me on numbers?). We do not know that the Ghost Army is coming up the Anduin. He is it. Theoden's charge put this up with the best battle scenes I have read (discussed in previous thread - Helms Deep I think).

Thanks for the backstory on the Druedain. Wierd with the skirts - especially as they are just coming off winter in the snow-capped White Mountains.

Marc @11 - There was also the Rebel Yell from the Civil War.
Robert Barrett
14. rwb
Augh, you didn't quote the entirety of the last paragraph (at this point my favorite in the entire novel). Here are the sentences that you left out:

"Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea . . ."

Tolkien can use anaphora and parataxis like nobody else.
Clark Myers
15. ClarkEMyers
In open battle singing builds unit cohesion - folks are in this together, furnishes IFF (a form of shibboleth?) and locates folks in the immediate vicinity for coordination. Not everybody sings but those who don't sing talk a lot or should - fight move and communicate.

See also Rick Rescorla and a variation on Rhyfelgyrch Gw?r Harlech.

Dernhelm and Elfhelm surely had an understanding - Elfhelm had to know who Dernhelm wasn't - not a regular known or vouched for or even seen around male member of the community.

I suggest no unaccounted for or unvouched for strangers need apply to a small unit fighting the troops of the Necromancer.
Marc Rikmenspoel
16. Confutus
Regarding singing in battle, groups engaged in the heaviest of labor, such as sailors hauling ropes to raise sail, or men hammering rail spikes have often chanted and sung as an aid to their work. Such working songs, (and marches, in the same vein) tend to be heavy on rhythm, as an aid to coordinate pulls, or blows, or steps, as well as for helping to regulate breathing and pace in order to maintain a sustained effort.

It's not suprising at all that the Rohirrim, with their loves of song, horses, and warfare would combine their loves to create battle songs adapted to the rhythm of a galloping horse.
Tony Zbaraschuk
17. tonyz
Why does the murk break? Divine intervention: Sauron is smothering everyone in darkness (and sheltering the sunlight-fearing orcs and trolls of his army, but mostly it's to help beat down the morale of Gondor). The wind is the Valar taking a hand in the battle to counter Sauron's power; the same wind that sweeps away the dark cloud also brings Aragorn's ships up the river.

It's subtle, but after reading the Valaquenta and hearing about Manwe Sulimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda, and all that, it should be pretty clear. Plus there's the line "a wind from the Sea", and the number of times the Sea in Tolkien's cosmology gives rise to help for the good guys is very high (the Valar against Morgoth for the initial safety of the Elves, and later the rescue of Eldar and Men from Morgoth; the ships of Numenor bringing culture to Middle-earth and military against Sauron, before their fall; the Wizards coming in the Third Age to help out; etc.)

As far as the Druedain go, I don't think they're unfallen in the full sense of the word: remember, their kinsmen worshipped Sauron in the Black Years before the founding of Gondor, and failed to come to Isildur's aid against Mordor. They may well be noble savages, but neither Men nor Elves nor Dwarves are sinless in Tolkien's cosmology; the Fall of Men took place shortly after their creation, before they ever met the Elves. Different societies may be more or less marked by it, but they're not untouched.
JS Bangs
18. jaspax
Re: Tolkein and the Fall, for starters I don't think that Tolkein the history of Middle-Earth to correspond directly to Catholic theological concepts. His earliest cosmologies (in the Book of Lost Tales) did include some crude Heaven/Hell/Purgatory correlates, but as his work grew more mature he made its theology less and less a copy of Christian analogues. So I don't think that the Fall per se is actually to be found anywhere in Tolkein's work, at least not in a form that's strictly compatible with the Christian view. However, he did depict the results of the fallen world in a way that's theologically interesting: I recommend this essay for the interested.

Tony Zbaraschuk
19. tonyz
Tolkien tended to make LOTR (and the Silmarillion) compatible -- in the broad sense -- with Catholic theology, even if he didn't have specifics in there. It's pretty obvious from the Silmarillion that Men had some kind of bad Morgoth-connected event in their past before they ever came into Beleriand, and it leaves them fallen in some ways that I don't think the Elves quite grok for a very long time.

