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(Click here for Book VI)


A. Pippin opens this chapter? Where did we last meet him? We know that Tolkien for dramatic and moral reasons fragments the narrative, but interlaces do exist. About what does Pippin wonder?

B. The design of Minas Tirith echoes what culture? Does the setting provide clues to the characters whom we will meet? All is not well? Why? Tragically your answer will explain the fate of Denethor, father of Boromir and Faramir. What does Tolkien believe morally? John Locke's epistemology might help here.

C. Tolkien contrasts Theoden with Denethor, noting that the latter suffers from what all flawed characters in Tolkien face? What is it, and can we say, for at least one sibling, "Like father, like son?"

D. What has happened to Pippin? What irony emerges as he speaks with Beregond as they tour Minas Tirith? Do you find his behavior in this chapter credible? Try: Hrothgar : Beowulf :: Denethor : _______, and note too what ethos is involved? Is Pippin more like Boromir or Faramir? What does he tell Beregond? Is there something tragic, however necessary, in what happens to Pippin?

E. Gandalf and Denethor both possess knowledge, but do they have the same kind of wisdom? How as usual is Gandalf's more profound, and morally in keeping with Tolkien's Catholic beliefs? Is there a conflict between Catholicism and Anglo-Saxon beliefs here? What is a vice to one and a virtue to the other?

F. Beregond says that Lord Denethor "sees far." What does he mean? Beregond's moral intelligence emerges as he talks with Pippin. What does he say that the wisest of Tolkien's leaders always believe.

G. "The darkness has begun. There will be no dawn." What metaphor in this chapter foreshadowed Gandalf's comment?


A. The "Paths of the dead" are important in the development of Aragorn's character, as we return again to him, Gimli, Legolas and Merry. Prophecy foreshadows....

B. Notice how tentative the opening of the chapter is. Why?

C. Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond, and the Riders bring welcome support. The Council's wisdom offers hope in the midst of despair but from a very Catholic perspective echoed in Christ's paradoxical words about the Cross--what are they? Here Aragorn receives word from Elrond: "The days are short. If thou are in haste, remember the paths of the dead," and a gift from Galadriel. What does she give, and what does she say? Why is Galadriel here, now? Think of the Mirror Chapter, and remember her words:

  1. Your quest is known to us....[and] stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray a little and it will fail to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true."
  2. For it [the mirror] shows things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell...The mirror is dangerous as a guide to deeds." [Recall what Frodo sees in the mirror.]
  3. Aragorn answered [Galadriel] "...Lady you know all my desire, and long held in keeping the only treasure that I seek. Yet is it not yours to give me, even if you would, and only through darkness shall I come to it." Relate these lines to the present scene, while recalling Galadriel's gifts to Aragorn before the company departed. What two gifts does she bestow?

E. Is Tolkien evolving Merry's character as he did Pippin's? The company once again splits as Merry is left with Theoden. Do their allegiances (Pippin to Denethor / Merry to Theoden) stem from the same motivations?

F. Tolkien as linguist uses the "G" alliteration (recall Boromir) when Aragorn reveals he has used the Palantir. Why did he? Why can he? There is much moral philosophy here. Obviously to confront the EYE as did Frodo when using the MIRROR risks much. Who else used the Palantir, and did good come from it? Note the theme is the same: what does Aragorn say?

G. Malbeth's [Second Age prophet] prophecy scripturally legitimizes Aragorn's right as King to proceed as he does.

H. The history lesson is important. Who lies in the path of dead? Why? Explain the treason, and will once again good come from this evil?

I. Feminist readers should note the appearance of Eowyn. Where did we see her before? Her warrior role will be important soon. Here, describe her relationship to Aragorn. Is she simply a temporary foil against whom Aragorn can proclaim his mission. Is there a "Get thee behind me satan," echo?

J. Feminists may see latent or even overt misogynistic behavior. When admonishing her to remain behind and govern well {Is Aragorn saying, "A women's place...}, she retorts, "Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart to mind the house while they win renown and find food and beds when they return...All your words are but to say: you are a women, and your part is in the house." Recall our discussions of Tolkien's education, and his view on marriage. The conclusion of their meeting could be regarded as degrading. See below (The Houses of Healing) for a possible consequence. The Steward and The King chapter may bring this to a resolution when she speaks with Faramir. Morally perhaps, but would a feminist agree?

