In the ninth chapter of The Return of the King, Gimli, Legolas, Pippin, and Merry spend time together after being separated for so long, while the various captains plan their final move against the Dark Lord. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER NINE: THE LAST DEBATE
If anything, chapter nine just makes me feel incredibly nervous. It is nice to see all of these characters together. I won’t deny that. But it’s also remarkably unsettling that there’s this moment of calm. I can’t ignore that the true horror of facing Sauron is upon these characters. Hell, and I still have no clue what’s going on with Sam and Frodo. I imagine that the second “book” will deal with them and the events that Gandalf references to the captains in this chapter.
There are two distinct parts to what happens here, and the first of those is the reunion of Gimli and Legolas with their two hobbit companions. I enjoyed the fact that before this happens, both Legolas and Gimli take time to criticize the construction of Minas Tirith, one complaining about the stonework while the other complains about the lack of any sort of significant foliage. For real, I just love these two and their friendship so much. I also can’t deny that despite its foreboding tone, the reunion scene in chapter nine is greatly welcomed by yours truly. Tolkien used the tension created by the separation of these characters to drive the action and make us fear where he was taking us. But this meeting is not mean to make us feel better about the future. On the contrary, I think it specifically exists for Tolkien to say, “Hello, readers! Enjoy this brief moment of happiness because I am going to destroy all of this.”
And that’s something I can’t escape, especially after Gandalf reveals his final plan. This entire group is purposely walking into disaster purely out of hope that Frodo and Sam do what they need to do. BUT SAM HAS THE RING ON PROBABLY AT THIS VERY MOMENT oh my god fuck.
There’s some storytelling on the part of Gimli and Legolas when they finally agree to fill in the two hobbits on the activities of the past ten days or so. Personally, I was interested to know how Aragorn was able to secure the corsairs. I don’t need to recount that whole story to any of you, but there’s a lot to it that was very memorable to me. I can’t get over the mental image of Aragorn leading some sort of procession of the dead to these ships. That just seems so fantastic to me! It’s also fascinating to me that the first time we truly see Aragorn as some sort of king is when he is King of the Dead; now, he’s come to be the king of the living. Legolas makes an interesting point about this: all these characters have now seen the awesome power that lies within Aragorn, and it’s one that could have been used for ruin if the man was not one who was so understanding. We see that in this and the previous chapter when Aragorn refuses to lay claim to Gondor while they are in war, preferring to wait until it’s all over. It’s a key difference between how Aragorn operates and how Sauron operates.
Also, Aragorn uses the ramification of darkness and death to defeat darkness and death. That’s so fucking cool.
But these victories along the way and the reunion these characters are experiencing now are but a brief respite from war. They speak of positive things as a way to lift their spirits, but it’s clear that they’re all bothered by what is to come:
Then the companions fell silent, but a while they sat there in the high place, each busy with his own thoughts, while the captains debated.
I don’t like this. I DO NOT LIKE THIS AT ALL.
Tolkien segues to the debate that the various captains have. I don’t know that I’d actually call it a debate, though; it’s more like a discussion led by Gandalf that everyone agrees with. It might be the nicest debate of all time? FOR REAL. Gandalf basically spends ten minutes dropping massive knowledge on the captains about the Dark Lord, and the portrait he paints is excessively grim. The Stones of Seeing cannot lie, so it’s more likely true than not that there is a massive force being sent by Sauron to confront them. Even worse, Denethor was right: just by sheer numbers and force alone, it will probably be impossible to beat Sauron.
That’s such a fucked up thing, you know? Gandalf straight up tells them that there is little hope for victory. Despite that he says he doesn’t counsel prudence, this really is the most prudent counsel he could provide. They should not expect to win. They should not expect to survive. They should not expect to conquer the odds and reign victorious. Instead, Gandalf proposes another plan: they should distract Sauron into focusing on them so that Sam and Frodo can destroy the Ring. That would dismantle the Dark Lord’s power definitively, and is their only true hope for defeat.
‘Therein lies all our hope. This, then, is my counsel. We have not the Ring. In wisdom or great folly it has been sent away to be destroyed, lest it destroy us. Without it we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be.’
It’s an immense leap of faith. Their plan doesn’t rely on anything that is certain. But what choice do they have? They don’t have the numbers to wipe out the force the Dark Lord is raising against them. So they’re going to put their faith in the hands of two hobbits who are making their way to the Enemy to destroy the one thing that gives him power. If the horrific nature of this wasn’t clear enough to the reader, Tolkien has Gandalf spell it out for us:
‘We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless – as we surely shall, if we site here – and know as we die that no new age shall be.’
They’re walking into a sacrifice. That’s what this is. They will walk right into a trap with the hope that this will save generations to come from the horrors of evil. Fuck. It’s such a horrifying concept, and now I’ve got to prepare for the fact that this is going to happen and soon. Oh fuck, now I have to go back to worrying about who is going to die, aren’t I?
But the march to their death doesn’t happen just yet. Valiantly so, all the captains solemnly agree to Gandalf’s plan. I mean, they’ve all come this far, so why back down now? Still, it’s not an easy decision to make. With just seven thousand troops of various kinds at their disposal, they’re going to be hopelessly outnumbered. They’re just going to have to rely on one another and the workings of a couple of hobbits on the other side of the mountain in order to defeat this force of evil.
This is so fucked up, y’all.