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***The Hobbit read-through -The Clouds Burst: 3 of 3: The Battle of 5 Armies

noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 13, 10:27am

Post #1 of 13 (1038 views)
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***The Hobbit read-through -The Clouds Burst: 3 of 3: The Battle of 5 Armies Can't Post

The final part of the chapter begins with Tolkien giving us a quick catch-up on how the goblins and their warg allies assembled.
We then get an account of the allies (men-elves-dwarves) battle plan, but I’ll roll that into a description of how the battle actually unfolds:

Phase 1 – Bolg is tempted between the Mountain’s arms
The Mountain is shaped roughly like a starfish, with Thorin’s gate at the join between two arms. Thus the approach to the gate provides is a triangle bounded on two sides by mountain spurs, and with the gate at the apex. The third side of the triangle opens towards Dale.

The allies plan to tempt Bolg into the triangle, by providing a small force of men across the open side of the triangle. These are attacked, and suffer heavy losses, but as they fall back, the goblin and warg army ‘poured now in rage into the valley’, seemingly in some disorder (‘driving wildly up between the arms of the mountain’). Here they are attacked first from one mountain arm and then from the other, and appear about to break.

Does this part of the battle, or Gandalf’s battle plan remind you of any real-life battles?

Is Bolg foolish to fall for this trap? Has he too little control over his troops? What other plans might he have tried?

Phase 2 – Counterattack over the mountains
Just when Victory for the allies is near, goblin troops arrive over the top of the mountain, able to attack the allied lines from the flank.

This danger has been foreseen and forces (lead by Bard in Person on one flank) have been assigned to prevent them. But the goblins have superior numbers and cannot be held back for long.

Meanwhile, in the valley, the wargs and goblins regroup and launch a counter-attack. The men and dwarves are being separated and driven down towards the ends of the mountain spurs, where (I imagine) there are fresh goblin troops that have not been able to fit into the valley.

Phase 3 – Thorin!
Just when defeat for the allies is near, Thorin and his group break down their wall and emerge into the tip of the valley. Joined by dwarves, men and elves, they launch an attack down the valley, but do not have the force of numbers to keep up their momentum. Soon they are slowed to a halt and surrounded. Goblin victory – winning the gate, getting the treasure and cutting the allies off from retreat into Erebor – seems imminent, when the pendulum swings again.

Do you like the idea of Thorin’s wall having been engineered such that it could be quickly demolished from the inside? What would have been the original intention behind this?

Does Thorin remind you of Theoden charging out of Helm’s Deep? Or other fictional battles (in Tolkien or elsewhere)?

Phase 4 – The Eagles Are Coming
Defeat seems near. Gandalf seems deep in thought – and then:


Quote
The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow.
“The Eagles! The Eagles!” he shouted. “The Eagles are coming!


Equipped with the knowledge of Tolkien’s posthumously-published works, what do you make of this sequence? One explanation might be that, our heroes having given their all that ‘what should be shall be’, the eagles intervene as a sign of divine favour, with the appropriate lighting and drama. To what extent were all these elements in place already when Tolkien was writing Hobbit, and what of them might a reader of The Hobbit only expect to pick up?

Similarly, reading LOTR, one gets used to 'the West' (from which the Eagles and the light now come) sometimes being a metaphorical or sometimes literal reference to benign powers. Powers which, come the 1970s Tolkien fans could see as the Valar. Similarly in LOTR 'the East' sometimes seems to be a metaphorical or literal reference to Sauron. (Naturally it's possible to take this idea and try to form a comprehensive schema in which every mention of a compass direction is assumed significant, and everyone will have a different extent to which they think this idea can be pushed.) Are elements of this ‘moral compass’ already present here? I notice that both the goblin army (and Smaug, originally) came from the North (Melkor's old stamping grounds - or limping grounds, possibly). Is North, rather than East the 'bad' direction at present?

