Jun 4 2010 10:55am

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”

cover of The Return of the KingThis week we start the second half of book V of The Lord of the Rings with “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields.” There’s much to discuss, so let’s get right to the spoilers and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Théoden kills the chieftain of the Haradrim, but the Lord of the Nazgûl appears on a winged creature, causing Théoden’s horse to rear in terror and crush Théoden. Dernhelm demands that the Witch-king leave and reveals that he is actually Éowyn. Merry, released from his paralyzing fear by pity and wonder at the revelation, creeps toward the Nazgûl unnoticed. Éowyn beheads the winged creature and has her arm and shield broken by the Nazgûl’s mace. She is saved from death, however, when Merry stabs the Nazgûl. Éowyn shatters her sword on the space where the Nazgûl’s face should be, and they both collapse, him into a bodiless wailing. Merry’s arm is numbed and his sword slowly burns up from the blow.

Théoden regains consciousness long enough to say farewell to Merry, hail Éomer as King, and send his love to Éowyn (not knowing that she was there). Éomer arrives and sees Éowyn; he believes she is dead and rides to battle in a fey mood. Merry accompanies Théoden and Éowyn’s bearers toward the city; on the way, they meet Imrahil, who is the first to notice that Éowyn is only mostly dead.

The tide of the fighting has seemed to turn against the defenders when the Corsairs of Umbar come sailing up the Anduin. But then Aragorn’s standard is seen flying from the first ship’s mast; Mordor’s forces are encircled and ultimately destroyed entirely.


My principal reaction to this chapter is that this is how you do lots of reversals to build tension and engagement and excitement [*] without it feeling cheap. A lot of times I find myself waiting for the obligatory setback: “well, we still have another hundred pages / commercial break to go, what’s going to keep the story from ending here?” And my tolerance for that will vary a lot, depending on how well the setback flows from the previous story, how surprising it is (no, those aren’t contradictory, just hard to do well), and what cool things the reversal allows the story to do.

This chapter is full of reversals, all but one of which are just terrific [**], logical yet not glaringly obvious (at least while I was reading) and pulling the reader along at a remarkable pace. I’m not going to catalog each one of them because I’m already stealing time from other critical matters to write this, and we’ve talked about this narrative pattern of Tolkien’s before, but it is very pronounced and very effective here.

[*] Of course, it’s not the only way. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Diplomatic Immunity manages to be extremely exciting through, as best I can recall, a simple straight-line increase of tension. My non-writer gut feeling is that this is probably more difficult to do well, but I’d welcome other people’s thoughts.

[**] Seriously, it didn’t occur to anyone to check if Éowyn was breathing? Had a pulse? That kind of thing?

* * *

Before we get into meatier topics, I’ll just note that I had no trouble following the battle here, unlike Helm’s Deep, probably because the geography is so much less complicated (city, river, lots of open space) and Tolkien takes pains to orient everything each time the focus shifts.

Also, it wasn’t until the chapter was over that I realized that there’s no sign of the Dead at all; I’d completely forgotten that their oath is fulfilled off-screen.

* * *

I doubt it’s a surprise to anyone that I have lots to say about the death of the Lord of the Nazgûl. I don’t recall that this was a particularly favorite scene when I was a kid, and I suspect that was because I hadn’t yet really understood, well, sexism. In other words, I didn’t especially like Éowyn getting a Crowning Moment of Awesome (TM TV Tropes; I believe I am supposed to issue a ritual warning about lost time if you click on the link, but I’ve never had that problem), because I didn’t viscerally comprehend the obstacles to her doing so.

Now, well, Awesome. I think we’ve talked occasionally about the ways Tolkien complicates hierarchy, and this is one of them: it’s not just the vast mismatch in power, it’s that the Witch-king’s death specifically requires two members of marginalized, overlooked, underestimated groups of Middle-earth, whose collective efforts are motivated by love and pity. Yes, they’re both from high-status families, but despite that, almost no-one wanted them there or would have thought they could accomplish what they did.

I don’t remember if it was here or not, but I know I’ve seen discussion in the past about who struck the fatal blow. I think the text is clear that it’s Merry, but I also think it’s clear that without Éowyn, he never would have gotten the opportunity. That Éowyn’s sword shatters suggests that her blow didn’t do any damage—yes, I wouldn’t like a sword shattering on my face, but it’s Merry’s sword that “dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.” However, Merry was only brought out of his animal fear by amazement and pity at Éowyn’s presence and lack of hope, and only got into place because “the Black Captain, in doubt and malice intent upon the woman before him, heeded (Merry) no more than a worm in the mud” (and how cool is it, that the descent into animal fear is then reversed here?). So while the death blow was from Merry, I don’t think any disparagement of Éowyn should be inferred; it’s only Merry having that particular sword that allows his blow to be effective.

(I am trying not to dwell too much on, if Éowyn is so authorially-approved awesome here, why is she the only damn woman in the book who is? Because there’ll be time for that when we get to “The Steward and the King,” and I want to enjoy the moment now.)

Speaking of Merry, I think it is so characteristic of hobbits that when he speaks to Théoden, he asks forgiveness for coming when he “ha(s) done no more in your service than to weep at our parting.” It never occurs to him to tell Théoden that his killer is dead or that he had a hand in it, because that’s just not how he thinks. Théoden, of course, forgives him—“Great heart will not be denied”—which I choose to take as a forgiveness of Éowyn too, if he had known she was there. This will also contrast markedly with the death of Denethor, next chapter.

(Even though Tolkien does not explicitly have Heaven in this universe, I believe it’s there and find it comforting that the characters who left things unsaid will have a chance to tell each other. This is unlike, for instance, the end of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, because that’s set in our world (and, as we’ve discussed, I don’t gut-level believe that LotR is) and I am a weak atheist, which is often not much comfort.)

Two things about the way these scenes were written. First, it makes really good use of physical light and dark. It starts with Théoden’s golden shield dimming and dark falling about him, as the winged creature “descend(s) like a falling cloud.” Then Éowyn kills it, bringing back the daylight which shines on her. Great! Except, next paragraph, reversal: “Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider . . . [who] bent over her like a cloud.” And after the Nazgûl’s death, poor Merry finds himself “blinking like an owl in the daylight.” (Later, it starts raining, and there’s a nice link to the effects of brushing with wraiths when Merry sees Imrahil riding up “through a mist.”)

Second, there are two very effective horror moments. One is the description of the winged creature, which may not be actually Lovecraftian but which similarly evokes the idea of scary ancient things lurking in forgotten corners: “A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil.” The other is the Witch-king’s threat to Éowyn, that he will “bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”  . . . um, yikes?

* * *

And now for the low point of the chapter, the passing description of Mordor’s reserve troops:

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.

