The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Return of the King VI.4, “The Field of Cormallen”

This week in the Lord of the Rings re-read, we consider “The Field of Cormallen,” Chapter 4 of book VI of The Return of the King. Spoilers for the entire book after the jump.

What Happens

The armies of the West are being defeated when the Eagles arrive. Shortly after, they all see the Black Gate crumble and a vast shadow rise and dissipate in the wind. Gandalf announces that Frodo has fulfilled his quest and asks the Eagles to bring him to Mount Doom. There, they rescue Frodo and Sam from a small hill, which Sam had convinced Frodo to move to.

Sam wakes in Ithilien two weeks later, finding to his surprise and delight Gandalf (alive) and Frodo (still missing a finger but healed). They are brought to a great field where Aragorn greets them and places them on a throne, and listen to a minstrel sing of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom. At the subsequent feast, they are reunited with the remaining members of the Fellowship. Among other stories, Gimli tells of finding Pippin under a heap of bodies. About three weeks later, they return to Minas Tirith and wait for the morning, when Aragorn will enter the city.


Somehow I’d forgotten that the rescue of Frodo and Sam happens so soon, page-wise, after the Ring’s destruction. I think I got this chapter mixed up with the next, when we go back in the timeline to see Faramir and Éowyn.

(As for the logistics of the rescue, we talked at length about why not use the Eagles earlier way back during “The Council of Elrond,” which I recommend if you’re new here, or just to refresh your memory; but please do feel free to add your own thoughts.)

Another interesting thing about the rescue is that, though last chapter we left Frodo with peace in his eyes, this chapter he has clearly not been reset to his pre-quest state. When Sam says he doesn’t want to give up yet, Frodo responds:

Maybe not, Sam, but it’s like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.

Which, uh, that’s “trapped in a post-apocalyptic world” talk, not “we just vaporized the single biggest active source of evil in our world” talk. Or, as we discussed last time, “affected by serious psychological issues” talk. At any rate, it’s a very small part of this chapter, which is generally very non-depressing, but it’s worth noting as setup for the rest of the book.

* * *

Before we move away from the start of the chapter, there are a couple of things I wanted to mention about the scene before the Black Gate that opens the chapter. First, Aragorn and Gandalf are depicted as silent and still during the fighting, visible under banner and on hilltop, respectively, not in the thick of the fighting. It’s entirely sensible for them to be acting as generals and visible-sources-of-hope, and yet not what I am conditioned to expect from fantasy novels, which probably says nothing good about genre conventions.

Then, of course, there’s the Eagles, whose coming echoes back to The Hobbit in a way that shouldn’t be intrusive to those who haven’t read that book. It’s the same phrase, of course, but that’s not flagged in the text, and the Eagles aren’t critical to winning the battle, just to rescuing Frodo and Sam after it’s all over. Still, I think it’s a nice little resonance.

A more explicit resonance is yet more wave imagery, this time in Sauron’s shadow-shape “rear(ing) above the world” and “lean(ing) over them” before dissolving. This image will also return at Saruman’s death, several chapters from now.

Finally for the battle, there are some interesting bits about the nature of those fighting for Sauron. All of them are directly influenced by Sauron’s will, which “fill(s) them with hate and fury,” and when that will is removed, they feel fear. But the species react differently when Sauron is destroyed. Those who are his “creatures,” whether “orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved,” become “mindless” and lose all interest in the battle, killing themselves or fleeing to hide. Which I wouldn’t have expected from the way the Orcs we’ve previously met behaved; they seemed to have more individual personality than is consistent with being so heavily dependent on Sauron for their motivations. In contrast, the humans choose whether to continue fighting in their hatred and pride, or to flee, or to surrender. This suggests to me that the non-humans do not have the ability to choose between good and evil, or, interestingly, even the ability to continue in evil after Sauron’s destruction, as none of them continue to fight. (From what I can recall, there’s no explicit mention of fighting non-humans from now on. The end of this chapter talks about fighting Easterlings and Southrons, and the mention of Éomer riding to war beside Aragorn in Appendix A speaks only of “many enemies” and riding “beyond the Sea of Rhûn and on the far fields of the South.”) And that may be a logical extension of the idea that the non-humans under Sauron’s sway don’t have full free will, but it’s still rather unusual.