What had Gandalf been doing 'deep in thought' - preparing some die-in-the-last-ditch blast of magic, as the text suggests? Calling in the eagles? Something else?

--
Bilbo is struck unconscious next, before we find out whether the intervention of the eagles wins the battle. So we should stop our account of the events too.

Why does Tolkien finish here, narrating third-person but only telling what Bilbo can see? And why does he echo these events and the being struck unconscious when Pippin stands (in the battle-line, unlike Bilbo!) outside the Black Gate?

--
Bilbo
The battle is witnessed for us by Bilbo, standing at the Elvenking’s command post on Ravenhill, so let’s now tun to how or favourite burglar is doing. The events of the day are interspersed with some observations about how Bilbo is doing:


Quote
It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most—which is to say it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it. Actually I may say he put on his ring early in the business, and vanished from sight, if not from all danger.


… if he was going to be in a last desperate stand, he preferred on the whole to defend the Elvenking.

… Misery me! I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing. I wish I was well out of it.


What do you make of Bilbo’s thoughts, his Baggins side to the fore? – he seems to be the butt of some authorial fun. Is this to lighten the effect of the deadly battle, or are there other effects (intended, or observed by you, whether intended or not)?

I see some irony of ‘The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most—which is to say it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it.’ I wonder whether that’s a gentle dig at the ‘how I won the war’ stories Tolkien might have heard from other veterans?

Why or how has the Elvenking won Bilbo’s affection and loyalty, such that if Bilbo must lay down his life, it will be defending this person?

Finally – overall, how does this account of a battle compare and contrast with the great battles elsewhere in Tolkien’s works?

That’s my last post for the week, so please also raise any points you’ve been keeping back to see whether we covered them!

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 13, 10:58pm

Post #2 of 13 (984 views)
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This battle does remind me a bit [In reply to] Can't Post

Of another battle with five in the title. The fifth battle in the Silmarillion. The bit about luring the enemy army into a place hard to defend and then attacking them anyway!


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 13, 11:05pm

Post #3 of 13 (985 views)
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What where the actual numbers here? [In reply to] Can't Post

Unlike the battles in Lotr which have been intensively analyzed, this one still has been relatively undiscussed. I make it there are 200 Dwarves, lets say that there are more men than elves, so about 1000 men and a bit fewer elves? Oh, plus 13 Dwarves with Thorin. And of course a few more Goblins. Which still makes it small beer by comparison with some of the Lotr ones. Though I am guessing that the strategic importance of the mountain makes up for this somewhat. Anyway, has it ever been said anywhere officially?


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 13, 11:14pm

Post #4 of 13 (981 views)
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Beorn [In reply to] Can't Post

Beorn and his decisive contribution. I am a bit torn about this. Between the realist and the romantic. Now the realist in me suggests that Beorn did not come by himself. He was in fact the leader of a few of his people that came with him. I can't find anything in the text that outrightly contradicts that point of view. But then the romantic in me would like to think that Beorn was such a powerful creature that he could knock over many Goblins by himself!


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Sep 14, 1:01am

Post #5 of 13 (977 views)
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BoFA by the Numbers [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Unlike the battles in Lotr which have been intensively analyzed, this one still has been relatively undiscussed. I make it there are 200 Dwarves, lets say that there are more men than elves, so about 1000 men and a bit fewer elves? Oh, plus 13 Dwarves with Thorin. And of course a few more Goblins. Which still makes it small beer by comparison with some of the Lotr ones. Though I am guessing that the strategic importance of the mountain makes up for this somewhat. Anyway, has it ever been said anywhere officially?


Tolkien tells us that Dain brings more than 500 Dwarves. And we also know there were more than 1000 Wood-elves (maybe twice that number or more). There were probably no more than a few hundred Lake-men. Here is the assessment of Karen Wynn Fonstad from The Atlas of Middle-earth:


Quote
Quickly the Elves, Men and Dwarves allied against the oncoming enemies. They were hopelessly outnumbered: Dáin had brought "five hundred grim dwarves"; the Elvenking commanded at least a thousand spearmen, plus archers; and while Bard's forces are uncertain, they may have been as few as two hundred, judging from the size of the town. In contrast, the enemy had "a vast host".


