Battle of the Morannon

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In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the Battle of the Morannon or Battle of the Black Gate is a fictional event that took place at the end of the War of the Ring. It is depicted in The Return of the King, the third volume of his epic fantasy book The Lord of the Rings.

Prelude[edit]

This was the final major battle against Sauron in the War of the Ring, fought at the Black Gate of Mordor. The Army of the West, led by Aragorn, marched on the gate as a diversionary feint to distract Sauron's attention from Frodo and Sam, who were carrying the One Ring through Mordor. It was hoped that Sauron would think Aragorn had the Ring and was now trying to use it to overthrow Mordor. As the journey progressed, Aragorn was credited openly as "the King Elessar" by their heralds to challenge Sauron, though he was not yet formally crowned.

Aragorn and the other captains had around 7,000 soldiers of Gondor and Rohan available to fight; they left some in Minas Tirith to defend against assault, and sent 3,000 Rohirrim under Elfhelm to rout another army holding the west road to Anórien (which soon returned to Minas Tirith). Thus they marched with about 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse.[1]

At the Crossroads, Aragorn and other captains left the main force for a while with a small company of troops and surveyed Minas Morgul from afar, finally setting fire to Morgul Vale. They also left some archers to guard the Crossroads.

They were also later ambushed by Orcs and Easterlings on the very spot where Faramir and the Rangers of Ithilien had ambushed a company of Haradrim some two weeks earlier (which was observed by Frodo and Sam), but the enemy was beaten back without much loss. However, it was realized that this was an intentionally weak feint, meant to try to lure them into thinking that Sauron's army was incapable of mounting a strong attack when in fact it was. Later, some whose fear overcame them were sent to retake and hold Cair Andros, an island in the River Anduin used as a fortress by Gondor which was the location of strategically important fords. Thus the Army of the West was less than 6,000 strong at the Black Gate.[2]

Battle[edit]

Before the battle began, Sauron sent one of his servants, the Black Númenórean called the Mouth of Sauron, to speak with the Captains of the West. He tried to trick Gandalf into believing Sauron held Frodo captive, displaying as evidence items that had belonged to Frodo and Sam (Sam's sword, an Elven cloak, and Frodo's mithril shirt.) The Mouth threatened that Frodo would be tortured if the West did not agree to Sauron's terms of surrender. (It is clear that while Sauron knew there was a Hobbit in Mordor, he did not know why.) Gandalf, however, refused to be swayed, took the items from the Mouth of Sauron, and sent him away. Amazed and angered, the Mouth of Sauron rode back to the Black Gate and the forces of Sauron advanced. At the same time, more of Sauron's forces that had been hidden in the hills around the Black Gate came forth, thus surrounding the Men of the West. Sauron's army outnumbered that of the West by at least ten to one. It is not clear who commanded the field for Sauron, though Khamûl the Easterling, the second most powerful Ringwraith after the Witch-king, is a reasonable candidate. The Army of the West divided itself into two rings upon two great hills of rubble opposite the gate: Aragorn, Gandalf, and the sons of Elrond "with the Dúnedain about them" were on the left ring, with Éomer, Imrahil, and the Knights of Dol Amroth on the right.

Against Aragorn's army was arrayed Sauron's hordes of Orcs, Trolls, and Mannish allies such as the Easterlings and Southrons (Haradrim). An exact count is not given of the number of Sauron's forces, though Tolkien says they were "ten times and more than ten times" the size of Aragorn's army. The Olog-hai, improved Trolls much like the Uruk-hai were improved Orcs, first made an appearance.

During the course of the battle, the hobbit Peregrin Took, marching as a Guard of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, slew an Olog-hai officer. The remaining eight Nazgûl hovered over the Army of the West and spread fear and confusion. The Eagles of the Misty Mountains, led by Gwaihir the Windlord, arrived and attacked the Ringwraiths. At that moment, when all hope seemed lost, Frodo put on the One Ring and Sauron realized that Frodo was inside Mount Doom. The Nazgûl immediately left the battle to intercept Frodo, and the army of Mordor (bereft of Sauron's attention) was immediately thrown into disarray. Gollum bit the Ring off Frodo's finger, and then both he and the ring accidentally fell into the Crack of Doom, and Sauron's power was dissipated.

Barad-dûr, the Black Gate and the Towers of the Teeth collapsed to ruin as their foundations were built with the Ring's magic. Sauron's physical body perished yet again for what would be the last time. His gigantic shadow formed in the sky and reached out in wrath to the heroes, but it was blown away by a strong wind, and his spirit, which had been housed in a tall humanoid form, was left forever bodiless and impotent.

The Orcs and other creatures of Sauron were left completely directionless with the Dark Lord's demise and were easily defeated by the Army of the West. Some slew themselves, while others fled to hide in dark places. The proud Easterlings and Southrons fought on bravely, though eventually many threw down their weapons and surrendered later to be sent home in peace by Aragorn ending the Easterlings and Southrons hate for Gondor.