K. As Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas depart, compare their journey to this excerpt from Beowulf which describes the journey to Grendel's mother's cave:

[Hrothgar:] I have heard relate
that such a pair they have sometimes seen,
march-stalkers mighty the moorland haunting,
wandering spirits: one of them seemed,
so far as my folk could fairly judge,
of womankind; and one, accursed,
in man's guise trod the misery-track
of exile, though huger than human bulk.
Grendel in days long gone they named him,
folk of the land; his father they knew not,
nor any brood that was born to him
of treacherous spirits. Untrod is their home;
by wolf-cliffs haunt they and windy headlands,
fenways fearful, where flows the stream
from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks,
underground flood. Not far is it hence
in measure of miles that the mere expands,
and o'er it the frost-bound forest hanging,
sturdily rooted, shadows the wave.
By night is a wonder weird to see,
fire on the waters. So wise lived none
of the sons of men, to search those depths!
Nay, though the heath-rover, harried by dogs,
the horn-proud hart, this holt should seek,
long distance driven, his dear life first
on the brink he yields ere he brave the plunge
to hide his head: 'tis no happy place!
Thence the welter of waters washes up
wan to welkin when winds bestir
evil storms, and air grows dusk,
and the heavens weep. Now is help once more
with thee alone! The land thou knowst not,
place of fear, where thou findest out
that sin-flecked being. Seek if thou dare!
I will reward thee, for waging this fight,
with ancient treasure, as erst I did,
with winding gold, if thou winnest back."

BEOWULF spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:
"Sorrow not, sage! It beseems us better
friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them.
Each of us all must his end abide
in the ways of the world; so win who may
glory ere death! When his days are told,
that is the warrior's worthiest doom.
Rise, O realm-warder! Ride we anon,
and mark the trail of the mother of Grendel.
No harbor shall hide her -- heed my promise! --
enfolding of field or forested mountain
or floor of the flood, let her flee where she will!
But thou this day endure in patience,
as I ween thou wilt, thy woes each one."
Leaped up the graybeard: God he thanked,
mighty Lord, for the man's brave words.
For Hrothgar soon a horse was saddled
wave-maned steed. The sovran wise
stately rode on; his shield-armed men
followed in force. The footprints led
along the woodland, widely seen,
a path o'er the plain, where she passed, and trod
the murky moor; of men-at-arms
she bore the bravest and best one, dead,
him who with Hrothgar the homestead ruled.
On then went the atheling-born
o'er stone-cliffs steep and strait defiles,
narrow passes and unknown ways,
headlands sheer, and the haunts of the Nicors.
Foremost he1 fared, a few at his side
of the wiser men, the ways to scan,
till he found in a flash the forested hill
hanging over the hoary rock,
a woeful wood: the waves below
were dyed in blood. The Danish men
had sorrow of soul, and for Scyldings all,
for many a hero, 'twas hard to bear,
ill for earls, when Aeschere's head
they found by the flood on the foreland there.
Waves were welling, the warriors saw,
hot with blood; but the horn sang oft
battle-song bold. The band sat down,
and watched on the water worm-like things,
sea-dragons strange that sounded the deep,
and nicors that lay on the ledge of the ness --
such as oft essay at hour of morn
on the road-of-sails their ruthless quest, --
and sea-snakes and monsters. These started away,
swollen and savage that song to hear,
that war-horn's blast. The warden of Geats,
with bolt from bow, then balked of life,
of wave-work, one monster, amid its heart
went the keen war-shaft; in water it seemed
less doughty in swimming whom death had seized.
Swift on the billows, with boar-spears well
hooked and barbed, it was hard beset,
done to death and dragged on the headland,
wave-roamer wondrous. Warriors viewed
the grisly guest

L. As the chapter concludes, how is Aragorn validated?


A. Fragmentation of the fellowship always seems to suggest loss of hope, as Eomer suggests when learning Aragorn has gone to the paths of the dead, but...?

B. Look at Merry's little summary:

The Paths of the Dead. What does all this mean?
They have all left me now. They have all gone to
some doom: Gandalf and Pippin to war in the East;
and Sam and Frodo to Mordor; and Strider and
Legolas and Gimli to the Paths of the dead. But my
turn will come soon enough, I suppose. I wonder what
they are all talking about...?

C. Who does know? Note again Tolkien on history and legends...The mention of Baldor, son of Brego serves to validate what? Ascertaining the chapter's tone is important as is prophecy once again: "The way is shut...until the time comes." (For whom?)

D. Hirgon's plea suggests that for Tolkien, history potentially repeats itself: link to the episode, the Mirror chapter from Volume II. Why? Now, Theoden promises help to Denethor?

