Battle of the Pelennor Fields
In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy fiction, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is the battle for the city of Minas Tirith between the forces of Gondor and its allies, and the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron. Tolkien recounts this battle in The Return of the King, the third volume of his 1954–55 novel The Lord of the Rings as originally printed. It is the largest battle and one of the most important events of the War of the Ring, the war in which the Third Age of Middle-earth comes to a close. It takes place on 15th 'March' T.A. 3019 in the Pelennor Fields, the townlands and fields between Minas Tirith and the River Anduin. The concept and history of composition of the battle is detailed in the fourth volume of The History of the Lord of the Rings.
The city of Minas Tirith was besieged following the fall of Osgiliath and the Rammas Echor, Gondor's final barriers against the forces of Mordor. In the retreat to the city, Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, was severely wounded. Since the despairing Steward refused to leave his son's side, the Wizard Gandalf took command of the city's defences. Meanwhile, the enemy forces assembled before the city on the Pelennor Fields. The Great Darkness blotted out the sun. The Nazgûl, Sauron's most feared servants, flew over the battlefield on fell beasts, causing the defenders' morale to waver.
After repeated futile attacks by catapults and siege towers, Sauron's forces were able to breach the city gate using the giant battering ram Grond. The Witch-king entered alone at dawn and was confronted by Gandalf. However, at that moment the Rohirrim arrived and charged into battle.
Sauron's army from Minas Morgul, led by the Witch-king of Angmar (chief of the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths) greatly outnumbered the combined armies of Gondor and its allies. This army consisted of approximately 150,000 orcs and Men, who had allied with Sauron, and also trolls. Sauron's forces included Southrons of Harad (or Haradrim), who brought elephantine beasts called mûmakil (or Oliphaunts), Easterlings from Rhûn and Variags from Khand, as well as great numbers of Orcs and Trolls. Tolkien describes the army as the greatest to "issue from that vale since the days of Isildur's might, no host so fell and strong in arms had yet assailed the fords of Anduin; and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth."
The defenders' numbers were considerably less defending Minas Tirith. Tolkien writes that Faramir was outnumbered by ten times at Osgiliath, where he lost one third of his men. Tolkien also gives a catalogue of companies from outlying provinces of Gondor, totalling somewhat less than 3,000 defenders, that came to the aid of Minas Tirith. Prominent among them was a 700-strong contingent led by Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Denethor's brother-in-law. The total contingent of allies was smaller than expected since Gondor's coastal towns were being attacked by the Corsairs of Umbar.
A 6,000-strong cavalry army from Rohan, Gondor's ally, arrived at dawn the next day, whereupon the battle proper began. The Men of Rohan (Rohirrim) were "thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone".
Reinforcements from the coastal towns of Gondor later sailed on Corsair ships to the city. They were led by Aragorn, who had captured the ships. He was a man with a claim to the throne of Gondor due to his descent from the last High King of Gondor and Arnor. He also led a small force of Rangers of the North, representing Arnor.
After breaking the gate with Grond, the Witch-king rode "under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed." Gandalf, with Shadowfax, alone stood in his way. But before the two could fight, the Rohirrim arrived, blowing their horns. Dawn broke, and the battle began properly. The Rohirrim had bypassed Sauron's lookouts thanks to the mysterious Wild Men (Drúedain) of Drúadan Forest.
Charging the ranks of Mordor, the Rohirrim split into two groups. The left group, including the van, broke the Witch-king's right wing. The right group secured the walls of Minas Tirith. They destroyed siege engines and camps, and drove off Haradrim cavalry. Théoden himself slew the king of the Haradrim and threw down their standard. The Witch-king exchanged his horse for his winged steed and went straight for Théoden. The king's horse was killed by a dart, and it fell and crushed the king.
The King's niece Éowyn (disguised as a man and calling herself "Dernhelm") challenged the Witch-king to personal combat. She was the only member of the King's guard to oppose him. In the ensuing combat she slew the Witch-king's mount, but he then broke her shield and shield arm. The Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck, who had accompanied "Dernhelm", intervened and stabbed the Witch-king behind his knee with his Barrow-blade, a dagger enchanted against the forces of Mordor. The Witch-king was bitterly wounded due to that particular sword's special magic. Éowyn then "drove her sword between crown and mantle", slaying him. This was a fulfillment of Glorfindel's prophecy following the fall of Arnor that the Witch-king would not die "by the hand of man". Both weapons that struck his undead flesh were destroyed as well.
