The Field of Cormallen
Having begun slowly, the story winds down slowly – as indeed does The Hobbit. This chapter and the next will re-show the Fall of Sauron, from two different viewpoints.
Book Five ended with Pippin expecting to die, and not believing shouts that the eagles have come to help, as they did in Bilbo’s story.
Book Six then went back and showed how Frodo and Sam actually completed their dangerous Quest. And we now learn that this has coincided very precisely with the larger battle:
“All about the hills the hosts of Mordor raged. The Captains of the West were foundering in a gathering sea. The sun gleamed red, and under the wings of the Nazgul the shadows of death fell dark upon the earth. Aragorn stood beneath his banner, silent and stern, as one lost in thought of things long past or far away; but his eyes gleamed like stars that shine the brighter as the night deepens. Upon the hill-top stood Gandalf, and he was white and cold and no shadow fell on him. The onslaught of Mordor broke like a wave on the beleaguered hills, voices roaring like a tide amid the wreck and crash of arms.
“As if to his eyes some sudden vision had been given, Gandalf stirred; and he turned, looking back north where the skies were pale and clear. Then he lifted up his hands and cried in a loud voice ringing above the din: The Eagles are coming! And many voices answered crying: The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming! The hosts of Mordor looked up and wondered what this sign might mean.”
This is Fate operating on a very tight schedule. The eagles are about to confront the Nazgul on their flying beasts. [A] But at that very moment, Frodo claims the One Ring and suddenly Sauron realises that the battle matters much less. That Aragorn and Gandalf did what he would never do: rejected power. And that the mysterious hobbit intruders are there to destroy his ring, and are in the only place where this can be done. The newly arrived eagles hardly matter:
“Straight down upon the Nazgul they bore, stooping suddenly out of the high airs, and the rush of their wide wings as they passed over was like a gale.
“But the Nazgul turned and fled, and vanished into Mordor’s shadows, hearing a sudden terrible call out of the Dark Tower; and even at that moment all the hosts of Mordor trembled, doubt clutched their hearts, their laughter failed, their hands shook and their limbs were loosed. The Power that drove them on and filled them with hate and fury was wavering, its will was removed from them; and now looking in the eyes of their enemies they saw a deadly light and were afraid.”
The warriors of the West are about to take the offensive. But Gandalf stops them:
“Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice:
“‘Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.’”
Is he aware that Frodo could not complete his task, and it will all depend on the treacherous Gollum, whom he had earlier shown such patience with? If so, he must be aware that all could still fail and that the enemy would get renewed strength. That they might have to settle for honourable defeat, which he had always feared. And presumably only he would know that the whole strategy had failed. The others might die hoping Frodo would still succeed.
But Fate has taken a hand, and is favourable to them. A reward, perhaps, for most of the key individuals doing the right thing rather than trying to match power with power, as Saruman had. As Saruman had and fallen into evil, while the less corruptible Denethor had fallen into despair. The others do the right thing, and are rewarded.
It seldom comes out right in the real world, as Tolkien knew. But here he has an eucatastrophe:
“The Towers of the Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurled in ruin; and from far away, now dim, now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise.
“‘The realm of Sauron is ended!’ said Gandalf. ‘The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.’ And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.
I’ve only ever seen one illustration of this tremendous scene: from the first and un-licenced US edition.[B] It deserves better.
Sauron’s fall is decisive:
“The Captains bowed their heads; and when they looked up again, behold! their enemies were flying and the power of Mordor was scattering like dust in the wind.
Incidentally, less than a dozen among the West would be aware of the Ring-bearer and his Quest. Presumably the others quickly get it explained to them.
But the battle is not over. Corrupted men remain a robust source of evil:
“The creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope. But the Men of Rhun and of Harad, Easterling and Southron, saw the ruin of their war and the great majesty and glory of the Captains of the West. And those that were deepest and longest in evil servitude, hating the West, and yet were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered themselves for a last stand of desperate battle. But the most part fled eastward as they could; and some cast their weapons down and sued for mercy.”
Would Southrons flee east? I thought about it, and probably yes. South means going past Minas Tirith and a revived Gondor. East they would be among friends, and might go round the eastern fringes of Mordor and eventually home. Or perhaps settle among men with a similar outlook.
Gandalf meanwhile sees his first duty as to rescue Frodo and Sam. If he knows then that Frodo failed, he would be forgiving. He himself would have fallen to the One Ring’s corruption much sooner and in a much worse way.
