Jul 30 2010 10:27am

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.10, “The Black Gate Opens”

We conclude the first book of The Return of the King with Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens.” After the jump there are the usual spoilers for all of The Lord of the Rings, and comments on this chapter and on Book V generally.

What Happens

The army leaves Minas Tirith (and Merry, who is not healed enough to go). The journey to the Black Gate is quiet but horrifying. The army leaves a number of men at the Cross-roads, where they have restored the statue of the old king, and sends more who are unable to go further to Cair Andros.

At the Black Gate, the Mouth of Sauron taunts Gandalf and the others by showing them Sam’s sword, an elven cloak, and Frodo’s mail. He demands their surrender for the return of the captured spy. Gandalf refuses and takes back the items. Mordor’s armies surround the army of the West. Pippin stabs a hill-troll to keep it from killing Beregond and is trapped under its body. He thinks he hears someone crying “The Eagles are coming!”, but “his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more.”

Comments least it wasn’t an across-volumes cliffhanger, like “Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy”?

Because I usually barrel through books without pausing at internal divisions, and because I know this story so well already, I hadn’t registered just how bleak this is. After all, we don’t know what happened to Frodo yet after his capture; I don’t know if anyone reading this for the first time thought that Sauron had actually regained possession of the Ring (and if so, what did you think the last half-volume would be about? The plucky resistance?), but the structure certainly leaves us desperate to find out.

But as far as cliffhangers go, I am very slightly cranky about the last line, describing how Pippin’s “thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more.” My instinctive reading of that admittedly-ambiguous line is that he saw no more ever, which is obviously not the case, and so feels like cheating. (“Vision went dark” would not bother me at all.) I have no idea how idiosyncratic my reaction to this is, however.

Getting back to the overall effect of the chapter, as I was reading the journey through Mordor I was surprised at how little landscape description we got, compared to Sam and Frodo’s journey. It’s not that I wanted redundancy, but the landscape felt much more remote to me here. After finishing the chapter, I think this remoteness was doing two things. First, the mood that’s been set for the confrontation at the Black Gate is hopelessness, not horror, for which a sort of grey, less-sensory experience seems appropriate. Second, Tolkien was saving the big guns, emotionally speaking, for the confrontation.

And the chapter really emphasizes the hopelessness of the situation. It starts in the third paragraph, when Aragorn says farewell to Merry with the happy thought that “Though it may be our part to find a bitter end before the Gate of Mordor, if we do so, then you will come also to a last stand, either here or wherever the black tide overtakes you.” (Okay, actually, he does think it relatively happy because Merry feels ashamed at not doing more, but still.) Poor Merry has “little hope at all” that he will see “(e)veryone that he cared for” return from the East. The arrival at the Black Gate is “the last end of their folly,” since “their army could not assault with hope” the fortifications. When the trap is sprung, they are outnumbered ten to one, “(a)nd out of the gathering mirk the Nazgûl came with their cold voices crying words of death; and then all hope was quenched.” Hopeless, hopeless, and hopeless. Also? Hopeless. Just in case you missed it.

* * *

Pippin’s reaction to all the hopelessness is quite interesting and not something I’d marked before. He deliberately places himself where the fighting will be first and hardest, “(f)or it seemed best to him to die soon and leave the bitter story of his life, since all was in ruin.” Indeed, he thinks:

Well, well, now at any rate I understand poor Denethor a little better. We might die together, Merry and I, and since die we must, why not? Well, as he is not here, I hope he’ll find an easier end. But now I must do my best.

I don’t believe this ever comes up again, which is why I hadn’t registered it before, but we’ve spent so much time talking about Denethor that now it made me sit up. Also it is not at all the kind of thing that I expect to see from Pippin, which only reinforces the hopeless.

It never comes up again (at least not in any way memorable to me) because it’s only a thought. Pippin turns his despair outward into heroics, saving Beregond’s life without regard to his own safety, not inward to suicide (well, murder-suicide, but that complicates my metaphor). It’s good to see that Pippin, too, gets his chance to do at least as well as—in this case, better than—a human.

* * *

The meeting at the Gate with the Mouth of Sauron. I literally cannot imagine forgetting my own name, so that is an excellent little detail. And he is not as old as I thought he was: “he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again,” putting it sometime around 2951 (when the rebuilding of Barad-dûr began, according to Appendix B). I’d always vaguely thought him to be centuries old, but that was only 68 years ago.

The Mouth addresses them with familiar pronouns (thou/thee/thy) and I was impressed just how clearly the contempt behind that choice came through. It made me think of how apparently Pippin was going around using familiar pronouns for everyone in Minas Tirith, which was only made clear to me by the Appendices. Besides the difficulty for modern readers of having the hobbits “thee” and “thou” everyone all throughout the story, it occurs to me that the impact of the drops into familiar pronouns—here and between Aragorn and Éowyn—would be far lessened if those pronouns were already common in the text. I just think it’s too bad that the nuance in the hobbits’ speech couldn’t have been made clearer before the Appendices.

Does the Mouth expect Gandalf to simply fold and take that ridiculous offer? (Seriously, why stop at the Misty Mountains?) That was my first impression, between his being taken aback when Gandalf attempts to bargain, and then his rage when Gandalf rejects it. If so, this seems to be a massive example of evil being unable to understand good: Sauron only understands the desire for power (per “The Council of Elrond”), he judges Gandalf and the rest of the leaders the West to not have enough of it, and so slides to thinking that they have none at all and will collapse immediately. Except that doesn’t fit with the idea that one of them might be the arrogant new wielder of the Ring. So maybe he never expected them to take it and was surprised that Gandalf seemed to be considering it, and then was angry at the manner of Gandalf’s refusal.

* * *

Finally for things specific to this chapter, I’d wondered last time what we could infer from this chapter about how the ordinary soldier felt about this mission. We get one indication when the army comes near the Black Gate:

So desolate were those places and so deep the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned, and they could neither walk nor ride further north.

Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass.

The idea of war as a dream-like state cannot be original to WWI, and yet it immediately reminded me of WWI war poetry. I note that the breaking point here is not combat but landscape, which permits the straddling of the conflicting worldviews of epic heroism and psychological realism, and is also just very Tolkien.

* * *

My verdict on Book V as a whole: awesome. I’m not sure why I used to think of Book III as my favorite, because this was just full of amazing things: stirring high-fantasy moments, reversals and surprises, a very brisk overall pace, and the most nuanced and interesting characterization thus far, or possible at all. I would be very surprised if anything surpassed it in the rest of the book for me, because I always dread the walking-through-Mordor bits (I know they aren’t as long as I remember, but still). Even the chapters that felt a little slow to me at the time (the Rohirrim ones) were necessarily so for the overall structure; I was just cranky because I wanted to get to the good stuff and wasn’t reading it all together. However, I’d be very pleased to be proved wrong. What do you all think about Book V as a unit?

« Return of the King V.9 | 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.

jonathan Sheridan
1. Sheruman
I have to say book V is my fav as well I love the pacing in the book. the way it start builing up momentum early and rolls along at a great pace.
2. pilgrimsoul
ROTK and more specifically Book Five--because of the sweeping action and grand heroics is my favorite of all the LOTR except maybe the sweet glimpses of the Shire. I think the structure certainly contributes to the sense of suspense.
The Mouth of Sauron is the creepiest character--nastier than Shelob because he shows the depths to which humans can sink.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
Actually, Tolkien uses "saw no more" and "knew no more" frequently throughout LotR to signal loss of consciousness. So his use here is not as unfair as it might seem at first. Of course, coupled with the general tone of the chapter, there is reason to think that Pippin might be dead, but it would be a change from previous use. (I can't offer a concrete example as I don't have the books to hand, but maybe Frodo at the fords? Someone with an electronic copy could search for "knew no more", I'm very sure of the phrasing.)

The hopelessness of the chapter is strong, but it is important to note that those who made it all the way to the Black Gate might be without hope, but they have not despaired. This is important within Tolkien's Catholicism and is a contrast to Denethor. You could also probably make a case for Denethor's influence on Pippin's final thoughts before the battle.

Pippin's experiences in battle also serve a couple of narrative purposes. First, they put him back on an equal footing with Merry. Killing a troll may not be quite as good as killing the Witch King, but he is now a blooded warrior. Second, it gives him a final polish for what will come in the penultimate chapter of Book VI.

I also thought the Mouth of Sauron was much older. There's obviously a lot here about Evil degrading individuality and so on. The loss of a name, even for and to oneself, has a lot of implications.

I wonder if there is something Biblical in Aragorn's sending away those who lose the courage to go all the way to Mordor. Allowing them to defend Cair Andros reflects his final words to Merry. But I also have a vague feeling that it may connect to Joshua choosing his 300. Of course, as an American, it also makes me think of Travis allowing those who wanted to leave the Alamo before the siege, but I doubt that would have resonated with Tolkien. Maybe Leonidas sending away the other Greeks at Thermopylae.

Finally, Tolkien also connects us with The Hobbit very directly. Pippin decides he doesn't really hear people yelling about the eagles, because that was Bilbo's story. This also sets up the deus ex aquila for a few chapters later.
Tony Zbaraschuk
4. tonyz
That would be Gideon with the 300, not Joshua.

