The pace quickens as all forces begin to converge on Minas Tirith. Also, alas, racial stereotypes.
Merry wanted somebody to talk to, and he thought of Pippin. But that only increased his restlessness. Poor Pippin, shut up in the great city of stone, lonely and afraid. Merry wished he was a tall Rider like Éomer and could blow a horn or something and go galloping to his rescue.
“Dernhelm” has some sort of understanding with one of the Marshalls whereby both “he” and Merry are studiously ignored by the rest of the company, but of course that makes for a very lonely journey for both of them. Éowyn seems to prefer it that way, since she chose this path fully expecting to die and doesn’t care to discuss it (even if her voice wouldn’t be a giveaway), but Merry isn’t used to such somber undertakings, or at least not with such a somber attitude.
This chapter is actually mostly about how the Rohirrim make their final approach to Minas Tirith, because Tolkien cares about strategy and logistics way more than the filmmakers did. Of course the armies of Mordor wouldn’t leave their flank unguarded, so the Riders have to find a way past that rearguard. Enter the “Wild Men” (or Woses) of Druadan Forest.
‘No, father of Horse-men,’ he said, ‘we fight not. Hunt only. Kill gorgûn in woods, hate orc-folk. You hate gorgûn too. We help as we can. Wild Men have long ears and long eyes; know all paths. Wild Men live here before Stone-houses; before Tall Men come up out of Water.’
Despite the lack of strategy, I do not blame them for leaving this out of the films. Tolkien gave very little thought to their language, and that’s a sure sign he didn’t really care about this people beyond the demands of the plot (seriously, he dedicated a whole section of the appendices to the languages of Middle-earth, and he dismisses the language of the Wild Men in a single sentence). Had he seriously considered it, he would have realized that it makes no sense that a people completely isolated from the surrounding cultures would know any other language at all, let alone the language of commerce when their closest neighbors tend to speak different languages amongst themselves (Elvish and Rohirric).
Anyhow, these people offer to lead them by an ancient overgrown path that will take them straight to Minas Tirith.
‘We will receive your offer,’ he said. ‘For though we leave a host of foes behind, what matter? If the Stone-city falls, then we shall have no returning. If it is saved, then the orc-host itself will be cut off. If you are faithful, Ghân-buri-Ghân, then we will give you rich reward, and you shall have the friendship of the Mark for ever.’
‘Dead men are not friends to living men, and give them no gifts,’ said the Wild Man. ‘But if you live after the Darkness, then leave Wild Men alone in the woods and do not hunt them like beasts any more.’
It is awfully nice how this native people who’ve evidently been forced from their lands by other, more “civilized” peoples are willing to help and ask for nothing more than to be treated like human beings.
I get that Tolkien is trying to draw a parallel between the Wild Men and the undead inhabitants of Dunharrow (there’s a conspicuous mention of “oaths” later in the chapter) – one group broke their word, the other freely offered their help when they had no obligation to do so. But it’s still condescending at best, making light of a gross human rights violation and subsequently implying it’s all good so long as they agree not to kill each other anymore (with the implication that the Woses killed their share of the Rohirrim, too, naturally).
But anyhow, they manage to sneak past the orcs and are pleased to discover they already tore down the outer wall, which means the Rohirrim can ride straight onto the field unobstructed.
‘Good tidings!’ cried Éomer. ‘Even in this gloom hope gleams again. Our Enemy’s devices oft serve us in his despite. The accursed darkness itself has been a cloak to us. And now, lusting to destroy Gondor and throw it down stone from stone, his orcs have taken away my greatest fear. The out-wall could have been held long against us.’
They do discover one more important thing before they ride to battle: The messengers from Gondor never made it back to the city, hence the uncertainty about whether or not Rohan would come to their aid. It does seem odd that Denethor wouldn’t have known they were coming, though, considering that he got so much other news so quickly…
Merry was riding behind Dernhelm, clutching with the left hand while with the other he tried to loosen his sword in its sheath. He felt now bitterly the truth of the old king’s words: in such a battle what would you do, Meriadoc? ‘Just this,’ he thought: ‘encumber a rider, and hope at best to stay in my seat and not be pounded to death by galloping hoofs!’
He’s the only hobbit thus far to actually have to charge into a battle, and it’s all the harder because he had every excuse not to come at all – but in the end, he did choose it, and after spending so much time being dragged around from place to place without having any say in the matter, he wouldn’t have it otherwise.
Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.
But at the same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the fields a great boom.
At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.
Even if I sometimes disagree with him, Tolkien is masterful at creating and releasing tension.
Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, ans he was borne upon Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.
Until next time…