As ever, dear readers, welcome.
In my last posting, I had quoted Tolkien on one of his two favorite moments in The Lord of the Rings:
“If it is of interest, the passages that now move me most—written so long ago that I read them now as if they had been written by someone else—are the end of the chapter Lothlorien (I 365-7), and the horns of the Rohirrim at cockcrow.” (from extracts made by Humphrey Carpenter of JRRT’s commentary on a proposed article for the Daily Telegraph from an interview by Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, 8 February, 1967, Letters, 376)
I especially agree with the latter, and, in my last, linked it to the Rohirrim themselves, both in the novel and in their depiction in the Jackson films, particularly in their charge across the fields of the Pelennor against the Orcs so focused upon their attack against Minas Tirith (although the script writers have left out the cock).
The Rohirrim might seem, by the sweep of their charge, like a mob of horsemen,
but a closer examination of them suggests something very different. To begin with, they fight in units of about 120, called an eored (which is, like so many of the bits we get of their language, actually an Old English word which can mean, among other things “a troop of cavalry”). As well, they appear to understand the need for reserves, as this image may show us, where you may be able to see the riders grouped into eored, as well as perceive that there are, in fact, two lines of horsemen, just the sort of thing trained cavalry did so that the second line could supply support for the first.
A useful example of this can be seen here, in this period depiction of the charge of the British Light Brigade at Balaclava, in October, 1854, where there are, in fact, three lines of cavalry.
If, as I think we can, assume that the Rohirrim aren’t operating in a very loose fashion, rather like, say, a depiction of Lakota on the Great Plains,
(a wonderful image painted on buffalo hide by a Native American of warriors in combat with soldiers)
then we can also assume that their movements require training. For units, like eored, to work together as they do in their great charge on the orcs, means that that training would require uniformity throughout the whole of the Rohirrim. JRRT, who, had himself once, briefly, been a cavalryman (for more on this, please see the previous post), hasn’t left us a Rohirrim drill book, but I believe he has left us a number of clues which we can dig out of The Lord of the Rings to help us.
To begin, of course, there is that unit, the eored. Eomer commands one when he encounters Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli on the grassy plains of Rohan, and it’s from him that we first hear that term:
“ ‘Peace, Eothain!’ said Eomer in his own tongue. ‘Leave me a while. Tell the eored to assemble on the path, and make ready to ride to the Entwade.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”—“Eothain”, who appears to be Eomer’s lieutenant, has an appropriate name, in Old English it would be something like “Warhorse-vassal”, where “Eo” can mean “steed” and “thain” “someone who holds land in exchange for military service”. )
These riders have just exterminated a combined band of Sauron’s and Saruman’s Orcs and, from their actions, we learn a certain amount:
1. they march in what is called “a column of twos” : “In pairs they galloped by…” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
2. when they camp, it seems as that they are as organized as the Romans, who made fortified camps at the end of every day’s march,
although without the wall and ditch:
“On all the level spaces there was a great concourse of men. ..but stretching away into the distance behind there were ordered rows of tents and booths, and lines of picketed horses…Watchmen heavily cloaked paced to and fro.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 3, “The Muster of Rohan”)
3. they have scouts who move ahead of the column (“ ‘The scouts have come back at last,’ said an Orc close at hand. ‘Well, what did you discover?’ growled the voice of Ugluk. ‘Only a single horseman, and he made off westwards. All’s clear now.’ ‘Now, I daresay. But how long? You fools! You should have shot him. He’ll raise the alarm. The cursed horsebreeders will hear of us by morning. Now we’ll have to leg it double quick.’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”) Ugluk’s fear is proven true when Eomer tells Aragorn: “But scouts warned me of the orc-host coming down out of the East Wall four nights ago.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
4. a standard form of attack is the movement to encircle the enemy—when Aragorn hails them:
“With astonishing speed and skill they checked their steeds, wheeled, and came charging round. Soon the three companions found themselves in a ring of horsemen moving in a running circle, up the hill-slope behind them and down, round and round them, and drawing ever inwards. ..
Without a word or cry, suddenly, the Riders halted. A thicket of spears pointed towards the strangers; and some of the horsemen had bows in hand, and their arrows were already fitted to the string.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
This is how the Orcs who are carrying Pippin and Merry are stopped:
“The Riders were drawing in their ring, close round the knoll, risking the orc-arrows, so as to prevent any sortie…” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
5. to finish the job, the Rohirrim shift from a circle to to a charge—in this case, with their backs to the rising sun, thereby blinding the enemy:
“…Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear. The Orcs yelled and shot all the arrows that remained to them. The hobbits saw several horsemen fall; but their line held on up the hill and over it, and wheeled round and charged again.”( The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
6. at the battle on the fields of the Pelennor, we see another possible formation, this one very much like one used in our Middle-earth, by Philip II of Macedon and then by his son, Alexander.
(by Giuseppe Rava)
This was a wedge, pointed directly at the enemy’s line, seeking a weak spot and, finding one, broke the enemy apart (Theoden is attacking the king of the Haradrim):
“Then Theoden was aware of him, and would not wait for his onset, but crying to Snowmane he charged headlong to greet him. Great was the clash of their meeting. But the white fury of the Northmen burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter. Fewer were they but they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest. Right through the press drove Theoden Thengel’s son…” (The Two Towers, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)
And we see this again, a little later in the same battle:
“…The great wrath of [Eomer’s] onset had utterly overthrown the front of his enemies, and great wedges of his Riders had passed clear through the ranks of the Southrons, discomfiting their horsemen and riding their footmen to ruin.”
But what about those horns?
It seems, in fact, that the Rohirrim have two kinds, at least. When Theoden and his company ride to the muster of the Rohan, we hear this:
“Then one blew a long call on a horn. It echoed in the valley. Other horns answered it, and lights shone out across the river.
And suddenly there rose a great chorus of trumpets from high above, sounding from some hollow place, as it seemed, that gathered their notes into one voice and sent ti rolling and beating on the walls of stone.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 3, “The Muster of Rohan”)
Horn and trumpet are clearly to be distinguished here. They aren’t described, so it’s up to us readers to imagine. I suspect that most people would see “horn” and think of something Vikingish or like Roland’s olifant
in La Chanson de Roland,
the sort of thing that the ill-fated Boromir carried.
As for “trumpets”, I myself imagine something like this,
which would be a bit tricky to use on horseback, whereas Roland’s horn would be just right for mounted men—and for dramatic moments in a narrative:
“Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 4, “The Siege of Gondor”)
Thanks, as ever, for reading.
Remember that, at cockcrow, evil things flee away,
And also know that, as always, there’s