E. The 'arming of the hero' is obviously an important epic device. Who is armed here? Any irony?

F. Who is Dernhelm?

G. Does this chapter suggest much hope?


A. Chapter IV dramatize hope and despair via the actions of Gandalf and Denethor whose actions continue to reflect Tolkien's moral philosophy; how do hope and despair?

B. Contrast Merry's summary in the previous chapter with Pippin's in this one.

C. To what is Denethor compared and why?

D. Notice how Tolkien interlaces the despair in this chapter with Frodo: the reference is to JOURNEY TO THE CROSSROADS, and biblically to Jesus' comment about the lilies of the field and the bird in the air. Explore the connection: what is Pippin thinking?

E. Gandalf, "...always turns up when things are darkest." What does that mean?

F. The Faramir-Denethor meeting has an important moral point. Pippin, perhaps not fully aware of the import of his words, sets the tone Tolkien intends. What angers Denethor about Faramir's contact with Frodo. He is intelligent enough to piece together fragments, but is he wise ... "He would have brought me a mighty gift," laments Denethor about Boromir, and he continues to: "...send it in the hands of a witless halfling into the hands of the madness."

G. What is really the (moral) madness, a madness that becomes significantly more demonstrable when evaluated by Gandalf.

I. Ironically, as Gandalf tells Pippin there was never much hope to achieve; yet out of that very context emerges what will make victory possible. What does Tolkien believe?

J. Interestingly, Gandalf knows what Aragorn has done, and also (in biblical fashion), prophecies the doom of the Lord of the Nazgul: "not by the hand of man shall he fall..."

L. Of course the battle does not go well. Henry James noted that beauty is enchanting but rare, and evil is insolent and strong. Minas Tirith is on the verge of collapse, the Pelennor abandoned, Faramir wounded, and Denethor....Well, Pippin notices a change. What has happened, and why--we need to look for an answer that transcends the tide of battle; what morally happens?

M. What is the 'sin' of Denethor, the only sin that God 'cannot' forgive? Trace its origins. Should we be surprised. The Monsters and Critics Essay will help. Is Tolkien dramatizing an Anglo-Saxon's potentially fatal flaw. One critic calls Denethor a coward. Is he?... Mad?

N. One of Pippin's "finest hours" happens here. How does he behave, and how has his growth made his actions possible? Could we have anticipated these events earlier?

O. Concluding horrors and hope:

  • what is Grond, and what does it do?
  • the entry of The Lord of the Nazgul
  • Gandalf and several biblical allusions
  • macrocosmic / microcosmic imagery.

P. There is in this chapter and The Pyre of Denethor, an important interlace that foreshadows how Tolkien will validate Aragorn's kingship in The Steward and the King. The episode concerns a conversation between Beregond and Pippin regarding Faramir. There appears to be a conflict between Tolkien's Catholic and Anglo-Saxon beliefs.


A. How does this chapter offer hope?

B. Characterize Merry's maturity in the beginning of the chapter; what gives him such remarkable courage?

C. Who is Dernhelm?

D. Study Tolkien's style as they approach Minas Tirith. How do the epic-like motifs bring hope from despair. Do you find the actions of Theoden credible and consistent?


A. As with Helm's Deep, Tolkien stages another magnificent battle scene, as the films make clear.

B. Catholic and Anglo-Saxon and Romantic and feminist themes converge as a terrifying enemy perishes, slain by the unlikeliest of heroes.

C. What does the first paragraph of the chapter mean thematically?

D. Do you see a Macbeth allusion [Act I] in the charge of Theoden?

E. Macbeth and Beowulf allusions continue to predominate both in terms of role reversal and moral issues such as equivocation. Who helps to save Theoden? What would a feminist say? The price for victory, though, is quite high.

F. In addition to the Beowulf allusions regarding the death of the Nazgul King, there is another less obvious reference to THE BATTLE OF MALDON, which has a line that for Tolkien summed the meaning of Anglo - Saxon culture, and the kind of heroism herein actualized by Eowyn and Merry: Maldon is a fragment., with the beginning and ending lost. In the late 10th century, Danish raids on the English coast were frequent. This poem describes how the Saxons under Bryhtnoth met the Danes under Anlaf, the Viking cyn. The Vikings demanded tribute, and the English quickly refused so battle was joined. The English were winning because the Danes were pinned down on a narrow strip of land linking an island to the battlefield . Seeing this, the Danes asked if they could be allowed to cross it unattacked so the fight would be fair :

When the hated strangers saw and understood
what bitter bridge warders were brought against them there,
they began to plead with craft , craving leave
to fare over the ford and lead across their footman.