Really I’m tempted to just beat my head against the desk. Like half-trolls? And a choice of descriptive attributes that, by contrast, highlights the darkness of their skin?

Head. Desk.

While I’m talking about Mordor’s forces, though, I should skip to the battle’s close, when

not one living foe was left within the circuit of the Rammas. All were slain save those who fled to die, or to drown in the red foam of the River. Few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor; and to the land of the Haradrim came only a tale from far off: a rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor.

This set me wondering what it would have been like, after Sauron’s fall, in Mordor itself and in the countries that seem to have been so overshadowed by Sauron. And then I foundered on simple lack of information, because at this point I just don’t know anything about the non-orc societies that serve Sauron, why they serve or how they’re structured or anything. And I would like to. (Though looking ahead I see that Aragon actually makes peace with the Haradrim. Going back to the quote, I do find it hard to imagine that “err, could you tell us whatever happened to all our family members that came this way some time ago?” never came up in the peace discussions.)

* * *

The arrival of the Corsairs. I have come to believe that Tolkien probably intended Denethor to have seen the Corsairs sailing up the river; Gandalf’s secret hope is Aragorn, because Sauron could have blocked him from seeing that Aragorn had successfully taken the Corsairs. The bit where people cry out about how many places must have fallen does seem a strong signal for that interpretation. But I hold an irrational allegiance to the idea that Denethor saw Frodo captured, because it’s just so damn elegant. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here in the corner with my tin hat.

Arwen’s standard. Éomer is “scarely a mile” away when the standard unfurls and is clearly seen to bear the White Tree, Seven Stars, and a high crown. If I were at home, I could ask the resident scientist to tell me how big these elements would need to be to be visible at a mile, but I’m finishing this post on the train down to New York City (vacation! Woo! I’m going to try and write the next post while I’m there, too, so as to make up for getting so far behind) and he’s joining me later. Also, he’s busy. But even without doing the math, I can well believe that at a mile, magic would be involved in the visibility.

The two paragraphs after the standard is seen are fabulous. They start and end with Aragorn, as is proper. He’d declared himself earlier, to Sauron and to the Dead, but this is his arrival at his city, literally with banner flying in declaration of his claim before those he would rule. Then there’s the reaction of the combatants (I particularly like the description of “the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords”), and then the next paragraph describes the turn of the battle with really terrific rhythm:

East rode the knights of Dol Amroth driving the enemy before them: troll-men and Variags and orcs that hated the sunlight. South strode Éomer and men fled before his face, and they were caught between the hammer and the anvil. For now men leaped from the ships to the quays of the Harlond and swept north like a storm. There came Legolas, and Gimli wielding his axe, and Halbarad with the standard, and Elladan and Elrohir with stars on their brow, and the dour-handed Dúnedain, Rangers of the North, leading a great valour of the folk of Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South. But before all went Aragorn with the Flame of the West, Andúril like a new fire kindled, Narsil re-forged as deadly as of old; and upon his brow was the Star of Elendil.

Underlines added to show what I mean about the rhythm; also notice all the “ands” in the second-to-last sentence. (The last sentence makes me sigh in the same way as Pippin seeing the Tower in the sunrise.)

* * *

The chapter ends somberly, with a description of the sunset making everything appear red with fire and blood, and an accounting of some of those who died. To me this feels fitting, a quiet pause to breathe and recover and mourn, not depressing like some of the other chapter endings this book.

(I see no mention of Wídfara in this chapter, who told Théoden that the wind was turning. So I for one shall assume that he did, as Théoden wished, “live beyond this day in years of blessedness” for speaking the truth then.)

« Return of the King V.5 | 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.

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
Interesting, I've always assumed that Eowyn gave the killing blow to the Witch King. Merry essentially hamstringed him, but for me it was Eowyn who delivered the coup de grace. I read the bit about Merry breaking "the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will" differently. I think this means that he severed the Witch King's ability to hold a corporeal form, but he was still around as a malevolent spirit, existing mostly on another plane. Eowyn's blow destroyed him.

I always liked her Crowning Moment of Awesome. A CMA is always a CMA, and sexism here or there, it turned Eowyn from someone who is a victim of fate into an actor. (That's actually something we've already seen for Sam at Cirith Ungol, have sort of just seen for Merry - although he also arranged Frodo's whole move to Buckland - and will eventually see for Pippin.) Up to now, we've only had reason to pity Eowyn, now we can start to respect her.

The mostly dead thing comes up with some frequency in northern European legends and myths, so it's not a big surprise that Tolkien used it here.

I'm not sure I ever really noticed the half-troll thing before. You could try to explain it away, but it really is an elephant in the room.

Theoden's death always makes me a little misty. And they buried his horse with honor.
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
DemetriosX @ #1, that's reasonable, I just interpret the effect of the shattering sword differently.

And yes, misty, without question.
Iain Coleman
3. Iain_Coleman
At a distance of a mile, the human eye can resolve an object roughly half a metre in size. (Assuming the eye has a resolving power of about an arcminute.) SO if the effective "pixel size" is half a metre, how many pixels would we need to be able to distinguish the detail in the banner? I can't see it being less than 20 (probably rather more), giving us at least a ten-metre banner. Which sems a little unwieldy. Perhaps the men of the Third Age has really, really good eyesight?
Kate Nepveu
4. katenepveu
Iain_Coleman @ #3, ack, I left context out: it had previously been suggested that Arwen did something magical to the banner itself to make it visible.
5. dcisko
For what it's worth, I always read the scene the same way that DemetriosX did: Merry's blow broke the Lich King's spells, and Eowyn's blow was the coup de grace. I would almost visualize the Nazgûl to become corporeally visible when Merry's sword slices his ankle.

I love here how Tolkein pulls his focus in and out, between the sweeping battle and the intimate, powerful moments between characters. It gives a context for their struggles, and adds weight to the deaths. There are some authors who do either one or the other well, but few who do both, and even Tolkein is rarely as good at it as he is here.
j p
6. sps49
I recall Denethor screeching about a wind cheating hope with the Corsair fleet (to Gandalf next chapter?); I consider this as the last straw for him, since seeing Frodo would have little meaning for him.

Far Haradrim- this is a world that has trolls and half-orcs, but I don't believe that's what he meant (especially with where Far Harad is on the map). It's hard to imagine how segregation (meaning mostly, not having the opportunity to meet/ know other peoples) can make entire societies this crude.

My reading is that Merry killed the Witch-king, but not so fast that Eowyn's sword didn't put a hole in his head. Otherwise, her sword would still be whole (all blades perish that strike that dreadful king, or something similar).

