Open Discussion

squire: Well, the floor’s open. We still haven’t talked about:

 

The invocation of the Valar by Mablung.

The curious role of the Winds in Ithilien’s climate.

Sam’s belief that there may yet be a chance of return from Mordor.

The role of Water in Ithilien, especially the relationship to Ulmo of the stone-edged pool and the stone bridges.

Where Gollum disappeared to.

The geology of Ithilien.

How the New Line films adapted this chapter – scriptwriting, location, special effects, costuming, acting. (OK, maybe this is a Movie Board topic, but it would be nice to apply all we’ve talked about from a book-perspective this week, to the film.)

Bored of the Rings version – Two four six eight / Tiptoe, sneak, and infiltrate!

How Gollum caught those rabbits.

Whatever happened to the fourth Ranger.

Whatever happened to the Mumak mahout.

The illustrations.

Those Shire clocks.

How the map and the nature of Ithilien changed in Tolkien’s mind, based on HoME draft maps.

Lack of animal life in Ithilien, except rabbits of course. I’m thinking goats – where are the goats?

And much, much more that I just can’t think of!

 

Summary of this week’s discussion will follow as soon as possible -- OK, let's face it, in a few weeks. Thanks everyone for a great discussion of a great chapter, probably my favorite chapter in all of Lord of the Rings, redolent of tamarisk and pungent terebinth!

 

dernwyn: You do realize that you've put together enough stuff here, for a full-semester college course?  And we're trying to get through it in a week!  (Actually, it would be fun to study all this in a longer timeframe...)

But, well done - thank you for a most informative and thought-provoking week!

Yes, it would have been condusive to the further understanding of this chapter to have studied the BotR text carefully - but one must lay aside what one must lay aside.

   'You're completely surrounded; you haven't got a chance; come out with your hands up,' said the captain sternly.

   Frito bowed low.  'Come in and get me,' he said, making the correct reply.

   'I am Farahslax, of the Green Toupees,' said the captain.

   'I am Frito, of nothing in particular,' said Frito shakily...

   "We are stealthy Green Toupees

   Skulking nights and snoozing days

   A team of silent, nast men

   Who all think Sorhed's numbah ten.

      Draw their fire

      Flank on fire

      Narcs retire

      Fight-team-fight!"

squire: Using every grungy trick

Using every grungy trick

From booby trap to pungee stick

We hardly need the strength of thirty

When we can win by playing dirty.

 

Two-four-six-eight

Tiptoe, sneak

And infiltrate

Cha-cha-cha.

 

"Can I kill them a little?" squealed a short squat man with a black nose-patch, rushing to Farahslax with a garrote.

"Nay, Magnavox," said Farahslax. "Who are you?" he said, turning to Frito, "and what is your evil purpose?"

"My companions and I are going to Fordor to cast the Great Ring into the Zazu Pits," said Frito.

At that, Farahslax's face darkened, and looking first at Goddam and Spam, then back to Frito, he tiptoed out of the grove with a little smile and disappeared with his men into the surrounding forest, singing merrily.

 

The interesting thing is how closely this scene, in all its essentials, parallels Tolkien's early drafts, where the Faramir character is just a passing adventure. Henry Beard and Doug Kenney must have had secret access to the Marquette archives in 1970!

dernwyn: I've wondered about that And there are a few other things in BotR - such as Arrowroot falling in love with Eorache - that echo the early drafts, and one wonders: did these guys have ESP?  Did they visit Marquette, and were somehow allowed access to the files? 

But I've read that the whole book was written in only a couple of days.  It must have been just incredible insight - or sheer luck.

drogo_drogo: Go lie down and rest for a spell!  You need it.  :)

Great discussion, thanks.

hatster: no, Thanks to YOU... I only got to poke my head in once or twice, but every post was wonderful.

N.E. Brigand: "May the Valar turn him aside!" Thanks, squire!  I've simply run out of time to continue working on your fantastic posts.  (I'm up with the next two weeks' secondary discussion of Letters, and I'm far behind on another project as well.  Plus my work remains quite busy.)  As usual, great stuff.  I'm looking forward to your next discussion, if there is one (though perhaps you are not).  To touch on just one of your ideas for further investigation:

Mablung's Damrod's invocation of the Valar.  I'm surprised you didn't bring this up earlier, as you used it in your footer during the Valaquenta discussion, IIRC.  This, the observance of the West at Henneth Annun (or was that the Elves looking East -- what did it say in the special Tolkien issue of The Chesterton Review?*) and Gandalf's exclamation at Aragorn's coronation are the three statements about the theology of Middle-earth that I remember best from the main text of the LotR (the only other explicit mention of the Valar that I can find in the main text is in a comparision of Théoden and Orome).  As we've all come to recognize, there are quite a few references to some higher powers (not always the "Valar," and so infrequently by name that "higher powers" may be the better phrasing) at work; NZ Strider made a nice list of such references here in 2002.

