Arbeia, Boromir, Cavalry, Denethor, England, Faramir, Film, Gondor, Hadrian's Wall, Helm's Deep, Iliad, Minas Tirith, Offa's Dyke, Osgiliath, Pelennor, Peter Jackson, Rammas Echor, Script, The Great Wall, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Wansdyke
Welcome, as always!
In this post, we want to consider the Rammas Echor, which, in the original, had holes blown in it by the invading army of Sauron, but was demolished completely by the script writers for Peter Jackson’s LOTR.
We first meet it when Gandalf and Pippin, in their rapid journey to Minas Tirith, are briefly stopped at what appears to be a sally port in it (rather than a major gate, as Shadowfax is said to have “passed through a narrow gate in the wall” 749). Gandalf briefly trades remarks with an officer named Ingold (who appears briefly later in the story to report that the northern section has fallen, 821) before he and Pippin continue their journey.
It is described thus:
“Gandalf passed now into the wide land beyond the Rammas Echor. So the men of Gondor called the out-wall that they had built with great labour, after Ithilien fell under the shadow of their Enemy. For ten leagues [about 30 miles in the English system—about 48 km in the metric] or more it ran from the mountains’ feet and so back again, enclosing in its fence the fields of the Pelennor: fair and fertile townlands on the long slopes and terraces falling to the deep levels of the Anduin. At its furthest point from the Great Gate of the City, north-eastward, the wall was four leagues [12 miles—about 19 km] distant, and there from a frowning bank it overlooked the long flats beside the river, and men had made it high and strong; for at that point, upon a walled causeway, the road came in from the fords and bridges of Osgiliath and passed through a guarded gate between embattled towers… “ 750.
With so much of Tolkien, one can find illustrations from the usual artists—the Hildebrandts, Howe, Nasmith, and Lee—but for this particular—and important—architectural feature, we haven’t discovered—so far—a single illustration.
It’s made of stone and has evidently not been well-maintained: “Many tall men heavily cloaked stood beside him [Shadowfax], and behind them in the mist loomed a wall of stone. Partly ruinous it seemed, but already before the night was passed the sound of hurried labour clould be heard: beat of hammers, clink of trowels, and the creak of wheels.” 748 And, as mentioned above, it has gates, but, beyond that, what does it look like?
England has a long history of long walls. There are the surviving earthen walls and ditches of the Dark Ages or early medieval Offa’s Dyke
and, of course, the well-known 2nd –century AD work, Hadrian’s Wall, with its surviving stone work and its elaborate series of mile castles, gates, and supporting forts and camps.
We might also cast further afield and in time. In Book 7 of the Iliad, the Greeks dig a ditch, fill it with sharpened stakes, and build a stone wall behind it to protect their ships from Trojan attack.
[We can’t find an image of that, but here’s a picture of one of our favorite features of today’s Truva/Hisalik, just to remind you of a later feature of the Trojan War—along with a still from the 2004 Brad Pitt film, known to those of us who love Homer for its rather casual attitude towards the traditional story.]
And how can we fail to mention the Great Wall of China?
For us, Hadrian’s Wall might do, with its stretch of stonework across the entire width of England (73 miles, 117.5 kilometres).
It even has the requisite main gate, which will be defended by Faramir.
This is actually from the Roman fort of Arbeia, South Shields—a great site—but it gives you an idea of what something a little grander—after all, it connected the Pelennor with Osgiliath—might look like.
That event, however, is in The Lord of the Rings, where Faramir maintains his reputation as a brave and far-sighted commander, as Beregond says to Pippin:
“But things may change when Faramir returns. He is bold, more bold than many deem; for in these days men are slow to believe that a captain can be wise and learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as he is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgement in the field.” 766
In the film, it is quite a different matter. There is no Rammas Echor and Faramir, in contrast, is badly wounded in a cavalry charge against the walls of Osgiliath while his father, Denethor, has a rather messy and all-too-symbolic lunch.
What has happened here? First, no intelligent—maybe even foolish—commander would attack a stone wall with cavalry, and we know that Faramir is, indeed, intelligent. Second, what has happened to the Rammas, where Faramir actually had been just before he fell, commanding the rearguard?
First, we would suggest that the script writers took their cue from the final scene between father and son, in which Faramir, already told by his father that his father had preferred his elder son, Boromir, volunteers to direct the defense of Osgiliath:
“But at length Faramir said: ‘I do not oppose your wil, sire. Since you are 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 upon the manner of your return,’ said Denethor.
Gandalf it was that last spoke to Faramir ere he rode east. ‘Do not throw your life away rashly or in bitterness,’ he said. ‘You will be needed here, for other things than war. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end. Farewell!’” 816-817
To them, this might have indicated that Faramir—who had clearly been Gandalf’s pupil, as his father has said:
“See, you have spoken skillfully, as ever; but I, have I not seen your eyes fixed on Mithrandir, seeking whether you said well or too much? He has long had your heart in his keeping.” 812
does not listen to his tutor and deliberately sets out to get himself killed. In the text, however, Faramir is actually acting responsibly, fighting in the rearguard of the retreating detachment driven from the Rammas:
“Even as the Nazgul had swerved aside from the onset of the White Rider, there came flying a deadly dart, and Faramir, as he held at bay a mounted champion of Harad, had fallen to the earth.” 821
(And we might add that Prince Imrahil, who brings the wounded Faramir back, says, “Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds…” 821, which, of course, could easily be understood to be ironic and is perhaps meant to be so on the part of Imrahil, considering Fararmir’s last words to his father and Denethor’s reply.)
Thus, we see Faramir’s wounding completely changed, but what about the wall he had been defending?
When one reads through the various chat sights, there was once a considerable amount of discussion about the Rammas Echor, but all was speculation, it seems, as we were unable to find anything said by the writers themselves. In the text, instead of concentrating on the main gate, Sauron’s engineers detonate explosions to each side and the troops then pour through the breaches to take the defenders in flank. This could be seen as a repetition of a similar earlier event at Helm’s Deep, in which Saruman’s forces blew a hole in the defenses.
As well, we think that, for the director, the big visual attraction was the attack on Minas Tirith. This means that it could simply have been a matter of where to spend time—and/or possibly money—and so the Rammas was sacrificed. If the decision had already been made to change—we will say misinterpret– the story of Faramir, simplifying it drastically and shifting the focus (just think of that dripping mouth!), then the choice to discard this defense would have been an easy one.
So, suppose you were script writer or director, what would you have done, dear readers?
Thanks, as always, for reading (and, we hope, speculating).