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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Discussion: The Black Gate Opens -- The Final Battle Before the Black Gate

Morthoron
Gondor


Nov 8 2008, 4:01am

Post #1 of 15 (1105 views)
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Discussion: The Black Gate Opens -- The Final Battle Before the Black Gate Can't Post

The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies. Sauron had taken the proffered bait in jaws of steel.

1. So, if I do the math correctly, there are approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Mordorion troops ringing Aragorn's 6,000 (actually 'less' than 6,000); thus, outnumbered and in a hostile land far removed from any aid, the Lords of Gondor face annihilation. This in fact is where one could say Tolkien deviates into utter fantasy, and that no army could sustain combat against such odds. However, there are many instances in 'real world' history that show a small, disciplined army can outdo a much larger force: at Bannockburn and Agincourt the odds were approximately 4-1; the Spartan '300' (which was, of course, more than 300, but let's not mess with legend) faced similar odds to those Aragorn encountered; and let's not forget the Alamo! Aragorn chose high ground (always sensible for a defensive position), and the orcs were 'hindered by the mires that lay before the hills'. A prime set-up for a eucatastrophe, wouldn't you say?

2. As Tolkien does throughout both The Hobbit and LotR, the battle is basically shown through the eyes of a Halfling, in this case Pippin. He has a wonderful little soliloquouy, regretting that Merry is not with him, and actually sympathizing with Denethor's decision to die with Faramir. An interesting parallel between Pippin in this battle and Bilbo at the Battle of Five Armies is that both are unconscious for most of the battle. Tolkien often abbreviates his battles (or doesn't dwell on them). Would you prefer a more in-depth description of combat?

3. Here we see firsthand the devastating advance of the Hill Trolls: 'Taller and broader than Men they were, and they were clad only in close-fitting mesh of horny scales, or maybe that was their hideous hide; but they bore round bucklers huge and black and wielded heavy hammers in their knotted hands.' We know that Trolls were made in mockery of the Ents, but of what stock were they derived? Or is this yet another enigma Tolkien never wholly explained (in all my research I could never find a thorough explanation)?

4. We find another 'echo' of a previous part of the tale when Pippin lies crushed beneath the Troll, and he hears the cries 'The Eagles are coming!' He mentions Bilbo, but realizes, like Frodo before him, that Bilbo's tale was far different than his own. Regarding the Eagles -- the cavalry in white cowboy hats of Middle-earth -- do you feel Tolkien overdoes the incessant amount of 'saving' the Eagles manage throughout the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and LotR? Do you consider this repeated plot contrivance a deus ex machina of legendary proportions?

Thanks to everyone who participated in this, my first chapter discussion, It was enjoyable.

THE EARL OF SANDWICH: "Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"
JOHN WILKES: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
John Wilkes (1727-1797)


Curious
Half-elven


Nov 8 2008, 9:33am

Post #2 of 15 (549 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

1. ... A prime set-up for a eucatastrophe, wouldn't you say?

Yes.

2. ... Would you prefer a more in-depth description of combat?

I like the way Tolkien focuses on the courage it takes to march towards combat, and to stand in the face of an attack, rather than the gory details of the combat.

3. ... We know that Trolls were made in mockery of the Ents, but of what stock were they derived? Or is this yet another enigma Tolkien never wholly explained (in all my research I could never find a thorough explanation)?

It's an enigma. Tolkien had a hard enough time with the origin of orcs, which he debated with himself without arriving at any firm conclusion. He never really moved on to trolls.

4. ... Regarding the Eagles -- the cavalry in white cowboy hats of Middle-earth -- do you feel Tolkien overdoes the incessant amount of 'saving' the Eagles manage throughout the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and LotR? Do you consider this repeated plot contrivance a deus ex machina of legendary proportions?

It would not have been that hard to explain the appearance of the Eagles, now or later. Put in a word or two about someone summoning or sending them, and all is explained. But Tolkien wanted to imply a deus ex machina. Tolkien never actually says that a Higher Power sends the Eagles to rescue Frodo and Sam, but implies that is the case by refusing to explain the sudden and unexpected appearance of the creatures, and furthermore highlighting the connection to the end of The Hobbit. Tolkien deliberately highlights the artificiality of this rescue. Why?

I think this is a proper use of the deus ex machina device. What most critics view as a flaw, Tolkien saw as necessary to eucatastrophe. The rescue must be totally unexpected and unforeseen. Frodo and Sam should have died on Mount Doom. Providence intervenes. Happy ending, happy ending, happy ending.

