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Rómenna Meeting Report - November 23, 1986
November 23, 1986
We began our discussion of the aftermath of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields by wondering what Legolas and Gimli did during the battle. We concluded that they were doing useful things behind Aragorn, and probably keeping score again. We also observed that the battle of the Pelennor was a mess, with people running in from all directions. Ways of keeping an army together and telling friend from foe in a medieval-type battle include heraldry (banners and the like) and horns.
After the battle, Legolas and Gimli take a walk through Minas Tirith. We made note of the differing perspectives of elf and dwarf--Gimli is looking at the stonework, while Legolas mentions that they need more gardens. Nevertheless it is the elf who takes the optimistic view of humankind (saying "When Aragorn comes into his own . . .") and the dwarf who is pessimistic (saying "If"). The tour of the city sent us off on a digression concerning the economics of Middle-earth when someone noticed that Minas Tirith did not seem to have a marketplace. The observation was made that the place had originally been built as a fortress, not a city, and that the markets were probably held outside the gates or something.
After a further nod to Prince Imrahil (whom we've discussed previously) as a good politician and a good commander, we passed on to the reunion of Legolas and Gimli with Merry and Pippin. Legolas mentions his encounter with the gulls at the Mouths of Anduin, which has disturbed his equanimity though he has not seen the sea yet. We noted that Galadriel's message to him back in Book III warned him of this. Interestingly it is Merry (though prompted by Gimli) who implores that he not go to the Havens yet. Pippin, however, is his usual cheerful self and inquires brightly, "So what have you guys been doing?"
Legolas and Gimli now give an account of their adventures with Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, which the reader has been impatient to hear as well. We discussed the Dead Men of Dunharrow and their nature. In life they had sworn an oath to fight against Sauron, but had broken it when Isildur called on them for aid. They were thus cursed not to rest until they had fulfilled their oath. They were, however, ghosts rather than undead.
We decided that Aragorn was fated to take the Paths of the Dead (his messages from Elrond and Galadriel as good as said so) but that the Dead were also a test for him to prove his worthiness to be king. We noted in passing that the kings of Arnor and Gondor, being descended ultimately from Lúthien Tinúviel daughter of Melian the Maia, could actually make a reasonable claim of "divine right." In any case, it was Aragorn's strength of will that kept the Dead from literally scaring his troops to death. His followers were also being tested for their constancy and loyalty to him. Angbor, lord of Lamedon, passes the test as well when Aragorn's company comes upon him battling a group of Haradrim. We noted the "Ang-" element in Angbor's name, which signifies "Iron" in Sindarin--probably a reference to his personality and strength of will. When the company reaches the Mouths of Anduin where the Corsairs of Umbar are attacking, again it is only the "good guys" who are able to stand up to the Dead. We also noticed that the Dead were able to pass over water, which evil or supernatural beings often cannot do in folklore. The Dead have ghostly weapons but do not need to use them; their enemies take one look at them and flee. The King of the Dead bows to Aragorn, returning to the allegiance he swore to Aragorn's ancestors, before vanishing with all his followers, their oath fulfilled so that they can rest.
Aragorn commandeers the Corsairs' fleet and sails to the rescue of Minas Tirith. Angbor, also, is now able to lead the reinforcements to Minas Tirith that he was not able to bring before because of the threat of the Corsairs. We noted that oars wielded by free men rather than galley slaves are considered to be more effective, and speculated that the fortunate wind from the sea which sped the ships up the Anduin might be courtesy of Manwë, Lord of the Airs. We then passed to the Last Debate of the lords in Minas Tirith. Gandalf is basically telling the leaders of the West, "Don't get cocky, kids--but don't give up the ship, either." It is made clear during the debate that the entire army of the West is little more than a smokescreen for the Ringbearer, which led to the speculation that the reason Legolas' gulls came flying up the river was that they smelled the red herring. Aragorn made his bid for Sauron's attention when he first looked in the Orthanc-stone, and it is now up to the forces of the West to keep it.
(A slight digression at this point envisioned Sauron's reaction when Aragorn appeared in his palantír rather than Saruman. "The number you have reached has been changed. . ." First he took a bite out of his teacup, then he'd be sitting there rubbing the stump of his lost finger. . .)
Prince Imrahil is concerned about leaving enough men to protect Minas Tirith. Gandalf says "Go ahead"; the army they take with them doesn't have to be large enough to actually defeat Sauron's forces (which would be impossible anyway), only large enough to look like they mean business. We wondered whether Sauron knew that Gandalf was a Maia or not. Saruman may have told him (though he wouldn't have told him straight out), and probably let the information slip without meaning to, if so.
The army marches, and Merry for some reason is disappointed not to be going along. Pippin is there, however. We followed the army as they marched through the lands that Frodo traversed in Book 4, though in the opposite direction: to the Cross-roads (with a side trip made to Minas Morgul to burn the undead flowers), north through Ithilien, and so to the desolation before the Morannon (the "front door" which Frodo did not use). We noted the army's use of psychological warfare by proclaiming the coming of the King Elessar.
When the army comes to the desolation before the Black Gate, some of the men can't take it. The farmboys realize they're not in Kansas anymore. The blasted lands before the Morannon were described as "undead land," and compared with strip-mined land, a desolation so complete as to be incomprehensible. Again, we pointed out parallels with Tolkien's own World War I experiences, drawing comparisons with Verdun. Aragorn is understanding of the men's terror and gives them the alternative of going to secure Cair Andros. Some jump at the chance and some are shamed into going on with him.
We noted that representatives of all the Free Peoples are present at the parley with the "Mouth of Sauron." We also noticed in the description of Sauron's emissary that "the cat-hater is at it again." Other observations about the "Mouth of Sauron" included that he had forgotten his own name (which, given the importance of words and names in Middle-earth, is tantamount to having given up his soul), and that he uses the familiar pronoun "thou" in addressing both Aragorn and Gandalf, a show of contempt. Gandalf does not return the discourtesy--he uses "you."
The messenger now produces the tokens that seem to indicate the capture of Frodo and Sam. Things look very bad for the West, but it was observed at this point that even at the first reading of The Lord of the Rings, the alert reader may deduce that the Ring has not in fact been captured. We went over the scene and made a list of suspicious circumstances. Missing items are a large factor. Sting does not turn up, nor do the gifts of Galadriel. Only one set of clothing is present. Furthermore, the Messenger mentions only one hobbit, constantly referring to "he, him" rather than "them." He also refers to this putative prisoner only as a "spy," betraying that he knows nothing of the Ringbearer's true mission. Finally, the fact that Sauron is making any show of treating with the West would seem to indicate that he does not have the Ring. If he did, he wouldn't bother.
Gandalf may pick up on some of these points even without the additional knowledge the reader has from previous chapters. He first tests the messenger by demanding to see the prisoner, and when this demand is refused, he rejects the terms. The parley is over and battle is joined. Pippin, for some reason, wishes that Merry were there as the Western army piles up on the nearest hills and forms a shield-wall. There is a touch of Legolas-and-Gimli competition as Pippin thinks that if he could have gotten in a blow on "that foul Messenger," he might almost have equaled Merry's feat in striking down the Lord of the Nazgûl. The ensuing battle is quite short, still looking bad for the West when Pippin is struck down. The last note is one of cautious hope, however, for "The Eagles are coming!" On that note we ended our discussion, setting our next meeting for January so as to avoid the holidays. (As it happened, the next meeting was in February, but that's another story. . .)