* * *

The section where the minstrel sings Frodo and Sam’s story. This is another “wow, I am so not the audience for this” moment, because I cannot imagine myself as Sam or, particularly, Frodo, sitting and listening to that. I mean, the last time I left a job, I could barely stand the very brief “thanks, you’ve been great” speech at my leaving party. At least an hour’s worth of a minstrel singing my praises, while sitting on a frickin’ throne (wearing tattered Orc-rags, better still) in front of everyone? I think the sheer weight of my embarrassment would cause me to just slide off the throne and sink right into the earth.

I can envision that Sam has a different reaction, but Frodo? He doesn’t say anything despair-ridden after waking up, but I can’t imagine that he could listen to the tale of his anguish and failures without some serious emotional distress, even in the context of everyone praising him.

I do like the description of literary catharsis as having one’s heart “wounded with sweet words,” so that “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness,” however. That I certainly recognize, the desire to read or listen to something that will make me cry, but in a good way.

* * *

It’s nice to see the Fellowship reunited at the feast after. Pippin made me smile when he told Sam and Frodo, “We are knights of the City and of the Mark, as I hope you observe.” I note that Gandalf insists Frodo wear a sword to dinner—is this only a matter of what’s proper formal dress, to go with the “circlets of silver upon their heads”?

Some other miscellany:

Merry and Pippin have grown three inches, which is significant indeed when the tallest hobbit previously was only 4′ 5″.

Gimli helpfully tells us how Pippin lived, though in an unfortunately clunky passage; I think it would been less obviously an expository lump if someone else had said it, or if it had been spread across dialogue rather than in a monologue.

Even this reunion has in it the seeds of separation, as Legolas leaves singing of the Sea and how “I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me.” I don’t think there’s a way for the reader to extend this idea to Frodo yet, but if there’s such a thing as retroactive foreshadowing, I think this would qualify.

* * *

They spend about three weeks there before returning to Minas Tirith to see “again the white towers under tall Mindolluin, the City of the Men of Gondor, last memory of Westernesse, that had passed through the darkness and fire to a new day” (isn’t that gorgeous?). This feels weirdly leisurely, even if the explanation in the text is sensible, and I think it’s because we don’t know yet what’s been happening in Minas Tirith in the interim. Which, happily, is what we’ll get next chapter.

* * *

And now, some silliness. Note: earworm warning, children’s song version.

SteelyKid is just over two years old now and, as toddlers do, likes us to sing “The Wheels on the Bus”—which she requests as “round and round,” since the first and last verses are, for the unfamiliar,

The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round,
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
All through the town.

The standard verses involves things and passengers on the bus (some of which presume a public transit model, though I personally prefer a school bus model since that will be more immediately relevant to SteelyKid). Chad, however, likes to make up new verses; you can find some of them, mostly physics jokes, at his blog.

One day as he was telling me a new one, I found myself starting to make up Tolkien verses, and then we were both off and running. Here’s what we’ve got so far; the first five are mine (well, Chad polished the last one), and the rest are his.

  • The hobbits on the bus eat six meals, eat six meals, eat six meals;
  • Gollum on the bus says “My precious,” “My precious,” “My precious”;
  • The dwarves on the bus delved too deep, delved too deep, delved too deep;
  • The Nazgûl on the bus have nine Rings, have nine Rings, have nine Rings;
  • Gandalf’s on the bus, you shall not pass, shall not pass, shall not pass;
  • The Balrog on the bus is smoke and flame, smoke and flame, smoke and flame;
  • Gandalf as he falls cries “Fly you fools,” “Fly you fools,” “Fly you fools”;
  • The Trolls on the bus all turned to stone, turned to stone, turned to stone;
  • The Strider on the bus is still not King, still not King, still not King;
  • The Narsil on the bus has been re-forged, been re-forged, been re-forged;

    and, finally,

  • The Rohirrim prefer to ride a horse, ride a horse, ride a horse.

(Bonus movie verse: The Orcs on the bus have a cave troll, a cave troll, a cave troll.)

Yes, this is what life is like here in Chateau Steelypips.

Contributions? Revisions? Requests to go away and never speak to you all again?

« Return of the King VI.3 | 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.


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