But Tolkien undercuts the happy ending in two ways. First, he makes it artificial. Then, he makes it a false ending. In fact, Frodo does not escape unscathed. His wounds return, unhealed. Frodo and Sam must part. The happy ending is undercut by a strong note of melancholy. It is still a happy ending, I believe, but there is bitter with the sweet.

So no, I don't think Tolkien overuses the Eagles. I think he uses them just enough, understanding that they are, as he said in one of Letter 210, a "dangerous 'machine,'" (i.e. machina), which must be used sparingly. But yes, of course the repeated device is a deus ex machina of legendary proportions, and that's okay! There is a proper time and place for such a "'machine.'"



Beren IV
Gondor


Nov 8 2008, 10:42pm

Post #3 of 15 (532 views)
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People get angry with me over this [In reply to] Can't Post

1. So, if I do the math correctly, there are approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Mordorion troops ringing Aragorn's 6,000 (actually 'less' than 6,000); thus, outnumbered and in a hostile land far removed from any aid, the Lords of Gondor face annihilation. This in fact is where one could say Tolkien deviates into utter fantasy, and that no army could sustain combat against such odds. However, there are many instances in 'real world' history that show a small, disciplined army can outdo a much larger force: at Bannockburn and Agincourt the odds were approximately 4-1; the Spartan '300' (which was, of course, more than 300, but let's not mess with legend) faced similar odds to those Aragorn encountered; and let's not forget the Alamo! Aragorn chose high ground (always sensible for a defensive position), and the orcs were 'hindered by the mires that lay before the hills'. A prime set-up for a eucatastrophe, wouldn't you say?

The whole point is that this battle is unwinnable. That was the intent from the get-go - this is a suicide mission, unless the Ringbearer comes through in the nick of time.


2. ... Would you prefer a more in-depth description of combat?

Sometimes I would, and sometimes I'm glad he didn't.

I've argued with many people on the abundance of magic in Middle-Earth, and the fact is it's really quite ambiguous. Most fantasy games out there today feature wizards who are capable as functioning as artillery pieces, hurling fireballs and other such magical spells as weapons. Because these things are not actually described by Tolkien, many assume M.E. to be "a low-magic world", but that's really not true. Tolkien does list some of the weapons in use by various armies, and it's conventional stuff like spears and arrows and swords with, yes, the occasional use of magic (or gunpowder or Greek fire or somesuch). There might still be fireball-wielding wizards in the battle, they just aren't important enough to mention.

If Tolkien actually described his battles in more detail, then there would be no room for interpretation. In my opinion, this would weaken his story. But it would also answer the magic question one way or the other, and people would no longer get mad at me because I present an interpretation they view as heretical, even though it is perfectly justifiable in the text.


3. ... We know that Trolls were made in mockery of the Ents, but of what stock were they derived? Or is this yet another enigma Tolkien never wholly explained (in all my research I could never find a thorough explanation)?

Honestly, I think trolls almost have to be stone, because that's what they turn into when exposed to sunlight (unless they are under the dark dominion of Sauron, of course). I don't think they're modified Ents; Ents are made of wood.


4. ...do you feel Tolkien overdoes the incessant amount of 'saving' the Eagles manage throughout the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and LotR? Do you consider this repeated plot contrivance a deus ex machina of legendary proportions?

There is someone I know who cannot appreciate the physics or the fantasy of movies (I'm sure she's never read the book), and does not see why the Fellowship didn't just use eagles to fly to Mordor and drop off the Ring in the first place. This is the danger of having the Eagles in the first place.

This same person has problems with Star Wars Episode IV: why did not Vader just use the Death Star to blow up Yavin, so that they could get to the moon where the rebels were hiding, instead of waiting for the moon to come into line of fire from its orbit? From a physics prospective, the answer is straightforward: the Death Star is quite capable of blowing up an Earth-sized rocky planet, but not a Jupiter-sized gas giant like Yavin.

Some people appreciate a deeper logic or symbolism into things and others just don't. Myself, I don't have any problem with the Eagles here: I can think of several possible reasons why just flying into Mordor on an Eagle's back might have been a very bad idea, even if Tolkien never explicitly tells us about them. I also don't have any problems with the Eagles being the servants of Manwë - Manwë isn't all-powerful, and Evil has an adversary for Him still.

It's the destruction of Númenor that bugs me.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Nov 9 2008, 1:44am

Post #4 of 15 (490 views)
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Petrified [In reply to] Can't Post

Beren IV's mention of Trolls turning to stone and Ents being made of wood (or, more likely, a wood-like substance) made me think: what if Trolls were made of "petrified" Ents? Just as petrified wood is, of course, stone.

