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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Aragorn's release of the oathbreakers?

The Shire

Sep 5 2013, 3:46am

Post #1 of 9 (350 views)
Aragorn's release of the oathbreakers? Can't Post

In the book, why did Aragorn release the Dead Men of Dunharrow immediately after they commandeered the ships from the Corsairs. Could he not have led them to the Pellennor to continue fighting? (like in the movie). As they seem invincible, could he not have even sent them into Mordor itself?



Sep 5 2013, 4:18am

Post #2 of 9 (229 views)
It's an interesting question... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and one that was discussed here just recently. The best summary, I think, was in this post by Meneldor:

Remember that the army of the dead was Aragorn's to command because he was the one who had the right to declare whether or not they had finally fulfilled the oath they had broken. I believe that after the dead finished their attack on the forces of Sauron, Aragorn honestly believed they had done all that was necessary to pay their debt. If he had then said, "No, we're not done yet, so I'll need all of you to follow me to Mordor," he'd be denying their oathkeeping and his own assessment of their service. That kind of dishonesty is a sign of moral corruption, and I suspect the dead would have pounced on Aragorn and make him one of their own.

In D&D terms, a morally corrupt cleric shouldn't be able to turn undead, right?

By going to the link I posted above you can see the other related posts.

Tol Eressea

Sep 5 2013, 4:19am

Post #3 of 9 (217 views)
That's a great question, Israfellius. [In reply to] Can't Post

We were just talking about that a few days ago about halfway through this thread. http://newboards.theonering.net/...t_time;so=DESC;mh=25; If you have any other thoughts on the subject, feel free to join in. This is the friendliest and most welcoming forum I've found in years.

(I hope this link works, I've only joined up here recently myself.)

EDIT: Elizabeth and I were typing at the same time. Jinx on you, Elizabeth! Tongue

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

(This post was edited by Meneldor on Sep 5 2013, 4:21am)


Sep 5 2013, 6:19am

Post #4 of 9 (213 views)
GMTA! [In reply to] Can't Post

This is the whole thread, of which what I posted is but a summary.

(This post was edited by Elizabeth on Sep 5 2013, 6:19am)

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 5 2013, 10:36am

Post #5 of 9 (220 views)
I'm not sure how much use the dead would have been [In reply to] Can't Post

In Mordor itself or close to Mordor. The main weapons of the dead were fear and dread rather than anything physical. This is fine with a surprise attack relieving the cities on the coast of Gondor. But coming into Mordor, they would have competition in the shape of the Nazgul who also use the same weapons. And, to be honest, in a greater manner. Once the eye was aware of the dead, it could even have used them, or have counter tactics. I don't think Mordor itself would be overthrown by a few dead guys!

Forum Admin / Moderator

Sep 6 2013, 12:10am

Post #6 of 9 (179 views)
I don't think he could have taken them to the Pelennor - for several reasons. [In reply to] Can't Post

First, they were held by a particular oath, apparently sworn to Isildur upon the Stone of Erech. This is hinted at in the description of the Stone itself:

...those who remembered still the lore of Westernesse told that it had been brought out of the ruin of Numenor and there set by Isildur at his landing. None of the people of the valley dared approach it, nor would they dwell near; for they said it was a trysting-place of the Shadow-men and there they would gather in times of fear, thronging round the Stone and whispering.

The dead gathered there at times of unrest because it was there that they would be called upon to fulfill their oath in a time of need. And Aragorn states the terms of that fulfillment quite clearly.

Then Aragorn said: "The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart forever."

The terms of their release were to cleanse their own lands, which were tributaries of Gondor, not Gondor itself. Aragorn could only require of them what they had originally promised. I think if he had broken faith with them by refusing to release them upon fulfillment of their vows, they might well have had the right to attack him, because then he would be the faithless one.

Secondly, Aragorn already had an army. He had the Rangers of the North. He also, once the ships were taken, had the galley slaves who were freed. And, once the Oathbreakers were gone, "a great gathering" of men of Lebennin, Ethir, and Lamedon came to join Aragorn. They had been prevented from responding to the call of Gondor before by Sauron's armies of the South. Remember how Pippin watched the forces come into Minas Tirith and the people were dismayed to see so few? Aragorn brings with him the rest of Gondor's army which could not come before, and that is what turns the tide of the battle.

As to the uses of the Dead - they may have been "invincible", in the sense that they could not be killed themselves, but neither did they kill anyone. They terrified the Corsairs so that they abandoned their ships, jumped overboard, and fled. Aragorn and the Rangers did the killing, what there was of it. Mostly I think the Corsairs just ran.

"Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether the blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them. ... To every ship they came that was drawn up, and then they passed over the water to those that were anchored; and all the mariners were filled with a madness of terror and leaped overboard, save the slaves chained to the oars. Reckless we rode among our fleeing foes, driving them like leaves, until we came to the shore. .... Ere that dark day ended none of the enemy were left to resist us; all were drowned, or were flying south in the hope to find their own lands upon foot."

Thirdly, even if he were not bound to release them there, Aragorn could not take the Oathbreakers with him because his own army could not have stood their presence. It would be like having the Nazgul there - the Rangers had the courage to follow Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead, but without him they could not have done it, and they were all afraid even so - everyone except Legolas. If the galley slaves had not been chained to their oars, they would have leapt overboard like the Corsairs. Aragorn sent Rangers aboard all the ships afterward to reassure and comfort them after the Dead had cleared out the Corsairs. And the men of the lands about didn't dare to rally to Aragorn until the Dead were gone.

"...on the third day we came to Linhir above the mouth of Gilrain. And there men of Lamedon contested the fords with fell folk of Umbar and Harad who had sailed up the river. But defenders and foes alike gave up the battle and fled when we came, crying out that the King of the Dead was upon them. Only Angbor, Lord of Lamedon, had the heart to abide us; and Aragorn bade him to gather his folk and come behind, if they dared, when the Grey Host had passed. "At Pelargir the Heir of Isildur will have need of you," he said. "

Lastly, if Aragorn had taken the Dead to the Pelennor, he would not have had the men needed to sail the ships in order to get there. And when he got there, the Dead might have caused confusion in the enemy, and caused them to retreat, but it seems that perhaps as wraiths they may not have been able to physically destroy them. On the other hand, the real, physical army Aragorn did arrive with were able to defeat and destroy a large portion of the enemy, making it impossible for them to regroup and reform an attack and decisively ending the battle. It also lessened the numbers they later faced at the Black Gates.

The Oathbreakers of the book are definitely not the scrubbing bubbles of the movie. Smile


"Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dűm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone."


Sep 6 2013, 2:03am

Post #7 of 9 (128 views)
A most thorough and excellent answer!// [In reply to] Can't Post



Sep 6 2013, 3:44am

Post #8 of 9 (142 views)
We ain't scared of no ghosts [In reply to] Can't Post

Aragorn had the right to let them go anytime they wanted, and he did so near the sea for a couple of reasons.

1: He needed them to get rid of the Corsairs, who literally jumped ship into the sea or ran for it on the coast. This would not work against the main battle at the Pelennor, where Mordor's lieutenants and captains could rally their men against the living men of Gondor and Rohan. The ghosts worked simply by fear ("Gimli wondered if their blades would still bite") and their main weapon was to scare people off.

Bear in mind that the men of Lamedon also ran away apart from their lord Angbor, and the slaves manning the oars couldn't run because they were chained. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if Aragorn brought the Oathbreakers to Gondor and Rohan's lines! They needed living men as reinforcements, not shades that they would be scared of.

2: Aragorn travelled the world and learned empathy and mercy from Gandalf and others. The Oathbreakers were already well beyond their intended lifespan and were clearly tortured people. After the Corsairs had been routed the King of the Dead and Aragorn almost have a pause, as if to wait for Aragorn's verdict. His release of the Dead is also a lead in to Legolas' comment "is he not of the Children of Luthien?" as the Elf discusses how majestic Aragorn is in that moment. Bringing the Dead to Minas Tirith is something Boromir might do but not Aragorn.


Sep 8 2013, 8:16am

Post #9 of 9 (121 views)
Thank you! Another one [In reply to] Can't Post

It is not clear at all that Aragorn would have been able to command the Dead against the Ringwraithes.
Possibly, one of those at Pelargir would have stopped all nonsense, but all Nine were directed towards Minas Tirith (which pretty likely helped Celeborn in Mirkwood, too). Another good thing to come out of Pippin's idiocy with the Orthanc-stone.


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