But why this particular mention?  This is our first taste of Gondorian society, and perhaps Tolkien means to suggest the latent nature of their theology with this reference.

But is Gondor like that?  I am reminded of some comments that you made when we read Tolkien's aborted sequel, "The New Shadow:"  "It is rather shocking to read of Eru, the Children, and the Theme in a Gondorian conversation.  One wonders when that kind of knowledge and thinking became common in the Fourth Age, since there's no sign whatever of it in the Third!"  NZ's post possibly shows something more than "no sign" but I agree that the change is substantial.  Tolkien tried to explain it in Letter #156: 

 

So while God (Eru) was a datum of good Númenórean philosophy, and a prime fact in their conception of history, He had at the time of the War of the Ring no worship and no hallowed place.  And that kind of negative truth was characteristic of the West, and all the area under Númenórean influence: the refusal to worship any 'creature', and above all no 'dark lord' or satanic demon, Sauron, or any other, was almost as far as they got.  They had (I imagine) no petitionary prayers to God; but preserved the vestige of thanksgiving.  (Those under special Elvish influence might call on the angelic powers for help in immediate peril or fear of evil enemies.)  It later appears that there had been a 'hallow' on Mindolluin, only approachable by the King, where he had anciently offered thanks and praise on behalf of his people; but it had been forgotten.  It was re-entered by Aragorn, and there he found a sapling of the White Tree, and replanted it in the Court of the Fountain.  [This letter was written before the TT or RotK had been published, though the recipient, Fr. Murray, may have read parts of them in proof. -N.E.B.]  It is to be presumed that with the reemergence of the lineal priest kings (of whom Lúthien the Blessed Elf-maiden was a foremother) the worship of God would be renewed, and His Name (or title) be again more often heard.  But there would be no temple of the True God, while Númenórean influence lasted.

 

(Isis discussed the question of religion in Letter #156 here, but only Curious responded.)

 

Well, that's what Tolkien had in mind, anyway; whether or not he got it across is debatable.  His sequel took place more than 100 years later, probably enough time for a religion to get established (along with counter-cults, apparently).  The bit in Tolkien's letter about Gondorians "under special Elvish influence" invoking the Valar -- might that help to emphasize the Elvish character of Ithilien, since Damrod and the other Rangers descend from families who lived there?

Finally, it's curious that we get nothing like Damrod's cry from Boromir, as say, when he sees the Balrog.  A sign of his pride?   Or a case of Tolkien failing to revisit and re-write after he developed his ideas about what Gondor would be like?

 

*For the curious: look for the Eastward-praying Elves in A.N. Wilson's essay, "Wagner for Kiddies?"

 

N.E. Brigand: [modded up] Repost: NZS on "overt religion" I had to try a couple times to open NZ Strider's old post that I linked to above; expecting others might encounter similar difficulties, I'm reposting it here:

 

NZ Strider

Fri, 5/10/2002 at 23:08 EDT (Sat, 5/11/2002 at 16:08 NZDT)

On Tolkien's suppression of overt religion (belief or practice) in the LotR

 

This is partly in answer to the negative review of Tom Shippey’s book by Richard Jenkyns which lambasted Tolkien’s invented societies as unconvincing because they had no religion and were thus unlike any historical society: available at www.powells.com/review/2002_02_07.html.

Now it is clear that Tolkien purposefully suppressed overt religion.  See letter Nr. 142:

"…I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world."

My question however is, how thoroughly did he really succeed in editing overt religion and religious belief out?  I’ve gone through the LotR in my mind and tried to put together every reference to overt religion or religious belief.  I’ve limited myself to just the LotR (as published); and have tried to catalogue matters neutrally (as a sort of disinterested anthropologist). 

I have noted the following:

1.) There is the Standing Silence of the Gondorians before meals, a clear religious rite as it involves a sort of homage to the place described under Nr. 8 below.