I like how you bring out the cadences, word choices, and image specifics, Kate; it helps me realize why I like so much of Tolkien's writings.
7. HeWhoComesWithTheNoon
RE: who killed the Witch King; I sort of agree with DemetriosX, but I always thought about it a little more. I always thought it would have been really lame to have the spell/prophecy/whatever you want to call it say that no MAN could defeat him, leaving not only a woman (of which they had to at least conceive the possibility of a warrior-woman), Joe Random Elf or Dwarf to do the deed. I didn't think it had anything to do with actually having to be a woman or a hobbit, but just as the text suggests, the magic on Merry's sword broke the spell of "nothing can hurt me" and then Eowyn got the killing blow. It wasn't that either of them COULD kill him because they weren't "Men," but it was the magic, and the fact that they happened to not be "men" just fulfilled the prophecy. Though I have to agree that if it had been a mighty elf-lord that had slain him, it would be a lot more flat.

re: Sauron's minority armies: I'm surprised that no one has ever written a Wicked/Grendal type retelling of LOTR, even a tongue-in-cheek version, that paints Sauron as a disabled burn victim with one eye, leading minorities in an attempt to upset the whitewashed balance of power in Middle-Earth. Material too sacrosanct, I guess? I'm never one to complain about racism/sexism set in a middle-ages type time frame, because it's very historically accurate, and the opposite is usually jarring to me, unless done very well. But seriously, not one person ever thinks:

"Boy, these Haradrim sure are cruel. I wonder why?"

"Because they're the CRUEL Haradrim! Didn't you see their dark skin! Black = Evil! Black Riders? Black Land? Black Numenoreans? See what I'm getting at here?"

"But that's really just a metaphor, it doesn't mean that..."


Not even our resident softie Faramir every suggests it. Pippen, using the power of Childlike Innocent Insight(tm)? Merry, head shaven, with "Not Penny's Boat" scrawled on his hand, going around waking everyone up to the idea. OK, maybe that last one's a stretch.

8. HeWhoComesWithTheNoon
OK so in that previous post, where I start "I always thought about it a little more," I wasn't just trying to be a jerk, it was supposed to say "a little more prosaic and less prophetic."
Hugh Arai
9. HArai
RE: the banner - the idea is that Arwen must have to done something to the banner when she put all that time and effort into it?
Maiane Bakroeva
10. Isilel
Well, Frodo pierced the Witch King's foot with a sword from the Barrow at the Weathertop and it didn't kill the King. IIRC, the blade was similarly destroyed, though. Hence, my vote goes to Eowyn as the one who actually killed him. I always thought that Merry's wound staggered the King and made him temporarily vulnerable.
Hence also the Nazgul retreating from the Weathertop IMHO - sure, they thought that Frodo was a goner, but why not end it then and there? They couldn't have been afraid of Aragorn's flaming brands _that_ much. But if their leader was temporarily vulnerable...

"Easterlings with axes,"

But weren't Easterlings white in that setting? Uncouth sure, but still.

" and Variags of Khand"

Variag was an Old Russian word for "viking". So, they could be positively Nordic...
11. sofrina
i always thought the prophecy of the witch-king's death was just a misunderstood statement. the elf who foresees his ending saw that the witch-king was defeated by a woman and a halfling, he just didn't say that straight out. he was assuring his comrade that the witch-king would get his, but it wouldn't be at that time.

prophecies depend on ambiguous wording.
mark Proctor
12. mark-p
I always assumed it was Éowyn who killed the Witch-king after Merry had distracted and wounded him.
After the blows Merry had a paralysed arm and gradually got weaker but Éowyn was unconscious immediately. Killing the Nazgûl seemed to have more effect than just stabbing it
Scientist, Father
13. Silvertip
@11: ... 'til Burnham wood to high Dunsinane Hill be come! (Or something like that, don't have it in front of me).

Mari Ness
14. MariCats
When I was 11, this moment was awesome not so much because of Eowyn but because it finally gave MERRY a chance to shine: good old Merry, one of Frodo's closest friends, but yet not trusted with Frodo's major secret, who is the one to organize everything, buy the ponies, and put up money for the first part of the trip; the one who had always spent hours listening to Bilbo's stories, getting curious enough to actually sneak a look into his book and get a glimpse of the Ring; the only one with the practicality and sense to spend time at Rivendell looking at maps and asking useful questions about geography. In other words, the only one who actually wanted to go on this quest in all seriousness, and actually prepared for it.

And FINALLY he gets his great moment.

@HeWhoComesWiththeNoon Actually, McSweeneys did publish two parodies with more or less that focus, distinctly taking Sauron's side. The Fellowship of the Ring one appears to have vanished from the Net and into a book, but the Return of the King one is still available:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:
Birgit F
15. birgit
I also think that Eowyn killed the Witch King. Being stabbed in the leg is not a fatal wound, but a sword in the face is a killing blow.

Even though Tolkien does not explicitly have Heaven in this universe, I believe it’s there and find it comforting that the characters who left things unsaid will have a chance to tell each other.

The ultimate fate of Men is not known, but they could meet again in the Halls of Mandos.
16. chaplainchris
Um...I'm confused by several things. My reading of the text is very different in that Eowyn kills him. Merry takes out his knee and gives Eowyn breathing space to rally for the final blow. I'd honestly never realized there was a debate, so thanks for the education? But Eowyn's "No living man am I!" speech (and I know Merry's a halfling, not a (Hu)Man) cries out for her to be the slayer!

Heaven's not explicit by use of the word, but the Silmarillion makes clear that humans "leave the circles of the world" and their fate is in Eru's hands, so that's pretty explicit. Of course, as Tolkien writes about in his Letters, this is not the conception of Heaven that he or orthodox Christians have - because in the LOTRverse, there's no talk of bodily resurrection, which is the Christian hope.

Tolkien's also explicit that this is supposed to be our world. Even though he doesn't have it function in accord with his own theological or historical convictions, but it's the conceit of the story that it's true (pre)history.

Thanks for pointing out the rhythm of Tolkien's words and the sections you quoted. Having fallen in love with Tolkien in 5th grade, I sometimes wonder if I imprinted on the books so early that I overestimate the quality of the writing. But that last sentence, as you mention, also makes me sigh at the beauty.

Thanks for the reread!
17. Linkmeister
HeWhoComesWithTheNoon @ #7, if you're going to drag "Lost" into it, we could probably assume that Lindelof and Cuse read LOTR. Kate shooting UnLocke after Jack wounds him = Eowyn killing the Witch-King after Merry's stabbing of him?
David Goldfarb
18. David_Goldfarb
I first read LotR when I was likewise too young to understand sexism (I would have been 5 years old or thereabouts) but I have always thought that, " or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him!" is the most thrilling single moment in the books. Not so much that it's a woman saying it, as that it's a human, with no divine magic or elven power backing her up, going forward only on her own willpower.