In addition, we learn that the Eagles had gathered "in great numbers". And we must add Beorn, Thorin and his companions, and our titular Hobbit.


In Reply To
Beorn and his decisive contribution. I am a bit torn about this. Between the realist and the romantic. Now the realist in me suggests that Beorn did not come by himself. He was in fact the leader of a few of his people that came with him. I can't find anything in the text that outrightly contradicts that point of view. But then the romantic in me would like to think that Beorn was such a powerful creature that he could knock over many Goblins by himself!


On the contrary, the text suggests that Beorn was living a solitary life at the time of the Battle of Five Armies and did not become a chief of the Men of the Anduin Vales until afterwards. There was no 'Beorning' people prior to that time, though Beorn presumably came from a people of Northmen stock that we never meet in the books (unless he takes his wife from that folk).

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Sep 14, 1:06am)


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 14, 8:56pm

Post #6 of 13 (819 views)
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Goblin-bashing and Bilbo [In reply to] Can't Post

I've been swamped by work all week--sorry I'm slow to reply. But then here I find you bashing the goblins again as if they're cannon-fodder, and you seem rather biased against them winning. Fae news strikes again!

First off, there is a nearly inexplicable connection between Bilbo and the Elvenking. They certainly never met or spoke while Bilbo was invisibly burgling his halls and liberating his prisoners. And now that I think about it, recall how the elves in Laketown protested that Thorin & Co were their king's prisoners and should be returned to him, yet the Elvenking makes no such claim himself when he sees Bilbo on his Arkenstone mission. Is it because the stakes are higher? Or with the dragon dead, Thorin is clearly within his rights to repossess Erebor, so threatening to imprison him for begging for food and trespassing is no longer valid? Or does the Elvenking nurse all these grudges, and we just don't hear about them?

But I think that what creeps into the story is Tolkien's belief that Elves are morally superior as a race no matter what, and Bilbo gravitates toward them as like-minded people, whereas the men and dwarves are proving too materialistic and bloodthirsty for his taste. So he takes his stand with them, but then by going invisible, it seems he was maybe not going to go down fighting at all and was hoping to slip away in the chaos.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 14, 9:10pm

Post #7 of 13 (814 views)
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Battle plans [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Hamfast, for pointing out the 5th battle in Beleriand--I'd forgotten that was the Fingon/Maedhros strategy there too. I was thinking more of Hannibal's Battle of Cannae where he likewise had a loose screen of soldiers fall back on purpose and draw a large Roman army between his wings so he could surround them, which is usually called the classic example of double envelopment. It's pretty much every strategist's ideal scenario for slaughtering the enemy. Bolg was clever to not completely fall for it, and in fact more clever since he had a trap for their trap.

Though I have a small problem with geography here. Is this a real mountain we're talking about, or a cute little hill like Watership Down, because getting an army over the top of a real mountain and down again is neither fast nor easy, but the goblins sure make it seem both.

Wargs/wolves: it wasn't too hard for Gandalf to wreak havoc among them with a few burning pine cones some chapters back, so why doesn't he pull the same trick here, especially if he knew they were on their way? He should have been brimming with ammo.

Thorin's dwarfus ex machina: just as I question the geography here, I wonder about what kind of sturdy wall built for defense is so easily levered over by its defenders. I guess it doesn't pay to question some aspects too closely. I do like the drama of Thorin's appearance--and yes, thanks for the Theoden reference, both at Helm's Deep and on the Pelennor where his gold armor shone like a beacon. I also like how Thorin--the most divisive character up to this point--unites all three races behind him. That is just the coolest of cool things to happen. It still seems improbable that a band of 13 can make that much difference amid 100's of soldiers, but it's still stirring.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 14, 9:25pm

Post #8 of 13 (814 views)
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The Beagles are coming! [In reply to] Can't Post

That would have been cuter, to have a bunch of dogs run to the rescue. The beagle barking alone would have made the goblins surrender.

