The Return of the King: First Discussion

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We’ve made it to the third stage of our Lord of the Rings Read-Along, co-hosted by Stephanie at Chasm of Books!  Today we are discussing Chapters 1-6 of Book V of The Return of the KingPlease refrain from posting spoilers for any events that occur after Chapter 6. Anyone is welcome to participate and comment, even those not officially signed up for the event.  I have posted three discussion questions below, but feel free to bring up other topics and questions, as well!

Question 1

In Chapter 2 of The Return of the King, we are reminded of how frustrated Eowyn is at always being asked to stay away from the battlefront and lead those of her people who are not fighting.  She complained in discussion with Aragorn:

‘Too often have I heard of duty,’ she cried. ‘But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse?  I have waited on faltering feet long enough.  Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not spend my life as I will?’

‘Few may do that with honour,’ he answered. ‘But as for you, lady, did you not accept the charge to govern the people until their lord’s return?  If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.’

‘Shall I always be chosen?’ she asked bitterly.

What do you think of this exchange?  What point do you believe Aragorn is making about the nature of duty ?  Do you agree with him?  Does Eowyn’s position in life have any bearing on her responsibilities?  (For instance, do you think she is only asked to stay behind because she is a woman and so her assigning her this duty is “unfair”?  Or is she asked to stay because she is of noble lineage?  If it is “unfair,” does that give her any right to abandon the duty?)

Also, in Chapter 6 we discover that Eowyn is able to kill the Witch-king of Angmar in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, that she is the answer to the prophecy that “no man” can kill the leader of the Nazgul?  Does this compensate for her abandoning her duty and position of leadership back in Rohan?

Question 2

In Chapter 4, readers see the first exchange between Faramir and his father Denethor and witness some family tensions.

‘Much must be risked in war,’ said Denethor. ‘Cair Andros is manned and no more can be sent so far.  But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought—not if there is a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord’s will.’

Then all were silent.  But at length Faramir said: ‘I do not oppose your will, sire.  Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead—if you command it.’

‘I do so,’ said Denthor.

‘Then farewell!’ said Faramir.  ‘But if I should return, think better of me!’

‘That depends on the manner of your return,’ said Denethor.

Why do you think Denethor favored Boromir over his brother?  And if Denethor is upset by Boromir’s death, why does he seem so determined to send Faramir to his? What does it say about Faramir that he continues to seek his father’s goodwill and love in spite of the hostility?

Notably, this is the only real parent-child relationship we witness in The Lord of the Rings.  Sam quotes his Gaffer often, and Pippin mentions his father in passing, but, in general, parents in the story are either dead or simply absent.  Do you think this is intentional on the part of Tolkien?  Do you think it is in any way significant?

Question 3

During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, we see a stark difference between the fighting styles of the Gondorians and the Rohirrim.  The Gondorians seem either sterner, or more depressed.  Yet the Rohirrim, even realizing that they are most likely riding to their deaths, experience some type of battle lust.  They go into the fight with speeches and songs:

Fey he [Theoden] seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young.  His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed.  For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.  And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

Do you think the difference is a matter of their heritage or of their leadership (Theoden vs. Denethor)?  Or is a difference of how they have experienced the threat of Sauron?  Do their different styles affect how you view either nation?

One thought on “The Return of the King: First Discussion

  1. Krysta says:

    Question 1:

    Eowyn seems to believe that she was chosen to stay behind because she is a woman, but in The Two Towers the suggestion that she lead the people seems to come as a bit of a surprise–the implicit agreement among the men discussing the matter was that they would choose another man. Hama explains that he nominated her because she is fearless and because the people love her. (He does also say that he trusts in the house of Eorl, but I wonder whether Eowyn’s noble lineage would have been enough for the people to accept a woman as their leader if they did not admire her personally. After all, she’s not even in line for the throne. If Eomer dies, Theoden directs that they should choose another “lord”. “Lord” her seems to mean a man and not a generic ruler, since Theoden then commands that Eowyn will be “as a lord” while the men are away at battle.)

    So I think Eoywn’s desire for glory in battle is blinding her a bit to the unusual honor she has already won as a woman. The men have already accepted her as being as capable as a man to lead and, in doing so, they may have also obliquely acknowledged her fighting prowess, since Aragorn assumes that any other leader would have been a captain or a marshal. He makes no mention of noble lineage as a qualification to lead the Rohirrim. They are a warlike people and no doubt if you can’t fight, they don’t consider you fit to lead.

    I wonder, though, if Eowyn doesn’t find all this a bit laughable. After all, she is trained with a sword and refers to herself as a “shieldmaiden”, which makes me think that, at some point, the Rohirrim may have had a tradition of arming women for battle. She probably wants to know why she was trained if she is not allowed to do anything with her training (except perhaps die in her hiding place in the hills, having taken a few orcs with her). And maybe she wants to know why that tradition ended in the first place. Do the Rohirrim consider it a sign of progress that they now protect their women from battle? Did they feel pressured, maybe? The Gondorians are consistently referred to as the higher and more noble people. Maybe the Rohirrim hoped that if their women stayed out of battle, they would seem less barbaric to others? There’s so much we don’t know.

    Whether or not Eoywn’s selection is unfair, though, I agree with Aragorn that many are called to perform a duty they would rather not, but that doesn’t release them. What if Frodo hadn’t performed his duty to act as Ringbearer? Probably Eowyn wouldn’t even be having this discussion right now. Or what if Gandalf neglected his duty to steward the earth and did what he liked? Eowyn seems to think that the men all enjoy having to run all over and save the world, or whatever it is she supposes they do, but she hasn’t done it herself and can’t know the reality. She doesn’t know the pain or the exhaustion or the heartache. She doesn’t know that Aragorn would rather be walking among the trees in Rivendell with his love, rather than flashing his legendary sword around and proclaiming his heritage. When Aragorn tells Eowyn she must perform her duty, he isn’t talking as a man to a woman, but as one campaigner to another type of campaigner. But she doesn’t know his past and she doesn’t know the hardships he’s endured to keep Middle-earth safe, so she dismisses him.

    While I think everyone is glad that Eowyn does leave Rohan if it means the Witch-king is destroyed, I don’t think you can justify one’s actions by what later occurred. Eowyn didn’t know what she was going to kill the Witch-king. I think she just wanted to be with her kindred, and to die with them. I wonder if she had any hope left that the world would survive; she probably preferred to breath her last with the people she loved, rather than hiding in a hole. They all left her. She even assumes Aragorn is dead. So if the world did survive, I suspect she didn’t want to, at least not alone.

    I admire Eowyn’s bravery and her devotion, and her killing of the Witch-king is one of the most memorable and dramatic parts of the story. I can’t say, however, whether or not she was justified in leaving her people. We don’t even know how she did it, what instructions she left, or whom she might have selected as leader in her stead. Probably there was some slight panic back in Rohan that we don’t know about, seeing as they’d lost the lady Eowyn and all. But since I don’t know her motivations or her heart or even her actions, I don’t feel comfortable judging her. At least she did some good when she left.


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