And I agree with everyone that Merry wounded and distracted the Nazgûl, and Éowyn finished him off. After her great feat of courage in facing him down, to have her attack be ultimately meaningless would be just too poor. Sure the sword shattered; any sword would shatter that took the shock of entering that fell body, save perhaps only Andúril.

One thing I noted only more recently: it says that the voice of the Witch-King "was never heard again in that age of this world." But that age ended only ten days later. I sometimes imagine a new shadow arising in the Fourth Age with the Witch-King as its Dark Lord; Sauron's servant becoming the Dark Lord of the new Age just as Morgoth's servant became the Dark Lord of the Second and Third Ages.
19. cassbuscher
Re: #7 and minority armies: Jacqueline Carey sort of did that in the The Sundering Series with Banewreaker and Godslayer
20. Rgemini
For me it has always been clear that Eowyn drove her sword into the Witch King and delivered the coup de grace after he had been undone by Merry's blow. I can't see how the text allows any other interpretation.

As for the black men like half-trolls, that would have been a perfectly normal way for Tolkien to have thought. I'm an Englishman in my mid 60's and it was a common way for people to think in my youth. Modern multi-cultural Britain would have been totally unthinkable at that time. The past is, indeed, a foreign country where they do things differently.

We tend to forget just how recently our collective attitudes have changed to such things as race, gender and sexual orientation. In my view there's no point in being horrified that people used to think differently. Let's concentrate instead on making sure that we and those that come after us don't revert to that way of thinking.
21. Elaine Thom
Chiming in on the Merry & Eowyn thread, I've thought it was a dual accomplishment: Merry's Barrow blade started the death, breaking the spell, etc., and so it disintegrated. The Witch King was dying, not yet dead, when Eowyn stabs, so her sword isn't disintegrated, it shatters - the power is leaving, but the "all blade perish" clause isn't quite gone.

As far as Eowyn collapsing immediately, vs Merry being still on his feet - he's a HOBBIT. Tougher than they look, remember?

BTW, I always thought she got him in the back of the neck. She totters up and strikes as his shoulders bow before her - I took it as he was falling, so she got his back, the back of his neck between crown and mantle.

re: #10 Frodo's blade, back on Weathertop. didn't pierce the Witch King, it broke at the Ford. It was the Morgul blade that disintegrated in the sunlight. If Frodo had stabbed the Witch King on Weathertop with a Barrow blade it would have had the effect Merry's had here.

I doubt the Witch King would have stuck around to reform in the Fourth Age as even if something survived Merry and Eowyn's assault, it would have been destroyed when the Ring is destroyed.
Michael Ikeda
22. mikeda

Denethor knows that Frodo was carrying the Ring into Mordor. He learned this from Faramir's report in "The Siege of Gondor".
23. sofrina
@21 - wasn't the witch-king released from the one ring's captivity by being stabbed with barrow blade? the rings are what made them ringwraiths, so the counterspell on the blade should must have freed them from the ring's influence in all respects, no?
24. pilgrimsoul
@Maricats 14
Amen to that! Only I think Merry is smart enough to figure out said secret.
This was/is my favorite chapter in the Whole Trilogy. I know it's not the denouement of the story and yet it worked as a wonderful climax for me.
When I read it first at age fifteen I cared nothing for sexism or even racism. I just reveled in seeing an evil defeated by a character I loved.
Andrew Foss
25. alfoss1540
1) Who Killed Witch King - all signs and Middle Earth History Books - Redbook Included - say Eowyn. I always wanted to give a larger hand in the Witch King's undoing to Merry and the Shire. Eowyn would not could not have done it without Merry. I did not feel that Merry's blow would have prevented the Witch King from continuing havoc throughout the battlefield. Since History is written for the Men, I think they gave the majority of the credit to Eowyn. I can't fault her courage or heroism. Major Studette moment! But Merry was just as much a Hero.

HeWhoComesWithTheNoon @ 7

"I'm never one to complain about racism/sexism set in a middle-ages type time frame, because it's very historically accurate, and the opposite is usually jarring to me, unless done very well."

My sentiments as well. Racism and all its wrongness is unfortunately so much a part of our past and present. It needs not to be celebrated, but to pretend it does not or has not existed is naive
Andrew Foss
26. alfoss1540
And Kate - Glad to have you back. The break allowed me to polish off Winter's Heart and most of Crossroads of Twilight, but breaks here leave me hanging!
27. Elaine Thom
@21 - wasn't the witch-king released from the one ring's captivity by being stabbed with barrow blade? the rings are what made them ringwraiths, so the counterspell on the blade should must have freed them from the ring's influence in all respects, no?


There's no reason to think the barrow blade could do anything of the sort, the way I read the text. Within the LOTR Appendices we're informed that Arnor didn't know the Witch King of Angmar was a Ringwraith. (I haven't looked in HoME recently for anything about that. ) But "No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will. "

Which, BTW, is also why I give Merry the credit. If he and the barrow blade hadn't been there, Eowyn couldn't have done anything useful.

Back to the subject - That's his control of his invisible body as I read it, that will which has kept him going for thousands of years to serve his master. Nothing about Sauron's control of him through his Ring of Men that Sauron holds. He's just lost all his sorcery; can't hang on to his body, he completes his fading, so to speak, such as Gandalf spoke of long ago as being caused by the Rings of Power. I imagine it as being like Merry's blade, disintegrating. He is too. Gandalf says he is destroyed, somewhere soon, if not this chapter.
On this I'd trust Gandalf.
Soon Lee
28. SoonLee
"...Éowyn is only mostly dead."
She doesn't get eaten by the eels at this time.

To me it's clear that the Witch King would not have died had it not been for the combined efforts of Éowyn & Merry. That both their blades perished indicates to me that both blades did something.

In the Barrow Downs, Frodo grabs a sword from the ground & cuts the wight (crawling arm) which causes the sword to splinter. The after their rescue, Tom Bombadil picks out knives (including the one Merry used to undo the Witch King) for the hobbits.

At Weathertop, Frodo stabs at the Witch King with his but misses only managing to stab the cloak (Aragorn says "all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King"). Frodo keeps his sword until it is broken by the With King at the Fords of Bruinen. So the text is internally consistent.

This was an awesome chapter, it's the big pay-off after several chapters of buildup. I fully agree that the battle was described brilliantly, mixing the wide screen panorama with the personal moments. Leaves me breathless.

