In the fifth chapter of The Return of the King, Merry and the Rohirrim make their way to Gondor. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE RIDE OF THE ROHIRRIM
I want to have hope, but I know I really shouldn’t do that. IT IS A BAD IDEA. There’s just so much to be upset about in The Return of the King that I kind of want to hold any hope close to my heart and just squeeze it lovingly. As frustrating as it is, I’m really enjoying the parallel stories between Merry and Pippin, two hobbits thrust into the middle of a war, both intensely lonely, and both frightfully unprepared for what is about to happen. If they only knew what the other one was doing! But Tolkien is tormenting us for now, and in this brief chapter, he moves Merry so much closer to his best friend.
Merry’s loneliness, though, comes from the fact that the Rohan pretty much despise him. His very presence in their group is a sign that he disobeyed Théoden, so he is largely ignored. At least Pippin has Gandalf and Beregond! Merry’s has… horses? That’s pretty much it. Wow, when I put it like that, that sounds horrific. I just mean that he’s bored, lonely, and anxious about the journey ahead of him.
What totally took me by surprise, though, was the fact that even all the way at the end of this epic tale, Tolkien still introduces a new group of characters in the story. Chapter five gives us the Wild Men of the Woods. I think they’re humans, but aside from a physical description, all we really know is that they’re a sort of primitive culture, low in numbers, and rarely eager to interact with any other people in Middle-earth. But it is in these Wild Men that Éomer and Théoden find an unexpected ally. Ghân-buri-Ghân is the headman of this tribe of men, and they have a marked interest in the riders of Rohan eliminating the enemy threat: they hate Orcs. (I can’t help but laugh at the idea that every creature in Middle-earth, including Orcs themselves, hate Orcs.)
Ghân offers a service that the riders don’t have if they can defeat the enemy. What little I could guess about the culture of these people I gleamed from this conversation. I could tell they weren’t exactly the biggest fans of anyone but themselves. Content to stick with their own, it seems to have made them excellent listeners and observers. Because of this, they have a beautifully efficient system of learning information about the surrounding area and then passing it along. It’s with this that the Rohan learn of the siege on Gondor, and that there is a secret route they can use to cut off the Orcs without rushing right into them.
And that’s something that works in this book. Middle-earth is so immense that I can’t wrap my head around how large it is sometimes. The world that Tolkien has created is dissimilar to ours because the characters in Middle-earth do not have the same knowledge of geography as we do. We have so many resources at our disposal and have had them for years in order to learn about land masses, paths, streets, roads, alleyways, and the like. Knowledge and information is either written down or passed by word-of-mouth. It’s one of the only things I’ve ever read where it is absolutely realistic that there would be a secret route that only one group of characters knows about. I kind of love that? Like a ridiculous amount. I also love Ghân laughing. You can’t take that away from me.
Even with this good fortune, though, the characters are quick to discover that this isn’t going to get any easier. The shortcut does provide them with a much better method of riding closer to Minas Tirith, but they discover so many horrific signs of war along the way. They find two messengers of Gondor, one whom was beheaded, and the evidence suggests they turned back from the city, as if something prevented them from getting there. As they inch closer, their own messengers return the same message, which I will paraphrase now: Y’all, shit is fucked up.
But perhaps this is a sign of hope, or at least something I can latch on to for a moment. As the whole group nearly sinks into the despair of the realization that they’ve arrived at Minas Tirith too late, there’s a gust of wind. And never has wind been so important! Because that wind gives way to a glimpse of light and clouds in the South, the only area not covered by the grim black sky of Mordor. I imagine that Gandalf is the one who causes the flash like lightning in the city, and that flash brings about this surge of power in the whole group. I love that this sort of confidence is always represented by characters appearing to grow in size; we’ve seen it happen to Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn before. This happens with Théoden, sitting upon Shadowmane, and the events at the end of the last chapter finally sync up in this chapter: Théoden blows the great horn, announcing the arrival of the Rohirrim, and then they begin to slaughter the fuck out of the Orcs.
Oh god, shit is so real right now and it’s barely begun to get real.