2.) On Mt. Mindoluin is a "hallow" which only the King may enter.  I first assumed that "hallow" was a form of "hollow" (i.e. a short, blind valley in moutainous country) though the word can,  I think, mean "a sanctified area" as well.  [Letter 156, p. 206, confirms that the latter is meant, by the way – strictly speaking, this is a departure from the methodological strictures outlined above.].   A sanctified area must logically be sanctified to someone or something. 

3.) One of the mountains on the border between Rohan and Gondor is called Halifirien.  I assume that it is territory of Gondor since the Gondorians maintain a beacon there.  Halifirien is a modernised form of Anglo-Saxon "halig fyrgen," i.e. Holy Mountain.  [I exclude from discussion here the story of Cirion and Éorl in Unfinished Tales which confirms the meaning of Halifirien.]  Is the mountain itself holy?  Or is there another "hallow" on this mountain?  If so, sanctified to whom or what? 

4.) When the oliphaunt charges the rangers of Ithilien, they cry "May the Valar turn him aside!"  The Valar seem from this to be not-visibly present entities who might, if they were so inclined, divert the oliphaunt.  Various characters call upon such an entity at various times: e.g. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" etc.; and she seems particularly important.    [To figure out from just the LotR that Elbereth is one of the Valar  is possible: see Nr. 8 below.]

5.) There is also the famous cry to Earendil: Aiya Earendil elenion ancalima, "Hail, Earendil, of stars the brightest!"  [The meaning of the line can be deduced without recourse to a non-existent Elvish dictionary if one knows Anglo-Saxon poetry: "eala Earendil engela beorhtast" in Cynewulf’s Christ gives the key along with Frodo’s glossed remark "Elen síla etc." = "A star shines etc."  Admittedly, this takes a bit of work.]  Frodo expects that calling on Earendil may do some good, but as Earendil demonstrably started off as a mere denizen of Middle-earth, I have put him into a separate category from Elbereth and the Valar.  [His original status and rise can be deduced from Bilbo’s poem about him as well as from Strider’s summary on Weathertop.] 

6.) Something silly: Sam once exclaims, "Lor’ bless me!"

7.) Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime: In the Appendix Aragorn assures Arwen that "beyond the circles of the world is more than memory"; i.e. if Arwen does not die, but goes into the West instead (as an immortal Elf), she will have only the "memory" of her marriage and her husband.  If she dies and leaves the circles of the world (as a mortal Man), she will have more than mere memories.  This indicates a clear belief in some sort of afterlife.  

8.) Bilbo refers to a "Blessed Realm" where, apparently, Elbereth, whom the Elves call upon, dwells.  It does not seem a stretch to connect this with Faramir’s reference to "Númenór that was and Elvenhome which is *and that which is beyond Elvenhome and shall ever be*."  (Emphasis mine)  Furthermore, Bilbo’s poem on Earendil describes a journey from Middle-earth to, first, a place called "Eldamar" or "Elvenhome" and thence to another place called "hidden land" (presumably identical with "Valinor" mentioned one stanza earlier) where there are "timeless halls" and an "Elder King."  Elbereth dwells there.  A minor bit of linguistic ingenuity might connect "Valar" with "Valinor"; Elbereth would then be one of the Valar.  Valinor aka the Blessed Realm or hidden land lies beyond Elvenhome aka Eldamar, just as Faramir describes their relative positions.  Elvish, Hobbitish, and Human beliefs harmonise perfectly. 

9.) Gandalf, when speaking of Sauron’s not having extracted information from Pippin after the latter looked into the palantír, says, "you have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, *as it is called*."  (Emphasis mine)  Apparently, Gandalf views "good fortune" as just a name for something else, presumably something that works with a purpose.  See 10.) below. 

10.) Various characters discuss Frodo’s possession of the Ring.  Gandalf explains: "Behind that [Bilbo’s picking up of the Ring] there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker.  I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was *meant* to find the Ring, and *not* by its maker.  In which case you also were *meant* to have it."  (Emphasis Tolkien’s)  If not meant by its maker, than by whom? 

Frodo asks of his possession of the Ring: "Why was I chosen?"  Gandalf does not answer the question, but confirms the appropriateness of Frodo’s choice of word: "you have been chosen."  Chosen by whom?

At the Council of Elrond Aragorn tells Frodo: "It has been ordained that you should hold it [i.e. the Ring] for a while."  Ordained by whom? 

11.) Gandalf tells Denethor, when the latter contemplates suicide, that "authority is not given you…to order the hour of your death, and only the heathen kings of old…"  Who has not given the authority?  What makes the kings of old "heathen"?  And what is (ideally) supposed to make Denethor better than a "heathen"?