And I'm in the "Arwen did something magical to the standard" camp. It's Elvish magic. Just as it allows wearers of Elven cloaks to be mostly invisible, it allows the devices on the standard to be seen further than normally possible. It's another instance of non-showy magic.
Andrew Foss
29. alfoss1540
The Standard always confused me. Recall only a few days past, a standard created by Arwen was opened in the cave to call upon the dead. Its only description was it was dark with no visible markings - though it had some power over the dead.

Now another banner is opened atop the ship with Aragorn - also created by Arwen. Is it the same? Magically with the tree and stars now visible? Is it an additional banner?

If it's the same, elfin magic must be at work in more than one way. If different, I still vote for elfin magic.
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
Hi everyone. I am in the "heavily scheduled" part of vacation, so let's see how many comments I can respond to while Chad is in the shower. (Oops. It just stopped. Well, while occupying the bathroom, anyway.)

As a preliminary: I read all your comments about whether it was Eowyn or Merry with great interest, and have resigned myself to being an outlier on this as well. I read "breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will" as both necessary and sufficient to kill a wraith, and that while he's coming unstrung from that, he's still not vulnerable to regular swords (I envision the shattering to be like striking stone, except that wouldn't even shatter a good sword, would it? Thrusting a sword into a bucket of liquid nitrogen?). However, no-one is required to agree with me in the least!

dcisko @ #5, that's also a good point about the focus shifts in and out and one I hadn't noticed explicitly myself.

sps49 @ #6, I'm glad the sentence-level discussions are useful. I've been finding that one of the really helpful and interesting parts of re-reading myself.

HeWhoComesWithTheNoon @ #7, I'm glad some other people have given you references to fictional critiques of this, otherwise I would have spent quite a long time looking them up myself!

HArai @ #9, yes, precisely.

Isilel @ #10, I don't think so: "‘Look!’ he cried; and stooping he lifted from the ground a black cloak that had lain there hidden by the darkness. A foot above the lower hem there was a slash. ‘This was the stroke of Frodo’s sword,’ he said. ‘The only hurt that it did to his enemy, I fear; for it is unharmed, but all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King. More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth.’" Also Frodo would have been wielding Sting, wouldn't he?

sofrina @ #11, I like your interpretation of the prophecy.

mark-p @ #12, I'm not trying to argue with you about the fatal blow, but I will point out that Eowyn got the full brunt of the Witch-king's attention and Merry got none, and also Merry is a hobbit and therefore textually very tough--Gandalf says that humans would have been overcome by the splinter of knife far sooner than Frodo.

MariCats @ #14, yes! Go Merry! Us practical ones need our day too. => And thanks for the links, I will read them when I'm not busy.

And now it's time for me to shower so we can go touristing. See you all later.
31. pilgrimsoul
One thing I think the film version got right (Ducks as bricks are heaved) is that Merry had a bit of crush on Eowyn. He's struck by her beauty, and her desperate plight moves him to great courage and gallantry. He's also down the road able to have that little chat with Faramir about her.
Birgit F
32. birgit
Now another banner is opened atop the ship with Aragorn - also created by Arwen. Is it the same? Magically with the tree and stars now visible? Is it an additional banner?

It's the same banner. They were at the Stone of Erech in the middle of the night and couldn't see the tree and stars in the dark.
33. aitchellsee
Frodo was not yet wielding Sting at Weathertop -- Bilbo gifts him with Sting after the hobbits arrive at Rivendell.
34. debraji
Ack! aitchellsee@33 beat me to it!
Kent Aron Vabø
35. sotgnomen
isilel @10 and Kate @30 -

Frodo was using the barrowsword, of same make as Merrys's. Also, Strider's speach actually makes a case for Eowyn's sword piercing his skin. "..but all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King".

Still, I agree that Merry's stab was the crucial one, because of the make of the sword(words of power against Angmar and all that). I mainly attrbute the killing blow to Eowyn because its the ultimate blow, and strictly speaking, she deserves most of the credit, standing up to him.

Also @kate, I dont really mind the race-implications so much here, because the text is so obviously one-sided. Being an epic in this style, told by northerners who have never seen black people, to me it paints a picture more of the awed and frightened hobbit narrator and his listeners, than of actual troll-like men. It tells more of the ignorance of the narrator, and to me in no way comes across as the actual view of Tolkien. I got an ickier vibe from the whole Rohirrim vs Dunlending thing..

That being said, not ever having been on the other end of this I claim no authority on the matter.

And yes, varyags were actually norsemen, migrated to Kiev and Novgorod. They were named so by the Byzantine, and from this comes the Varangian Guard, the Byzantine Royal Bodyguard consisting only of norsemen. Tolkien would know this, I think. Still, the name very is eastern-sounding.
Kate Collura
36. dreamwalker
sofrina @ 11 and Silvertip @ 13

I also always think of MacBeth type prophecies when I read that no living man could kill the Witch King. As in, it is not so much that only a woman or non human person could be capable of killing the Witch King, but that is what is fated to happen. i.e. (MacBeth spoiler) No man born of woman will kill MacBeth, means it just so happens that a man "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb would be the one to kill him, not that others are incapable.

This seems to make some sense textually too, since it is noted that the blade Merry carries is crucial to delivering a deadly blow (or allowing Eowyn to do so). I imagine if a human man struck the Witch King with that blade the effect would be the same.
37. hapax
FWIW, it has never occurred to me that Tolkien intended anyone other than Eowyn to have struck the fatal blow. I base this principally on the way that her battle with the Witch King seems to have been explicitly modelled upon the ninth century poem Judith (here's a modern English translation), which Tolkien undoubtedly would have been familiar with, and MUST have come to his mind when thinking of an Anglo-Saxon warrior woman.

I see a lot of echoes, most notably in the double blow resulting in the dissolution of the villain, but also in such themes as the contrast of light and dark, the fatalistic courage of the heroine, and even such images as the head (or crown) rolling down.

Of course, this would put Merry in the role of Judith's brave and faithful servant, which is not quite my image of him.

edit: the html code didn't seem to come through. The translation I mention is at
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
chaplainchris @ #16, welcome, and if your choice of username indicates that you have theological training, your input will be especially helpful!

David_Goldfarb @ #18, do we know what Age *we* are in?

cassbuscher @ #19, right, yes, Carey was another. It's been too long since I read Mary Gentle's _Grunts_, so I can't remember if that was humans as well as orcs.

Rgemini @ #20, I can't help being horrified at racist remarks. It's a gut-level instinctive reaction. And I point it out *precisely because* of what you say, that it's a reminder of why it's important that we don't revert that way.

(I don't recall seeing your username here before--welcome, or if I'm wrong, sorry for the lack of memory--but as I've said in the past, I don't condemn Tolkien as a *person* for the racial problems in _LotR_.)

alfoss1540 @ #26, I'm glad to be back. It was a terrible itch in the back of my mind the whole time. (I figured out that in the last four weeks of work, I wrote 70 pages of briefs discussing 1500 pages of records, working until midnight most nights. Also I was solo parenting a sick toddler for a week. Whee!)