The contest with the Mouth is indeed the focus point of this chapter: does the West waver, or stand firm? (The orcs are coming; we all know the orcs are coming; but there are negotiations.) Note that they are not honest negotiations; Sauron is simply planning to torment them further. Though it is not entirely sure that he does not think he is about to trap the Ring as well. Possibly the Mouth (instead of the Nazgul) are sent as negotiators just to test that hypothesis.
(And note that the Mouth, a Numenorean, is "more cruel than any orc"; when the best falls it plummets into the worst of things. The Mouth's reaction to Aragorn meeting his gaze is also a great characterization moment -- "just looking me in the eye is assault!").

It's interesting to note that, like the Mouth, the Nazgul too are fading into anonymity; they're always a crowd of flyers (cue the WW I soldier in the muck looking up at the flyboys, who are both enemy reconnaissance and a source of fear and death), but after the Witch King's death we never hear or see them acting individually or as characters, as opposed to some of their actions in the Shire.

I'm pretty sure that Gandalf knows that Sauron doesn't yet have the Ring (and note that he's watching intently for reaction when he challenges the Mouth to bring forth Frodo) -- as a Ringbearer himself Gandalf would be aware of Sauron putting on the One, just as the elven-smiths of Eregion were aware back in the Second Age. And as long as Sauron doesn't have the Ring there is still a frail glimmer of hope.
Tony Zbaraschuk
5. tonyz
As far as Book V as a whole goes, I think it's my favorite. The battle for Minas Tirith, in all its complexity and multiple chapters, is full of drama and glory and turning points. Who does not thrill to the horns of Rohan blowing in the dim murk, or Eowyn's confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgul, or the King returning on a wind from the Sea with his lady's banner blazing in the sunlight?

Nor does Tolkien scant the cost of war. As David Weber says, if you just have the good guys win and everyone the reader cares about survive, you're not writing military fiction, you're writing war porn. Tolkien is so not there -- Theoden and his household knights, Denethor, the wounds of Faramir and Eowyn and Merry and so many others. We learn the cost.

And we learn that war may not be the ultimate solution. Even that great and glorious victory is not enough to win the war. (Tolkien is much wiser here than many generals of his time.) The whole reversal routine comes into it again: Gandalf arriving at Minas Tirith among the flaming beacons of war (and the RotK movie really does the sweep of beaconfire very well), with hope fading to darkness under the siege, then shifting again as the darkness cloaks Rohan's relief force coming to the aid of Gondor, and the darkness breaking to bright sunlight, then the sudden irruption of the Witch-king, and the shocking suddenness of his defeat, broken again to darkness as the Corsairs' ships approach, and reversal again as Aragorn's banner breaks out, closing to a slow fade into the setting sun over the blood-drenched fields, and the pyre of Denethor and Black Breath in the Houses of Healing, turned again by the coming of the King with healing in his hands, and the bright tents of the war council, fading again slowly into the hopelessness of the Black Gate.

Yeah, I love Book V.
6. a-j
Re: Aragorn releasing the fearful.
Shakespeare has Henry V make a similar offer before Agincourt (about 20 seconds into this clip, Olivier giving his best


I would suspect that Tolkien may have had this in his memory along with Gideon from the Old Testament and I'm not fully up on classical history, but Tolkien would have been and so if Leonides made a similar offer, he would have that in mind as well.
7. Masha Stekker
I was always fascinated by the mouth of Sauron. He stood out vividly for me from most of the "evil" characters as somehow quite modern - I'm not sure why.

I always interpreted the way the mouth of Sauron reacts to Gandalf and Aragorn as evidence that he is not a whole person, but the stunted remnants of somebody who used to be powerful. All the same, he came across as much more of an individual personality that - say - any of the Nazgul, including the Witch King.

Every time I read this passage, I'm struck by the difference between Gandalf and Pippin's reaction to seeing Frodo's clothing. Pippin expected Gandalf to give in at that point, if I remember correctly? That says a lot about Pippin. And surely Gandalf must have known that Sauron did not have the ring (why continue toying with them?) but it must have seemed pretty certain that Frodo and Sam were dead, or worse.
8. Dr. Thanatos
I always liked the Mouth of Sauron.

Not that I'd like to go to the movies with him, but we see so little of the heirarchy of Evil; there's orcs, there's Nazgul, then there's the Big Guy. The nazgul are off on missions much of the time, and I always wondered who Sauron got to do things for him that took more sophistication and subtlety than an orc could handle. Seeing where evil men fit in helps flesh out the reality of the Bad Guys and makes them less abstract.

Now here's a question:

We don't see any mortals get long life without a Ring. How does the Mouth live long enough to forget his name? I also didn't buy that he was only like 89 years old; that's when he rose in Sauron's service. We haven't seen or heard of Black Numenoreans by that name since very early in the Third Age. If he in fact is older than he should be, but is not a Nazgul, what is the deal?

I would speculate that Sauron may be making use of one of the Seven.

I would also ask what happened to him? If he was a holder of a Ring he should move on to his stated age like Bilbo did; but if I was Aragorn I woudl want to either catch or kill him lest he set himself up as a leader of insurgents later...
9. Lemnoc
I believe the Mouth was a Dark Numenorean, of the same terribly long-lived line as Aragorn.
10. Jamsco
To see my compilations of aphoristic quotes from Book 5, go here:
11. Dr. Thanatos

There is no question that he was a Black Numenorean; but that doesn't mean that he's recent. The last previous reference I can find to Black Numenoreans prior to Mouthie is at the time of the founding of the Corsairs who I think were described as descendents of the Black Numenoreans. I think that our friend is much older than Aragorn...
12. pilgrimsoul
@ Dr. Thanatos 11

"Mouthie" LOL! Let's call him that from now on.
13. (still) Steve Morrison
Gandalf may have thought that Frodo or Sam was dead. Remember that the Mouth always spoke in the singular of the “prisoner”, and that Gandalf never disabused him; Gandalf may have still hoped one of them was still alive and had the Ring. (All this was hashed out on a previous read-through on Usenet.)
j p
14. sps49
I read this before The Empire Strikes Back and was sure, even then, that Sauron would not stop at the Misty Mountains ("I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.")

Add "Mouthie" to those underestimating Hobbits, although his laughing at Pippin was just mean.
15. Dr. Thanatos
@pilgrimsoul 12

I considered Dentalboy, Halitosis Harry, etc but Mouthie seemed to work best for me...
16. Lemnoc
Dr. Thanatos-- You're probably right that Mouthie (great name) is probably a fair piece older than Aragorn. At 78 years old, Strider was a bit of a whippersnapper as Numenoreans go.
17. Jerry Friedman
Why the heck is Minas Morgul "lifeless"? Surely the alliance's march would have looked like an attack or Mordor through Minas Morgul, and Sauron would have started assembling his forces there before moving them to the Black Gate when he saw the West's army turning that way. And why are the Nazgúl "abroad"? What do they have to do that's more important than watching and frightening the attackers?

After the attempted ambush, the Nazgúl fly above our heroes. We were told in "Many Meetings" that the Ring draws them. Good thing they don't notice that they aren't being drawn toward Aragorn or anyone.

The leaders go to the parley with "the banner". Seems rather rude not to have the banner of Rohan there too.

Did anyone else have trouble telling who was riding and who was walking during the parley? Everybody rides there, and at the end Mouthie "leaped upon his steed". When did he dismount, and why? I'd think he'd stay on his horse as befits his position in life. And was Gandalf on foot when he took the mail-coat, cloak, and sword? When did he dismount, and why?

Was Pippin supposed to hide? Why?

"Elvish glass"—I think I first read that as the emerald, but could it also be the palantír that Aragorn challenged Sauron with?

Thanks for interesting comments on the negotiation. I'll have to think about those.
18. Marc Rikmenspoel
The Mouth probably did have a ring, just not one of the Nine Rings. Sauron made test rings (I don't remember if this is canon or not, but it makes sense he made some minor rings before the making of the Nine, the Seven, the Three and the One), and would have given these out to his servants.

I've mentioned before the MERP gaming products from Iron Crown Enterprises. Their Gorgoroth campaign guide gives a good non-canonical look at the politics of Mordor, with back stories for all the Nazgul and other important figures such as the Mouth. It isn't official, but I find it fascinating, and worth seeking out.
j p
19. sps49
Jerry Friedman @17-

Good catch on the Nazgul Ring-sensing. Heck, anyone wearing the One should've been trying to command them.

Minas Morgul is not a good place from which to assail Mordor. Morgul Vale is a nasty place to lay siege from; there isn't anything that should be eaten there, IIRC. The place also has a definite doom and gloom that was not mentioned at the Black Gate. If the fortress is taken, you are still on the wrong side of the mountains. Last, there isn't a lot of room to field large armies like the traditional Dagorlad.

As a long wall, the Black Gate should be more likely to have a weak/ undermanned point, necessitating a large force to defend it.

Attacking Minas Morgul just wouldn't be a threat to Sauron.
mark Proctor
20. mark-p
Aragon is very different to World War I generals who probably would have shot men for cowardice if they couldn't cope with going to the front line.

Marc @18:
In the felowship Gandalf says there were lesser rings made by elves so Sauron may have made them too but Gandalf also talks about the greater rings stretching out a mortals life and it dosn't sound like the lesser rings would do the same.
I think he was just from a race with long lives but he also practiced sorcery so could have found a way to extend his life that way.