Éowyn's brother Éomer arrived to find Théoden mortally wounded; he named Éomer king before dying. Éomer then saw his sister unconscious. Mistaking her for dead, he became enraged and led his entire army in a near-suicidal charge against the enemy forces. His vanguard broke out far beyond the rest of his forces and was in danger of being encircled. Meanwhile, Imrahil led Gondor's forces in a sortie from Minas Tirith. Imrahil rode up to Éowyn and found she still lived. She and Merry were sent to be healed in the city. The Ringwraith's Black Breath had made them both gravely ill, as with Faramir earlier. Their right arms were left numb after striking the Witch-king, and Éowyn's left arm had been broken in the mêlée.
Before the Rohirrim arrived, Denethor prepared to burn himself and his son upon a funeral pyre, believing Faramir to be beyond cure. Only the intervention of the Hobbit Peregrin Took, Beregond (a Guard of the Citadel) and Gandalf saved Faramir, but Denethor immolated himself before they could stop him. Tolkien indirectly states that Théoden's death could have been prevented if Gandalf had helped the Rohirrim instead, as he had intended.
Out on the Pelennor Fields, the battle was turning against Gondor and its allies. Though the Rohirrim had inflicted enormous damage on their enemies, Sauron's forces were still numerically superior, and Gothmog, the lieutenant of Minas Morgul, who had assumed field command on the death of the Witch-king, summoned reserves from nearby Osgiliath. The Rohirrim were now on the southern half of the Pelennor, with enemies between them and the Anduin, and Gothmog's reinforcements threatened to occupy the centre of the Pelennor, thus surrounding the Rohirrim and preventing the Gondorian troops from joining with them. Éomer was by this time only about a mile from the Harlond, so rather than cut his way through to the river, he prepared to make a last stand on a hill.
Meanwhile, a fleet of black ships, apparently the navy of the Corsairs of Umbar, who were Sauron's allies, sailed up Anduin to the Harlond. Just before reaching the quays, the flagship unfurled the ancient banner of the Kings of Gondor. This sight alone put heart into the Rohirrim and Imrahil's forces and demoralised Sauron's armies. The ships indeed were manned by Aragorn and his Rangers of the North, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, the Half-elven brothers Elladan and Elrohir and many troops from southern Gondor. (Later in the book, Legolas and Gimli relate how a ghostly host commanded by Aragorn, the Dead Men of Dunharrow, captured the ships from the Corsairs chiefly through fear.)
This proved the turning point of the battle. A large portion of Sauron's forces were now pinned between Aragorn's and Éomer's forces, while Imrahil's troops advanced from the direction of the city. Though the advantage now rested with Gondor, fighting continued throughout the day, until at sunset no living enemy remained on the Pelennor Fields. A brief respite was won until the Battle of the Black Gate.
The battle was viewed by Sauron as a tactical defeat as he had committed only a small portion of his forces to the assault. Most grievous to him probably was the loss of the Witch-king, who was his chief lieutenant and an experienced and uniquely intimidating field commander.
The Captains of the West also understood that their victory would achieve only tactical significance unless the Ring-bearer was able to complete his task. Therefore, it was decided that the Host of the West should march to the Morannon without delay, in large part to draw Sauron's attention away from the interior of Mordor, where it was hoped that the Ring-bearer was operating. The strength of the Host of the West's victory left them with sufficient strength to "challenge battle" and still leave Minas Tirith better defended than it had been during the siege. They were also able to send a significant force north into Anórien to fight another Mordor army which had been intended to intercept the Rohirrim. Additionally, the force that marched to Mordor was strong enough to send a detachment to liberate Cair Andros (even though the detachment was composed of young soldiers whose fear had disheartened them) and to leave a detachment of archers to guard the Crossroads in Ithilien.
