May. 5th, 2017

sartorias: (JRRT)
The men ride out of Edoras.

Another terrific passage, slowly setting the mood:

As the second day of their riding drew on, the heaviness in the air increased. In the afternoon the dark clouds began to overtake them: a somber canopy with great billowing edges flecked with dazzling light. The sun went down, blood-red in a smoking haze. The spears of the Riders were tipped with fire as the last shafts of light kindled the steep faces of the peaks of Thrihyrne: now very near they stood on the northernmost arm of the White Mountains, three jagged horns staring at the sunset.

Those spears—when did he see that? Did Snorri write about them, or did he remember firelining along bayonets on the Somme?

At any rate, when bad news comes, Theoden tells the rider that he and the “last host of Eorlingas” has ridden forth. Gandalf then turns to Theoden and tells him to ride out, and he takes off like a comet.

Helm’s Deep is a “green coomb, a great bay in the mountains,” named after some hero. “Ever steeper and narrower it wound inward from the north under the shadow of the Thrihryne, till the crowhaunted cliffs rose like mighty towers on either side, shutting out the light.”

Crow-haunted cliffs. Is that not the tightest, most evocative image?

Anyway, the press of history is here, too, the sea-kings of Gondor having built the high walls with the help of giants. This Hornburg can echo a trumpet call.

The company rides in, as bad news about the orc hordes burning their way in their wake arrives. They meet up with a holding force, including an old geez who says he heads a company of very old and very young. Refugees have been tucked into the caves behind, and as they get ready, we get some talk between Gimli and Legolas.

Gimli maintains that the stone has good bones. Legolas hates it there, but he says he’s glad to have Gimli and his axe by his side. Gimli’s reply is as bloodthirsty as any Urukhai: “Yet my axe is restless in my hand. Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!”

He’s not kidding, either. As the orcs press in, doing their best to slaughter the defenders, Gimli and Legolas begin counting coup.

Below, Eomer and Aragorn lead a sortie, both yelling slogans, naming their weapons: “Guthwinë for the Mark!” and Anduril for the Dunedain!”

Does it work, to name weapons? In fiction it does, of course. In life, I wonder if this sort of shout—any shout—that bound together individuals into a mutually supporting whole, and named that which gave them the courage to charge out and chance possible death worked. Slogans, weapons, names of leaders. History is full of them. Then there is crowd mood: chants can send people into frenzies both good and bad, as emotions unite and intensify.

At any rate, the warriors shout, “Anduril! Anduril goes to war. The Blade that was Broken shines again!”

And indeed, Anduril shines with white fire as Aragorn leads the attack. Eomer is no slouch, and he discovers at the end of the sortie that Gimli has been guarding his flank.

Gimli and Legolas continue to count coup in exactly the sort of quasi-lighthearted, grim humor I’ve read about in countless military memoirs.

Back and forth the fight goes, vividly described, with our heroes increasingly pressured. Things are looking hopeless, and once again Aragorn reveals his kingly side when he parleys with the orcs from the wall, and they threaten to shoot him down:

So great a power and royalty was revealed in Aragorn, as he stood there alone above the ruined gates before the host of his enemies, that many of the wild men paused, and looked back over their shoulders to the valley, and some looked up doubtfully at the sky. But the orcs laughed with loud voices; and a hail of darts and arrows whistled over the wall, as Aragorn leaped down.


The gate falls, and it looks like bad news, but then the horn winds, and Theoden leads the charge. They scatter the enemy, and then rein up.

There the company halted. Light grew bright around them. Shafts of the sun flared above the eastern hills and glimmered on their spears. But they sat silent on their horses, and they gazed down upon the Deeping Coomb.

The land had changed


From the glimmering spears to the land changing: vivid reality to the weird of magic. When I first read that, I got such a thrill along the nerves! The defenders find themselves looking down at a forest, trees “rank on rank,” and the orc host is caught between Theoden’s defenders, and this forest, with Gandalf and the long-looked-for Erkenbrand.

They throw down their weapons, and some try to flee, but none of them ever come out from that forest.

Whoa.

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