The following is Bryhtnoth’s response:

Then the Eorl; was overswayed by his heart’s arrogance
to allow overmuch land to that loath nation:
the men stood silent and Brighthelm’s son
called out over the cold water.
The ground is cleared for you: come quickly to us,
gather to battle . God alone knows
who shall carry the wielding of this waste ground.

As soon as the Danes cross, the battle continues, and the English are slaughtered. In the battle, Bryhtnoth is killed. The fragment concludes with Byrhtwold’s battle cry to the losing English. This has been called by Tolkien the finest example of the Anglo-Saxon comitatus code.

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer,as our force faileth
Here our lord lies, leveled in the dust,
The man all marred:: he shall mourn to the end
who thinks to wend off from this war-play now.
Though I am white with winters, I will not away,
For I think to lodge me alongside my dear one,
lay me down by my lord's right hand.

For Tolkien, such embodies the spirit of Beowulf and Pelennor Fields, so much so that he wrote a sequel, called THE HOMECOMING OF BEORHTNOTH, BEORHTHELM'S SON, a play in which a scop's son's perspective contrasts with the veterans of combat:

Torhthelm: Realms here they won and royal kingdoms,
and in olden days this isle conquered.
And now from the North need comes again:
wild blows the wind of war to Britain.

Tidwald: And in the neck we catch it, are nipped as
chill as poor men were then. Let the poets
babble, but perish all pirates. When the poor
are sobbed and lose the land they love and
toiled on, they must die and dung it. No dirge
for them, and their wives and children
work in serfdom...

Torhthelm: ...Heart shall be bolder, harder be
purpose, more proud the spirit as our power
lessens. Mind shall not falter...

His chant is interrupted when the cart they are driving to remove the dead hits a large bump: "Hey what a bump, Tida. My bones are shaken, and my dream shattered."

Tolkien hates the waste of war: the play ends with a voice in the dark...

Direct or Lord in thy sight my path
I shall enter into thy house...
Lord lead me in thy justice
On account of my enemies
Direct my path in thy sight.

(The Tolkien Reader, pp. 6-18)

Do you think the current chapter also dramatizes such hatred? Study carefully Eomer's words to Theoden and Eowyn. Tolkien's narrative dispels any doubt:


G. How is the citadel saved? What irony dominates that would be utterly lost on the enemy, but which validates an important Catholic theme? What archetype, seen many times, is involved to which Tolkien gives a Christian theme?

H. The poetry of prophecy and legend is important. Aragorn again is validated as heir.


A. With Denethor as the example, the chapter dramatizes perhaps the most insidious aspect of evil. How does it occur, and what is the result? Does Tolkien provide an alternative through any character? The sin is against hope, and there are two.

B. What is athelas?

C. Why is the palantir so dangerous? Does its power depend on the user: Sauron, Saruman, Denethor or Aragorn?

D. What is the doom of Denethor? Recalling Aristotle, is his so-called flaw moral or intellectual?

E. See question "P" above in the Siege of Gondor chapter. Note how in this chapter, the conflict suggested is verbalize: "You have been caught in a net of warring duties that you did not weave. But think, you servants of the Lord, blind in your obedience, that but for the treason of Beregond, Faramir, Captain of the White Tower, would now also be burned," exclaims Gandalf."

F. Apply this diagram based on The Republic of Plato to the characters in this chapter:


A. What biblical allusion dominates the chapter? Obviously the title of the third volume provides the clue.

B. Healing may occur on many levels. What credentials must a healer have for Tolkien, and whom / what exactly does he heal?

C. Faramir, Eowyn and Merry in turn receive grace. Describe the healing. Who cannot be healed? Why? What is athelas? Notice that several virtues so essential to Tolkien's beliefs prevail here: the places where they are absent reek with horror.

D. What is the black shadow?

E. "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer" anticipates what?

F. What is Aragorn's greatest virtue that truly makes him worthy to be king? Note that Gandalf validates Aragorn's right to enter the house of healing. How? What does he say?

G. The black breath is an anti-analog for what? (A biblical allusion again.)

H. Study carefully the healing scenes, noting especially again the biblical allusions such as: "Walk no more in the shadows but awake."

I. From a feminist perspective, look at the healing of Eowyn. Recall QUESTION J, CHAPTER II. Does that perspective influence this one? "Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father..."

J. In Shakespearean comedy, a wedding usually signifies a reconciliation of opposites: here the "good catastrophe"-What does Aragorn say about love and a future union? Whom?