The Fall tends to spread out in various societies in various ways (the pride of Numenor, the Kinslaying in Gondor), but its effects are still there in the First Age as well.

jaspax @18: your link's bad, please fix
Marc Rikmenspoel
20. EmmaPease
I don't think the Druedain and the Dead following Aragorn are closely related to each other. Remember the Druedain don't build so they did not build the structures at Dunharrow (except possibly the statues) nor do they form armies instead they seem to fight as hunters. The Dead are probably more closely related to the Dunlendings. At most the relationship between the Dead when they were still alive and the Druedain was similar to that of the Druedain and the People of Haleth.
Tony Zbaraschuk
21. tonyz
Merry recognizes Ghan-buri-ghan as being like the "Pukel-men", the statues of Dunharrow, which was originally built (I think) by those who became the Dead. And I can believe there would be some major cultural changes over five hundred years, or three thousand, since Isildur cursed the Men of Dunharrow.
Wesley Parish
22. Aladdin_Sane
Now you come to mention the "grass skirts", yes, that is a classical European stereotype of the "noble savage", or the "primitive" I read some books on tourism in Fiji back in the alte eighties, and one point that the writer made, which stuck in my mind, was that Fijian men at these resorts, wore "grass skirts" to earn money; it wasn't actually a feature of Fijian culture. And from my memories of the Papua New Guinean bush, it was the women who wore grass skirts, while the men wore penis gourds.

Tolkien should've been better informed; but in this matter, he seemed to be using stereotypes rather than genuine mythic characteristics.

Singing in battle I take to be an expression of the adrenalyn rush that is part and parcel with the fight reflex. It's like shouting at your teammates during an Aussie Rules or Ice Hockey match - it lets them know you're there and on the ball, it can give your opponents a scare, and gives vent to your adrenalyn-fueled aggressiveness. New Zealand Maori used to start battles with a war dance, the haka, to psyche themselves up; that may also be part of it, because the haka does spark the adrenalyn - even though the few times I've danced the haka, it has been in a cultural setting, not in a football match or - heaven forfend - wartime!!!

I have quite a fondness for that book The Unfinished Tales, because if I hadn't spent quite a bit of time and energy thinking about the consequences of the various orc-breeding ideas Tolkien threw about with wild abandon, and the possible relationship between the orcs and the Druedain, I would never have had the "ingredients", to use an expression of Tolkien's, to create my own therianthropes, Yhe Lakhabrech (The Free Blood) and Li' Rakhebuityan (The Fish Eaters), let alone their ancestors/cousins, Nu Ineya Khara-Ansha (The People of the Sacred Hunt). I owe Tolkien a huge debt for that.
Marc Rikmenspoel
23. pilgrimsoul
I became interested in the Druedain, but here they just seem stuck in. JRRT needed a way to have the Rohirrim burst in on the besiegers and thought of this. All the culture/history/backstory came later.

Theodan at the attack is a magnificent moment. What a contrast to Denethor slinking and despairing.

Did you ever notice that people are always falling or tripping over poor Merry? Frodo does it in FOTR, an orc does in TT, and now Elfhelm.

I agree with previous commenters that the Marshall had to know Eowyn was there, but that begs the question why he risked it.
Hugh Arai
24. HArai
I agree with previous commenters that the Marshall had to know Eowyn was there, but that begs the question why he risked it.

Swayed by the obviously desperate pleading of the Lady of the Mark. It seems that the only person who doubted Eowyn's valour was Eowyn.
Marc Rikmenspoel
25. Rachel M Brown
"I don't know but I been told!"

...okay, so the Rohirrim were probably yelling something more elegant than that.

I'll echo the several people who interpret "singing" as some sort of military cadence chanting, maybe a call-and-response. Controlled yelling or chanting can actually help you control your breath and not wear yourself out unnecessarily.
Marc Rikmenspoel
26. pilgrimsoul
@HArai 24

No doubt you are right, but nevertheless she'd been left in charge of the kingdom--a duty she evidently abandoned. And Eowyn was not just some random chick but the king's niece and the new king's sister. Eomer was not exactly pleased to find her apparently lying dead.
jon meltzer
27. jmeltzer
Why did Tolkien put Ghan in the book, I wonder? I remember reading LOTR for the first time at age 10; I could accept the the balrog, the giant spider, the talking trees - but this Neanderthal man that talk like Hakawi Indian? No. Even then I reacted. There's no plot reason for him; any Gondorian or Eorlingas forester could have shown Theoden the short cut. And he's a Noble Savage stereotype - Ghan wise in way of woods, kemo sabe.

I know we're going to hit the half-troll passage in a chapter or so, and there will be talk about racism then, but, really, how about right now with this character. I know we're supposed to like Ghan, and I do. But I'm still bothered. The Rohirrim are Anglo-Saxons, the men of Dale Norse, the Gondorians Roman/Byzantine - is it okay for the Woses to be vaguely American Indian? And what if Tolkien had used another "savage" stereotype, like African?
Hugh Arai
28. HArai
pilgrimsoul@26: Oh, I don't discount the abandoned duty. But there's a lot of stories and myths where the younger sibling/just short of age/not quite trained find their way to the fight "somehow" and manage great deeds.

