Thursday, October 7, 2010

No man born of woman

Current book: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Pages read: 139 - 218

With Rohan's aid, the tide of the battle turns in favor of Gondor, though the King of the Nazgul still wreaks havoc. Theoden seeks him out, but his dark powers make Theoden's horse panic and fall on him, mortally wounding him. Dernhelm, who now reveals himself to be Eowyn, is at Theoden's side, and, turning from his wounded form, engages the Witch-King. She cuts off his dragon's head, forcing him to dismount, though he laughs in her face and strikes a blow against her shield that breaks her arm. Merry, cowering up until now under the forces of darkness, stabs the Nazgul king in the leg, distracting him, and Eowyn takes the moment to strike a killing blow. Eowyn is struck senseless by his evil, and Merry, also wounded, stays by her and Theoden's body until Eomer comes. The rest of the battle is pretty much what you'd expect - a bunch of fighting - until Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive by ship. (They took over the ships after using the army of the dead to destroy one of Sauron's waiting forces. Then, holding their oath fulfilled, Aragorn dismissed the ghost soldiers. It was less exciting than it could have been.)

After the major thrust of the battle, Eowyn is taken to the Houses of Healing, where Faramir, who Gandalf has rescued from death at Denthor's hands, is already ensconced. (Denethor, after Gandalf's intercession, and having gone completely mad, has killed himself.) Eventually, Pippin finds Merry, who's wounded and wandering around, and brings him to the Houses as well. They, along with many others, are suffering from the ill effects of the darkness of the Nazgul, and the healers can't help them. Eventually, Aragorn comes, and, in keeping with legend, is able to heal those afflicted by the darkness, due to his royal lineage. (Also, some herbs.)

Later, all of the leaders and heroes get together to talk about what to do. It's clear that this was only the first battle, and that there's a great deal more to come that the forces of men cannot possibly withstand. Because they still have hope that Frodo will destroy the Ring, however, they decide to rally their remaining forces and lead them to the Black Gate of Mordor in order to draw Sauron's attention away from the Ring. They do so, and, after a few days' journey, the army arrives at the gate. Sauron sends out a representative to talk, and he demands what amounts, virtually, to complete surrender. They refuse him, and a great host of orcs and trolls comes out to do battle.

Then, of course, we flip back to Sam in Mordor. He's still trying to get to Frodo, who's been moved (I think) to a different tower. Um, that's all.

The battle outside Minas Tirith is kind of anticlimactic. I mean, the part with Theoden and Eowyn is excellent, but then, afterward, the action kind of just peters out. They still seem to be fighting some of the opposing forces when Aragorn goes to the Houses of Healing, and then, afterward, they're just sort of done? I don't know. I didn't find it particularly satisfactory after all the buildup. Except Eowyn, because, seriously, she was pretty great. I was also pleased by how, after Aragorn heals her and she wakes up, she is not immediately convinced that everything will be ok. She still questions her ability to hope, and wonders what the future will hold. It's certainly true that she could just be thinking about the fate of Middle-Earth, but I think there's more to it than that. She has completed an act of great valor, yes, but what guarantees does she have that she will continue to lead a life of adventure and honor and not simply be relegated, once again, to the unsatisfactory role of a woman? It's nicely nuanced, and I appreciate the degree of realism it lends Eowyn's situation.

Also, man, did Tolkien have a thing for royalty-worship. I know that he was thinking of these books as a mythology for England, and it therefore makes sense that he'd base his system of government on a monarchy, but the idea that Aragorn actually has healing powers, simply because he is the king, is a bit much. It's just like scrofula. (Which, if you don't know, is a disease called, in medieval times, "the King's Evil," because it was thought to be curable by the touch of the king. Actually, it was an infection of the skin and lymph nodes from tuberculosis and was, until the 18th century, incurable.) Anyway, point being, it's very "divine right of kings," even though Tolkien takes care never to discuss god or gods at all in these books. Which, frankly, though I'm no huge fan of religion, is kind of a gross oversight. The idea that these people in this situation would have no religion at all, or never talk about it, is kind of absurd.

1 comment:

  1. The knowledge of that herb's power was a secret of the royal lineage. But I agree, mostly. Tolkien subsumes the divine mandate in elvish lineage; basically, the house of Elendil has a right to rule humans because it traces its lineage to Elros (Elron's mortal brother). In Numenor, Elendil's house wasn't the ruling one (though nominaly royal), and was in pretty great disfavor, which is why they were all on the side of the island by their ships when Numenor sank. When they made it to Middle Earth, they were made rulers only for that lineage, and that they kept nicey nice with the Elves, particularly Gil-galad, Finrod's heir.



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