As ever, welcome, dear readers.
The Russian dramatist and short- story writer, Anton Chekov (1860-1904),
is recorded as remarking—more than once, in fact—that, if you mention a loaded rifle or pistol hanging on a wall early in a story or play, you should either use it later (in the second or third chapter, he says, of a story) or get rid of it as a distraction. (There’s a useful little WIKI article citing all three times Chekov said this in various forms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun The American writer, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), having read this, dismissed it in an unpublished essay entitled “The Art of the Short Story”. For an introduction to that essay and the essay itself: http://www.pfgpowell.plus.com/Pages%201/Resources/Art%20of%20the%20Short%20Story.pdf )
I’ve always felt this way about a scene from The Lord of the Rings which I discussed in a recent posting. This is the moment when the Lord of the Nazgul is about to strike the brave Eowyn down with his mace, having just shattered her shield.
Just as he swings his weapon:
“…suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry’s sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)
Eowyn then destroys the Nazgul by running her sword through what would have been his head, had anything been visible but his eyes. Her sword is an ordinary one, but s aided by the fact that she is a woman just after the Witch King has announced that “No living man may hinder me!” (For more on this, see the posting “Echoes”)
Merry’s is a different matter—and here’s Chekov’s loaded pistol.
Various adapters of The Lord of the Rings have had trouble over the years dealing with Tom Bombadil.
He enters the story early, rescuing Frodo and his friends twice, once from Old Man Willow,
and a second time from a barrow wight.
Most adapters have made what might appear to be an easy decision: they’ve cut him out entirely. I say “appear” because, in the process, they also remove that loaded pistol. Not literally, of course—although it appears that gunpowder is available, at least for Orcs and their masters (it seems to be used at Helm’s Deep and again at the Rammas Echor, the great wall which surrounds the Pelennor)—the major missile weapon in Middle-earth is the bow.
It’s Merry’s sword. After Tom and Frodo carry Sam, Merry, and Pippin out of the barrow,
Tom goes back in and brings out all sorts of treasures, including:
“For each of the hobbits he chose a dagger, long, leaf-shaped, and keen, of marvellous workmanship, damasked with serpent-forms in red and gold.
[This is what “damasked”—also called “damascened”– looks like.]
They gleamed as he drew them from their black sheaths, wrought of some strange metal, light and strong, and set with many fiery stones. Whether by some virtue in these sheaths or because of the spell that lay on the mound, the blades seemed untouched by time, unrusted, sharp, glittering in the sun.
‘Old knives are long enough as swords for hobbit-people,’ he said. ‘Sharp blades are good to have, if Shire-folk go walking, east, south, or far away into dark and danger.’ Then he told them that these blades were forged many long years ago by Men of Westernesse: ‘ they were foes of the Dark Lord, but they were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dum in the Land of Angmar.’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow Downs”)
It’s important to understand that last fact: the “evil king of Carn Dum” is, in fact, the Witch King of Angmar, aka The Lord of the Nazgul. Merry’s sword, then, was fashioned long before for a distinct purpose: to deal with the forces of an ancient evil. And, unlike its original owner, it has survived the final fall of the kingdom of Arnor.
One of the great powers of The Lord of the Rings is that it is not a kind of one-off adventure, but set into a very long history. The Ring itself is extremely old, Aragorn’s remade sword, Anduril, was actually the sword of Elendil, a shard of which Isildur used to cut the ring from the defeated Sauron’s hand centuries and centuries earlier. Like Anduril, Merry’s sword was created to fit into the history of those wars which will finally end only with the destruction of the Ring. In its own way, it is in the story for a purpose.
There is a moment, however, when it looks like it may disappear from that story. When Merry and Pippin are captured by the Orcs,
it was seized, along with Pippin’s:
“ ‘Well!’ said Merry. ‘I never expected to see those again! I marked a few orcs with mine; but Ugluk took them from us How he glared! At first I thought that he was going to stab me, but he threw the things away as if they burned him.’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 9, “Flotsam and Jetsam”)
But was it actually gone for good?
When the two hobbits are reunited with the surviving members of the Fellowship, Aragorn says to them:
“ ‘Here are some treasures that you let fall…You will be glad to have them back.’ He loosened his belt from under his cloak, and took from it the two sheathed knives.”
And Merry still has the sword when he climbs onto Dernhelm’s horse to join in Theoden’s last ride;
“ ‘No mail have we to fit you,’ said Eowyn, ‘nor any time for the forging of such a hauberk, but here is also a stout jerkin of leather, a belt, and a knife A sword you have.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 3, “The Muster of Rohan”)
Tolkien doesn’t mention the sword’s pedigree in the scene between Eowyn and the Nazgul, but its effect, we can presume, is that for which its makers had designed it long ago, wounding the seemingly unwoundable, crippling him so that Eowyn can then bring him down:
“Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled, and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)
As I’ve said, most adapters have removed Tom Bombadil and thus the barrow wight and thus the power of Merry’s sword, but, when Peter Jackson’s Aragorn simply dumps a sack of swords on the hobbits,
saying something like “You’ll need these”, we have not only lost what Tom Bombadil himself may have brought to the story, but we lose something more: that sense which runs throughout the novel that, although things change over time, much is never lost, but remains to fulfill its historical purpose–and the loaded gun will go off.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Examine your blade closely for runes,
And remember that there’s always