To summarise: There are occasional sanctuaries/holy places (Nrr. 2 & 3), repeated calls both to preterhuman characters called Valar (Nr. 4) and to one Middle-earth dweller who somehow ascended to preterhuman status (Nr. 5), and one clear religious rite (Nr. 1).  There is belief in an afterlife (Nr. 7) and in a "Blessed Realm" (Nr. 8) which is hidden, called Valinor, and is home to preterhuman characters called Valar one of whom is Elbereth and another of whom is "Elder King."  Furthermore, there is someone or something who/which means for Frodo to have the Ring, chooses him as Ringbearer, and ordains that he hold the Ring.  This someone or something stands higher than Sauron or the Ring and can override either’s purpose at will (Nr. 10).  I hesitate to press Nr. 6 into service here to explain the "someone or something."  Nr. 9, a rational purpose which lurks behind so-called good fortune, probably belongs here as well.  Finally, there is a concept of "heathen" (Nr. 11).  The basic beliefs seem to be shared by Hobbits (Bilbo, Frodo), Men (Aragorn, Faramir), and Elves (who sing songs of the Blessed Realm and in whose language one calls upon Elbereth). 

I write this, of course, as a sort of neutral anthropological observer unaware of Christianity/Catholicism or of Tolkien’s own intensely held faith.  After all this, is it fair to say, as does Jenkyns, that the societies of Middle-earth hold no religious beliefs?  To what extent are these things "slipping past" Tolkien’s self-proclaimed censorship of overt religion?  To what extent is he (in despite of his self-proclaimed censorship) planting clues that we may track down and put together? 

Finally, are there additional references in the LotR (as published) to overt religion or religious belief which I have missed? I’m sure there must be – I have been working mostly from memory with only occasional glances at the text.  In particular, is there a way to distinguish the purpose/power/entity behind Nr. 10 from the Valar and their Elder King?  I can’t think of one, but I’ve probably missed the clue that clears that up.

Penthe: More that you can't think of? Really? I don't agree.

I reckon the animals that can't escape the attention of large predators (orcs, Men and so on) have pretty much bolted or been eaten. A rabbit, on the other hand, might escape notice until a small, attentive and Gollum-like predator appears.

If Mablung is afraid that black squirrels from Mirkwood are turning up, then presumably the native animal inhabitants are nearly finished vacating the premises.

Farawyn: I delurked for this, my favorite chapter as well. Definitely worth it. Thanks for the effort!

White Gull: Grrrr. I just hate it that I can't follow these discussions as I'd like.  Thanks for your expertise, squire, and I hope when I *can* return here, you'll still be around!

(Um, where's Curious?)

Owlyross: Great stuff So much to think about and mull over... I always enjoy your in-depth discussions.

Nefisa3: do you have a job? a family? how do you manage to do these discussions so well?

I had to quit my work just to read and answer them...I'm suing you for my lost paychecks, by the way.

anyways, thanks, for shedding a little more light and provoking great talk about a great great chapter in the story.

squire: Not for much longer, I fear... Actually, I did start thinking about this when it was assigned back in the spring -- that was when the topic-oriented structure occurred to me, especially after having done two major text-directed RR discussions in nine months. And I made notes all summer, and collected sources or ideas as they came my way.

But for the final production push this past month -- yeah, though I didn't neglect my family, perhaps my job got less focus than it should have. And sleep... that was kind of an ongoing negotiation with my body, which is getting pretty sick of this kind of behavior, many decades after college.

I do enjoy doing this and I appreciate whatever response it receives. In the end, I'm just trying to balance my natural pedantry with having some fun and keeping the RR busy and amused.

Lúthien_Rising: well, you ought to know, then, that it's all much appreciated in this here room, even by those of us who haven't held up our end!

LilyFairbairn: *peeks out to say* Yes indeed!

erather: *Resounding cheers* Well put!  And thanks, squire!