Jmeltzer@27: Not familiar with Hakawi Indian, but I know a lot of quite civilized people that sound a lot like that when speaking in languages other than the one(s) they are fluent in. "We go hotel". "You take us find food how much?". "Where beer?". It doesn't make them lesser in any way.

Personally I always find it jarring when a character that isn't fluent immediately drops into the speech patterns of native speakers. Unless the character is supposed to be some sort of master linguist or aided by telepathy or something.
Marc Rikmenspoel
30. pilgrimsoul
@Jaspax 18

In History of Middle Earth vol. 10 there's a dialog between a wise woman and Finrod about the fall, but this appears to be a late essay and a conception conceived after LOTR/
Michael Ikeda
31. mikeda

Hakawi probably refers to the name of the tribe in the 60's sitcom "F Troop".

(Although it's sometimes spelled Hekawi.)
Hugh Arai
32. HArai
SoonLee@29: Neat link! That's pretty close to what I was trying to get at. Whenever you're trying to communicate in an unfamiliar language you try to reduce what you're saying to it's most basic components. It's probably where "stupid foreigner" or "ignorant savage" sterotypes come from. After all, "they must be stupid if they can't even speak XXX, right?"

Mikeda@31: Thanks for the reference.
Soon Lee
33. SoonLee
As a more literary objection, this is the first chapter that doesn’t ratchet forward the timeline.

It's a necessary pay-off I thought. The previous chapter was all about ratcheting up the tension, progressively getting bleaker, then when all seems lost, the Rohirrim arrive. This chapter could have taken the action directly to the Battle of Pelennor Fields proper, but then, that would leave the description of how the Riders got there to a flashback. I don't think that would have done it justice.

As part of the overall story, this chapter relieves some of the tension; the Riders manage to make it to Minas Tirith to break the siege. But that's still no guarantee of victory, as Sauron's armies still outnumber them. The rollercoaster ride continues.
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
Hi everybody. Sorry I wasn't here for the weekend. How was yours?

HArai @ #1, you are so very right and I cannot believe I didn't see that.

Marc Rikmenspoel @ #2, I think the Druedain in that picture are too skinny--a little too close to monkeys--but I don't think I'd seen that artist's work before and I appreciate the links.

tonyz @ #3, I had no sense of how big the companies were, or indeed if they were traveling in existing companies.

Also & @ #17, 21, the text of _LotR_ proper is less clear than it could be, but it seems that the Pukel-Men and the Dead are not the same; recall that the ancient man who told Brego that the way was shut was "tall and kingly," and we decided he was the last of the Dead, under the curse. _Unfinished Tales_ says that the Druedain were driven into the mountains by men worshiping Sauron, and indeed most of them actually went to Numenor; and Appendix F says the Dunlendings are the kin of the Dead. But yes, it's confusing.

Doug M. @ #5, yes, that was what I was trying to get at, in a bit of a flip sense. Also, it's the _choice_ of engagement that makes them now "good" in our eyes, which is also important.

dreamwalker @ #6, welcome. It's hard for me to decide what the general opinion of Eowyn riding to battle is in the rank and file; I can come up with so many plausible options, but since we don't see any interactions with or regarding any other women in Rohan--indeed, I don't think we see any other woman in Rohan, period--I just don't feel like I have enough data.

DemetriosX @ #7, yes, that's what I meant about the horn, foreshadowing! =>

You're the first of many people to tell me I'm wrong about singing; thanks for the correction.

Jamsco @ #9, welcome, and may I ask how young the youngest child who's listening is? I agree that the wind was a very subtle divine intervention, but I'm honestly not sure you can tell that from the text; "Sauron doesn't control the entire natural world yet" would probably suffice as an in-text answer.

alfoss1540 @ #13, it is a fabulous high point for Theoden to go out on. Tolkien really pulled out all the stops there.

rwb @ #14, I do try and exercise some restraint on the quoting . . . but you've given me two new literary terms, for which I thank you.

ClarkEMyers @ #15: I suggest no unaccounted for or unvouched for strangers need apply to a small unit fighting the troops of the Necromancer. --Okay, I'm convinced! =>

Aladdin_Sane @ #22, I both love and hate stories like yours about the grass skirts. Thanks.

pilgrimsoul @ #23, I think the very discussion we're having about the relationship of the Druedain to the Dead suggests that their inclusion could have been better done.

and @ #26, I interpreted Eomer's reaction as grief, but we'll get there.

