LotRFI Pt.43–The Battle of The Pelennor Fields

That I can recall, the massive battles that take place at Helm’s Deep and on the fields in front of Gondor were the second and third large scale incursion I ever read in fiction. The first was from H, and was an incomplete telling at best. I believe my next exposure to battlefield narratives would have been Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain. My whole family listened to that story on audiobook in the car while on vacation one summer because it was a required text for school. I would not read Homer, C.S. Lewis, or any other such battle for several years after this experience. Of course, I had read the brief descriptions of amassing forces and battle strategies presented in the history books for school, but those very rarely gave an account of fighting, they were distant overviews.

alan-lee-battle-of-the-pelennor-fields
Image copyright Alan Lee

This is not to say that I was naive of brutality: once again, The Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books starting around the age of eight or nine. The scale of the violence was a significant change from my prior reading experience. This means that two elements were very different for me to adjust to. The first is how the story told of the battles, especially Pelennor Fields, from multiple perspectives. This is a trick that Tolkien uses to show more of the battle, and it was a new approach to me. Also, the ebb and flow of the battle was also unique. Of course, I was used to plots where the protagonist came up against an obstacle, or experienced a setback, only to overcome the difficulty in the end. This was one of my first experiences with this kind of story arc encapsulated in a single struggle that didn’t extend for the entire length of the narrative.

This type of battle broke the mold of my previous experience with courtly tales. These were mostly centered on popular culture and not literature (I would not read White’s Once and Future King until two or three years later), and so massive battles were not very bloody nor very lengthy, I was only watching things deemed appropriate for a child, after all. It brought a grim kind of realism into these stories, but it preserved the epic moments of climax and eucatastrophe that I will talk about in my following posts.

Where do We Go From Here?

I want to address the horns of the Rohirrim, then take a moment to think about Eomer and Eowyn in some more depth.

What Do You Think?

How did the Pelennor Fields fit into your previous reading experience?
Did it change your view of Minas Tirith?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.41–Pippin

Pippin has always been my favorite hobbit. I was first interested in him because of how funny he is in the first book, especially in “Three is company” and “Shortcut to Mushrooms.” He remained my favorite because I appreciated his process of maturation as the story progresses.

welling
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

His cheerful spirit serves as a comedic relief during many of the less active passages in the text. From his snarky comment in Rivendell,

‘”Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that”’ (FR, II, i, 226)

to his curiosity in Moria, which lands the Fellowship in some trouble, Pippin remains fairly charming and lighthearted. It is not until Gandalf grows angry and berates Pippin

‘”Fool of a Took…This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!”’ (FR, II, iv, 313)

that he starts to transform into a more serious and responsible character. This interaction in Moria, reminded me of a parent scolding a child. Pippin did something which was outside the normal expectations and it could have, and ultimately has, dire consequences. Gandalf chides him in the way that a concerned mother or father might express exasperation at a child who touches a stove or runs into the street. This confrontation seemed to me to be the starting point for Pippin’s transformation.

The two places where Pippin’s character shows real growth are in his actions to escape the Uruk-Hai in Rohan, and in his time spent in Gondor. When he is with the Uruk-Hai, Pippin is not a passive observer of events. Instead, he keeps his wits and not only manages to escape, but also leaves a clue for the Three Hunters to follow.

Pippin’s largest step toward becoming a responsible adult is his time spent in Gondor. Here he volunteers his service to the steward of Gondor to repay his debt to Boromir:

‘”Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.”’ (RK, V, I, 754/5).

He feels accountable for Boromir’s death and seeks to make amends. Not only does this act show Pippin becoming more mature, but it puts him in a role of responsibility. A role which he performs very well. His next show of responsibility is that he chaperones Bergil, Beregond’s son, around Minas Tirith. Pippin no longer interacts with Bergil as his equal, though he cannot resist an occasional joke, but he sets restrictions on Bergil and enforces them. Finally, Pippin’s decision to disobey Denethor’s wishes and save Faramir shows the kind of complex reasoning and questioning of authority that is typically associated with maturity. He is not simply rebelling against authority because it is authoritative, nor is he blindly following it. He weighs consequences and decides to act in the way he think is best. Though I could not have expressed ,many of these concepts in this way when I was a kid, I certainly respected Pippin’s growth as an individual, and understood that he had earned responsibility and was using his judgement wisely.

Pippin’s story is a bildungsroman. This greatly impacted me in my first several readings of LotR. I will talk about the Scouring of the Shire in a later post, but I think the arc of Pippin’s character is clear already. He stays jovial throughout the text, I love his interaction with the Three Hunters in “Flotsam and Jetsam,” but he matures over the course of his journey. This is why Pippin was, and still is, my favorite hobbit from LotR.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We will look at Merry next, then explore the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

What Do You Think?

What did you think of Pippin in the early parts of the text?

Did your impression of him change as he developed over the course of the story?

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.40–Minas Tirith

Minas Tirith was an altogether novel experience in my first read of LotR. It holds an interesting place in my memory because it is so different from the rest of LotR, but is more like other fantasy stories that I read before LotR.

ted-nasmith-the-complete-guide-to-middle-earth-minas-tirith-at-dawn_orig
Image copyright Ted Nasmith

Here is what I mean: Most of LotR felt original and new to me in the settings and many of the interactions, but Minas Tirith was like an allusion to stories with which I was familiar. Minas Tirith was the first ‘castle’ in the book, which automatically brought up associations with knights, damsels, jousting and quests for adventure. Most notable among these tales, I was aware of Camelot and Arthurian legends (which ones particularly, I cannot recall). For better or worse, I started to think about knights errant and chivalric tales.

This made the setting seem more remote and ancient to me than the rest of the text. I do not mean that it felt like it had a long history, several parts of the text feel like that. I mean that it felt like part of an older story to me. While most of LotR was a novel experience, I thought Minas Tirith was going to revisit fantasy of the medieval court variety. This was probably because, unlike with most of the other characters, events, and settings in the story, my only reference frame for Minas Tirith was other fantasy books. I had not living thing to equate Minas Tirith to. These other fantasy text were always set in distant lands or in earlier times (or ‘long ago’ and ‘far away’ if that were not banished as a cliché at this point).

In a sense, Minas Tirith was more storied for me as a location, but also more remote. I have often wondered how Europeans and Brits might feel about this point, since they grew up in places where they could have visited castles as a kid. To me, a castle was an element of make-believe, I wonder if it was just an element of history to them.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I would like to take a breath and talk about Merry and Pippin before we move on to the larger picture.

What Do You Think?

Did you think of Minas Tirith as a castle?
How did this influence the way you perceive(d) the events in Minas Tirith?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!