I can imagine Sauron in his chemical laboratory, experimenting with just the right mineral combinations...

You did just fine for a "newbie" at this, Morthoron, thank you!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Nov 9 2008, 6:33pm

Post #5 of 15 (540 views)
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A few points [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Aragorn's forces had a few things going for them:
  • Regardless of how many enemies there were, the fighting was one on one.
  • Aragorn's army had no escape; according to the Art of War this is not a desirable situation to place an enemy in since cornered soldiers fight more fiercely than those with a means to rout.
  • It is likely that in terms of armour, weapons and prowess, the Mordor forces were out matched. Even the best cavalry can be defeated by charging a row of spear-men (this was the key to Wallace's success).
  • Sauron was becoming desperate as the ring's whereabouts were even more of an enigma than before.

2. Wouldn't change a thing. However I note that here is yet another reference to Denethor as mad.

3. Tolkien's Trolls are just a version of a beast known through most of recorded history. They just are the way humans just are.

4. Well it did get to the point where if the eagles didn't show up we would have been surprised. But I have no problem with it.


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Nov 9 2008, 6:33pm)


sador
Half-elven

Nov 9 2008, 8:35pm

Post #6 of 15 (468 views)
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"For trolls, as you probably know... [In reply to] Can't Post

...must be underground before dawn, or they go back to the stuff of the mountains they are made of, and never move again".
- Roast Mutton

"What use you find in them I cannot guess" - Mouth of Sauron


a.s.
Valinor


Nov 10 2008, 12:36am

Post #7 of 15 (506 views)
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I love the Eagles [In reply to] Can't Post

The Eagles have never bothered me. I like the fact that Tolkien doesn't "explain" them (within the story). That may be the very reason they don't bother me.

Maybe the orcs wouldn't bother me, either, if Tolkien hadn't "explained" them as beings corrupted from other beings by Sauron himself. Then I had to start putting two and two together and have never made it add up. Yet.

Anyway, I love the Eagles, and I love being reminded of Bilbo here, and Pippin's thinking about other tales reminds me strongly of Sam.


Quote
1. So, if I do the math correctly, there are approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Mordorion troops ringing Aragorn's 6,000 (actually 'less' than 6,000); thus, outnumbered and in a hostile land far removed from any aid, the Lords of Gondor face annihilation.



H&S in LOTR Companion quote Paul Kocher:

"Kocher comments: 'Much has been written, and justly, about the self-sacrificial courage of Frodo adn Sam in the last stages of their journey through Mordor. But few or none have remarked on the equal if less solitary unselfish daring displayed by the mere seven thousand men whom Aragorn and his peers lead up to the Black Gate to challenge the ten times ten thousands inside' (Master of Middle-earth)".

The point of my quoting isn't to argue about numbers, it's to agree with Kocher. This is perhaps Tolkien showing us the unnamed and nameless soldiers who follow orders bravely because they are soldiers. They don't enter into anyone's story by name. But each of the individual soldiers is as brave as our Pippin, isn't he?

Thanks for the week's discussion, I was far behind but have now caught up and read them all!

Cool

a.s.

"an seileachan"

"If any one had begun to rehearse a History, say not I know it well; and if he relate it not right and fully, shake not thine head, twinkle not thine eyes, and snigger not thereat; much less maist thou say, 'It is not so; you deceive yourself.'"

From: Youth's Behaviour, or, Decency in Conversation amongst Men, composed in French by Grave Persons, for the use and benefit of their Youth. The tenth impression. London, 1672


Call Her Emily


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Nov 10 2008, 3:54am

Post #8 of 15 (494 views)
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Something just popped into my head about the eagles. [In reply to] Can't Post

The line from Narnia: "He's not a *tame* lion."

They aren't *tame* eagles. It isn't anyone's place except Manwe's to send them here or there. Gandalf can ask nicely, and does a few times, but even he can't command them.

I love them too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Curious
Half-elven


Nov 10 2008, 10:51am

Post #9 of 15 (455 views)
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Aslan is arguably also [In reply to] Can't Post

a form of deus ex machina -- properly set up and used, I judge, although perhaps less subtle than Tolkien's Eagles. Sometimes divine intervention is not cheating, but the whole point of the story. However, even when it is the point of the story, divine intervention must be used with restraint, so that the mortal heroes of the story do not become mere puppets. Tolkien's restraint in LotR is remarkable. He only hints at the presence of a Higher Power when the temptation to be more explicit must have been strong.