N.E. Brigand: "As 'research students' always discover..." "however long they are allowed, and careful their work and notes, there is always a rush at the end, when the last date suddenly approaches on which their thesis must be presented.  So it was with this book, and the maps."  (Letters #187)

arquen: Geology of Ithilien Ithilien is dominated by overlapping and coalescing alluvial fans made of material derived from the Mountains of Shadow. The MofS seem to be extrusive igneous rock, weathering to angular fragments, locally clayey and silty.  The alluvial fans are somewhat eroded, and thus there are bridges over watercourses at regular intervals.  Total depth of the alluvial deposits vary, but generally range from about 500 feet near the mountains to about 200 near the Anduin.  The soils are very fertile, because of the igneous source rock that provides lots of trace minerals and breaks down into clays and silts that retain water through the summer.  Nearer the Anduin, the westward-trending fan materials meet the southward-trending fluvial deposits of the Anduin (consisting of a 500-to1000-foot sequence of layered channel sands and overbank silts), which are coarser, more permeable, and more extensive.

  Soil development in Ithilien is extensive, with agricultural types resembling Tujunga Stony Loam near the bedrock outcrops, with well-drained Yolo loam in the midfan segments.  Near the river, some soils are waterlogged and resemble adobe clays.  Depth to groundwater is about 60 feet near the head of the fan, decreasing to about 10 feet near the river.

Water quality is hard, with calcium and magnesium the dominant cations, and concentrations ranging from 25 to 75 mg/L, and concentrations of the dominant anion, bicarbonate, ranging from 125 to as much as 200 mg/L.  Locally, iron and manganese staining is a problem, and in some areas, excessive fluoride is present from erosion of hydrothermal deposits.  Local groundwater quality can be poor where associated with industrial activity, as in the well-known area near Minis Ithil.   There, metals mining and smelting, and disposal of garbage into the mine pits, have caused acid-mine drainage problems.  This is manifested a both low pH, in places as low as 1.8-2.3 pH units, and high metals concentrations.  In many places, the streams are devoid of fish and riparian vegetation, and the water and rocks are stained red, green, orange, and black.  Because of the lack of diversion of surface runoff from both mine workings and tailings, these severe water quality problems will be quite persistent, and no current plans for remediation have been presented to the lead environmental agencies.

Beren IV: Good! I was wondering if I would see this!

linkinparkelf: thanks, squire from one who post little but reads everything.

The RR wouldn't be nearly as interesting and fun without you.

Kimi: Ariel and Caliban You quoted from Letter 64:

 

"[Sam] treats Gollum rather like Ariel to Caliban".

 

It's an interesting comparison for Tolkien to have used. Ariel and Caliban are both servants to Prospero. Ariel is graceful and magical, and clearly despises Caliban. Caliban is clumsy and ugly, and could not even speak before Prospero taught him. Their names illustrate their natures.

A sample of Caliban's speech:

 

"When thou camest first,

Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me

Water with berries in't, and teach me how

To name the bigger light, and how the less,

That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee

And show'd thee all the qualities o' the isle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:

Cursed be I that did so!"

 

There's a hint of Smeagol-as-guide here.

And yet Ariel, for all his sense of superiority, is slave rather than servant. He is grateful to Prospero for freeing him (he was imprisoned in a tree! Not a willow, though), but he begs for release.

And Caliban makes a convincing case when he says that the island was stolen from him.

Nothing is what it seems; no one is what they seem. Mystery and magic are used in far more subtle ways than in "A Mid-summer Night's Dream".

It's one of the comparatively gentle last plays, so it's not a spoiler to say there's a happy ending :-)

Wynnie: Great job, as always Thanks for all your time & trouble.

an seleichan: poor little bunnies

How Gollum caught those rabbits

I'd prefer not to think about that, poor little bunnies. Some things are best left to the imagination.

Thanks for the great week of discussions, I could hardly keep up! You gave us a lot of stuff to think about, and as usual did a great job.

Silent_Watcher: Thank you, squire for the great discussion.

But now I worry about my own.

N.E. Brigand: Don't worry. All approaches are welcome.

an seleichan: look, I was brave! I just volunteered to follow him. Unprepared, too. Whew.

I'll pass you some of my bravery tonic, when I'm done swigging, 'k?

a.s. (really, just teasing you and squire; the different ways we approach chapter discussions helps keep it interesting, don't you think?)

squire: I'll never forget my first RR discussion I had way overprepared, and gotten through the week on momentum (mass of questions times velocity of posting).

Curious was next. Gulp. What erudite, encyclopedic questions would follow my jokey but lightweight efforts?

He refused to ask any questions. Just posted the text, and told us to deal with it, come up with our own questions. Then he'd come after us like a bulldog, insisting we answer those questions. It was a lot more work during the week for him, but a lot less prep ahead of time.

The beauty of the Reading Room is there is no one format for a discussion. An seleichan is doing fine, and you will too, Silent W.

