Cirith Ungol, doorwarden, Edoras, Faramir, Gorbag and Shagrat, guards, Hama, Heorot, Ingold, Isengard, Ithilien, Meduseld, Merry and Pippin, Minas Tirith, N.C. Wyeth, Orcs, Rammas Echor, Rangers, Robin Hood, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, White Tree of Gondor
Welcome, dear readers, as ever.
This post will complete our series on watchmen, sentries, and patrols in The Lord of the Rings and how confrontations with such figures may change the action.
In our last, we’d gotten as far as Edoras and, within, Meduseld, with Hama, its doorwarden.
(This is actually from John Howe’s painting of Heorot, the mead hall in Beowulf, but, as Meduseld is meant to mean “mead hall” in Rohirric—the language of Rohan—we figure that we can justify the substitution.)
From Edoras, we’ll follow Gandalf and Pippin to Minas Tirith,
passing through the Rammas Echor, the old barrier wall protecting the fields of the Pelennor, where Gandalf talks with Ingold, who appears to be in charge of repairing a section of that wall fallen into disrepair. (See The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith”) We don’t have a illustration of this—although we think that it would make a good one—so, as we think of the Rammas Echor as a cousin of Hadrian’s wall, here’s an illustration of that wall under construction, just to give the idea.
But we said we will follow Gandalf and Pippin. First, we have to double back to Isengard, where the Ents have wreaked justifiable havoc.
(A T Nasmith we’ve used before)
When Gandalf and crowd come to call upon Saruman, they meet with very different doorwardens from Hama:
“The king and all his company sat silent on their horses, marvelling, perceiving that the power of Saruman was overthrown; but how they could not guess. And now they turned their eyes towards the archway and the ruined gates. There they saw close beside them a great rubble heap; and suddenly they were aware of two small figures lying on it at their ease, grey-clad, hardly to be seen among the stones. There were bottles and bowls and platters laid beside them, as if they had just eaten well, and now rested from their labour. One seemed asleep, the other, with crossed legs and arms behind his head, leaned back against a broken rock and sent from his mouth long wisps and little rings of thin blue smoke.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 8, “The Road to Isengard”)
It’s Merry and Pippin, of course, and, for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, after their long, grim march across northern Rohan in search of their missing companions, only to have Eomer suggest that they’ve been killed with the orcs, this is certainly a change of mood, as well as a change of plot—not only are the two restored, but Pippin will help to rescue Faramir from his mad father and Merry will save Eowyn from the Nazgul.
Now, however, having picked up Pippin, we’ll continue on to Minas Tirith,
where, at the approach of Shadowfax:
“So Gandalf and Peregrin rode to the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor at the rising of the sun, and its iron doors rolled back before them…Then men fell back before the command of his voice…” (The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith”)
Passing up through the seven levels of the city, they dismounted at the gate of the Citadel, where:
“The Guards of the gate were robed in black, and their helms were of strange shape, high-crowned, with long cheek-guards close-fitting to the face, and above the cheek-guards were set the white wings of sea-birds; but the helms gleamed with a flame of silver, for they were indeed wrought of mithril, heirlooms from the glory of old days. Upon the black surcoats were embroidered in white a tree blossoming like snow beneath a silver crown and many-pointed stars.”
This was an image surprisingly difficult to find. Here’s a depiction (sort of) from the Jackson films.
The helmet might be right, but the black surcoat is missing—here’s Pippin, also from the films, wearing one.
We add to this an image by a Russian illustrator, Denis Gordeev. Here, the helmet may not be quite what we’d expect, but the rest of the ensemble works.
It says much for Gandalf’s influence in Minas Tirith that neither does Ingold, at the Rammas Echor, challenge him, nor the guards at the main gate of Minas Tirith, nor those at the Citadel—as Ingold says:
“Yea, truly we know you, Mithrandir…and you know the pass-words of the Seven Gates and are free to go forward.”
Our next sentries, are not so easily passed however, as Frodo and Sam discover, when:
“Four tall Men stood there. Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows. All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien. Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)
Their outfits immediately made us think of NC Wyeth’s Robin Hood and his men
from Wyeth’s 1917 Robin-hood.
Their leader, Faramir, questions Frodo and Sam closely before letting them go—and this meeting gives Faramir news of the end of Boromir, a view of Boromir’s character from Frodo, as well as providing us with a view of Faramir, who says of the Ring:
“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)
Once he knows their purpose, Faramir lets them go—to much worse sentries. First, there are orc patrols, like those of Shagrat and Gorbag.
Image13: shag and bag
There is no conversation here between hobbits and orcs, but we certainly gain a better view of orc loyalty, as one orc leader, Gorbag, says to another, Shagrat:
“What d’you say? –if we get a chance, you and me’ll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there’s good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”)
Then there are the Watchers at the Tower of Cirith Ungol:
“They were like great figures seated upon thrones. Each had three joined bodies, and three heads facing outward, and inward, and across the gateway. The heads had vulture-faces, and on their great knees were laid clawlike hands. They seemed to be carved out of huge blocks of stone, immovable, and yet they were aware: some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abode in them. They knew an enemy. Visible or invisible none could pass unheeded…” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)
And here are the last sentries and perhaps a last sign for Frodo and Sam before their terrible and near-fatal trip across Mordor that there is still power for good in a world grown dark. Having rescued Frodo from his orcish imprisonment, Sam and Frodo have come up against the Watchers, who seem to block their way until:
“ ‘Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!’ Sam cried…
‘Aiya elenion ancalima!’ cried Frodo once again behind him.
The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenness like the snapping of a cord, and Frodo and Sam stumbled forward. “
There are no more sentries, although the two hobbits will be passed by a small search party and will then be swept up into an orc marching company before being on their own on the way to Mount Doom, where we will leave them and this set of postings.
As always, thanks for reading and