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Nov 10 2008, 6:05pm

Post #10 of 15 (441 views)
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Magic in Literature [In reply to] Can't Post

When a story uses magic often and in a consistent, repeatable manner, it loses all sense of being magical. It becomes nothing more than a technology, perhaps no more understood than the average layman understands a computer, a radio, or a microwave oven ("electrons do it" isn't that far off from "fairy-dust does it") but all too comfortably reliable nonetheless. You plug it in and flip the switch, or you wave a wand and recite a spell. Tolkien's sparing use of magic makes his stories more richly fantastical than books where one can estimate the odds of winning on a calculator, based on the relative firepower of various wizards, talismans, and potion-bombs. When it comes to weaving an aura of mystery, less is more.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Cyberia
The Shire

Nov 11 2008, 4:31am

Post #11 of 15 (450 views)
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Radagast [In reply to] Can't Post

 I though Radagast sent the Eagles in some forgotten Tolkien manuscript?


Elros
Rivendell


Nov 11 2008, 11:57am

Post #12 of 15 (461 views)
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Radagast [In reply to] Can't Post

He unknowingly aided Gandalf's escape from Saruman atop Orthanc by sending the Eagle Gwaihir in FOTR. Perhaps that is what you're thinking of. Here the Eagles are indeed sent by Manwe.


Morthoron
Gondor


Nov 11 2008, 5:19pm

Post #13 of 15 (456 views)
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I don't recall that being in a manuscript... [In reply to] Can't Post

But there have been countless discussions regarding the coming of the Eagles to the Black Gates. In the discussions I can recall, there are three main scenarios explaining the Eagles arrival:

1. They come on their own accord. It is clear that the Eagles did come to the Battle of Five Armies on their own, as they were vigilant in that area of the world and hated Orcs. For instance, in The Hobbit the Eagles had espied the burning of the trees and a host of wargs and orcs, and that is why they came to save Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves when they were trapped in the trees; therefore, because they were so aroused at the Orkish movements, they were waiting for additional incursions by the Orcs. Tolkien makes clear that the Eagles came to battle in The Hobbit because they had watched troop movements. This, of course, does not explain how or why the Eagles would fly thousands of miles from their aeries and arrive at the Black Gates in the nick of time, because they could neither directly track Orkish movements from so great a distance as they could in their home area, nor has it ever been shown they had a propensity to travel into the lands of Gondor or Mordor (because, if that were the case, why didn't they aid Gandalf in the Battle of Pelennor?).

2. The Eagles were sent by Radagast. This argument is usually supplied by Radagast apologists who feel that the Brown Wizard got a raw deal in LotR, and sending the Eagles to the Morannon was his contribution to the war against Sauron. The basis of this argument is that Radagast sent an Eagle to Orthanc that aided Gandalf in his escape. But as we know, Radagast did not send the Eagle to aid Gandalf, because Radagast had no idea that Saruman had betrayed his order. In addition, Radagast showed no inclination to aid the effort in any other manner, and is not mentioned after the Orthanc incident.

3. The Eagles were sent by Manwe or Eru, the most compelling scenarion, and one which has been examined at length in this chapter discussion regarding Eagles as a deus ex machina.

THE EARL OF SANDWICH: "Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"
JOHN WILKES: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
John Wilkes (1727-1797)


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Nov 11 2008, 5:30pm

Post #14 of 15 (447 views)
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Radagast meant well [In reply to] Can't Post

In Radagast's defense, he sent the eagle to Saruman and Gandalf. He wanted to do the right thing, he was just small of spirit, timid, easily daunted. He was perfectly capable of sending the Eagles to the final battle at the last minute, finally daring to involve himself, at least from a distance. Gandalf, in fact, might have pointed it out in his favor to the Powers That Be.

They would, however, counter that it was too little too late--that in the previous great battle against Sauron all creatures engaged the Dark Lord, and that should have been the case this time around. Had Radagast marshaled every force that he could among the animals, even as Gandalf knocked himself out marshalling every force among the Sentient Creatures, it could have saved many lives in the long run, and prevented much evil. We don't know the full story as to why Radagast did not get more involved, but it serves the plot beautifully, in explaining why the eagles did not play a larger role.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 22 2009, 4:48am

Post #15 of 15 (655 views)
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Unlike a.s., I haven’t yet read [In reply to] Can't Post

…every response to your posts, but that shouldn’t have kept me from saying thanks for carrying us to the end of Book V, Morthoron. You asked some great questions.

I wonder: what are the “night-walkers” that stalk the camp in the evening before the battle?

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