The Voice of Sauron sounds to me rather like Saruman (without the magic in his voice). Maybe they both learnd to speak like that from Sauron,
21. Dr. Thanatos
Along these lines:

Gandalf says "only the Great Rings give long life." The Three don't do this how do you make an elf's life longer? Make him watch your home movies; it'll seem longer]. I don't recall any evidence to suggest that the Dwarves of Durin's line, the only ones we met with a Ring, lived longer than other dwarves; the Nine had extended lives before going wraith; not much evidence that this was a general effect of the great rings as opposed to Sauron's direct influence on them via the Rings. So where does Gandalf get this generalization?

My best guess would be that in origin the 16 Great Rings were basically identical and only were differentiated into Seven and Nine based on how they were handed out .The Three were made by the Elves separately and for a specific purpose. And to bolster my theory that Mouthy may have had one of the Seven, Sauron got his hands on Durin's Ring maybe a hundred years before the action in the Hobbit and therefore 161 years before LOTR. This might fit with the rise in service and therefore favor of Mouthy to Barad-Dur. Coincidence?
Kate Nepveu
22. katenepveu
Have I mentioned lately how awesome you all are? Because you are.

Sheruman @ #1, I don't believe I've said welcome before, so, welcome.

pilgrimsoul @ #2, Mouthie (TM Dr. Thanatos) is certainly creepy and intellectually I appreciate that he's nastier than Shelob, but he doesn't affect me as strongly because his appearance is so much shorter and because, I think, he's ultimately less effective in his nastiness than he could be.

DemetriosX @ #3, good point. Frodo "heard and saw no more" at the end of Book I, and Sam "knew no more" partway through "The Choices of Master Samwise," when he is emotionally blinded by grief. I will say that in those contexts, I did not consider it a serious possibility that either were dead.

tonyz @ #4, thanks for pointing out both the Nazgul fading into a group, and that Gandalf knows that Sauron hasn't put on the Ring yet--that is something that entirely escaped me until now.

a-j @ #6, and the different tone between Aragorn's act and the St. Crispin's Day speech tells you quite a bit about what you need to know about _LotR_.

Masha Stekker @ #7, it wasn't just Pippin: "those nearby . . . did not doubt that (Gandalf) would accept." Which I'm going to attribute partly to the mind-clouding effects of the Nazgul and whatever persuasive power Mouthie might have that overlaps with Saruman's, because it's a ridiculous thing to think clear-headed.

Dr. Thanatos, Lemnoc, mark-p, Marc Rikmenspoel, re: the age of Mouthie: "Aragorn indeed lived to be two hundred and ten years old, longer than any of his line since King Arvegil." I was figuring Mouthie might've been, max, 100 naturally before entering Sauron's service 68 years ago, which is why I said he wasn't centuries old--I should've been more explicit about my math. To the extent that longer life is needed to account for his having forgotten his name (and personally I incline against that because it's creepier that way), I lean toward non-ring-based sorcery (at which he is said to be very knowledgable).

Steve Morrison @ #13, yes, I should've explicitly flagged that Pippin thinks the prisoner is Frodo and that Gandalf is very careful not to suggest that more than one hobbit went to Mordor.

Jerry Friedman @ #17, I think the Elvish glass refers to the green stone since he's been proclaimed as the King Elessar, which means Elfstone.
23. formerly DaveT
as I was reading the journey through Mordor I was surprised at how little landscape description we got

But there's no journey through Mordor here -- Mordor is on the other side of the Black Gate. This is just the trip _to_ Mordor, through ruined parts of Ithilien.

As for Pippin's use of informal pronouns, I've mentioned to you before that my biggest disappointment with the French translation of LotR (by F. Ledoux) is that it completely missed the chance to make this explicit, in a language that still uses both formal and familiar pronouns in everyday language. Pippin uses "vous" in Minas Tirith, just like everyone else. It would have been so easy to fix that, if the translator had actually read the Appendices (or Tolkiens note to translators).

"It would have been glorious."
24. Dr. Thanatos

There is an assumption we're making regarding Mouthie. He is stated to be a Black Numenorean, a group we know to be for all intents and purposes extinct at the time of LOTR. We are given the statement that he entered the service of the Dark Tower "when it first rose again."

When was that?

We've been thinking that means when it rose again in the Third Age after it's razing by Isildur and company. But did it take damage in the Second Age when Ar-Pharazon by the way, a great name for an evil sea-king---pirates have been saluting him for years. Ar-matey, anyone?] landed and captured Sauron? If so, you could argue that the first "rising again" of Barad Dur was during a time when the Black Numenoreans were an active existing group. Which would make Mouthie over 3500 years old...

I don't know if the Numenorean armies made it all the way to Mordor or if Sauron surrendered right there on the shore where the monument was placed in Umbar. But it does make for a good story...
25. Confutus
Besides all the other reasons for not going through Minas Morgul, there was Gandalf's urgent advice on the matter.

Minas Morgul was a convenient place to assemble for a siege of Minas Tirith, but now Gondor had a mobile army in the field and any forces gathered at Minas Morgul would have been seriously out of place to meet it if by some chance Aragorn did go north.

Instead, as we learn later, Frodo and Sam couldn't take a direct route from Minas Morgul to Mt. Doom because there was a great honking army assembling on the Plateau of Gorgoroth right in their way, ready to go either northward or southward to intercept Gondor's army whichever route it took. Since it was amply supplied with aerial reconnaisance reports, the commanders would know which way to go in plenty of time.

The puzzling failure of the Nazgul to detect and positively identify the new Ringlord, which they ought to have been able to do, must have been one of the reasons for Sauron to be as full of doubt as Gandalf reported he was.
26. Jerry Friedman
@DaveT: The Spanish translation blows that too. Pippin calls Denethor vos (using the vosotros conjugation—I think this combination is obsolete everywhere, which is fine), as Merry calls Théoden. Most of the other conversation uses .

@sps49: I'm glad we agree on the Nazgúl.

I'm not sure what someone with the Ring, who means to use it, "should" do. Practice on small things first? Would that attract Sauron's and the Nazgúl's attention?

Minas Morgul isn't just undermanned; it's unmanned (or un-orked). Yes, Morgul Vale is discouraging and offers no food or water, but the same is true of the area around the Black Gate. "So desolate were those places and so deep the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned..." Morgul Vale seems to be worse, I admit.

Anyway, assailing Mordor through the Black Gate would be impossible without the Ring, so Sauron apparently assumes they have it. But if they have it, they can also get through Minas Morgul and the pass, and he needs to defend that too.

By the way, Minas Morgul is empty of "the Orcs and lesser creatures of Mordor that had dwelt there". Does anyone know what lesser creatures these are?
27. pilgrimsoul
One reason I find Mouthie so unsettling is that he is a human being who supposedly knew better and embraced corruption. I, too, had the impression he was very, very old--his boss probably having the means unnaturally to prolong his life with or without resort to rings.
Interesting point about Nazgul not being aware of absence of ring in Aragorn's army.
28. Dr. Thanatos
vis-a-vis the Nazgul not being able to spot the absence of the Ring...

While the Ring called to them, it seems to me that this was a rather weak sense. In the Shire, the Nazgul seemed to have a habit of missing the hobbits over and over; they would ride past them. Sure, Frodo had the urge to Put It On, but until he did they seemed clueless.

In Morgul Vale Book IV, Frodo was within spitting distance of our old friend Angmar; the Witch King, arguably the most powerful of the Nazgul, "sensed some other Power in his valley" but rode on when Frodo didn't Put It On. Does anyone think that if the Ring called to him and he had caller ID, he he would have said "hot dawg, the Ring is in the area; I'll just ride off into the distance without investigating or sending a message to the Big Guy that it's somewhere around here?"

I think that the Ring-sense is a lot less specific than we are giving it credit for...
29. Jerry Friedman
Confutus @ #25: I'm not discussing why the West doesn't attack Minas Morgul; I'm discussing why Sauron leaves it undefended. He doesn't know about Gandalf's excellent reason not to attack that way.

I see no reason to assume that orcs in Minas Morgul couldn't get to the Black Gate in time to fight the West. They seem to have good roads, orcs are good at forced marches, and the army of the West is taking its time. And I don't know much military history, but I find it very strange that a country threatened with invasion wouldn't put at least some troops in a fort on its border, especially since it greatly outnumbers the attackers and wants to have a better idea of their capabilities.

To put it another way, strategically Minas Morgul looks just like the Black Gate. They're the only two ways in with roads, they're both so fortified that the West has no hope of getting in against any defense unless they use the Ring, and you have to go through horrifying regions to get to them. Morgul Vale is more horrifying and weakening, but that doesn't seem like enough of a difference to have all the defenders at the Black Gate when the West gets there, and none at Minas Morgul when the West gets there.

By the way, Frodo and Sam see Mordor's army in Gorgoroth on the day of the debate, March 16, before Sauron knows the West will attack.

Dr. Thanatos @ #28: My feeling is that the Nazgúl's Ring sense isn't very consistent. As you point out, one of them got close in the Shire without knowing which way to go. On the other hand their King noticed something just riding by. It's strange that the remaining eight, flying over the army of the West for four days, don't notice that they don't notice anything.

No doubt, as Confutus said, this contributes to Sauron's feelings of doubt. The risk is that he'll start to doubt that the army really has the Ring, and wonder where else it is and what the army is doing, and think about the hobbit who's gotten into Mordor.

(By the way, the Watcher in the Water and the orc-chieftain in the Chamber of Mazarbul both attacked Frodo first. Did they too have a Ring sense at close range? Or did the orcs at least know his description down so well the chieftain could recognize him in a split second? Shagrat and Gorbag showed no signs of recognizing him.)
30. Jerry Friedman
DemetriosX @ #3: I can't agree that Pippin has drawn level with Merry. He's still behind, and the disparity gets a little greater in "The Scouring of the Shire". Maybe this is part of not writing "war porn", not making things perfectly satisfying for the main characters.

Others have said that Black Númenoreans are naturally long-lived, but I don't think it's all that much, since "After the fall of Sauron their race swiftly dwindled or became merged with the Men of Middle-earth." (Footnote in Appendix A, I, iv.) Mouthie must be using magic, his or Sauron's. I see no reason to think he's using any kind of ring. I appreciate Kate's point on the dating, though, since I was one of those who thought he was centuries or millennia old.

During the battle, I was surprised that Aragorn wasn't fighting. Maybe he was following the Gondorean custom, unlike Rohan, where the king can fight. But if he's going to watch and direct the battle till it gets to him, I'm surprised he's not on horseback.

The negotiation: "Here are the marks of a conspiracy" is wonderfully absurd, just the way evil people do propaganda.

Like Kate, I thought this scene was pointless. Obviously Gandalf isn't going to accept the terms. Why does Sauron want any concessions when he's about to annihilate the majority of Gondor's and Rohan's fighting strength? He wants to save soldiers for Lórien, Rivendell, etc.? Why does he waste words and then say that's not what they came there for? And "I know them all and all their history" isn't much of a comeback, and "what he must else fight many a war to gain" is one of his rhetorical exaggerations.

But Sauron's motivation is clear: he wants to see (or have reported to him) people's faces when Mouthie brings out Frodo's stuff, and he's hoping someone will let slip some clue about Frodo and Sam's mission.

If the witnesses of West had time to think, they'd realize that Sauron doesn't have the Ring (or if he does, there's no point in anything but not getting taken alive, which might be harder in that case). But of course they're shocked at first. I hadn't realized that Gandalf's demand to have Frodo turned over to them was intended to figure out whether Frodo is a prisoner.

And all this matters for nothing but the morale of the people present. They have no course of action but to fight.

I don't see why Mouthie has to hesitate when Gandalf asks him to turn Frodo over. If you're going to try to deceive people, you should be prepared for what they'll do if you succeed.
31. Dr. Thanatos

I still don't see it as a Ring-sense. If Angmar sensed a Ring in his vicinity when Frodo and company were at Minas Morgul, wouldn't he have done the math hmmm, a Ring is nearby; let's see, 20 minus 3 minus seven minus 9...gee, I dunno; which Ring could it be]? He didn't sense the Ring; he sensed that something was there.

There's no reason to suppose that Mouthie has a Ring to extend his life; he could be using sorcery and it's all speculation. But I like the idea. We know that Sauron gathered 3 of the Dwarf rings; what does he want them for? I don't think even Sauron would use them for body piercings; we know that the last time he had his hands on Rings he put them to good use, giving them to Men and turning them into useful servants. Is there any reason to doubt that he might want to put the three Dwarf Rings he has to some use other than as napkin holders?

As I said, it's all speculation. But I see a guy who may have entered Sauron's service at about the time he got his paws on a Dwarf Ring who is a sorcerer and has un-naturally long life . The mathematician in me sees a certain symmetry in Mouthie getting his long life the same way Angmar did; not directly from sorcery but from a Ring.
32. lampwick
One of the things that bugged me about the movie was Aragorn killing the Mouth. It seemed a very unchivalrous, un-Aragorn thing to do. Aren't heralds supposed to be given safe passage? (That's not rhetorical -- I really don't know.)
33. Dr. Thanatos
That is correct, lampwick.

In the book this is referenced:

Mouthie feels threatened and notes that he is a herald; he is reminded what diplomatic behavior is.

As Professor Olsen says, remember that the movie is telling a different story than the book, just with a lot of the same names.
34. Confutus
Mouthie seems to have had several purposes for riding out. One was to gloat over and torment the opposition. For another, as has been noted, he also seems to have been fishing for information about the spy Sauron hadn't quite caught. For another, with all the taunting and swagger, he was also trying to bluff Gandalf and Aragorn into surrender. Lastly is to is to deliver the standard bully line "gimme or I'll thrash you and take it anyway". Sauron doesn't seem to greatly care whether the armies of the west are surrendered slaves or dead foes, except that the first would be preferable if he can get it without a fight.

For all Mouthie's trouble, he gets nothing. No appreciation for his thespian talent. His bluff about a high-value prisoner was called. He did get a passing moment of anguish, but this was followed a perfectly accurate insult "Slave of a treacherous liar", a dismissal, and a death threat. No useful information on the spy. No surrender. He even loses the tokens he came out with. That's plenty of excuse for a foaming rage.
Soon Lee
35. SoonLee
DemetriosX @3:
"deus ex aquila"


Re: mouthie
I'm partial to Mouthie's possession of one of the Dwarven rings as the reason for his longevity. It seems more likely that Sauron would use the rings rather than hoarding them like a dragon. It's also apt that Sauron would 'gift' his more powerful subordinates with items that would enhance his power over them.
Soon Lee
36. SoonLee
Mouthie's description:
"... and its face was a frightful mask, more like a skull than a living head, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame."

That doesn't read like the description of someone who was still human. Maybe of someone partway to becoming a wraith?
37. (still) Steve Morrison
I thought that was a description of Mouthie’s horse rather than of him.
Soon Lee
38. SoonLee
Drat. You are right. Hangs head in shame...
Andrew Foss
39. alfoss1540
Entering Mordor - Morgal Vale - Mouuntain Pass that is not too easy to march an army through, with an unassailable keep at the top that is likely to have at lest a couple things in it - we know from Frodo and Sam that there were a few orcs and the Watchers of course. Gorgoroth, despite the iron gatyes and 100,000 defenders, allowed full access in a pass that could be used.
40. radagastslady
re Mouthie's longevity
I don't necessarily read him having a particularly long live. This idea seems premised on his having lost his own name. Another explanation for that is the sheer trauma and submission of his will to that of Sauron. We do not credit amnesia victims with extended lives for forgetfulness, just the trauma. Sauron has so dominated Mouthie's personality that he is by the time of the meeting merely an echo of his master. No need for rings or extended lifetime.
Andrew Foss
41. alfoss1540
As for Mouthie - He is a tool. I can't imagine much glamor in his postition. Does he get a palatial wing in Barad Dur? Is he treated to glorious meals? Is his position one of grandeur? No - He is the mouthpiece. Sauron's top rung piss boy, ready to be replaced by piss boy #2 or #3. Sauron does not give a hoot about his creatures and I highly doubt he receives anything but the ability to kick at underlings. He is so harshly treated that he can't even remember his own name.

As for Book V - I hated this chapter - only enough narrative to get us to back to Frodo and a true let down to a massively awesome book of Chivalry. Looking at each of the other books - 1-2 could easily been the same as the end of the Breaking of the Fellowship marked the end of that action III, IV and V each had their own action. The final chapter wrapped up the loose ends, but not a great chapter overall.
42. Dr. Thanatos

It's not only the name business; that kinda startedthe discusison.

He's a Black Numenorean. This is like saying he's an Assyrian, or a Carthaginian. The Black Numenoreans haven't been around for a very long time.

The question is open regarding how old Mouthie is, but I think there's strong evidence to suggest he's been around a long time.

Again, this is all just a fun speculation. But filling in the blanks that have been left blank is half the fun. Midrash, we call it in my world...
jon meltzer
43. jmeltzer
@41: The Mouth knows that if he messes up, he will be replaced by his subordinate: The Tonsils of Sauron.
44. Dr. Thanatos

The situation is more grim than that. If Mouthie messes up he will be demoted to a much more degrading part of Sauron's GI tract...
jon meltzer
45. jmeltzer
@44: That's what the Mouth's Orc-subordinates call him. And Orcish is a highly vulgar and descriptive language.
Andrew Foss
46. alfoss1540
As we will shortly see with Gorbag and Shagrat in the Secret Life of Orcs. The enemy has their own view of the future and the good life - Finding a hole somewhere with men women and children nearby to terrorize and eat. But where is the incentive for the Men? Especially those close to the top. You would think after 70 years in service that Mouthie would have risen to the point of gaining something - possible a beautiful mountain airey in upper Ephel Duath overlooking the fetid fumes of Orodruin? hmmm what a wonderful thought.

Mouthie being sent to Parlay the enemy usurpers at the gate, he does admirably. The Nazgul could not have gotten anything from Humans. Orc/Troll Negotiators??? And if Sauron simply wants to see them play their cards - and trump with the One Ring, he still has 100,000 nutty orcs and creatures ready to try to overwhelm them all.