K. Describe how Tolkien uses nature imagery in the healing of Eowyn. Why?

L. What is the cause of Theoden's death?

M. Why does Denethor go mad from a moral-philosophical perspective?


A. Notice that this chapter 'mirrors' what earlier one in BOOK II? Are there differences?

B. Merry's "Though I feel somehow that the worst of this war is still to come. How I wish it was all over, and well over" is countered by Pippin's optimism, but...

C. Legolas' flashback retelling of the path of the dead nightmare has several purposes:

  1. stylistically the oral nature of epics require such memory aids
  2. thematically, the reference foreshadows victory out of defeat, good out of betrayal and thus counters Merry's pessimism
  3. the validation of Tolkien's moral philosophy
  4. the further validation of Aragorn's kingship: "But nobler is his spirit than the understanding of Sauron."

D. Does the flashback suggest The Odyssey?

When I had got the men together I said to them, 'You think you are about to start home again, but Circe has explained to me that instead of this, we have got to go to the house of Hades and Proserpine to consult the ghost of the Theban prophet Teiresias. "The men were broken-hearted as they heard me, and threw themselves on the ground groaning and tearing their hair, but they did not mend matters by crying. When we reached the sea shore, weeping and lamenting our fate, Circe brought the ram and the ewe, and we made them fast hard by the ship. She passed through the midst of us without our knowing it, for who can see the comings and goings of a god, if the god does not wish to be seen?

"Then came also the ghost of Theban Teiresias, with his golden sceptre in his hand. He knew me and said, 'Ulysses, noble son of Laertes, why, poor man, have you left the light of day and come down to visit the dead in this sad place? Stand back from the trench and withdraw your sword that I may drink of the blood and answer your questions truly.'
"So I drew back, and sheathed my sword, whereon when he had drank of the blood he began with his prophecy.
"You want to know,' said he, 'about your return home, but heaven will make this hard for you. I do not think that you will escape the eye of Neptune, who still nurses his bitter grudge against you for having blinded his son. Still, after much suffering you may get home
if you can restrain yourself and your companions when your ship reaches the Thrinacian island, where you will find the sheep and cattle belonging to the sun, who sees and gives ear to everything. If you leave these flocks unharmed and think of nothing but of getting
home, you may yet after much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn you of the destruction both of your ship and of your men. Even though you may yourself escape, you will return in bad plight after losing all your men, [in another man's ship, and
you will find trouble in your house, which will be overrun by high-handed people, who are devouring your substance under the pretext of paying court and making presents to your wife.
"'When you get home you will take your revenge on these suitors; and after you have killed them by force or fraud...

E. Examine militarily, philosophically and morally the "last debate" of the wise:

  1. Surprisingly, who says Denethor is correct? Why is his prediction true?
  2. How can victory be achieved if not on the field?
  3. There is an allusion to a tactic the allies used to deceive Hitler in World War II.
  4. Why is Sauron not the chief danger? Who or what is?
  5. What does Sauron not know? What his error?
  6. Key words: bait, trap, pride...what is supposed to happen?
  7. "So might a child threaten a mail-clad knight with a bow of string and green willow!" is a great way to end the chapter. Why?


A. Does this chapter validate the moral premises of the previous one?

B. Merry must remain behind, as his wounds heal? Will this be his 'finest hour?'

C. Notice how Tolkien's use of nature imagery mirrors macrocosmically the moral / psychological angst of the company:

D. Analyze the dialogue between the Lt. of the Tower of Barad-dur and the company. How is deceit present?

E. How does Lt. identify himself? Why?

F. What effect does the revealing of Frodo's clothes have on the company?

G. Politically, these events mirror the Munich Conferences on 1938. International diplomacy moved to Hitler's whim, while the world in terror "held its breath" wondering what he would do next. His force of arms made resistance seem moot. The same happens here. There is something almost Neville Chamberlain like about Gandalf, but in the final analysis, Gandalf is wiser. Will there be "peace in [their] times?

H. How does the interview end? Who is on the defensive and why?

I. Pippin's reaction to Gandalf's treatment of the Lt. is instructive. What moral issue underscores Gandalf's apparent abandonment of Frodo? His comment about Denethor illustrates.

J. How does Tolkien in the midst of the Orc attack foreshadow hope and victory? Think of the paradox in Wordsworth's, My Heart Leaps Up!

K. As Pippin loses consciousness, of what does he think? There is flashback to "IN THE HOUSE OF TOM BOMBADIL"

L. Check Dr. Freitas' questions in relation to the Chapter's content.