Aunt Dora Baggins: Thanks, squire, for a fabulous discussion! As usual, I lurked more than I posted, but I enjoyed it a lot.  Your other topics listed above sound fascinating too.  Feel free to start a thread on any one of them!

Kerewyn: Thank you.. loved the presentation ...and little extras, like the rabbit dressing info.

As usual, I've lurked, but it's been a fun week of doing so!

N.E. Brigand: Correction on March 25th. I misremembered when I wrote that Tom Shippey noted March 25th was the traditional date of the first Easter; actually it was the supposed first Good Friday, as previously noted on TORn by Elf Maven and NZ Strider, and probably by others, too.

I'm not sure where that puts Ash Wednesday in Tolkien's plan (if he had one).

 

Beren IV: I can't believe I have been away for so long... I have been very busy, and got distracted by my life I guess. Now I see that I have missed the discussion of the Oliphaunt!

Finding Frodo: Not to mention... Letters 181, 191 and 192!  Get busy!

Spoiler Message:  "Just kidding.  Hope everything's OK."

Beren IV: A few geographic thoughts on Ithilien The thread has now sunk way down the page, so I am collecting my thoughts into a single post for easier readability (in one post anyway).

The ecology and geography of Gondor has always bothered me. For some reason, from Tolkien's descriptions, I never saw the climate as Mediterranean (and, having lived twenty-five years in California, I am familiar with Mediterranean climates). Nonetheless, it is at that latitude, and is on the western side of a continent, so that would be the climate it would have, assuming that there are continental  ice sheets somewhere on Arda (which seems likely).

Why, though, would we expect the Ephel Duath to look like the Pyranese? I agree that this is how they probably once looked, long ago. In the First Age, Mt. Doom was probably a lot like Vesuvius, a volcano indeed (and a dangerous one) but nonetheless nourishing the plains of Gorgoroth with its rich volcanic soil. But in the Third Age, the taint of Sauron's black magic has made Mordor unlivable for all life that isn't outwardly evil (think of those thorn-bushes). The Ephel Duath are described as ominous and frightening, gloomy (of course, with Mt. Doom in an eruptive phase, they would be). Do they really look like the Pyranese normally, or are they darker, more sinister, more corrupted by Sauron's evil magic?

squire: Darker, eviller, fouler I'm not sure what the Ephel Duath are - Arquen has some notes around here on her take on their origins and geology. I agree they probably look pretty mean, meaner than the Pyrenees, for example. Spikier, sheerer, tumbled, and wreathed in black smoog.

However, I think Tolkien makes a huge effort to distinguish Ithilien from the Mountains of Shadow. The two are treated as unhappy neighbors, not part of the same landscape.

Where is the dividing line? Of course he does not want to make that clear... certainly the road Frodo is on, once it enters Ithilien, is not in the mountains or even their foothills, but rather in sloping, hilly country west of the mountains.

That is the Mediterranean landscape that I have been drawing our attention to. But unlike you, although I accept that Tolkien intends for it to be Mediterranean, and I think the chapter only makes sense with that understanding, I don't see how that kind of climate could really obtain there, southern latitude or not.

After all, look at the Middle-earth map. Henneth Annun is at the same latitude as Helms Deep and Edoras. Any word from Tolkien about the green shoots of spring piercing the wintry sod in Rohan, in Book 3 where we just spent some time? Any warm breezes from that Sea just West of Rohan? Northern Ithilien gets about as much exposure to the Sea from the Gap of Osgiliath as Rohan might from the Gap of Isen.

As I've said before, much of Middle-earth's geography and ecology is symbolic, if not actually magical. Ithilien is first cousin to Lorien as far as weather is concerned, and first cousin to the Shire as far as peace and nature is concerned.

Meanwhile: the Ephel Duath? They are the lineal descendants of the Mountains in The Silmarillion that guard Morgoth's realm -- spiders and all. I thought the film did a fantastic job of dolling up those NZ mountains with the alpine/CG equivalent of goth makeup.

But of course, just as there were no Fields of Pelennor about the film's Minas Tirith, so in the distance there is no hint of Ithilien in the foreground of those ominous, ominous black mountains!

FarFromHome: Spring in Rohan "They seemed to have left winter clinging to the hills behind. Here the air was softer and warmer, and faintly scented, as if spring was already stirring and the sap was flowing again in herb and leaf."