On the side of the Host of the West there had been significant losses. Denethor was dead, as were Halbarad, Théoden, and several other Gondorian and Rohirric senior officers. Additionally, Éowyn, Faramir, and Merry were incapacitated and were unable to participate in the remainder of the war.
In the BBC radio series The Lord of the Rings, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is heard from two sides, the first being mainly Pippin's. One hears him discussing with Denethor, and like in the book, he has to find Gandalf to prevent Denethor from burning Faramir. This part is very similar to the book. The second side is the battle itself. Théoden's speech is declaimed, followed by music. A vocalist sings how the Rohirrim host rides forth and attacks the forces of darkness. Then the vocalism changes again and one hears Jack May and Anthony Hyde, voicing respectively Théoden and Éomer, saying a Nazgûl is coming. The 'opera' begins again, stating the Witch-king attacks Théoden, smacks him down and prepares to kill him. The vocalism ends here, then one hears Éowyn facing the Witch-king and slaying him.
The battle is the major centrepiece of Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the battle proper, importance is given to the arrival of the Rohirrim, the combat with the Oliphaunts, and the death of the Witch-king and the added presence of the Dead Men of Dunharrow on the field. Notable in this interpretation is the complete absence of the knights of Dol Amroth (even though Prince Imrahil is shown), the sons of Elrond and the Dúnedain. Éomer's role is greatly diminished from the book as well.
The enemy officer Gothmog, the Witch-king's lieutenant, is interpreted as a grotesquely misshapen Orc general, possibly maimed in prior wars.
The siege of the city begins with Sauron's forces throwing severed heads of Gondorian soldiers into the city with siege engines, as in the book. Gandalf acts as the general of Minas Tirith and oversees the defence. Unlike the book, siege towers filled with Orcs manage to reach the wall and Gandalf leads the Gondorians in fighting off the Orcs. The Orcs are later joined by the Nazgûl who destroy Minas Tirith's trebuchets unlike the book, where "there were none upon the walls large enough to stay the work". Eventually the city gates are broken by Grond, and deviating from the book, the armies of Mordor enter the city and the defenders fall back incrementally to the upper levels of the city. In the extended edition of the film, Gandalf confronts the Witch-king on one of the upper levels of the city, with the Witch-king riding on a "fell beast." Here the Witch-king breaks Gandalf's staff (in an earlier scene the Witch-king had said that he would "break" the wizard), but is distracted from doing anything else as the horns of the Rohirrim sound.
As dawn breaks, Théoden and the Rohirrim arrive and rout the Orcs in a dramatic charge after a rallying speech from Théoden (a small part taken from Éomer's speech in the book after Théoden's death), in full sight of the armies of Mordor. Unlike the book, in which the hosts of Mordor are dazzled by the light of the rising sun reflecting off the armor of the Rohirrim charging from the west, the movie has the Rohirrim backlit by the sun, inconsistent with the geography of the situation as presented by Tolkien. Also unlike the book, the film makes it clear beforehand that Éowyn has ridden secretly with the others; she does not use the alias "Dernhelm". The Rohirrim then face mûmakil. Théoden orders a second charge against these, which results in many casualties. Nevertheless, the Rohirrim bring down some beasts with arrows and spears.
As Théoden is marshalling riders for a third charge, the Witch-king bowls Théoden and his horse over with his fell beast. He is armed with a huge flail (instead of the book's mace) and a sword. Éowyn then faces him. Like in the book she rides with Merry who in this version is aware of her identity and like in the book helps her defeat the Witch-king. She reveals herself as a woman just before giving the Witch-king the fatal blow, whereas in the book she reveals her true nature before they fight. She and Théoden exchange words before the latter dies; in the book Théoden talks to Merry, not Éowyn, before dying.
Aragorn arrives on the Corsair ships accompanied by only Legolas and Gimli and the "Army of the Dead" (a term Tolkien does not use). (In the book, the hosts of the dead do not appear at Pelennor Fields. Aragorn releases them after they win the fleet.) The Dead, invincible and unstoppable, annihilate Sauron's forces; in the book, as well as being absent from the battle, their ability to inflict physical harm is left vague and their ability to inspire fear is emphasized instead. Following the battle, Aragorn dismisses the Dead, but only after a scene of silent hesitation, where Gimli suggests that they keep them for their usefulness.