@ #29 re: the standard, yes, I believe it's the same one, and I think the description here of it flaming in the sunlight indicates that it needed some light for the stars etc. to be visible; when Aragorn summons the Dead, "behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness."

SoonLee @ #28, I'm wondering if I can naturally and gracefully make _Princess Bride_ references in every single post we have left. =>

And I like the connection with Elven magic over visibility with the cloaks!

pilgrimsoul @ #31, I've forgotten that bit of the movie, so I'll look forward to it.

aitchellsee @ #33, debraji @ #34, sotgnomen @ #35: aagh! I had a tiny feeling at the back of my head that something was wrong about that, but I was in a hurry and didn't check as thoroughly as I should have. Thank you for the correction.

hapax @ #37, a parallel between Eowyn and Judith would not have occured to me at all, because the stories are so different. But the poem was quite interesting reading, thank you.
39. Formerly Steve Morrison
If David_Goldfarb has read Letter #211, then he does know approximately which age we are in now. Tolkien wrote in a footnote:
I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S.A. and T.A. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.
Wesley Parish
40. Aladdin_Sane
My vote is that Merry's stab merely incapacitated the Witch King, and Eowyn gave the coup de grace to him. After all, a stab to the hamstrings merely hamstrings, but a blow to the head frequently kills.

As far as the race issue go, I would've been more upset if Tolkien had made a bigger thing out of it than he actually did.
41. formerly DaveT
Piling on shamelessly, I have to side with the folk who interpret the text as "Merry crippled him, Eowyn killed him".

Have you read Oliver Sacks's _Awakenings_, or seen the film? Extreme Parkinson's Disease is exactly an inability for the will to command the body. The messages don't get through. I have always interpreted Merry's blow as leaving the Witch-King a powerless ghost in a useless machine, and Eowyn's blow as destroying both.
Ian Gazzotti
42. Atrus
I always thought that it was the combined efforts of Merry and Eowyn that killed the Witch-king: one blow removed the protection spells, the other finished him off. It seems to fit well with the prophecy as not only they're both not "man" in the conventional warrior meaning, but they're also two.

Middle-earth is quite explicitly our world in a mythical past, and it's also quite coherent with Catholicism from a theological point of view. It's a world lacking in religion, but what we know of Eru/God and the hypotheses on human afterlife are in tune with Tolkien's understanding of the finer points of his faith (see also the 'Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth', and essays by Monda, Garbowski et al.)

I suppose I was not particularly struck by the apparent racism in the description of the Far Harad men because there were several cultures that "uglified" themselves before going into battle (either with paints, masks or actual scarring) precisely to strike fear into their enemies and convince them they were inhuman monsters. Also, in later chapters it is made clear that most of the human enemies had received false promises by Sauron and, when offered peace, several of them accepted; so they're not just "evil and ugly because they're evil".
43. Jan Pospisil
I'm a bit sad that Tolkien keeps getting accused of being a racist. He clearly is not and it's been shown a couple of times through analysis of his work and letters.

All the "racism" as we 21st century people see it is always from the point of view of someone in the story - mostly Gondorians and the Rohirrim. And on occasion, Tolkien calls them out on this and slips a hint of "Not all the good guys are all that good."

The Haradrim are called cruel - well, as expected. They've been Gondor's enemies for a long time.
I like (ehm, maybe not a proper word..I like how it shows Tolkien's own view in the background) how Rohirrim talk about the Dunnish - Éomer (?) says their language sounds like animal noises to him, Gamling (?) translates and ponders about their hatred for the Rohirrim. And we are told how badly the Rohirrim mistreat them and what lies they're being told by Saruman. We know they're not evil by themselves, or inferior. I always got the feeling that after Helm's Deep, the relations and understanding between both sides improved since Saruman fell and his influence over the Dunnish was over. Of course, the Rohirrim might've remained the horrible opressors they used to be. Who knows. ;)

The troll-men, that's a tough one. Too few mentions to really make sense of it, but to me it always indicated height. What else could be actually troll-like about them? Trolls have dark green scales all over their body - surely that's not what Tolkien meant. So you get tall dark-skinned men. Hardly surprising since they come from the deserts of the far Harad.

And I know you probably got a lot of comments on this under the appropriate chapter, but I simply love Sam's thoughts over the falled Harad soldier. That's Tolkien speaking through a hobbit right there.
(+ I thought giving this line to Faramir in the movies was a good idea. To show this level of understanding for the enemy, that's very Faramiresque.)

The Easterlings are very interesting. Easterlings with names appear as early as Nirnaeth Arnoediad - Bór and his sons - Borlach, Borland and Borthand are faithful to the Noldor, while Ulfang and his sons betray them.
Nothing about their appearance is mentioned, but their names sure don't sound stereotypically eastern to me - on the contrary actually. And you get easterlings very nobly refusing Morgoth and sacrificing themselves along the elves.

Now, the easterlings appearing later - in wars with Gondor and Rohan - seem to me more like Indo-European tribes actually. You get the wainriders, the Balchoth and later broad bearded axemen. We know the variags were also excellent horseriders, so I'm not sure if we can jump the easy way and link them to Russians or Vikings. I've read someone suggest the name could come from Sanskirt - varayaia - something like "gloriously victorious". Well, Variags may be right after all - these guys lived in the east and fought and allied with all kinds of nomadic tribes (Khazars, Bulgars..)

I was disappointed to see Games Workshop go the easy route and make easterlings from Rhun a mix of Japanese and Chinese. :/

To get back to Tolkien not being racist - I hope you're aware of the very tongue-in-cheek response letter Tolkien wrote to the German publishers who wanted to use his work as support to the nazis.

Quite a few times it's shown in his work that size or skin colour don't make you good or evil. Sure, characters in the books often make remarks or describe others like they do. But in the important moments it's shown to be false.

I apologize for the very long comment - I enjoy illustrating these less-described peoples of MiddleEarth and it's my favourite subject.

I think it's the first time I do comment here, but I've been reading these re-reads for a while and it's very enjoyable. Thank you!
44. Your mailbox is full.
Jan Pospisil@43:

I don't think that anyone has seriously suggested that Tolkien was racist - and certainly there has been no suggestion that he was overtly racist. On the contrary, many people who have commented on katenepveu's re-read - and our hostess herself - have taken quite the opposite position. Tolkien's views on racism are quite clear, as he made known in his letters and interviews over the years.

