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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
A Military Historian looks at the siege of Minas Tirith

Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 7, 2:52pm

Post #1 of 14 (1346 views)
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A Military Historian looks at the siege of Minas Tirith Can't Post

Focused on the movie, with cross-comparisons to the book.

Pay particular attention to what he has to say about the "morale battle." (Also the stupid movie trebuchets)

https://acoup.blog/2019/05/10/collections-the-siege-of-gondor/


(This post was edited by Solicitr on Mar 7, 2:52pm)


Lily Fairbairn
Half-elven


Mar 7, 4:02pm

Post #2 of 14 (1309 views)
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Wow! [In reply to] Can't Post

What an amazing series of compare-and-contrast essays, considering not only real history and tactics but the demands of story-telling and cinematography.

I'm passing the link on to my son, who is an LotR fan as well as having a master's degree in military history.

Thank you!

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow....


Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

Mar 7, 8:05pm

Post #3 of 14 (1288 views)
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Trebuchets [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Focused on the movie, with cross-comparisons to the book.

Pay particular attention to what he has to say about the "morale battle." (Also the stupid movie trebuchets)

https://acoup.blog/2019/05/10/collections-the-siege-of-gondor/


You mean the movie catapults?


Chen G.
Rohan

Mar 7, 9:34pm

Post #4 of 14 (1274 views)
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Gondorian Trebuchets [In reply to] Can't Post

The Gondorians use Trebuchets in the movie, while the Orcs use Catapults.

I don't see what's silly about it: Gondor is supposed to much more advanced than the other civilizations of Middle Earth: giving them anachronistic armour and artillery seems to work towards establishing that.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Mar 7, 11:27pm

Post #5 of 14 (1259 views)
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Re: Gondorian Trebuchets [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not sure if the objection is to the forces of Minas Tirith having trebuchets, or to the size of the loads that they are able to launch.

#FidelityToTolkien


Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

Mar 8, 5:59am

Post #6 of 14 (1208 views)
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Yes, [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree.


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 8, 1:49pm

Post #7 of 14 (1157 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

The objections he has are

a) the size of the "projectiles" (heavier than the counterweight, possibly heavier than the entire engine) - historically never got bigger than 300-500 pounds, not many tons
b) the composition- chunks of multipiece carved masonry, not regular balls
c) Their location, on the walls. Two problems: exposure to the enemy, and the fact that the massive forces unleashed in firing them would tear up said walls. Defensive trebs were known, but they were located on the ground, inside the walls- the arcing trajectory is ample to clear the obstacle
d) Trebs are rotten antipersonnel weapons

He then goes after the Orcs' catapults, which sorta kinda resemble onagers but in fact represent physical impossibilities. (If they were onagers/mangonels, the point would be not that the trebuchet was "more advanced" than Roman torsion artillery, but that the latter are mobile whereas the former are stationary engines, built immovably in place. He goes on at great length regarding logistics)

Still, all this engineering stuff (also re the siege towers), even his mockery of the W-K's absurd flail, is really less important than his observations on the supreme importance of morale*, and that Tolkien's version of the campaign makes military sense and reflects well on both Denethor and Faramir, whereas the movie version is nonsensical, capped by Filmamir's preposterous suicide charge.

_________________________

*In the real world, battles are not won by slaughtering the enemy to a man. They are won by making him run away. (Slaughter might then ensue, as at Towton). As Napoleon said, "A battle is simply two large groups of men trying to frighten one another" The all important prize on the battlefield is establishing morale superiority. Morale is why the Nazgul are so hugely effective- not by dive-bombing horses - and also the potency of the Dead Men, who apparently pose no physical danger at all (at Pelargir, not here of course). This, in the book, is finally established once and for all by Aragorn displaying the standard, even before his troops disembark, breaking the morale of Sauron's forces and reinvigorating his own allies' (re-read the pasage)- not by deploying a fantasy WMD.


(This post was edited by Solicitr on Mar 8, 1:59pm)


Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

Mar 9, 2:56pm

Post #8 of 14 (1057 views)
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Subject [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent points, Solicitr.


Hasuwandil
Rivendell


Mar 12, 12:58pm

Post #9 of 14 (1017 views)
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A fellow flailer, eh? [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the URL. It's almost as bad as a link to TV Tropes. I ended up reading many of the author's articles and forgetting half of what I read. Two comments:

I checked Rankin/Bass's The Return of the King, and surprisingly the Witch-king uses a mace. It's of the spiked, not flanged variety, but it's definitely not a flail.

Also, reading about sieges got me wondering what Théoden was thinking holing up at Helm's Deep. Was he expecting to be relieved shortly, or did he have a food source that he could get to but Saruman's forces couldn't, at least not very easily? At some point I'll get to those chapters in my reading, but I haven't given a lot of thought to it before, even though I recall there was some discussion on that subject between Théoden and Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Two Towers.

Hêlâ Auriwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 12, 3:03pm

Post #10 of 14 (1007 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

according to the book there were substantial stores of food and fodder in the caves of the Deep- and no civilian mouths to feed.

As to Theoden's decision: he really had no choice, since he was hugely outnumbered, other than to to take up a strong defensive position. Had he tried to fight Saruman's hordes in the open he would have been engulfed and broken as Elfhelm's/Grimbold's Riders had been. Fortunately for him, Saruman's field commander believed it more important to kill the king than to simply invest the Hornburg and send the rest of his host to rape and pillage. He might not have been wrong, given the "brittleness" of political and military structures in Rohan.


Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

Mar 28, 8:02am

Post #11 of 14 (830 views)
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I might have misunderstood your post... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
and also the potency of the Dead Men, who apparently pose no physical danger at all (at Pelargir, not here of course).


but aren't the Dead Men of Erech always intended to pose non-physical threat? Why you said ''not here, of course''?

Some further explanation re this point:

''Now, while there are various sorts of undead spirits in the Ardaverse, of varying degrees of ability and psychic power, the key thing is that in most cases their power is psychic. Even the Nazgûl, who do have some sort of "body" left, though apparently stuck partly in the other dimension, and can act in this one because of that though invisible, are mostly able to cause damage by psychic vampirism. Elven-ghosts who have been tainted by the Dark Side can try, and possibly succeed, to possess people, but there are no actual accounts of this occurring in narrative, only mention of the fact, and evocative uses of the word "fey" in situations where "possessed" would be apt. It isn't clear if human ghosts, without necromantic assistance, can manage anything of the like. The Barrow-wights seem to be more like traditional draugar, animated corpses from Scandinavian folklore, but like them they are tied to the grave-mounds, and not able to roam. (I have not got a reference, but I believe they may be not supposed to be human ghosts at all, but some of Sauron's own fallen Maiar followers, set to possess and guard the land so that no one would settle there after the wars over Eriador.)

Human ghosts, in the Arda mythos, do not seem to have physical presence at all, or nothing significant: they (like ghosts in this world) can extinguish flames, it seems — but that their only power over the living is that of fear, and mind-numbing confusion, is strongly indicated throughout the texts. —Recall that the benevolent ghost in the tale of Beren and Lúthien, Gorlim the patriot entrapped and tortured into betraying his companions by Sauron, cannot avert the consequences of his treason himself, nor carry out his own revenge on their enemy, but can only pass on the word of his fall to one dreaming, in hopes that Beren will be able to warn their friends in time. It is a living hand that must kill the Orcs who butchered their people, not a dead one
''.

Barger, Joan. (2004) ''Promises Kept: ROTK-M'' (http://web.archive.org/web/20090614045920/http://oddlots.digitalspace.net/arthedain/promises/promises_kept.html).


(This post was edited by Paulo Gabriel on Mar 28, 8:03am)


Hasuwandil
Rivendell


Mar 28, 11:48am

Post #12 of 14 (812 views)
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Théoden's decision [In reply to] Can't Post

I recently read The Two Towers, so I can answer my own question now. It seems that Théoden had decided to join the forces defending the Fords of Isen, but on the way a messenger informed him that Saruman's forces had already broken through:


Quote
He came, a weary man with dinted helm and cloven shield. Slowly he climbed from his horse and stood there a while gasping. At length he spoke. 'Is Éomer here?' he asked. 'You come at last, but too late, and with too little strength. Things have gone evilly since Théodred fell. We were driven back yesterday over the Isen with great loss; many perished at the crossing. Then at night fresh forces came over the river against our camp. All Isengard must be emptied; and Saruman has armed the wild hillmen and herd-folk of Dunland beyond the rivers, and these also he loosed upon us. We were overmastered. The shield-wall was broken. Erkenbrand of Westfold has drawn off those men he could gather towards his fastness in Helm's Deep. The rest are scattered.


Despite the loss, Théoden determined still to fight:


Quote
Théoden had sat silent, hidden from the man's sight behind his guards; now he urged his horse forward. 'Come, stand before me, Ceorl!' he said. 'I am here. The last host of the Eorlingas has ridden forth. It will not return without battle.'

... 'Give this man a fresh horse! Let us ride to the help of Erkenbrand!'


Gandalf then counseled Théoden to make his stand at Helm's Deep instead of on the open plain:

While Théoden was speaking, Gandalf rode a short way ahead, and he sat there alone, gazing north to Isengard and west to the setting sun. Now he came back.

'Ride, Théoden!' he said. 'Ride to Helm's Deep! Go not to the Fords of Isen, and do not tarry in the plain! I must leave you for a while. Shadowfax must bear me now on a swift errand.' Turning to Aragorn and Éomer and the men of the king's household, he cried: 'Keep well the Lord of the Mark, till I return. Await me at Helm's Gate! Farewell!'


Apparently he had a plan, which may or may not have involved Huorns, but certainly involved Erkenbrand. One odd thing about the siege of the Hornburg is that it would have been extremely short as sieges go, whether Saruman's forces had won or lost, thanks to Saruman's "blasting fire" (presumably a weapon unique to Saruman). But even if they had won at the Hornburg, the fact that Saruman had sent nearly his entire army to attack Rohan meant that Isengard was as good as lost once the Ents mobilized.

Hêlâ Auriwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Mar 28, 12:56pm

Post #13 of 14 (806 views)
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The Army of the Dead [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To
and also the potency of the Dead Men, who apparently pose no physical danger at all (at Pelargir, not here of course).


but aren't the Dead Men of Erech always intended to pose non-physical threat? Why you said ''not here, of course''?


I think what Solicitr means is that the Dead Men of Erech never reached Minas Tirith in the novel as they were dismissed after the taking of the Corsair fleet. But, as to your first question, their threat is non-physical in Tolkien's legendarium. However, this is definitely not the case in Peter Jackson's adaptation (this is the forum for discussing the LotR films, after all).

#FidelityToTolkien


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 28, 2:13pm

Post #14 of 14 (802 views)
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Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

 

 
 

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