- The Three Hunters descend from the Emyn Muil onto the plains of Rohan, Feb 27 (Frodo meets Faramir on March 7).

Here on the east coast of Ireland, it certainly starts to feel like spring in February. After living in Ontario for many years, I can attest to the fact that it feels like it should be impossible, but it isn't!

Celeborns Mirror: Same here!! :(  I've missed many of my favorite chapters!!  I've been so busy with school I haven't had a moment for Tor.n!

Beren IV: On warfare in Ithilien I have always pictured the Rangers as being an elite force, not run-of-the-mill troops of Gondor's army. As a result, it is not surprising that Rangers should be able to defeat troops in roughly equal numbers even if they are less well-equipped, especially if their attack has the element of surprise.

The attack upon the Haradrim in this chapter is a raid, not an assault. While raids are normally conducted at night and are more effective at night, they can be effective at any time of day in which the enemy is not prepared for an attack. Perhaps the Rangers have been raiding by night continually the past week, and this time they make an attack by day.

I have always wondered whether the swarthy Southrons being associated with evil is an element of racism or not. Clearly there is racism in Middle Earth, and a big point is made of the cosmetic features of the various kindreds of one race compared to others of the same race. We are normally to assume that Elves and Men look different enough that they are easy to tell apart, but of course Aragorn's Rangers, the Grey Company, are confused for Elves by the Rohirrim, so that can't always work. Still, Men are Men: they may be a pretty bad lot as a general rule but they are not irredeemable. Certainly Men are better than Orcs, and in a few chapters I will wonder whether or not even Orcs are truly irredeemable (it's an even more uphill battle for them than for Men).

Due to the nature of the tactics, I am sure that the Rangers will leave their dead. They are raiding. Now, in a historical medieval battlefield, the bodies of the dead would be looted for everything valuable (even clothes, which could be repaired), and the naked corpses burred en masse. The Rangers don't have time for a salvage operation. In a normal war, the Harradrim would - but this isn't a normal war. Sauron also wants speed. The bodies may be left to the buzzards.

The Oliphaunt is Tolkien's usual grandiose, fantastical prose, as others have noted. However, it adds to the continual sense of loss: there aren't any more of these animals. They are extinct. Our world is a lost world, a failing world.

PhantomS: Warfare and men We are normally to assume that Elves and Men look different enough that they are easy to tell apart, but of course Aragorn's Rangers, the Grey Company, are confused for Elves by the Rohirrim, so that can't always work.

The Rohirrim do not mistake them for Elves, they are simply awed by the Rangers to the point where they look like boys besides men. It is the people of Morthond who call the Grey Company 'Elvish wights'- Gondorian citizens. It appears that while the Rohirrim are cautious towards the Elves, the Gondorians are downright scared, as Faramir explains regarding Lothlorien and his own reluctance. Ironic that Boromir, the embodiment of this attitude ends up in Lothlorien.

It would take a trained eye to spot the difference between a High Man and an Elf, though creatures like Hobbits seem to have an intuition about these things, and of course the Ents do know as well.

Everyone else just makes a sloppy conclusion.

The Rangers have been moving further upfield than usual, says Damrod and Mablung. They couldn't have been raiding a Harad march unless they were raiding the middle (thus leaving the head of the column oblivious to the skirmish) and that would have been a shock. Attack any other part of the convoy and every Haradrim man will turn to fight. This convoy curiously lacks a king or lord, though the Ranger-centric point of view would not have looked for one.

The war in Ithilien is strictly a war of attrition, since neither side has fortified it for long term occupation or manned any serious push. The Rangers do count themselves as the foraging border guards, while the Haradrim and Orcs use it as a transit point. The bottom line is that if they can kill anyone from the other side,they'd be happy- the Haradrim want to move on to Mordor, the Rangers want to make sure they don't do so in numbers; neither side will get through Ithillien with a mission perfectly fulfilled, but the commanders probably know this.

I'm wondering if the Haradrim ruler sees Mordor as a land of hope, as Denethor sees Gondor as the last hope of Men. The Rangers would be those who try to dash hopes of the 'pious' attacking like demons in the dark (or light).

