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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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Return of the King!