This ability of the forces of good to foil Sauron’s expectations sets the ground for the deep sense of irony that pervades the closing chapters of Book V. Legolas and Gimli, in the account of their journey, note the irony that Aragorn has defeated Mordor’s forces on the Anduin River with the very spirits of the Dead who themselves once worshipped Sauron. In a strategic sense, the march to Mordor is ironic in two ways: first, an opposing force would approach enemy territory shouting and singing their claim over the land; second, Sauron thinks he is cunningly luring Aragorn’s forces in, when it is actually Aragorn’s forces who approach Mordor of their own accord, with the intention of playing into Sauron’s hands.

The deepest irony of this section lies in the confrontation with the Lieutenant before the Black Gate. For one, we know that the Lieutenant’s bold words are only a show. We recall that in the final moments of The Two Towers, Sam cast aside his sword in favor of Frodo’s, and that the Orcs did not kill Frodo but only disrobed him of his mithril coat. Armed with his lies, the Lieutenant does not expect to be so coldly dismissed by a military force only one-tenth the size of his own. Gandalf uses a double entendre to toy with the Lieutenant’s expectations: when the Lieutenant instructs the wizard to take or leave his demands, Gandalf shouts, “[T]hese we will take!” and takes the coat, cloak, and sword from the Lieutenant. Gandalf’s spontaneous verbal irony yields an equally spontaneous reaction from the Lieutenant, whose look of sudden fear betrays his attempt to maintain his proud and evil demeanor.

Gandalf’s words are not merely rhetorical, though, for they remain consistent with the wizard’s overall approach to confronting evil throughout The Lord of the Rings. Both before the Balrog in the Mines of Moria and before the Lord of the Nazgûl at the gates of Minas Tirith, Gandalf abandons his formidable magic powers in favor of the power of words, confronting his enemies with speech and commanding them to turn from their violent intentions. Here, Gandalf similarly commands the Lieutenant, yelling, “Begone!” The wizard’s authoritative words offer his adversaries the opportunity to choose between doing evil and relenting toward the side of good. In this regard, Gandalf implies that good and evil are not diametrically opposed forces or powers in the natural world, but rather two choices available to the mind and the will.