The Extended Edition of the film expands on the involvement of some characters. New scenes depict both Éowyn and Merry fighting the Orcs and Haradrim on foot, as well as a brief fight between Éowyn and Gothmog in which the latter is wounded, and later killed by Aragorn and Gimli. Also, the assault upon Gondor's defenses is significantly expanded: Gondorian archers are shown successfully repulsing multiple assaults on the main gate by the Orcs using a normal battering-ram. Gothmog is furious with his subordinates as they flee, but his lieutenant insists that their rams are useless, and the gate is too strong. This makes Gothmog decide to bring forward Grond.
Notably, the field battle before the walls is fought exclusively by the Rohirrim (until the arrival of Aragorn and the Army of the Dead) on the one hand and orcs and mûmakil on the other. In the book, the defenders of Minas Tirith also sally forth and play an important part, while Sauron's army includes a huge variety of forces, including Southron cavalry, Easterlings, Variags from Khand and "out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues". Haradrim crews do appear riding the Oliphaunts, but otherwise only orcs or trolls appear in the infantry legions (several Easterlings and Haradrim actually do appear as Mordor's armies break into the city, but they are in the background in crowd shots and difficult to see).
CNN.com put the battle on a list of best and worst battle scenes in film, where it appeared twice: one of the best before the Army of the Dead arrives, and one of the worst after that, dubbing the battle's climax an "oversimplified cop out" as a result of their involvement.
Concept and creation
Sauron Defeated, the fourth volume of The History of the Lord of the Rings, part of the History of Middle-earth series, contains superseded versions of the battle. Some changes of detail are apparent. For example, Théoden dies by a projectile to the heart instead of being crushed by his horse; when Éowyn reveals her sex she has cut her hair short, a detail absent from the final version. Tolkien also considered killing off both Théoden and Éowyn.
There are repeated references by Tolkien to a historic account of the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields by Jordanes. Both battles take place between civilisations of the "East" and "West", and like Jordanes, Tolkien describes his battle as one of legendary fame that lasted for several generations. Another apparent similarity is the death of king Theodoric I on the Catalaunian Fields and that of Théoden on the Pelennor. Jordanes reports that Theodoric was thrown off by his horse and trampled to death by his own men who charged forward. Théoden also rallies his men shortly before he falls and is crushed by his horse. And like Theodoric, Théoden is carried from the battlefield with his knights weeping and singing for him while the battle still goes on.
The battle has been analysed in various publications.
War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien by Tolkien scholar Janet Brennan Croft examines the influence of World War I and II on Tolkien's fantasy writings, and the development of his attitude towards war.
Michael D. C. Drout's "Tolkien's Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects", featured in the academic journal Tolkien Studies, published by West Virginia University Press, analyses Tolkien's writing style and deduces influence from and parallels with King Lear. Drout also writes about the evolution of events in the narrative using material from the History of Middle-earth series.
The events of the battle are also analysed in Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Matthews, which explores "how fantasy uses the elements of enchantment and the supernatural to explore everyday reality and create profound insights into essential human realities."
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Siege of Gondor", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Foster, Robert (1971). Tolkien's World From A to Z, The Complete Guide to Middle Earth. Ballantine Books. pp. 48 & 49. ISBN 0-345-44976-2.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Minas Tirith", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- 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
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Muster of Rohan", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Passing of the Grey Company", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix A, "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Pyre of Denethor", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- CNN.com – The Screening Room. "The best – and worst – movie battle scenes." Archived April 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Last retrieved November 20, 2007.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1992), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Sauron Defeated, Boston, New York, & London: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-60649-7
- Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, p. 70-73, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1
- Croft, Janet Brennan (2004). War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-415-93890-2. Overview/review page Archived February 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Drout, Michael D. C. (2004). "Tolkien's Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects". Tolkien Studies. 1 (1): 137–163. doi:10.1353/tks.2004.0006. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- Amazon.com book description for Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination
- Matthews, Richard (2002). Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. 2002. ISBN 0-415-93890-2.