Rachel @ #25, you have now displaced that kids' song as my earworm!

jmeltzer @ #27, I also was troubled by it. I agree that it's important that we get the flip side of the civilization != morality coin, and that we're supposed to like them and respect them . . . but it's just so _awkward_ that I really have to work to recognize those things. But I couldn't quite decide how much was my own cultural baggage, given that their skin color and dress aren't evoking that stereotype.

HArai @ #32, yes, and yet my understanding is that there are characteristic ways that people speaking a second language do so, depending on their source language (order of subject, verb, object; gendered nouns), and I'm not convinced that Ghan-buri-Ghan's speech patterns are plausible that way instead of being lifted from awful pop culture stereotypes.

SoonLee @ #33, I was expecting the chapter to tell the Ride and then a bit of the substance of the battle, not just leave the Ride to a flashback--we'll have enough of that later--but on my first pass through the next chapter, I'm not sure there was a place to break it there, so like I said, oh well.
Marc Rikmenspoel
35. Jerry Friedman
Maybe it's interesting that wose, of unknown origin, is part of woodwose, wodehouse, etc., a wild man. In general, I think Ghân is part of the tradition of European wild men. (The little I know about this topic is from Frank Kermode's comments on the "salvage man" and Caliban in the Arden edition of The Tempest.) And there's the modern idea that Neanderthals and such could have survived and given rise to such legends, as in *Spoiler* by Avram Davidson and *Spoiler* by Michael Crichton.

I don't know about when people started depicting woodwoses as speaking broken Westron, though. I don't think it's any more stereotypically Native American than any other colonialized natives.

Púkel is Puck, pookah, right?

Ghân's irresistible plea, "Then you will kill gorgûn and drive away bad dark with bright iron, and Wild Men can go back to sleep in the Wild Woods," reminds me of Aragorn's consolation of himself at the Council of Elrond: "If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so." This strikes me as a very non-modern idea, that it might be good for people, at least people like Bree-men and hobbits and Woses, to be left in ignorance or dependence on greater people.

tonyz @ #3: I don't know whether Tolkien didn't understand demographics or didn't think about it or deliberately played with it. Several things in "The Council of Elrond" could the reader the impression that the West is fairly well populated, in which case all those huge empty lands would come as a surprise. On the other hand, possibly Sauron has somehow prevented the population from recovering from wars and plagues and floods. Not to spoil anything, but at the end of the book, people seem quite confident that the population will grow quickly.

rwb @#14: If by anaphora and parataxis (thanks, I'd forgotten that word) you mean all the rather repetitions of and, is this our first taste of that Biblical style? My opinion of it is very different from yours. That and "lo!"

(For Kate and anyone else who likes literary terms, the repetition of and can also be called "polysyndeton".)
Hugh Arai
36. HArai
Kate@34: My weekend went well thank you :).

I claim no personal expertise, but it would seem bizarre to me that a philologist who had been so careful otherwise would suddenly go the pop culture route. Tolkien actually seems to follow his reasoned out patterns to the point of missing how some of them sound to the casual ear. My friend's favorite is "Tirion upon Tuna", which he's incapable of passing over without adding "and Minas Tirith on Rye". :)
David Levinson
37. DemetriosX
Jerry Friedman @35:

This strikes me as a very non-modern idea, that it might be good for people, at least people like Bree-men and hobbits and Woses, to be left in ignorance or dependence on greater people.

This is actually a very modern idea. Look at the discussions over making contact with the various remote tribes of the Amazon. There are a lot of people who are utterly opposed to modern civilization making any sort of contact with them at all -- including education, medicine, etc. -- because it will "spoil" them, ruin their culture, and so on.

All this talk of GbG has suddenly made me think of the Phantom's buddy Guran, who is built like a fireplug and wears a woven hat that looks like a lampshade and a skirt made of leaves.
Marc Rikmenspoel
38. DonnaIsme
Re tonyz3 ("The grass skirt is weird, true, but compared to (say) the Patagonian natives in Darwin's time (who had no clothes and lived in Tierra del Fuego) it's not too surprising") and DemetriosX, I thought of the Patagonians, too. And if I remember correctly, they were described as becoming so uncomfortably warm when shivering Europeans lit a fire that they had to move yards away from the fire and still had perspiration streaming off them.

sps49, ('And what kind of name is "Elfhelm"?'), some selected elf-names in Old English: Alfred = Elf rede, i.e., elf-counsel; Aelfgifu = Elf gift; Aelfwin = Elf friend.