That said, we cannot deny that some of Tolkien's language and imagery is... unfortunate. Of course, we must remember that the world has changed substantially in the decades since The Lord of the Rings was written, and Tolkien himself was very definitely "of his time". Words and phrases used by Tolkien in all innocence have, to our modern eyes and ears, wholly different meanings.

Beautiful and profound though Tolkien's work is, there is (in his own words) "much that fails to please". This does not diminish the story, nor the writer. The Lord of the Rings remains, to my mind, one of the most powerful, enchanting and scholarly works of literature ever to flow from the pen of an English writer. Judging by the world sales figures of books by - or about - Tolkien, I am not alone in this view. Not for nothing do modern authors of fantastic literature speak - with varying degrees of irritation, bitterness and sardonic humour - of having to "climb Mount Tolkien".

But Tolkien was not perfect, and neither are his works of literature. He freely admitted this, and I think it behoves us to do the same.
Tony Zbaraschuk
45. tonyz
First off, squee on this chapter. It's incredibly done, and the rhythm of light and dark, disaster and salvation, defeat and victory, all make it just an incredible piece of work. It's still one of my favorite chapters.

On the "who killed WK?" thread, I think it's mostly Eowyn but partly Merry. (Jo Walton had a wonderful Usenet post at one point where Eowyn and the Witch King argue fine grammatical points and word definitions: "Excuse me, your Westron is so imprecise: I did not mean _vir_ but _femina_. Prepare to die." "Allow me to point out that Meriadoc, who is _dimildius_, not _homo_, has just introduced an Arnorian blade into your knee.")

I think Tolkien specifically shows that the Gondorians are at least somewhat racist (the whole Kinstrife thing, the repeated reference to lesser races) and that this is a Bad Thing (it weakens them in the long struggle against Sauron, because it's hard for them to make allies). The men of Numenor are superior in many ways (lifespan, culture, knowledge), but this makes their attitude all the more inexcusable (and the superiority is a gift gradually being withdrawn ever since the fall of Numenor, not an innate aspect of their condition.) One can be a superior race and still be morally in the wrong compared to an inferior; good and evil are not one thing among Elves and another among Men. In fact, you may be in _more_ moral danger because you're so easily tempted to pride. I think it's hard to us to wrap our minds around that attitude, because we've spent so much time arguing in favor of equality and that any hierarchy is inherently a Bad Thing.

This is, to some extent, harder to discern because much of the tale is about races which (unlike the varieties of Men) really are distinct, with different fates and gifts and natures: Elves and Dwarves and Men are unalike -- but all the more therefore should they not lord it over the others. You can map a lot of racial dialogue onto the different intelligent species, which makes it a little more jarring when we come to portrayal of different human races (Men and Halflings; Numenoreans vs. Rohirrim vs. Haradrim vs. Easterlings vs. Woodmen) in ways that we no longer use. I think that certainly some of Tolkien's protagonists are racists (Denethor, for instance) and that the Halflings who are our narrators and main viewpoint characters are _not_ familiar with other cultures and ways of life and therefore make many rookie mistakes when dealing with people from very far away (like the black men from Far Harad).
46. markdf
re: Eowyn and Merry---I don't have my books here, but I always assumed it was a joint effort (and two non-men) who killed the Witch King. I also always assumed they did it for a much more mechanical reason: my memory is that the Witch King was hugely tall at this point to inspire fear. Eowyn could not have reached his head--until Merry sliced his hamstring and he began to fall, bringing his head within striking range.

My memory could be playing tricks--I haven't done a reread in a while. If so, please ignore me!
47. buzzbaileyport
From the chapter: "Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her."

For what it's worth, I'm in the Merry camp when it comes to the Witch-king killer dispute. I've always interpreted the fact that Éowyn drives her sword into the Nazgûl "as great shoulders bowed before her" as meaning that he was already on his way out when Éowyn struck.

To flog another dead horse (didn't know what other phrase to use, sorry): On the "half-troll" thing: as many others have said, it's probably just a comment on the immense size (and possible uglification) of the men of Far Harad. Not only is this told from the perspective of a hobbit, it's moreover this hobbit's introduction to large-scale warfare and he had just witnessed the death and (perhaps) mortal wounding of the two closest friends and protectors he had left.

And finally, regarding the comment on the Haradrim and peace: I'm sure at least some among the Southrons knew where their warriors were going and for what purpose; therefore, when nothing returns save for a rumor of utter annihilation, I'd be plenty prepared to make peace with that nation, whoever they are. Or, if someone was being obtuse or didn't get the "they're all dead" memo and decided to ask Aragorn that sort of a question, the king could answer, "Oh yeah, were they the ones who invaded our land and wanted to sack our city? We killed them all. And we're stronger now than we were then, while the opposite is true for you. So how's about this peace thing, huh?"
48. EmmaPease
The men of near Harad were also not that distinct from the men of Gondor. Near Harad had also been settled by Numenor (though more by King's men then the faithful) and rebels from Gondor over the years had gone to Harad (I suspect a bit vice versa also, rebels from Harad going to Gondor).
Kate Nepveu
49. katenepveu
Traveling today so in a hurry, but:

I keep forgetting that new people find these and that I have to put in the disclaimer about race every time. To wit:

There is a difference between intentional racism and unintentional racism. Tolkien can have--and I think did--express racist attitudes without intending to do so or without being A Bad Person.

And yes, I think that "black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues" is a racist description. There are many less degrading and animalistic ways to describe humans than to compare them straight-up to monsters while heavily emphasizing the color of their skin. For instance, if a reference to their height was intended, then _saying_ something about their height would have been useful (Ents, by contrast, are "as tall as trolls," and then get several more sentences of description in "The Road to Isengard").

(Also, I see no reason to believe that that description was from any particular character's POV. Merry isn't seeing it, it's instead in a paragraph describing the overall disposition of the battle.)

Yes, it's a passing reference. No, I don't think Tolkien was A Bad Person. But it is a blatant reflection of the general societal attitude that black men are subhuman and it affected me like a slap in the face. And I would be missing the very point of this re-read if I did not point out that out.
50. Confutus
Eowyn for the kill, Merry for the assist.

Theoden had just died and confirmed Eomer as king of the Mark, with his dying breath as Eomer arrived at the scene, moments too late, to find Eowyn also lying senseless and apparently dead nearby. Eomer was overcome by grief and rage, and not thinking very clearly, as his furious attack deep into the forces of Mordor nearly undid the glorious last-minute rescue of besieged Gondor.

Someone commented in an earlier post about Tolkein's fondness for "in the very nick of time" rescues, and Aragorn's arrival provides another, in the same battle, no less. I take this as a Moment of Awesome for Aragorn, although it doesn't quite strike me as crowning, compared to the two confrontations with the Witch King.
51. pilgrimsoul
Re: Who killed the Witch King: Merry or Eowyn.
I thought it was Eowyn and then I just came across this in JRRT's own words. The passage speaks of the attack on Frodo at Weathertop.