Fighting against Sauron's remaining forces would continue in the northern theatre of the War of the Ring for several weeks, notably in Mirkwood, Lothlórien, Dol Guldur and at Erebor, but the power of Sauron was no more.

Adaptations[edit]

The 1980 animated film[edit]

The armies of Gondor ride up to the Gate here, not as a diversion, but seemingly as a merely suicidal attack on Mordor. The Nazgûl are seen flying overhead as they approach, and the Orcs can be heard singing the song "Towers of the Teeth" but they are not visible at first. Aragorn cries out silencing them, and then he demands the Dark Lord come forth. The Mouth of Sauron does appear and he mocks Aragorn before warning that he is hopelessly outnumbered. He does not, however, present any tokens. Aragorn defies him and the Mouth turns back into the gate. As he does, the Orcs resume their song and appear all along the walls, the towers, and the gate itself. The scene then cuts to inside Mt. Doom until after the Ring is destroyed.

Once the Ring is destroyed, the towers and the gate are shown to come crashing down, and the earth begins to shake. Here it seems that the earthquake will destroy the armies of the West as well, but at this time the Great Eagles turn up (thousands of them) and they lift up the soldiers from harm's way and fly them all back to Minas Tirith.

Towers of the Teeth as sung by the Orcs:

Win the battle, lose the war,
Choice of evils lie before your feet,
Retreat, Retreat, Retreat!
If you win then you will lose,
Choice of evils yours to choose,
Retreat...
Retreat, retreat, retreat!
You are standing in the eye of the storm,
Move an inch, and you'll be dead,
You are standing underneath, the towers of the Teeth,
and the Eye...blazes red!

The 1981 radio series[edit]

The encounter with the Mouth of Sauron and the events preceding the battle are faithful to the book. However, the battle itself is virtually omitted. After the Mouth of Sauron departs, sounds of approaching orcs are heard, and Gandalf says, "The trap is sprung. We are surrounded by the whole host of Mordor, and we must fight!", but it then leads on to the rest of Frodo and Sam's journey up Mount Doom.

The 2003 live-action film[edit]

In Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Return of the King, it is interspersed with scenes of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom, and focuses mainly on the characters of Gandalf, Aragorn, and the rest of the Fellowship.

Before the battle proper, Aragorn beheads the Mouth of Sauron in the extended edition of the film. In contrast, the Mouth in the book says, "I am a herald and ambassador and may not be assailed!"[2]

Sauron's army marches forward, chanting "Durbgu nazgshu, durbgu dashu!" (Black Speech for "Lord of the Ring, Lord of the Earth!") Aragorn's force does not position itself in two rings, but rather in one great circle, which is completely surrounded by the enemy. Merry is present along with Pippin; in the book he remains in the Houses of Healing.

Before the battle, Aragorn encourages his army:

"Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship; but it is not this day! An hour of wolves, and shattered shields, when the Age of Men comes crashing down; but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

Upon hearing Sauron call him "Elessar", he leads them in a heroic charge against the army of Mordor. The two armies clash and fierce combat ensues. The Nazgûl try to attack the army, but before they can, the Eagles arrive and drive them off. Aragorn is shown battling a troll, which nearly defeats him.

The Dark Tower and Mount Doom are visible through the Gate, while in the book Mount Doom is not. When the Ring is destroyed and the Dark Tower collapses along with Jackson's literal interpretation of the Eye of Sauron, a great earthquake shakes the land and Mount Doom erupts. A huge rift opens in the earth, swallowing up the gates and a greater part of Sauron's army, with the rest fleeing in terror. The release of the "impotent shadow" is instead replaced by a massive shock wave caused by the Eye's implosion.

Originally, Peter Jackson envisioned having Sauron himself make an appearance in the battle. At first there was to be an image of Sauron in his Second Age guise of "Annatar", which was fair to look upon, but once the battle was joined the Dark Lord was going to emerge much as he looked at the beginning of the trilogy before the Ring was cut from his hand. The Extended Edition of the movie features storyboard animations of this idea. Aragorn battles the Dark Lord and is almost defeated when the Ring is destroyed and Sauron's physical form shattered.

This idea was abandoned as it played too much like the opening of the first film and because it diminished the triumph of Frodo at Mount Doom with the destruction of the Ring. It was also felt that making a personal duel between Aragorn and Sauron changed the thematic point of the battle, that it was a selfless sacrifice by Aragorn and the Army of the West. The original footage of Aragorn battling Sauron was kept, but modified to show him battling a troll instead. A mock-up of the version including Annatar/Sauron, using a mix of the shots which were filmed intercut with storyboard panels for those which were not, is included in the DVD extras.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Last Debate", ISBN 0-395-08256-0 
  2. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Black Gate Opens", ISBN 0-395-08256-0