These names have always made me puzzle over the Anglo-Saxons' attitudes and beliefs about elves. On one hand, you have the terms such as "elf-shot" for pains and cramps, and charms that can be recited against elf-shot (Out, little spear, out!); and on the other hand you have these names suggesting friendship and wisdom.

I think Anglo-Saxon elves were changeable folk.
Marc Rikmenspoel
39. Jerry Friedman
DemetriosX @ #37: As I understand it, the even more modern idea of not disrupting cultures is based on the painful history of what happens when you do disrupt them, at least if you do it ruthlessly or carelessly. But the Hobbits and the Bree-men aren't so different from the Rangers that I see the need for keeping them simple. And the Woses could probably lurk on the edges of the battlefield and use their poisoned arrows without developing high rates of alcoholism and financial dependence, instead of relying totally on the Horsemen's bright iron.

On another subject, Éomer says, "The accursed darkness itself has been a cloak to us." But how effective is it? Some orcs can "see like gimlets in the dark". (The Nazgúl see better in dark than in daylight, but Éomer presumably doesn't know that.) It would foil human spies and crows (and palantíri, but he doesn't know that either).

It's as well for the good guys that Sauron is so confident he's blocked the way that he doesn't detail a Nazgúl to watch the Rohirrim, and that he hasn't trained owls to act as spies.
Marc Rikmenspoel
40. Stephen Morrison
re Elfhelm’s name – at one point in “The Notion Club Papers”, Tolkien has a character remark that the Anglo-Saxons often chose names by arbitrarily combining two words from a conventional stock, leading to such strange results as “Fridwulf”, meaning “Peace-wolf”!
Kate Nepveu
41. katenepveu
Hey everyone--

FYI, work crunch, no new post this week, I hope next week.

Jerry Friedman @ #35, have you seen the news in the last couple of weeks that it appears that after leaving Africa, early H. sapiens interbred with Neanderthals somewhat?

HArai @ #36, reasonable point.

DonnaIsme @ #38, fair and perilous, perhaps? =>

Stephen Morrison @ #40, it's good to know that the impulse to make up names from existing words goes back a long, long way!
Marc Rikmenspoel
42. JohnnyMac
Re the question of men singing as they go into battle, I would cite a historical example from a naval battle: The Battle of Salamis (480 BC), pitting the allied Greek navies against the ships of the Persian Empire. It is described in the drama "The Persians" by Aeschylus. Aeschylus witnessed the battle as an Athenian soldier on shore. His play was produced in Athens less than ten years later before an audience of men who had fought in it.

Themistocles, the Athenian commander, had deceived King Xerxes and his generals by sending them a message in which he pretended to betray the Greeks by warning the Persians
that the Greek fleet was splitting up and likely to flee in the morning. Xerxes sent out his fleet with orders to keep from the Greeks from escaping and, at dawn, to attack and destroy them.

Here is the relevant quote from Aeschylus (the speaker is a Persian):

"Then they in order took their evening meal,
and sailors set in rowlocks each his oar,
and when night fell, each master of the oar
embarked, and every skilful man-at-arms,
and rank hailed rank as the long ships went forth.

Then all night long the captains kept their crews
patrolling in the fairway. Night wore on,
and still no Greeks came out in secret flight;
but when at last the sun's bright chariot rose,
then we could hear them--singing; loud and strong
rang back the echo from the island rocks,
and with the sound came the first chill of fear.
Something was wrong. This was not flight; they sang
the deep-toned hymn, "Apollo, Saving Lord",
that cheers the Hellene armies into battle.

Then trumpets over there set all on fire;
then the sea foamed as oars struck all together,
and swiftly, there they were! The right wing first
led on the ordered line, then all the rest
came on, came out, and now was to be heard
a mighty shouting: 'On, sons of the Greeks!
Set free your country, set your children free,
your wives, the temples of your country's gods,
your fathers' tombs; now they are all at stake.'
And from our side the Persian battle-cry
roared back the answer; and the time was come."

"The Pelican History of Greece" by A. R. Burns, 1966, p. 186.
Kate Nepveu
43. katenepveu
JohnnyMac @ #42, that's excellent. Thanks for posting it.
Marc Rikmenspoel
44. jamsco
katenepveu @34 - I'm sorry, I didn't see your question until now. At the time of my comment, our youngest was six. It's possible that he didn't catch all of the nuances of the book.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment