Adventure, Bataclava, Bigelow, British, British Heavy Brigade, Cavalry, Cawnpore, Charges, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Crimean War, French, Funckens, Gandalf, Helm's Deep, John Ford, Minas Tirith, Oliphaunts, Prussian, Remington, Rohirrim, Rossbach, Russian, Schreyvogel, seige, Stagecoach, surreneder, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Trostle Farm, Warhorse, Waterloo, Western, William Simpson
Welcome, as always.
In our last, we were discussing film music, where it comes from and what it does. This brought us, as always, it seems, back to JRRT. In that post, we talked about the “Shire theme”. In this, we want to talk not about a theme, but about a scene, one we have mentioned before, the charge of the Rohirrim and the attempted raising of the siege of Minas Tirith.
Although, strictly speaking, what is happening to Minas Tirith is simply a frontal assault, not a siege in the classic sense. Although, seen in this illustration (by the wonderful husband and wife team of the Funckens), they may look the same—
in a formal siege, you surround a town/fortress
call on the place to surrender
use your heavy weapons to bombard the place
Drive the defenders back from their outer works
And then call upon the defenders to surrender—which, often they do (fewer Alamos than myth would tell you)
But, if not, a final—usually costly—attack
and, potentially, the massacre of all—or at least all of the garrison–inside. (In Jackson’s LoTR, the Orcs are certainly not taking prisoners as they break into Minas Tirith).
The charge of the Rohirrim, though, brought to mind other charges, such as the charge of the Prussian cavalry against the French/Allied army at Rossbach, in 1757—
or the French and British cavalry charges at Waterloo, 1815—
or those _other_ charges at the battle of Balaclava, 1854, that of the French 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique
or of the British Heavy Brigade, which drove the Russian cavalry from the British camp.
Those last two remind us, of course, of one of our favorite adventure movies, the 1936 The Charge of the Light Brigade
It is not so authentic in look as the 1968 movie of the same name,
and, in fact, the film states at its opening that it’s only loosely based on actual historical events (including not only the charge, but the 1857 massacre at Cawnpore—which, in reality, occurred some three years after the Crimean War battle). It also beefs up the Russian defense—adding non-existent earthworks, for instance. Here’s the movie’s view
and here’s William Simpson’s near-contemporary illustration (Simpson arrived after the battle, but must have talked to survivors and certainly could have seen the terrain).
All of these charges were directed at enemy forces on an open battlefield. The attack of the Rohirrim actually comes from a different scenario, one which is based upon a theme familiar to those who have seen American westerns: the arrival of the cavalry in the nick of time.
In this scenario, someone is trapped and surrounded—or at least persistently assaulted by a more numerous enemy—the classic is an attack upon circled wagons
The crisis comes and it looks like those attacked are about to be overwhelmed
but, at the last minute, help arrives—the cavalry, bugles sounding, guidons waving (although that illustrated in this vidcap is the 1885 pattern and the film from which this comes takes place in 1880—then again, the uniforms are a bit odd, too—here’s Remington’s and Schreyvogel’s more accurate views, as well) rides fearlessly to the rescue.
After sorting through more than 50 westerns, we believe that the movie from which our first image comes is probably the source of the modern idea of the arrival of the cavalry—see this clip from John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939)
This happens twice, of course, in The Lord of the Rings, first at Helm’s deep, when Gandalf arrives—
and again, as we began, at Minas Tirith. It’s interesting, however, to see that, in this second example, the cavalry rescue is not so successful, since there are those oliphaunts we discussed in an earlier posting—
In our world, it wasn’t giant oliphaunts who eventually defeated cavalry and drove them to the edges of the battlefield, where they lasted a little longer, but this
as you can see in this clip from Warhorse.
And it’s for the best, really. It’s bad enough that we humans engage in violent actions without dragging the rest of the animal kingdom into it…
(A few of the 80 horses lost by Bigelow’s 9th MA Battery at the Trostle Farm, 2 July, 1863—and, as a sad ps, 25 horses were killed or so badly injured that they were put down at the filming of the 1936 The Charge of the Light Brigade—this so shocked those in Congress that a law for the protection of animals in films was passed to prevent future harm).
Thanks, as always, for reading.