"But above all the timid and terrified Bearer had resisted him, had dared to strike at him with an enchanted sword made by his own enemies long ago for his destruction. Narrowly it missed him. . . . Escaping a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife to Frodo (as was proved at the end) he withdrew. . ."
Quoted in Lord of the Rings: A Readers Companion from an unpublished manuscript at Marquette University.

For what it's worth JRRT wrote this after ROFK. It may or may not represent a change or development in conception.
Soon Lee
54. SoonLee
pilgrimsoul @51:

Thanks for the reference. More & more, I think of the blade of Westernesse as Kryptonite. Merry's blow made the Witch King vulnerable to Eowyn's coup de gras; without Merry's stab first, Eowyn's blade would have been unable to harm the Witch King.
David Goldfarb
56. David_Goldfarb
tonyz@45: While I yield to nobody in my admiration for Jo Walton, the Usenet bit you quote belongs to Dorothy Heydt.

(I posted this earlier, linking to Dorothy's Wikipedia article. This somehow flagged the post as spam; I was told that it was submitted to a moderator, but since some time has passed and it hasn't appeared, I can only assume that it's just been lost. Rather disappointing.)
Kate Nepveu
57. katenepveu
pilgrimsoul @ #51, thanks--I admit to being not above resorting to authorial intent when it agrees with me. =>

David @ #56, I believe the admins are shorthanded at the moment; sorry for the trouble.
Ellie Angel
58. Ellie_Angel
This is perhaps my favourite chapter in the whole trilogy and the moment in the films (at least regarding Eowyn) that Jackson got completely wrong.

By using the whole "character X is dead . . . oh, wait, we were wrong" about 15 times before this moment, it feels a little empty when it's Eowyn's turn. He even uses it twice in the extended edition -- once with the Witch King and then the confusing second fight with the potato-head troll.

Jackson misunderstands the nature of this confrontation--ironically, given the discussion of moments of awesome and female power in this post--he overplays his hand. In the book, I really get the sense Eowyn feels purposeless despair. She's gone to war because she doesn't know what else to do and it's almost as much about a confrontation with her own nihilistic bent (to that point) as it is about the Witch King. In the film, there's the rah-rah friendship stuff with Merry.

We also lose a lot of the build-up language to the fight, which is so beautiful. She doesn't appear resolute and cold--she seems like someone completely in over her head. I know it works better with different media and modern audiences to speed things up and make it more simplistic, but I had high hopes for Eowyn as Jackson depicted her to that point and then he dropped the ball.

Don't even get me started on the super-truncated romance with Faramir. It's arguably the most meaningful male-female exchange in the book and it gets about 30 seconds in the extended. Compared to zillions of hours of footage of Frodo falling down and looking scared, it's a real disappointment.

Anyway, I enjoyed your analysis of this moment in the book. Thanks.
59. tumhalad
I vehemently disagree with the assertion that Tolkien was even expressing "unconcious" racial attitudes in his work. The argument that he believed this because his compatriots supposedly did doesn't wash with what he actually wrote in his letters. There are two important quotes relating to Tolkien's view of African, dark coloured people and both of them express respect and an attitude of scorn for racist opinion:

"As for what you say or hint of 'local' conditions: I knew of them. I don't think they have much changed (even for the worse). I used to hear them discussed by my mother; and have ever since taken a special interest in that part of the world. The treatment of colour nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain, & not only in South Africa. Unfort, not many retain that generous sentiment for long." Letter 102


"I have a hatred of apartheid in my bones..." Valedictory Address to Oxford University

Clearly Tolkien did not consider African or dark skin coloured people to be sub human or monstrous. I think it is quite clear that another explanation must be sought for the "half-troll" quote, and as others have pointed out I think it involves consideration of perspective. Sure, I take Kate's point that the narrative is not actively telling us the point of view of a hobbit or whatnot, but it would be naive to suppose that it is being "objective". This was not Tolkien's intent; not because he wanted to beastialise Africans but because he was telling the story very much from the point of view of the Gondorians, who had never seen "black men" before and would therefore most likely be both stunned and frightened by this (lets face it) very defining feature (skin colour). This does not equate to the author being subconciously racist; certainly not PC, but taken in the context of the chapter, and in context of Tolkien's letters outlining his personal views, which are quite clear, I think it is folley to suggest that Tolkien was depicting Africans in beastial terms because that is what he thought of them, even subconciously.
Kate Nepveu
60. katenepveu
tumhalad @ #59, if Tolkien was suggesting that the Gondorians were "stunned and frightened" because the men from Far Harad had dark skin, I think that would itself be drawing on our world's social norms, since there is no particular reason that skin color ought to be _frightening_ if one is designing a society from scratch. Further, since Middle-earth's treatment of skin color so far has already shown influence by our world's social norms (sallow, pale, etc.), I think it entirely supportable that the description of the men from Far Harad also is influenced by our world's social norms.

Finally, since I'm talking about subconscious influences, and have explicitly absolved Tolkien of racist intent, Tolkien's own quite laudable statements do not refute my argument.
Francesca Forrest
61. Asakiyume
Dang, can't believe I missed this when it was new! Like Ellie Angel @58, it's my high point for the trilogy, precisely for the language around that big turnaround, when the banner is revealed. That moment just says victory so wonderfully--a triumph that transcends reality, but that's what epics are for: those moments.

The problem of the non-orc subjects of Sauron has bothered me, too. Well, the orcs bother me as well, actually. But it's a conversation for another day--especially as this entry's not even the current one anymore.
62. Jan Pospisil

"if Tolkien was suggesting that the Gondorians were "stunned and frightened" because the men from Far Harad had dark skin, I think that would itself be drawing on our world's social norms, since there is no particular reason that skin color ought to be _frightening_ if one is designing a society from scratch."

Well, yes. I think that is exactly the case - he's NOT creating societies entirely from scratch, many of their customs and social features are very similar to ours and we've established that Tolkien uses points of view to subtly tell us that racism is bad.
There IS a reason for skin colour to be frightening! It's different to the Gondorians' and humans fear what's different. They've never seen humans with skin that dark, are they even human? Surely they must be demons! Or trolls!

I don't think he was subconciously racist, rather that he used a racist point of view to describe a scene.

Imagine if he didn't, how odd and sterile the scene would be.

"And they fought a host of very tall dark skinned men from Far Harad."

Also, you can't possibly compare enemies of the "good guys" to ents, that's like saying the dwarves are short people, kinda like the orcs.

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