September 18, 2001

A Tentative Choice Under Constraint
Steve L.

Well, if I MUST choose only one scene as my favorite and from among the ones I mentioned, I have to say that it is the slaying of the Lord of the Nazgul. To be honest, though, it's been a long time since I've read the story all the way through--it's something I intend to do again soon, and certainly before December. However, when I pick up the books sometimes to read favorite parts, that scene is one I turn to often.

Another one I love to read again and again is the moment of apparent hopelessness when Eomer sees the black ships of Umbar appear around a bend in the Anduin; then he throws up his sword in defiance but is suddenly overcome with joy as Aragorn's flag (bearing the signs of Elendil) is displayed on the first ship. I agree with Viggo Mortensen's view in one interview that there is no single hero in LOTR; but I think I have personally always favored Aragorn and especially enjoyed scenes where his great strength of will and nobility are shown, or when we can glimpse in him some of the majesty of the Numenoreans before their downfall. That scene I just mentioned is the very moment when the King returns, suggesting the unlooked-for renewal of lost peace, security, and glory at the moment of deepest despair for a whole civilization.

Some other scenes that I often return to are those where Aragorn leads his small company through the Paths of the Dead, summons the dead spirits at the Stone of Erech, and then defeats the corsairs (though the last is described secondhand). Legolas comments that he realized then at Pelargir, seeing Aragorn command the dead, how great and terrible a lord he could have been if he had used the ring himself, and that Sauron fears him for this reason. He speaks then admiringly of the nobility of Aragorn's spirit--beyond the understanding of Sauron. After all, he is also the last representative of the High Kings of the Noldor and a descendant of Luthien.

So, what does this mean to me? I suppose Aragorn represents to me a practically ideal combination of strength and wisdom. I admit he sometimes annoys me a bit with his pride: for example, when he first meets Eomer and then later hesitates to relinquish his sword to Theoden's doorkeeper. Then again, he is what he is, and there is no man in all of Middle-earth from a more respectable family!

By the way, Rich, I enjoyed your explanation of why you like the standoff scene. It made me think of that scene in a new way and appreciate it better. For one thing, I hadn't thought about the poetry of the language there or how the hammering of Grond dictates the pace of the scene. I remember how it builds up the tension towards the climactic moment when the gates are broken. There is certainly strong symbolism there, with the two leading representatives of good and evil facing off. Gandalf and the Witch King really are each other's opposite number in a way, since Gandalf is a direct representative of the Valar and the Nazgul lord is the chief servant of Sauron, himself a lesser god (one of the Maiar). I agree absolutely that the Nazgul are more symbolic of evil than the balrog, an evil leftover from an earlier age that seems independent of Sauron and his purposes.

Here's a question something like asking whether the Alien or the Predator is stronger. If Gandalf and the Witch King had not been interrupted by the arrival of the Rohirrim but forced to combat each other, who would have won? Maybe the question cannot be answered because a contest between them was impossible. I remember reading that the Istari were sent to Middle-earth only to assist the peoples there through guidance and inspiration, but forbidden to match force with force." If that were not a limiting factor, could the Lord of the Nazgul possibly be tougher than a Balrog?

Speaking of the Numenoreans, one detail I have often wondered about is who among them were blessed with long life-spans. Was that advantage only given to the heirs of Elros or was it granted to all the Edain who settled in Numenor and their descendants? Logically, I think only the descendants of Elros should be especially long-lived, since they alone are part Elvish, and in Appendix A it says only, a great life-span was granted to HIM many times that of lesser men." Then again, it's also written that in Gondor, the blood of the kingly house and other houses of the Dunedain became more mingled with that of lesser Men," I think suggesting that all of the Dunedain were a higher" race. It's a trivial issue, and maybe the answer is obvious to others, but I'm just curious what is generally thought.