“Then Gandalf, leaving all such matters of battle and command to Aragorn and the other lords, stood upon the hill-top and called; and down to him came the great eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, and stood before him.
“‘Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friend,’ said Gandalf. ‘Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing…
“‘And let your brother go with us, and some other of your folk who is most swift! For we have need of speed greater than any wind, outmatching the wings of the Nazgul.’”
He assumes that the Nazgul are still powerful and dangerous after Sauron’s fall. And indeed had said that Sauron would survive, though much reduced in power, even if the One Ring could be destroyed.
Meantime Sam has persuaded Frodo to move back from the Crack of Doom, but the whole mountain is breaking up:
“Frodo and Sam could go no further. Their last strength of mind and body was swiftly ebbing. They had reached a low ashen hill piled at the Mountain’s foot; but from it there was no more escape. It was an island now, not long to endure, amid the torment of Orodruin”
But the eagles rescue them. And we hear no more of the Nazgul.
We then awaken with Sam: the viewpoint has shifted entirely away from Frodo, who was actually awake first. And Sam thinks he might be in a dream.
Back at the start of Book Two in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo thinks he might be home and woken from a bad dream, but the room is not familiar. And is answered by Gandalf, whose fate a first-time reader would have been unsure of. That he is also in the house of Elrond is unsurprising.
Now Sam does something similar. Sam gradually takes over aspects of what Frodo might have been had his journey been less hard and he had not failed at the end.
I remember what Ursula Le Guin says about them: they are almost like two aspects of one person.
But whereas Frodo had no news of Gandalf, Sam had seen him fall to seemingly certain doom:
“‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’
“‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land.”
Gandalf will later explain that not all of the sad things will be undone. Could not be, for the time of the High Elves is ending. He appreciates a victory against the odds.
They are still in Ithilien. And Sam has no idea of the identity of the King they are to meet. But is hobbit enough to have a sense of decorum:
“‘What shall we wear?’ said Sam; for all he could see was the old and tattered clothes that they had journeyed in, lying folded on the ground beside their beds.
“‘The clothes that you wore on your way to Mordor,’ said Gandalf. ‘Even the orc-rags that you bore in the black land, Frodo, shall be preserved. No silks and linens, nor any armour or heraldry could be more honourable. But later I will find some other clothes, perhaps.’
Sam is surprised to find that the King is Strider.
Meantime Frodo is more damaged than he seems. He does not even want to take back Sting, preferring the sword that Sam had been given long ago by Tom Bombadil. Only reluctantly does he accept it and his mithril coat.
Next they meet Pippin, whom Gimli had rescued from a pile of the dead. And Merry, who has travelled up to join them, as the next chapter tells.
“‘Why, look Mr. Frodo! Look here! Well, if it isn’t Pippin. Mr. Peregrin Took I should say, and Mr. Merry! How they have grown! Bless me! But I can see there’s more tales to tell than ours.’”
This sentence has always irritated me. Sam has done far more than anyone but Frodo, but still treats them as superiors.
They then celebrate. And Sam is overjoyed that someone does indeed sing of ‘Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’
Legolas joins them. If his father will agree, he will lead some of his people to dwell in Ithilien, but just as a stage in a longer journey:
“‘And I,’ said Legolas, ‘shall walk in the woods of this fair land, which is rest enough. In days to come, if my Elven-lord allows, some of our folk shall remove hither; and when we come it shall be blessed, for a while. For a while: a month, a life, a hundred years of Men. But Anduin is near, and Anduin leads down to the Sea. To the Sea!”
He will depart separately from the others. And take Gimli with him, who had established a colony of dwarves in the splendid caves of Helms Deep.
Incidentally, the words ‘a month, a life, a hundred years of Men’ seem to have been given to his father Thranduil in a much more negative sense in Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Those or something similar.
Meantime and out of sight, the war against Mordor and its allies is being finalised:
“The weary rested and the hurt were healed. For some had laboured and fought much with the remnants of the Easterlings and Southrons, until all were subdued. And, latest of all, those returned who had passed into Mordor and destroyed the fortresses in the north of the land.
Then they return to the sites of former battles:
“They sailed … down Anduin to Osgiliath; and there they remained for one day; and the day after they came to the green fields of the Pelennor and saw again the white towers under tall Mindolluin, the City of the Men of Gondor, last memory of Westernesse, that had passed through the darkness and fire to a new day.
“And there in the midst of the fields they set up their pavilions and awaited the morning; for it was the Eve of May, and the King would enter his gates with the rising of the Sun.”
[A] Properly Nazgûl, but I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/