Also for the Ring drawing attention, it is when Frodo puts it on and declares it for himself that Sauron notices. It doesn't seem to get his attention while Sam is wearing it us a Minas Morgul next chapter, despite Sam being in Mordor (or at the gate). It seems to require some intent on ownership before awareness sets in.
Michael Ikeda
47. mikeda
Dr. Thanatos@42

There are Assyrians NOW. And they do at least claim a link back to the Assyrians in Ancient Mesopotamia.

And many Lebanese Christians used to (perhaps still do) like to call themselves Phoenicians.
Soon Lee
48. SoonLee
Not to mention that the Corsairs of Umbar number among their ancestors Black Numenoreans & Gondorians of high blood who fled there during the Kin Wars. Memories being as long as they are in our world, it is unsurprising there if the Corsairs self-identify as True Numenoreans (the rightful bearers of that legacy).
49. Dr. Thanatos
@47 Mikeda and @48 SoonLee,

There are those who claim descent from the Assyrians; Mussolini claimed descent and identity with the Romans on behalf of Italians of the early 20th Century; and some Lebanese Christians do identify themselves as Phoenecians. I don't know the the basis for these claims and here is not the forum for that.

Tolkein, however, was a bit of a purist regarding bloodlines. And if he said that Mouthie was a Black Numenorean, I think he would have meant the real thing, not someone claiming descent from the Black Numenoreans.

There's also no reference in LOTR or any of the supporting texts that I am aware of to the Corsairs identifying themselves as Numenoreans; at one point they laid claim to the throne of Gondor based on their leader's descent from the line of Anarion; I find it difficult to believe that honest-to-Eru Black Numenoreans would claim descent from the House of Elendil...

Again, this is all fun speculation; my point being that there is ample evidence to suggest that our Friend Sauron's Oropharynx may be older than 100-200 years old which opens the door to speculation about how...

And we still haven't opened the discussion that was the second part of my original speculation: what happened to the Mouth after the battle, and if he wasn't croaked then and there, and if he didn't get away, what did Aragorn do with such a high-placed baddie? Was he executed? Imprisoned? Given work as spokesperson for the Arnorian Dental Care Advocacy Foundation ? There is a brief comment about the human enemies either surrendering or making a last stand; the absence of any specific mention of what happened to the dude who was apparently the highest-placed bad guy present is intriguing...
50. pilgrimsoul
@ Dr. Thanatos 49

Is there no limit to the fertility of your naming? Oropharynx! What a scream. But I'm sticking with Mouthie and picturing him doing public service announcements for the Anorian Dental Care Advocacy Foundation. Remember to floss, all!
51. Dr. Thanatos
@pilgrimsoul 50

You can just call me Name-O...
52. Lemnoc
@ Dr. Thanatos 51:

Or a Black Name-orean.
53. Dr. Thanatos
If I were in the direct line of descent from Elendil would that make me Prince Name-or?

sorry, it's late at night...
54. Jerry Friedman
Dr. Thanatos @ #31: I completely agree that when the King of the Nazgúl paused while riding out from Minas Morgul, he just knew or suspected he detected something. It's not clear, or necessarily consistent, what the Nazgúl are aware of when the Ring is near them, or whether they're consciously trying to make Frodo put it on, then or earlier. If the Ring "draws" them, as both Gandalf and Aragorn say, why did it stop drawing the Nazgúl who was almost on top of Frodo in the Shire?

Sauron gloats over the rings, as Smaug over treasure—pace SoonLee. (Yes, that's just as speculative as the possibility that he extends upper servants' lives with them.)

alfoss1540 @ #46: Putting the Ring on or intending to or intending to use it seems to have something to do with it, as you say, but I don't think it's the whole story. The Nazgúl stops when passing Frodo in the Shire, and their King stops when riding out of Minas Morgul, and both times Frodo didn't think about the Ring until after they stopped. It was probably lucky for Sam no Nazgúl was around when he actually put the Ring on in Minas Morgul. Either that, or Tolkien was thinking more about drama than consistency (which is fine).

@ #30: The Black Gate is just as impregnable as Minas Morgul and the pass. "...towers and walls which their army could not assault with hope, not even if it had brought thither engines of great power, and the Enemy had no more force than would suffice for the manning of the gate and wall alone." I still see no reason for Sauron to be confident that the West would attempt one impossible feat rather than the other.

The narration says there are no orcs or "lesser creatures" in Minas Morgul, but I agree there seem to be a couple. Not enough to defend it, though. And Sauron knows somebody got past the Watchers, so I'd think he'd consider the possibility that Gandalf could do it.

Confutus @ #34: Mouthie certainly acts as if he's trying to bluff his enemies into surrender, but was there the slightest chance, even from his point of view? If they have the Ring, they're certainly not going to surrender no matter what. And if they don't, you'd think the 60,000+ troops would be a better argument.
55. Jerry Friedman
And another thing...

Mouthie is, it is told, "of the race of those that are named the Black Númenóreans". That seems to be consistent with the possibility that he's descended from them but hasn't survived from their time.

And he is "no Ringwraith but a living man". So his life hasn't been extended for thousands of years by a ring of power, because it would have turned him into a wraith by this time. I think you can have 3,500 years or a dwarf-ring as the main life-extender, but not both.
56. EmmaPease
The big advantage of the Black Gate was that it was far wider than the pass at Minas Morgul and it was supported by the power of the one ring (otherwise it wouldn't have come down when the ring was destroyed).

Gandalf et al. may have been hoping that Sauron would think the holder of the ring was thinking of using the power of the ring to bring down the gate. There was no other rational reason (from Sauron's point of view) for the army to be doing what it was doing. As for not perceiving someone holding it, Sauron may have thought some power was muting the perception (someone such as Gandalf) or that the person holding it was fool enough to think that putting it on was sufficient to master it and so was not intending to wear it until necessary (there is the drawback of being invisible). Sauron was probably waiting for someone to put it on and try to use it when someone actually did but in a completely unexpected place.
57. Confutus
Why wouldn't Sauron imagine he could bluff Gandalf and co. into surrender? The "Resistance is futile" line had worked on both Saruman and Denethor. As he judged matters, Gandalf and Aragorn were weaklings and cowards by comparison. (We as readers know better, but Sauron doesn't). He had the numbers to make the line even more convincing now.

But we are told specifically that "he had a mind first to play these mice cruelly before he struck to kill", so the intended point of this little playlet had little to do with whether the terms Sauron was offering were acceptable or would be accepted. It was to force a hard choice between immediate annihilation or, at best, life in slavery. That bit of cruelty failed because Gandalf and Aragorn didn't agonize over that choice. They'd already made it.

As far as the Ring goes, it might feed the new Ringlord's pride, but it certainly wasn't going to give any real help against its maker and true master. Quite the opposite, so that possibility was covered, too.
Birgit F
58. birgit
was not intending to wear it until necessary (there is the drawback of being invisible)

Sauron wasn't invisible when he wore it. What it does probably depends on who uses it. The hobbits only use it to become invisible, but someone more powerful could use it for other purposes and only become invisible when he wants to.
Michael Ikeda
59. mikeda
Jerry Friedman@55

Of course, a complicating factor in all this analysis is that things are phrased in a way that leaves open the possibility that some or all of the biographical information about the Mouth is actually false.

Assuming that the biographical information is true, I agree with Kate that the Mouth probably entered Sauron's service around 2951.

It seems considerably more plausible to me that there were people with a reasonable claim to Black Numenorean descent in 2951 than that a human could survive the entire Third Age without turning into a wraith (or at least into something that could not reasonably be described as "a living man").
60. Dr. Thanatos
Okay, so we've beaten to death the question of whether Mouthie has gotten around the mandatory retirement age or not.

What about the question of what happened to him? Any pet theories?
61. pilgrimsoul
Re Mouthie pet theories
Sorry, I got nuthin' As far as I thought about it I assumed he perished with the ruin of the boss. This is a lesson to all of us BTW.
More seriously--Mouthie was SO identified with Sauron and So subsumed in evil, that I just can't picture any survival or repentance. Once the ring is gone, I think he's finished as well.
62. Dr. Thanatos
I had never thought about it before this discussion, but I could imagine him heading east and being on the other side of the field when the Horse and Tree went forth to battle in the east before the Tree could flower in peace.

On the other hand, my theory that all supernatural creatures are being taken off the board to jes' folks can have their day would require that he take the Evil equivalent of a Grey Ship .

I still like the idea of him being a spokesperson for dental products, but that's just me...
63. Jerry Friedman
EmmaPease @ #56: That's a good point, imho, about the Black Gate being apparently built with the Ring but not Minas Morgul. However, if one could destroy the Gate using the Ring, I still don't see that it could make Sauron so confident that the West wouldn't attack through Minas Morgul. Can he be sure that Gandalf knows about how the Black Gate was built and that Gandalf plus the Ring can't get the Army through Minas Morgul in a reasonably short time?

Also a good point about the possibility that the Nazgúl might think Gandalf was blocking their Ring perception. He certainly has immunity to some kinds of magical observation.

confutus @ #57: I was thinking Sauron wouldn't imagine he could bluff Gandalf and Aragorn into surrender because if they'd rather surrender than fight a much larger army, they'd have stayed in Minas Tirith behind walls with the rest of their forces. If they're seeking to fight whatever he's got at the Black Gate, the capture of one infiltrator can hardly make a difference.

Why would he think they're cowards and weaklings compared to Denethor? Because he thinks they have the Ring but haven't used it? I can't imagine his impression of Aragorn from their conversation with the palantíri resembles his impression of Denethor during their last conversation ditto.

In other words, Sauron has every reason to believe Gandalf and Aragorn have already made that choice you mention. The only cruelty I see is taunting them with the supposed capture of Frodo and his upcoming torture.

I agree there's a good possibility the Ring wouldn't help them much and might even hurt them. We don't really know what the Ring can do even for Sauron. On the other hand, Gandalf is a pretty good wizard, and he might be able to make the Nazgúl, and maybe others, change sides.

Dr. Thanatos @ #60: I'd never thought about Mouthie's fate before this thread. I don't see him as very brave. When he gallops away from our heroes, he might take refuge in the safest place around, either Carchost or Narchost.
64. EmmaPease
I agree the Mouth may have retreated to the gate fortifications (high position, ideal for overseeing the battle) and got caught when they collapsed.

Jerry, Sauron can probably move forces to block the pass at Minas Morgul if necessary but I also suspect there is evil in that vale that doesn't need orcs or men to do its fighting. Shelob (does Sauron know she has been wounded), the watchers, etc. Sauron had good reason to hate Isildur, and, I think he ensured the place where Isildur had established himself would become a byword for deep evil.

Sauron can't be sure that Gandalf knows how the gates are tied to the ring just that it might be something Gandalf knows (or for that matter the sons of Elrond since their father is the greatest loremaster in Middle Earth). What Sauron is trying to do is come up with a plausible to him reason for why the Army of the West is doing what it is doing, marching to the Black Gate. That the army's leaders are sacrificing it and themselves to keep Sauron's eye away from the true danger is not something he can comprehend (now if Aragorn or Gandalf or the sons of Elrond had remained behind he might think the move was sacrificial with the true leader staying safely away).
David Levinson
65. DemetriosX
Sauron has a number of reasons to expect the army of the West to come to the Black Gate. Not only is the Morgul Vale filled with all sorts of nameless evils, the approach through the Cirith Ungol is difficult. And at the top is another fortress which he may believe to still be fully manned (orced, whatever).

More importantly, the fields outside the Black Gate are the place where Isildur fought him. He would naturally expect Isildur's heir to do the same. You could put this down to a lack of imagination on the part of Evil, but the idea of doing the unexpected strategically is fairly new. Even WWI lacked a lot of strategic surprises (which was a big part of the problem). Really, until the second quarter of the 20th century, warfare was usually set-piece battles in expected places. Strategy consisted of forcing the fight in an obvious place that favored you. Surprises and the unexpected were reserved for tactics on the battlefield. The very concept of a flank attack through the Morgul or even an end run to the south to get around the mountains is a very modern one that doesn't really fit in Middle Earth.
66. Confutus
Mouthie says of Aragorn, "Any brigand of the hills can show as good a following". Less than six thousand? When Elrond and Elendil had brought real armies? If he had been any better than Denethor, why wasn't he in command at Minas Tirith in the first place? He must be some kind of witless fool driven by pride or maybe suicidal desperation to challenge Sauron the Great with that small an army.

Gandalf is also clearly a coward. "If thou shouldst dare come" and "Have we not heard of thee at whiles, and of thy wanderings, ever hatching plots and mischief at a safe distance?". To Sauron, qualities such as mercy, pity, compassion, and fairness are weaknesses. At least Saruman settled down and build up an army: Gandalf did no such thing, obviously because he didn't have what it took.

By all appearances, there is nothing to worry about, but there are all these niggling doubts. Given that his gathered opponents here somehow managed to beat off an attack that by all calculation should have succeeded, they aren't quite negligible.

So a bluff with a prisoner and an attempt to extort a surrender might seem to him to have at least a reasonable chance of working, as well as offering a bit of entertainment. If by some chance they didn't work that's no great setback. Orcs and men are expendable, there are plenty at hand and more where they came from.
67. Dr. Thanatos
Regards these topics:

Morgul Vale---it's a narrow valley by all descriptions; may not be feasible for a large army to pass through. Certainly valleys are more easily defended than wide gaps in mountains with big plains in front of them. Aragorn also made warnings about no one stepping foot in Morgul Vale because of the madness lurking there; I suspect the place had it's own innate defences.

Mouthie and the Parley---it's clear the big S had no intention of accepting a surrender: he had the big army waiting and Mouthie did reference playing with mice before springing. This was also obvious to Aragorn and company, referring to Sauron the Base Master of Treachery . Seems to me that everyone was on the same page---yack yack let's get on with the slayage...
68. Jerry Friedman
EmmaPease @ #64: I'm talking about when the Army of the West gets to Morgul-vale and Sauron doesn't know their intentions yet, not when he's trying to understand why they came to the Black Gate.

Sauron should know that Shelob has wounded, since Shagrat brought the mithril coat etc. to Barad-dûr on March 17 and the West got to Morgul-vale on the 19th. Shagrat knew someone had stuck a pin in Her Ladyship and I assume he'd report it. That's why, in a future chapter, Higher Up thinks there was a great Elf loose.

@DemetriosX @ #65: I'll take your word for the history, but an attack on Minas Morgul is not a flank attack; it's the direct line. And it's not out of keeping for Middle-earth, since Imrahil suggests it.

Your other reasons increase the probability, from Sauron's point of view, that the Army of the West will attack the Black Gate, but I don't see that they make him so certain that he leaves it empty. Anyway, once he learns that someone of apparently considerable power has tried to infiltrate that way, and probably that someone has gotten past the Watchers, and that his pet spider is probably off the job, I'd think he'd at least send a small guard to make sure no one else tries the same thing.

The weird thing for me is that Tolkien didn't need to say the fort was empty. He didn't need to mention it at all, or he could have used one of his usual lines about unseen eyes behind the windows.

Confutus @ #66: Sauron has excellent reason to know Gandalf isn't a coward. Gandalf snuck (apologies to our friends across the Water) into Dol Guldur, he led the attack on it, he fought the Balrog alone, he faced the Lord of the Nazgúl alone. Likewise he knows Aragorn got the Dead to help and fought at Minas Tirith. Also, Mouthie sees that the company coming to parley is flying Aragorn's royal banner only, so he has reason to believe that Aragorn wasted little time in taking command. Sauron certainly may think they're witless fools for behaving ethically, but Mouthie's comments about Gandalf seem like repeating a popular slander to bait his enemies, not something his master can seriously believe.
69. Confutus
Sauron did leave a small force to guard Minas Morgul after the big siege force marched out, but that fell to Frodo's pretty mail shirt. He might then have left the way open and unguarded in hope of luring Aragorn's force in to meet the big army assembling in front of Mt. Doom where there was more room to maneuver.

We as readers also know a great deal more about what Gandalf has been up to lately than Sauron ought to. I'm not sure he would have seen sneaking in and out of Dol Guldur as an exercise of courage even if he did learn of it afterward, and it was Saruman, not Gandalf, at the head of the White Council when he pulled out of there. Gandalf's fight with the Balrog and return from the West took place out of Sauron's sight, and so did his final confrontation with Saruman and Aragorn's tryst with the Dead. I don't think the chief of the Nazgul had much time to report in between his triumphal entry through the shattered gate of Minas Tirith and eating Eowyn's sword. Mouthie's slanderous rhetoric might well have reflected his Master's actual estimate, although with that class of liar, it is hard to tell.
70. Dr. Thanatos
@69 Confutus

Mouthie's slanderous rhetoric? I think I know his post-war career: radio talk show host.

He could call it "The No-Floss Zone" and spend his time talking to his callers about all the problems with the Elessar administration...
71. pilgrimsoul
Such a good discussion. Wish I had something intelligent to add.
72. Dr. Thanatos
@71 Pilgrimsoul,

Everything you have contributed has been interesting. I've only been lobbing humor-bombs. Jump on in...
Soon Lee
73. SoonLee
Back to an earlier fork in the conversation, I also think the Book V is the best of the whole trilogy (Book VI comes close), but they are that good because the foundational work done in the preceding books allows them to soar.

Book V has the pay-off of massive battles, but coupled with intimate scenes against the epic backdrop, while Book VI, with the final battle & denouement provides closure & a very satisfying finish to the story.
David Levinson
74. DemetriosX
We've spent so much time talking about Mouthie and the effects of his speech on the characters, we've forgotten something important: the effect on the reader. Specifically, the first time reader.

We're all so familiar with what happens next, that we tend to forget that first-timers only know that Frodo was captured, still poisoned by Shelob. Suddenly, Mouthie whips out the mithril shirt. Does anyone remember what they thought at that moment? It's been 36 years, give or take a few days, for me, but I remember thinking Frodo must be in Sauron's hands, even if Sam was still on the loose. For those of us deeply familiar with the story, that shirt is just a minor incident (and Gandalf gets it back, hooray), but the first time you read that, it raises a lot of questions.
75. pilgrimsoul
I did my first read when I was fifteen and will decline to state how long ago that was! I do not remember any reactions to specific scenes but just being completely captured by the story and overwhelmed by excitement and suspense.
The reaction of more recent readers that I knew about surprised me because apparently . . . they weren't . . . Don't know how that can be.

