The Return of the King
Book V, Chapter 5
Summary — The Ride of the Rohirrim
Four days into their journey to Minas Tirith, Merry remains hidden among the Riders of Rohan. He worries that he is a burden to the Rohirrim (as the Riders are sometimes called), and he feels unwanted and small. While the group rests, the Riders encounter the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods. Troubled by Orcs, the Woses offer their services to Théoden. They are a little-known yet ancient people, stumpy and brutish. The Woses’ leader informs Théoden that all roads to Minas Tirith are blocked, save the secret ways the Woses know. The Wild Men promise to show the Riders through these paths, though they will not fight alongside Rohan.
The Riders emerge from the forest just north of Minas Tirith, and the Woses bid them farewell and vanish. To Théoden’s dismay, the Riders discover two dead bodies, one of them the earlier messenger from Gondor, still clutching the red arrow. Apparently, Minas Tirith does not know the Riders are coming to its aid. Dernhelm, still carrying Merry, breaks rank and draws closer to Théoden as the Riders reach the out-walls of Gondor.
Théoden looks sadly upon the destruction of Minas Tirith. Suddenly, a great flash of light springs from the city with a booming sound. Reinvigorated, Théoden commands his Riders into battle with a great cry “more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve.” The shouting Rohirrim rout the Orcs and armies of Mordor. The Darkness dissipates with a fresh wind from the sea.
At the arrival of the Rohirrim, the Black Captain senses the Darkness fading and the tide of battle turning. He vanishes from the city gate to enter the fray. Meanwhile, Théoden rides in fury ahead of the Rohirrim. The chieftain of the Southrons—allies of Mordor—leads his men against Théoden. Though outnumbered, Théoden and Éomer charge through the line of enemy scimitars handily, striking down the Southrons’ chieftain.
The Woses, or Wild Men, are reminiscent of the Ents in The Two Towers. Both are tribes associated with nature who have had little contact with the civilized world, but who are induced to aid the Fellowship as a way of countering the Orcs. As with the Ents, the Woses are unable to remain neutral in the war—a measure of the all-encompassing gravity of the conflict. Running into the forest offers no escape, as even the forest-dwellers have been forced into the fray, compelled to offer their support to one side or the other. There is nothing heroic about the Woses, who are dumpy and brutish in appearance and show none of the grace or nobility of other races the Fellowship has encountered. The Woses make no gracious offer to aid the Fellowship further when their job is done; they vanish after the group has found its way. However, the commonness of the Woses enhances the value of the aid they provide: they are not typical heroes in the knightly style, but ordinary folk whose participation shows how large the scope of the War of the Ring has become.
The rejuvenation of Théoden in the midst of battle provides the boost in moralethat the king’s warriors have needed—the extra push that allows them to rout the Orcs. Théoden’s resurgence illustrates the importance of character in a leadership position, and suggests the tremendous mystical potential of the mind when prompted by the right psychological motives. The king gazes gloomily at the destruction of Minas Tirith until the blast from the city jolts him, prompting him to utter a cry of more clarity than seems mortally possible. It is as if Théoden himself is becoming immortal, at least in the sense that the moment of his battle cry will endure in the memory of the Rohirrim. No doubt, he is stirred to this superhuman intensity by his sentimental attachment to Minas Tirith—a connection he feels deeply but never explicitly describes in words. Tolkien was fascinated by the hidden psychological impulses that prompt humans to superhuman deeds and bring the potential for heroism within the grasp of everyone capable of intense emotion.
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