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ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 4

The Siege Of Gondor

"'Tell me,' he said, ' is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo.'
Gandalf put his hand on Pippin's head. 'There never was much hope,' he answered. 'Just a fool's hope, as I have been told.'"

I've often wondered why Tolkien didn't title this chapter "The Siege Of Minas Tirith" since the attack is on the City itself. But then it really is representative of the fate of all of Gondor. If Minas Tirith were to fall then all of the last Numenorean realm would be under the domination of Sauron, as would the rest of Middle-Earth. Minas Tirith was where the Free Peoples of the world would stand or fall.

We return to Pippin and Gandalf early on the morning of March 10th - the Dawnless Day. The wizard wakes Pippin for an audience with Denethor. The newest member of the Tower Guard feels he can hide little from the Steward, who always seems to know of events he cannot see and the thoughts of those around him. Denethor asks Pippin if he can sing. The hobbit says yes though he doesn't know any songs that he would consider appropriate for the solemnness of these great halls.

Denethor says that he would be interested in hearing music from a land untroubled by the Shadow of the Enemy. He doesn't miss an opportunity to point out that the protection provided by Gondor to the outlying regions goes unnoticed and unappreciated. This provides an interesting contrast to the observations made by Halbarad two chapters ago about the Shire's ignorance of the protection provided by the northern Dunadain. The difference is that although their lives are rougher and less dignified than those of their southern brethren, they do not begrudge the hobbits the sacrifices that they make on their behalf.

Fortunately for Pippin, the Lord of Minas Tirith does not require him to sing anything, but bids him to see to collecting his raiments which have been prepared for him. By mid-day the darkness from Mordor had stretched west as far as Pippin could see. He comes upon Beregond and as they discuss the darkness blowing in from the east they are surprised by the screech of the Black Riders on fell beasts, wheeling and swooping across the Pelennor Field. They see several men on horseback riding towards the City gate. One of them is Faramir.

All of a sudden, the White Rider comes charging in from the north, keeping the Nazgul at bay with a white light the emits from his outstretched hand. Cries of "Mithrandir" (the name for Gandalf in Gondor) come from inside the walls of the City. The wizard meets and escorts the men as they continue to flee from the Black Riders. They soon make it to the gates and one of the first sights that Faramir sees is a halfling. This was not the first one he has seen. In the halls of the Steward, he tells of his meeting Frodo and Sam and estimates that the hobbits, led y Gollum, would be close to the approach of Minas Morgul by now. Gandalf realizes that if what Faramir said was accurate then Sauron had unleashed his forces without gaining possession of the Ring, which means that thus far Frodo was still journeying to Mordor on his quest.

Faramir sent most of his men to reinforce the garrison at Osgiliath and made haste to Minas Tirith to warn his father of a host of the enemy heading towards the island fortress of Cair Andros on the river Anduin. Seeing Pippin, he carefully recounts his experience with another hobbit at Henneth Annun. Denethor scolds Faramir for not bringing him "a mighty gift" considering Faramir's opportunity to claim the Ring for Gondor. He also accuses his son of being under the influence of Gandalf at the expense of his Lord and his people.

Later, after Gandalf and Pippin take their leave of Denethor, the wizard speculates that Pippin's foolishness with the Palantir just five days earlier may have set events into motion - with Sauron deciding to launch his forces before he was ready. While the Dark Lord was fixated on Minas Tirith, two hobbits were entering his borders without him knowing it with the purpose of destroying the Ring.

The possibility of such a strategy never occurs to Sauron, for he cannot fathom any being able to willingly cast it away, much less to destroy it. He also suspects that Aragorn must have revealed himself to Sauron with the Ithil Stone, causing the Enemy to believe that he had the Ring and was preparing to attack him. Gandalf wonders about what treachery Gollum might be up to as he escorts Frodo into Mordor. What he says foreshadows the future struggle at the Cracks of Doom: "Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend".

The next day, Denethor calls a council with Faramir and Prince Imrahil. The Steward refuses to abandon the City's outer defenses and insists that Faramir return to bolster the defense of Osgiliath, as Boromir would have. This leads to an exchange that was portrayed in a very moving way in Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King".

"Then all were silent. But at length Faramir said 'I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you were robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead - if you command it.'

'I do so,' said Denethor.

'Then farewell!' said Faramir. 'But if I should return, think better of me!'

'That depends on the manner of your return,' said Denethor."
And as Faramir heads east back to Osgiliath, everyone wonders if Rohan will ever come. Interestingly enough, Tolkien's original draft had this part of the story play out very differently. At first, Denethor was written as being less harsh to his son and the idea of returning to the front lines to face such grave odds was Faramir's. Christopher Tolkien writes that among his father's notes, he found a slip of paper detailing how this plot point was reconsidered:
"The early conversation of Faramir and his father and motives must be altered. Denethor must be harsh. He must say he did wish Boromir had been at Henneth Annun - for he would have been loyal to his father and brought him the Ring. (Gandalf may correct this.) Faramir grieved but patient. Then Denethor must be all for holding Osgiliath 'like Boromir did', while Faramir (and Gandalf?) are against it, using the arguments previously given to Denethor. At length in submission, but proudly, to please his father and show him that not only Boromir was brave [he] accepts the command at Osgiliath. Men in the City do not like it.

This will not only be truer to previous situation, but will explain Denethor's breaking up when Faramir is brought back dying, as it seems."
The next day, March 12th, the forces that set out from Minas Morgul reach east Osgiliath. Outnumbered by some ten to one, the Gondorian forces are overrun. By evening the fires of Sauron's approaching army could be seen in the distance from the walls of Minas Tirith. Faramir and his forces retreated to the Rammas Echor and the forts that straddled the entrance through the wall to the causeway that led to the City gates. The army of the Witch-King had followed a carefully laid plan in which the stealthily crossed the river in boats created for this attack and assaulted the western side of the Anduin. Faramir had lost a third of his men as they tried in vain to prevent the attack from breaching the Rammas.

As the next morning passed, the forces of the Enemy pressed forward and what remaining troops remained at the causeway forts were forced to flee to the city. Faramir was grievously wounded and Prince Imrahil brought the Captain to his father, saying "Your son has returned, Lord, after great deeds." Denethor ordered that his son be taken to a chamber higher up in the tower and that a bed be made for him. The Steward himself disappeared up into the highest level of the tower alone. By the end of the day, the Pelennor Field had been overrun with Orcs, who were digging in. The siege of Gondor had begun. Throughout the night and into the following day, the host of Mordor began to set up its terrible weapons against the City.

"Busy as ants hurrying Orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls; and as the trenches were made each was filled with fire, though how it was kindled or fed, by art or devilry, none could see. All day the labour went forward, while the men of Minas Tirith looked on, unable to hinder it. And as each length of trench was completed, they could see great wains approaching; and soon yet more companies of the enemy were swift setting up, each behind the cover of a trench, great engines for the casing of missiles. There were none upon the City walls large enough to reach so far or to stay the work."

So the people of Gondor could only watch and wait. I see Tolkien's descriptions of the trenches and the building of weapons for an assault to be a blend of his experiences in WWI and the stories of battle that he read about WWII. When they were ready, huge catapults shot explosive projectiles into the City. Intermittently, the Orcs send sailing over the walls the heads of the fallen Gondorian soldiers, marred and dishonored. The greatest weapons of the Enemy, fear and despair, began to overtake the defenders of the City.

Denethor returns from the top chamber of the Tower to sit beside Faramir and begins to weep. He seems to have grown older in Pippin's eyes. The Steward now believed that all was lost, as if he knew more than he let on. He tells Pippin, "The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes." Denethor believes that Sauron now has the Ring and defeat is certain. Calls come at the door beckoning him to come down and lead his people, but he will not. Gandalf would now have to command the defenses of the City.

The Witch-King had hurled forth his army against the walls of Minas Tirith. The siege continued through the next day. Then in the early hours of March 15th, more men came to Denethor to beg him one last time to aid them. Many men were fleeing their posts in fear and they needed their Lord.

"'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!"

He tells Pippin to leave him and releases the hobbit from his service. Then he tells him to fetch his servants. As Denethor heads out back to the House of the Stewards by way of the Silent Street, it is clear to Pippin what he means to do. He finds Beregond and begs him to impede his Lord's wishes for as long as he can while he tries to find Gandalf.

At this moment, the wizard was witnessing the Enemy at the gate, approaching with a terrible battering ram. It's hideous head was in the likeness of a wolf and the huge housing was being drawn by great beasts the likes of which had never been seen before. The weapon was named Grond, after the Hammer of Morgoth, wielded by the Dark Vala in the First Age of Middle-Earth. Gradually, Grond reached its position and mighty trolls worked its gears and wheels to pound it into the gate. After three thrusts, it burst open the doors and in rode the Lord of the Nazgul. Gandalf, astride Shadowfax, challenged him, declaring that he was forbidden to enter. The mouthless voice of the Witch-King called to the wizard that this was his hour and as he drew forth his sword, flames shot up the length of the blade.

All seemed lost.

In the distance, a rooster crowed to announce a new dawn. A wind was blowing away the darkness and the sun crept over the eastern ridge of the Mountains of Shadow. As if in answer, the sound of horns blew across the fields and reverberated against the side of Mount Mindolluin.

Rohan had come!

Meanwhile, on the Eastern side of the Anduin:
Frodo and Sam climb the stairs that led to Shelob's Lair. Gollum visits Shelob and upon his return, seeing Frodo asleep, nearly repents. But Sam's rebuff is enough to convince Gollum to carry out his treachery. About the time that Faramir is wounded on March 13th, Frodo is stung and paralyzed by Shelob (note both characters are almost simultaneously pierced and "poisoned") and taken by the Orcs to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam, pursuing the Orcs, collapses in front of the closed undergate.

And further up river, Sauron has sent his forces against other realms of the Free Peoples. From Dol Guldur, an attack is launched on Lothlorien which is repelled. It is followed by a second attack on the morning of March 15th and a separate attack to the north against the Elvish Kingdom of Thranduil, Legolas' father, in Mirkwood. Both of these offensives are driven back by the respective Elf armies. And on the edge of Fangorn Forest, the Ents are fighting an army of Orcs sent to attack Rohan.

[Chronology: March 10th - March 15th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Ride Of The Rohirrim

(revised 10/19/06)


At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it gets me every time.

Btw, Gary, I've silently read this whole thing and it is magnificent. It makes me want to study much more.

At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Christopher.

I enjoyed doing this for it's own sake, but it means a lot that others enjoy it as well.


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