But we've got birds instead, and only at the last moment. Well, not quite the last, since it's Beorn who makes the *real* difference, which honestly downgrades the importance of the eagles here as saviors. Instead they're more like late entries to the game. And since they constitute their own army, it really should be called the Battle of Six Armies, so I don't know how Tolkien lost count, though I agree that counting Beorn as an army of one would be going overboard.

It's hard to *not* see the eagles as angelic saviors, swooping down from the heavens when all is lost on mortal earth. Isn't that what angels are for? And this battle has felt biblical to me since Gandalf first made his dramatic appearance to separate the warring good guys and unite them against evil, along with some dramatic playing with clouds in the sky too. Throw in some tablets with commandments on them and a pillar of fire, and we'd have a whole Mosaic scene on display.

I can't help wonder about the logistics of the eagles. Were they really late, or were they hovering out of sight, held in reserve until Gandalf sent a sign? Or if they were flying all the way to Erebor, why weren't they totally exhausted and unable to fight? Or did they stop in Mirkwood along the way, and if so, did they have to fight giant spiders there? And what were they eating along the way if they'd run out of farmers' sheep and the rabbits were scarce in the wasteland?


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 14, 9:38pm

Post #9 of 13 (812 views)
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The battle: laughter and tears [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most—which is to say it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it. Actually I may say he put on his ring early in the business, and vanished from sight, if not from all danger.

I suppose because this is children's lit, the battle needs some levity, so we get it here with this description of Bilbo. Later come the tears when Thorin and his nephews are dead/dying. I would think, actually, that Bilbo would be reluctant to retell the story of the battle since he lost three friends in it.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Sep 15, 12:12am

Post #10 of 13 (790 views)
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Geography of Lonely Mountain [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Though I have a small problem with geography here. Is this a real mountain we're talking about, or a cute little hill like Watership Down, because getting an army over the top of a real mountain and down again is neither fast nor easy, but the goblins sure make it seem both.

Wargs/wolves: it wasn't too hard for Gandalf to wreak havoc among them with a few burning pine cones some chapters back, so why doesn't he pull the same trick here, especially if he knew they were on their way? He should have been brimming with ammo.

Thorin's dwarfus ex machina: just as I question the geography here, I wonder about what kind of sturdy wall built for defense is so easily levered over by its defenders. I guess it doesn't pay to question some aspects too closely. I do like the drama of Thorin's appearance--and yes, thanks for the Theoden reference, both at Helm's Deep and on the Pelennor where his gold armor shone like a beacon. I also like how Thorin--the most divisive character up to this point--unites all three races behind him. That is just the coolest of cool things to happen. It still seems improbable that a band of 13 can make that much difference amid 100's of soldiers, but it's still stirring.


What we have to remember here is that the Goblins are not climbing over the main part of the Mountain but over the much lower ridges of the spurs.


Larger image here.

Too. Many. Wargs!

I don't think it is unreasonable that Thorin and his companions could have engineered their wall so that it could be collapsed from their own side.

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Sep 15, 12:13am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Sep 15, 7:42pm

Post #11 of 13 (705 views)
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"Miserere mei!" [In reply to] Can't Post

Do the Eagles arrive in response to Bilbo's prayer?


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


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CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 16, 12:05am

Post #12 of 13 (678 views)
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Maybe his magic ring has is charged up with 1 wish he can use. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 24, 9:43pm

Post #13 of 13 (584 views)
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As I have read this battle [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think there was anything big or clever or magical or interventionist done by anyone here. Even the slaying of Bolg I think was more symbolic than anything else. A bit like Hitler dying in 1945. The fighting was done by then. I think that ultimately the powers of Dwarves, Men, Elves. Eagles and Beorn was stronger than the Orc/Warg army.

 
 

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