Beren IV: Interesting points I seem to remember the people referring to the Grey Company as 'Elvish Wights' as being people referring to them going into the mountains above Dunharrow and not coming out of them, and that would mean Rohirrim. I will have to check that. Thanks for letting me know, if it turns out I am wrong. :)

Hobbits and Ents both have one advantage that the Rohirrim and certainly the people of central Gondor do not: both have seen both Elves and Men and know what real Elves are like to a greater extent than Men do. Ents of course have seen not only them in the present, but their entire history. Hobbits, well, they do notice that Aragorn, Faramir, etc. have an 'Elvish air' about them. An equally likely possibility from a literary standpoint is that Tolkien's conception of what the Men of the West look like changed over the course of his writing of LotR. We know that Tolkien oscillated on this particular issue, just as in the early part of his conception he oscillated back and forth over whether some of the early Edain heroes were Elves or Men. I think that it can probably be interpreted several ways - although this has different implications for what would happen if, say, Beren, or Tuor, were to step out of the past into late Third Age Gondor, and what race they would be "identified" as.

 

*

When I referred to a "war of attrition", I was thinking along the lines of fighting using crossbow fodder: namely troops that are not difficult to produce but which you have lots of and can wear the enemy down with a meatgrinder of troops. The Rangers aren't forces like this; they're elites, and they know it. It's the Haradrim (and the Orcs) who are the crossbow-fodder. Nonetheless I agree with your description of their tactics.

I am sure that the Haradrim have officers - any army must. But who those officers are we have no idea.

Kimi: You're right about wights :-) It *is* the Rohirrim who call them that. It's in "The Passing of the Grey Company", and it's said by people in Dunharrow.

PhantomS: ah ha, *dusts off book* it is indeed the Dunharrow folk who call them wights, though the Gondorians on the other side also run for the hills after 'hearing' that the King of the Dead is awakened. Poor Aragorn, called a ghost on one end and ignored on the other!

"'They are Elvish wights. Let them go where they belong, into the dark places and never return. The times are evil enough.'- Passing Of The Grey Company"

Three Elves are travelling with them, however and may have added to this confusion. The Rangers are also wearing Elf-style clothes like starbrows and no doubt Elrond has furnished them with some weapons.

However, these folk are the common people who are scared to even look at Halbarad and co. Theoden, Eomer and the riders who went to Isengard saw them personally and thought them quite marvelous.

Not all Gondorians are scared either, as Imrahil seems to take Legolas' appearance in Minas Tirith in stride, though he's just faced Orcs, Easerlings, Trolls, a burning Steward's absence, Nazgul and Grond.

Gondor's position hardly makes it able to produce fodder, whereas the Haradrim play by the numbers. So Gondor acts as the 'razor' to the Haradrim's 'hair'. Kinda like the US Army Rangers setting a trap for a Nazi conscript strikeforce.

I'm sure the Haradrim had some chain of command, but the absence of any clear leader makes this column curious. The Harad had many kings and princes, yet the Rangers seem to be attacking the ice cream truck regiment- or can we guess the big fella hanging for dear life was the general?

N.E. Brigand: "Tolkien's usual grandiose, fantastical prose" Can you elaborate on that description?

PhantomS: Meaning: As a general rule, Tolkien's writing style is of a poetic nature, influenced by the sagas that he studied as a linquist and which, to a large degree, obviously inspired his fantastical world. Poetic language tends to be romantic: emphasizing the glory of elements and characters in the story, in this case the bulk of the Mumak, or even having the lightly-armed Rangers closing with more heavily-armed infantry and doing well. In short, his poetic characters are heroes, and heroes are a cut above most everybody else.

Poetic writing is opposed to gritty writing in which realism is taken often to an over-extreme (to the point of being actually unrealistic). In gritty writing, there are no heroes, just people, and if anything separates two opponents or determines the outcome of a fight, it will be either numbers or sheer dumb luck. Obviously the gritty style is one extreme and the poetic style another, and a continuum exists in-between, but Tolkien tends to gravitate toward the poetic form, especially in battle, and in describing his heroes, mighty and noble captains in arms, in this case Faramir.

It is of note that when Hobbits are involved, Tolkien generally shifts to a less poetic (and less fantastical) world. While not even with the Hobbits is Tolkien's style ever gritty, they are nonetheless more realistic. It is interesting that this particular battle scene is still fairly poetic, especially with the description of the Oliphaunt (spelling it like that is itself a poetic device), even though there are Hobbits watching. Nonetheless, although watching, they are not participating, so it is not as gritty as parts of the Battle of the Pellenor Fields, say (though parts of it are much more poetic than this, particularly those parts where Merry is just a sack on *ahem* Dernhelm's horse).

 

                              previous:               

           

 Home                     The Letters

 

The following links to the actual TORn discussion thread may be slow or unavailable: