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**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 4. “The Fords were small protection without Isengard and still less against it.”


Mar 23, 1:14pm

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**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 4. “The Fords were small protection without Isengard and still less against it.” Can't Post

I apologize for the delay in posting these latter discussion segments! In any case, in our reading and talking about “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”, we’ve now come to the second of Tolkien’s two ‘appendices’.

Christopher Tolkien tells us that this was written as a long footnote to the text at the point where Grimbold and Elfhelm debate the correct position for defending the Fords against forces from Isengard. CT decided to reset it as an ‘appendix’.
A. Why would J. R. R. Tolkien write a footnote two pages in length?

The editor also notes that the piece heavily repeats information covered in the ‘Cirion and Eorl’ essay elsewhere in Unfinished Tales, and in the LotR Appendices, but he decided to publish it in full.
B. Was CT right to do so, or should he have ‘edited’ it to avoid needless repetition?

So, duly warned that we have gone over this material before, let’s look at it in the context of the military maneuvers that opened the War of the Ring in Rohan.

The first section is a description of the land between the North and South Kingdoms, called the Enedwaith or “middle region”. Originally part of Gondor, it was never really settled by the Numenoreans or their Gondorian descendants.
C. Isn’t this area the part of Middle-earth where in the Second Age Numenor engaged in heavy forestry operations to maintain its fleets, so much so that it permanently altered the environment?

Whether or not I’ve got that right, the land is clearly situated on the continental coastal plain. It is temperate and well-watered country, between the fertile and prosperous Gondor and the fertile and prosperous Arnor.
D. Is there any climatic, ecological or geological explanation for why the Enedwaith shouldn’t have been equally fertile, prosperous, and hence fairly heavily populated?

This map highlights the situation after the days of the Kings, i.e. c. 2000-2500 Third Age. Gondor no longer rules over the Enedwaith, but Celenardhon has not yet been given to the Rohirrim. From Gondor’s point of view, the Gap between the mountains that is guarded by Isengard is the ‘back door’ to their eastward-facing realm.

Some of the greatest and richest trade routes in Europe were over land, for instance between the Mediterranean and the Baltic, connecting Venice and Genoa with Amsterdam and Antwerp. Even Bree is said to have once been wealthy for its location at the crossroads of the East-West and North-South Great Roads.
E. Why is there no trade – which bows to no Lord, dark or light – across the Enedwaith in the latter days of the Third Age?

In the midst of this oddly howling wilderness, we learn, the people who will be known as the Dunlendings inhabit Dunland on the western slopes of the Misty Mountains. They are related to the accursed men of Dunharrow in the White Mountains, and are described as “sullen”, “hardy and bold enough” but “in awe” of Gondor’s might, and having “few dealings with other men.”
F. Are any humans as bad as all that? What are some real world examples?

Dunland-style living, from LotR Online: "Tur Morva -- Tal Methedras. The Falcon-clan has established a village in the northwest corner of Dunland."
Comment on how Frank Lloyd Wright’s Welsh heritage helps explain this image.

The text and the footnote insist that the Dunlendings never originally lived in what became Rohan, but simply crossed from mountain terrain to new mountain terrain.
G. Is this consistent with the Dunlendings’ claims in LotR, as voiced at the battle of Helm’s Deep?

The narrative moves to the latter days of the Third Age. Gondor now regards the river Isen as its boundary on the west, whose Fords are “the only easy entrance to Gondor.” This strategic crossing is guarded by the fortresses at Aglarond (aka the Hornburg in Helm’s Deep) and Angrenost (better known as Isengard).
H. Both are dozens of miles from the Fords. Why not build a fortress, or better yet a bridge, at the Fords themselves, along the lines of Osgiliath on the Anduin?

During the “Watchful Peace” (c. 2000 to 2500), the Gondorian population in Celanardhon “dwindled: the more vigorous, year by year, went eastward to hold the line of the Anduin; those that remained became rustic and far removed from the concerns of Minas Tirith.” Those left behind are accused of being “of more and more mixed blood,” i.e., blending with the incoming Dunlendings who are migrating east of the Isen.

This seems confused to me. People generally migrate for better economic opportunities, or to flee threats to their safety. Here the “vigorous” folk (what does that mean, anyway?) seem to be moving towards danger and away from the (presumably) fertile valleys and plains just east of the Gap.
I. Does Tolkien himself believe that “blood” has a relationship to character, so that “vigorous blood” will seek out challenges, while “mixing blood” is rash and ill-advised? or is he just modeling his mythology on medieval-style beliefs?

The next event is well-known: the West is over-run by invasions from the East, and the Rohirrim of the North under Eorl the Young ride heroically to Gondor’s rescue at the Field of Celebrant. The Rohirrim are granted the land of Celanardhon as their own, and they harry the intruding Dunlendings back over the Isen. The Dunlendings develop a revanchist myth of hatred of the ‘usurpers’.

According to this account, the Dunlendings had only lived in the western parts of “Rohan” for the past few centuries; for the preceding two thousand years they had lived west of the Misty Mountains, while Gondorians had both ruled and lived in the land that the Rohirrim are alleged to have “stolen” from the men of Dunland. Oddly, this reminded me of how the French, while conquering Algeria in the 1800s, decided that as descendants of the Roman Empire that had colonized North Africa 2000 years before, they could claim ‘prior ownership’ over the more recent Berber and Arabic inhabitants who had only lived on the land for the previous 1000 years or so. I’ll bet you can think of other examples where a people’s claim to a homeland ends up being historically challenged.
J. With his prominent fable of the Dunlendings vs. the Rohirrim in LotR, is Tolkien making a comment on European imperialism, which was in its historical decline when he wrote this?

Now comes the history that, I think, is not covered anywhere else, at least in such detail. And this account contains the basic point that Tolkien wants to make: although Rohan’s job as ally was to defend Gondor’s less-vital northwestern front, “nonetheless there was a grave weakness in their situation”.

The “weakness” has several components: the Stewards of Gondor did not see the the Gap of Rohan as a strategic problem, compared to that of Mordor and the East; the Stewards kept for themselves the keys of Orthanc, and manned Isengard with a Gondorian garrison rather than giving the fortress to Rohan; the Rohirrim did not settle around the Fords, but rather regarded the region with some dread due to the magical nature of Orthanc and the mysterious vales of nearby Fangorn Forest; nevertheless the Fords themselves were guarded by the Men of Rohan, operating out of the Aglarond.
K. Comments on the Rohirrim’s fear of “the ‘Lord of Isengard’ and his secret folk, whom they believed to be dealers in dark magic”?

The consequences of these arrangements constituted the “grave weakness”: Even though Rohan was responsible for guarding the Fords, the stronger fortress for doing so, Isengard, was out of their orbit and of their control even as the owners of Isengard neglected it and allowed it to decay.
L. Should someone, over the 250 years of Rohan’s history before Saruman took over Isengard, have noticed this problem and called Gondor’s attention to it?

This section includes an odd remark: “Isen…as it went on southwards [from Isengard] was still a young river that offered no great obstacles to invaders…” This is stated to explain how it was that the Dunlendings began once again to infiltrate the northern reaches of the Mark, under the compromised eye of the “mixed blood” garrison of Isengard, without confronting Rohan’s guards at the Fords: “the Dunlendings unmarked by Rohan but with the connivance of Isengard began to filter into northern Westfold again.” (emphases by squire)
M. If wandering peasants like the Dunlendings can wade across the upper Isen in such numbers, why did Saruman even bother with his famous bridge to get his armies to the eastern bank of the river?

N. So the Dunlendings entered Celenardhon/Rohan unnoticed until they presented a danger … twice. The Rohirrim evict them and harry them back to Dunland, causing a legacy of resentment and hatred … twice. Tolkien has often been accused of a lack of imagination in his recycling of plots. Is this such an instance, and does it weaken the narrative?

Well, why not? OK, here are some of Dunland’s Finest, courtesy of New Line Pictures. How are they different from the Rohirrim?

With Isengard ‘turned’ by the Dunlendish incursion, King Deor of Rohan discovered in 2710 that he was powerless to do anything about the new situation. Gondor could likewise do nothing, being otherwise occupied. Deor and his successors resorted to keeping “a strong force of Riders in the north of Westfold” against the threat of Isengard and the onslaught of Dunlendish raiding parties from the highlands around Isengard and Fangorn.
O. If Rohan could keep a strong force in the area for almost 50 years, why couldn’t it besiege and starve out the fortress itself?

It wasn’t until the dire events of the Long Winter in 2758-59 that Rohan under Frealaf was able to “starve out” the Dunlendings who controlled Isengard. In the aftermath of that disastrous time, Saruman offered to take over and restore Isengard and Orthanc as a strong point in the defense of the West. He was, as we know, welcomed by both Rohan and Gondor, with no bad results for the first few centuries or so.

Tolkien says that Saurman saw Isengard as a “bulwark against invasion from the East” that could threaten Eriador, or the far west coasts of Gondor. Yet up to now Isengard has been painted as a bastion that defended the Isen from threats to the West, which is why Gondor ignored it for so long.
P. Why would the Stewards of Gondor not have seen Isengard’s value as Saruman saw it?

And so our ‘footnote from Hell’ comes to an end: When Saruman turns evil, Rohan learns at near-fatal expense that the Fords are undefendable if Isengard is in hostile hands. And that seems to be Tolkien’s real purpose in writing this entire set of essays and commentaries: to show, as his dramatic final line puts it, “that the Fords were small protection without Isengard and still less against it.”

Yet as we have learned, Rohan had already experienced a hostile Isengard, and the resulting infiltration of enemies into the Westfold without crossing the defended Fords.
Q. Why were the commanders at the First and Second Battles of the Fords of Isen so unable to reconsider their strategic assumptions in the face of both map logic and this historical precedent?

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd & 4th TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion and NOW the 1st BotR Discussion too! and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Subject User Time
**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 4. “The Fords were small protection without Isengard and still less against it.” squire Send a private message to squire Mar 23, 1:14pm
    Where is everyone, in Enedwaith? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Mar 23, 4:54pm
        Yes, that is one thing which has always struck me...... elaen32 Send a private message to elaen32 Mar 23, 7:24pm
        Could it be a subtle magic enacted by Saruman? sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 25, 1:35pm
    M... why did Saruman bother with his bridge to get his armies to the eastern bank? Meneldor Send a private message to Meneldor Mar 23, 7:10pm
    O. If Rohan could keep a strong force in the area, why couldn’t it besiege the fortress? Meneldor Send a private message to Meneldor Mar 23, 7:18pm
        That makes great sense. Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Mar 23, 7:23pm
            The cavalry noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Mar 23, 9:45pm
    The deforestation would have been the likely cause. DanielLB Send a private message to DanielLB Mar 24, 12:11pm
    Late is the time in which this conjurer shows up. sador Send a private message to sador Mar 27, 11:50am
    "Why Don't We Just Wade Across the River, General Saruman?" Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Apr 1, 9:05pm
    Saruman, no warlord Felagund Send a private message to Felagund Apr 3, 10:50pm
        Great thoughts squire Send a private message to squire Apr 3, 11:06pm
            Saurman the strategist, and Tolkien the wargamer noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Apr 6, 8:23am


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