@Dr. Thanatos You are both witty and kind.
76. Dr. Thanatos
I'll freely admit my first read was about 40 years or so ago; I can't remember my specific reaction to the evidence that Frodo was caught; my best guess is that it was along the lines of "there's a bunch more chapters with titles like "Mount Doom" so there's got to be something we don't know."

Sadly most of the first-timers I have heard from recently saw the "movie" first.
Tony Zbaraschuk
77. tonyz
Another reason for the West not attacking through the Morgul Vale; lack of water beyond that point. This is a major concern when you're marching large armies around (as the Crusaders learned in 1187 at the Horns of Hattin). On the road to the Black Gate, the Host of the West can get water from the Anduin and all the little streams of Ithilien; not so much in Mordor. (Presumably there's enough water in Udun to support armies there, but note that nobody moves armies from Barad-dur through Minas Morgul to Minas Tirith; Minas Morgul is a base of its own, not a waypoint.)
78. Jerry Friedman
Confutus @ #69: I agree that we don't know what Gandalf did in the attack on Dol Guldur, and Sauron might not know of Gandalf's furtive entry there, so I shouldn't have used those as an example. However, Sauron's in communication with the orcs of Moria, as "black Uruks of Mordor" are among those who attack the Chamber of Mazarbul. (Maybe they're the orcs who the elves of Lórien had seen marching north shortly before). So even if Sauron has no magical way of finding out what happens there, I'd think his orcs would have told him in the two months since the fight with the Balrog. Likewise "few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor," but that implies some did, and they may have included a witness to the confrontation at the gate. Also the Nazgúl were last mentioned circling over Minas Tirith, so they might know what happened. And as we'll see in "Mount Doom", Sauron can give the Nazgúl telepathic orders with little, so it seems very likely they can communicate with him telepathically, and their chief could easily have reported, "Can't kill Grey Fool and enter city. Horseboys attacking."

As for Aragorn, it appears that Sauron didn't know about the Dead up to the time of the battle, or he'd have warned somebody, but I'd think he'd wonder how his ships were taken over, and he could certainly have sent a Nazgúl to debrief survivors of Pelargir.

Maybe a battle on the plain of Gorgoroth would be a little more to Sauron's advantage, but it seems to me the situation in front of the Black Gate was quite good—he had the Army of the West separated into two groups, both surrounded.

tonyz @ #77: It's true that if there's water in Udûn, the Army of the West has to go something like 15 or 20 miles farther from the last good water to get to Barad-dûr, as far as I can make out. We don't know what Gandalf knows about the water situation in Mordor, though, and Sauron probably doesn't know what Gandalf knows either. Again, this doesn't strike me as a reason to leave Minas Morgul empty.

Since SoonLee has brought up the question of favorites, I'd like to ask Alfoss1540 what was so bad about this chapter. Not enough fighting? I wouldn't have minded seeing Aragorn, Éomer, Imrahil, etc., slice and dice a few Olog-hai, or Gandalf deploy the special effects.
James Hogan
79. Sonofthunder
In regards to the question on what I thought of "Frodo being captured", I must confess that my first exposure to LotR was at a friend's house many years ago; I started reading it and, being a fairly fast reader, I got a few chapters in before my parents were telling me it was time to go home. I then quickly flipped to the end of the book to a chapter called "Mt. Doom", since I had to know what happened to Frodo and the Ring. I quickly found the part with Gollum toppling over the edge and was satisfied, not to read the whole book for another year or so. Yep, I'm terrible.
80. pilgrimsoul
Isn't Morgul Vale poisonous somehow, and wouldn't Gandalf and Aragorn know this? I suppose I should go look it up.
Andrew Foss
81. alfoss1540
Jerry Friedman @78 - Book V was an incredible flight of fun from beginning to almost the end. For the final chapter - Incorrect Pacing - seemed narrated rather than acted. Thrown together to finish off book 5. Colorful characters I love turned into literary stick-figures going through the motions. The storyline was growing toward a cresecendo of a battle, and fell flat.

Can see the point that to do it justice in that line would have drawn it out another 50 pages and we needed to get on with it. BUT it felt like it.

DemetriosX @74 Confusion and Worry - not quite shock and Awe. Even back in 1983, I was pretty sure Frodo made it out OK in the end. If caught by Sauron, I could not see a way out. Next chapter helped, but I spent the time leading up to Mt Doom expecting Frodo to get captured again. ALSO - I had seen the animated Return of the King, with Dennis DeYoung of Styx on the Soundtrack and had seen Frodo and Sam carried away by the Eagles. First read was after the cartoon
82. Dr. Thanatos
@80 Pilgrimsoul,

Indeed Gandalf and Aragorn knew this. They would not let anyone go into Morgul Vale and they set fire to the flowers that grew there. They even made a comment about how going into the vale would cause madness.
83. pilgrimsoul
And even after seeing that (dreadful IMO) animation you Still Read the Book. Congratulations!

Re Morgul Vale--I actually did look it up, and while there was no definitive statement about actual poison, yes, G and A thought the evil was so intense they would not dare to march through it, so once again I agree with Dr. T.
Andrew Foss
84. alfoss1540
Read it 15 times since - The only thing Jackson's ROTK has over the animated abortion is sexy special effects. I think that the Dennis DeYoung soundtrack might have even helped Jackson.
85. (still) Steve Morrison
Additionally, Faramir warned Frodo, "do not drink of any stream that flows from Imlad Morgul, the Valley of Living Death".
86. Confutus
The orcs and trolls of Moria who might have seen Gandalf's fall were in hot pursuit of the rest of the Fellowship, weren't they? IIRC not many of them made it past the defenders of Lothlorien (No thanks for bringing them out on us, you bumblers.) So maybe there was some kind of report, and maybe it wasn't a very good one.

There is the possibility of Nazgul interrogating survivors of the disaster at Pelargir, but what those horror-stricken terrified minions reported might well have sounded like Aragorn using the Ring. (That leads back to the puzzle of how he could be using it without the Dark Lord being aware of it, and him.)

There were other Nazgul watching the siege of Minas Tirith, and there is the possibility that there was some kind of telepathic communication, but there was also one of them spotted flying back to Barad Dur carrying Bad News.

I just don't see clear, convincing evidence that Sauron did or would credit any of his foes with having indominatible courage or will. Some, or they wouldn't oppose him at all, but how much? Hence Mouthie's bluff and bluster.
87. pilgrimsoul
The people I spoke of--they are still my friends by the way demonstrating my enormous capacity for tolerance--tried LOTR before the movies came out and deemed the books "pretty good." Pretty Good?!
It's even possible they Liked the Movies Better.
One otherwise extremely worthwhile person persisted in referring to Treebeard as Treebird.
Now it is true that LOTR is a very complex work, and that I at age fifteen in nineteen cough cough cough cough did not understand a lot of what was going on but still I was enraptured by the story and the world and the characterization which I don't think JRRT gets enough credit for.
So as we are in the homestretch--what were your experiences?
Andrew Foss
88. alfoss1540
Pilgrimsoul - Had the Hobbit read to us in 4th grade (age 10), and then read it myself when I was about 14. Tried to read LOTR and got as far as Rivendell 4 times before plodding through the rest of the series (age 17). I think it took me until my first year of college before I really had comprehension down.
89. pilgrimsoul
@ alfoosi1540
LOTR starts Slowly so I can understand your experience. I think I was hooked when Frodo and Co. met the Elves. I think it was an experience of unashamed beauty. What did it for you?
Soon Lee
90. SoonLee
For me, it was "The Shadow of the Past". Having already read "The Hobbit", it was this chapter that signaled that LotR was a completely different beast - not a children's book but something deeper. The ring was not merely a useful toy but something much more sinister, Middle-Earth itself was in peril, and elves were more (much more) than absurd singers of tra la la songs.
91. pilgrimsoul
@ SoonLee 90

I had not read the Hobbit first, so I did not have your experience, but that chapter is certainly an indication of depth and complexity.
92. Dr. Thanatos
I first read LOTR in I think about 1965 or so; I was under 10 and didn't get the depths, but I was caught up by the sense of adventure that what my parents referred to as "age-appropriate" books did not provide.

I re-read annually and would try to make sure I got to write a paper on some related topic each year in school
93. pilgrimsoul
@ Dr. Thanatos 92
You and I read it about the same time, she said confessing although you were significantly younger than I. I was also caught by the adventure and also by the "ideology" if I can call it, that by which I mean the lack of cynicism about morality--kindness--nobility.
My English teachers also condemned LOTR as not being literature, but this opinion depends on a very narrow minded definition of lit, i.e. characters not alienated--well except poor old Gollum.
Andrew Foss
94. alfoss1540
MORIA - DOOMDOOMDOOMDOOM - I was somewhat pushed into if from playing so much D&D with my brother - who often used plotlines from books in his dungeons. I pushed past Book 1 and through to Book 2 - once I hit Moria, I was hooked and slid through at wild speed - til I hit book 4 - that took work.
95. debraji
My favorite uncle sent me The Hobbit for my 11th birthday. I stalled out at "A Short Rest." Less than year later, I picked up The Hobbit again, and this time I could not put it down.

I begged my parents for LOTR and received the two Ballantine paperback editions of Fellowship and Return, and the pirated Ace paperback of The Two Towers. (This would be about 1966, '67? The Ace paperback had an illustration of a Nazgul on a winged steed--not the reptilian creature of the films.) I literally read those books to pieces.

It brought me great pleasure to read The Hobbit to my ten-year-old son on a vacation week in Vermont. I'd read a few pages aloud, then turn the book over to my husband for a few pages, and then my son would take a turn. When we reached "Riddles in the Dark," my son grabbed the book and finished it on his own. That year he tackled the trilogy.
96. (still) Steve Morrison
I seem to be the only reader who liked book 4 most!
97. Dr. Thanatos
I think I'm torn between books I, V, and VI---the first because it has lots of exposition, hints of older mythology; the second because of moments of Awesomeness as well as scenes like the Last Debate---I love the hints of The Big Picture; the third because of climaxes, fulfillment, and Smeagol vs the Banana Peel of Doom...
98. pilgrimsoul
I think, although this was not my experience, that it was better to read The Hobbit first--although I have met someone for whom LOTR was a disappointment because she loved Bilbo and The Hobbit so much. But I found The Hobbit too--I don't know--coy, I guess, and maybe on reflection JRRT did, too.
99. Jerry Friedman
Confutus @#86: It's not clear which orcs chased the Company to Lórien. It easily could have been most of those who saw Gandalf and the Balrog, but there's no reason for it to be everybody who knew what happened. The dwellers in Moria know that these people are important enough to follow on a suicide mission to Lórien; they would be incredibly stupid not to send some kind of report. And surely Sauron at least knew that Aragorn and Gandalf were brave enough to enter Moria.

I agree that the Nazgúl flying back from the battle casts doubt on telepathy or at least on how much information can be sent, but it's very likely the Nazgúl knew what had happened at the gate.

If I ever became an evil overlord, I'd have my minions hold up a poster with the headlines every day where I could see it with my palantír, including requests such as "Send Shrieker full briefing". Tolkien doesn't seem to think that way, but I still think Sauron would try to get some kind of information about that disaster. As you say, he might interpret as Aragorn's having found some way to use the Ring for an extended period and hide it from him (Sauron), but it still doesn't look like cowardice.

Finally, Sauron knows Gandalf and Aragorn are attacking a much bigger army when they could stay in Minas Tirith.

So I agree, we can't be sure what Sauron knows about them or thinks of them, but I'd say the odds are strongly in favor of his not thinking they're cowards.
Geoffrey Dow
100. ed-rex
DemetriosX @74:

Your question about the effects of Mouthie's speech on a first-time reader is a good one indeed.

I think was 12 or 13 when I first read the book and don't remember my specific reactions to that scene, but I do know that I read the entire trilogy over a weekend and that when I wasn't reading or sleeping, I was thinking of nothing but getting back to the back as soon as possible. I find it hard to believe that I wasn't at least a little worried that Frodo might have really been in the Enemy's hands.

Also, @65, a minor cavil vis-a-vis warfare over the course of history.

... but the idea of doing the unexpected strategically is fairly new. Even WWI lacked a lot of strategic surprises (which was a big part of the problem). Really, until the second quarter of the 20th century, warfare was usually set-piece battles in expected places ...

I'm glad you said "usually" above, but still feel compelled to point out that armies such as those of the Mongols under Genghis Khan and after loved to use feints and false retreats to lead enemies into any number of strategic surprises.
101. Jerry Friedman
I started LotR when I was about ten (early '70s), while staying at the house of some friends of my parents where I was probably supposed to be playing with their kids. I got to somewhere in the Bombadil section. That was a small paperback edition. I picked up the Houghton-Mifflin hardbacks in the elementary-school library when I was 11, I'm pretty sure, and devoured it, though I missed a lot. (I imagine, though, that when Mouthie presented Frodo's and Sam's possessions, I was sure their story wasn't over—if I made the connection at all.) Not too long after that, my paternal aunt and uncle gave me the white Ballantine paperbacks, which are what I'm using while commenting here.

When I was a teenager, it was my favorite book, and my favorite comedy book was, can I say this? a certain related novel by the leading lights of the Harvard Lampoon. Many of my friends said the same.

My favorite scenes were with the elves. I remember a cousin's surprise when I told him that—his favorites were the battles. Well, I liked them too, but not as much.

I'm sure I've reread the trilogy more than once a year, though somewhere in my late teens or twenties I started dipping into it more than reading it from start to finish.

Some perceptive friend or relative gave me Paul Kocher's Master of Middle-Earth when I was in my teens, and I reread that a lot too. I read The Hobbit around that time too (though I'd read the riddle scene in some elementary-school reader or something).

I got interested in LotR's flaws when I saw Paul Shippey's title The Book of the Century. I've become more and more convinced that it's not by any means the book of the last century. But one reason I enjoy looking for little contradictions is that I spend more time in Middle-Earth.
102. Jerry Friedman
I mean Tom Shippey and "author of the century".
103. Jazzlet
I have just caught up with the re-read and have enjoyed reading through all of the comments enormously.

My little brother and I were read The Hobbbit a chapter a night at bedtime when we were very young. Later I read it for myself, Tolkein lived farther down our road and I knew that 'that man wrote The Hobbit'.

In '68-'69 when I was eight we spent a year in the US and I picked up LOTR after my older brother finished with it. I needed something to read having, as usual, finished all my more age-appropriate library books. I was terrified that something awful had happened to Frodo when Mouthie produced the Mithril Coat and remember pestering my older brother to tell me what happened. He didn't and I read on :)
104. pilgrimsoul
My father handed me "Bored of the Rings" by Harvard Lampoon and it took me a week to finish because I had to keep stopping to laugh. Honestly--my sides ached. "Jerk looks like a fork" is only one of the immortal lines. Or no--words to live by "Fortune strums a mournful tune, for those whose campaigns peak too soon.
105. Dr. Thanatos

My favorite, and I've found opportunities to use it over the years, was:

"He would have killed the wretched creature then and there, but pity stayed his hand. 'It's a pity I've run out of bullets,' he thought."
Kate Nepveu
106. katenepveu
Jazzlet @ #103, what a great story. I am already plotting reading _The Hobbit_ & _LotR_ out loud to SteelyKid and looking forward to seeing her reactions. (Also wondering what the heck I shall do about the Appendices, but we can save that question for when we get there.)
107. Jerry Friedman
I'm glad there's no movement to lynch me.

Limiting myself to one favorite, "The knob!"
108. DougT
Finally caught up with the re-read. I'll add my vote to those who think Book V is the peak of the series. While the theme of the little unnoticed folk doing the key things while the Great are a sideshow is a necessary underpinning for the trilogy, I still thrill most to those sideshow deeds of the Great. Which is why book V is my favorite, with Book III running in second place.

My own memory of my first read has also been lost in the mists of time--I think I was 8 when I first read the books, so I missed a lot. But I agree that I surely must have been worried about Frodo at this point. (Also, at age 8, the animated version of the hobbit and the LoTR (and even the RotK animation) were about the greatest things ever.)

Lastly, since I missed the orignal comment thread, I just wanted to mention that it it obvious and indubitable that Merry killed the Witch King.
109. Dr. Thanatos


It is said that behind every great Hobbit there is a blond valkyrie with her sword stuck square through the head of the bad guy.

I see it as a collaborative effort. Without Merry, Eowyn's strike would not have worked. Did Merry off the Witch-King? Yes! Did Eowyn off the Witch-King? Yes!
Soon Lee
110. SoonLee
I did not think (well maybe for just a moment) that Frodo was dead at the end of Book V.

At that age, I still believed in 'happily ever after' so wasn't too worried, though a reassurance ("She doesn't get eaten by the eels at this time.") would not have gone amiss.

Meta: there were still too many pages left in the book for it to end so soon. Though this was later proven to be an incorrect assumption on account of the Appendices*.

*Tolkien felt it sufficiently important to include these, so I think we should include them too in the re-read.
Andrew Foss
111. alfoss1540
Kate - Since you had to bring up Princess Bride again, I compare Black Gate Opens to the scene when it cuts back to reading the story aftyer the Fireswamp and says that Buttercup ius addressing the country of Florin as its queen - and dear little Fred Savage says "Hold it! Hold it! Hold it! Grandpa . . ." This chapter is just like that. We know it is going further - and it narrates its way into a cheesy cliffhanger. But the Quick punchline is 3 chapters and 100 hellish, thirsty miles of Orc infested Mordor to come.

Again. Murdered by Pirates is good!
112. pilgrimsoul
@ Kate 106
The appendices! How I love them, and as you are an attorney I think we can all treat them as historical texts no matter how "feigned."
Have you read Bored of the Rings? Whether or no, I think you ought to add that text to the reread because at the very least it will prolong the pleasure of this experience.
Kate Nepveu
113. katenepveu
Oh, I intend to do the Appendices in the re-read, no question--I'm just wondering whether, if and when SteelyKid is interested in listening to the book, how to deal with the non-narrative bits.

pilgrimsoul @ #112, I don't think I am going to read _Bored of the Rings_, as I am reliably told it's not my kind of thing and as you may have noticed, I don't have a lot of free time. =>
114. (still) Steve Morrison
There is another LotR parody which you can read for free online, right here.
Kate Nepveu
115. katenepveu
(No new post this week, guys, coming down with something unpleasant.)
116. Jerry Friedman
Best wishes for something like Gollum: unpleasant and short.

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