Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book V, Chapters 6-10)

If you’re not already familiar with Kate from Kate of Mind – shame on you.  I’ve only been linking to her for months, what is your problem?  I honestly don’t know what else to say in means of an introduction, other than that she’s censored herself quite a bit just to make sure her post wasn’t overly long.  Aw, she knows that most of you have short attention spans!  See how she pays attention?  Anyway, in order to keep this post on the shorter side, she’s elected to take a different tack and focus on one specific section.  You’ll see what I mean.


Chapter Six of Book V (Return of the King) contains what is for me the single most dramatic and emblematic moment in all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work: the death of Theoden and the triumph of Eowyn and Merry.

The foe that crystallizes this moment of glory and tragedy is the most genuinely potent — because most present – of all of the evil figures we encounter in The Lord of the Rings with the possible exception of Shelob. He has spooked us before, has the Witch King of Angmar, but mostly as a figure glimpsed from afar, referred to obliquely, except at Weathertop, where he and the rest of the Nazgul provide the first serious and obviously Ring-related jeopardy the hobbits experience. Now he is more than just a knife in the dark; he is revealed in his full horror, an iron crown on his head, astride a giant bird that is bigger and scarier than the terrifying fell beasts the other Nazgul ride and raised up from a chick by Sauron himself. He was going to leave that puny King of the Manves to the Chieftain of the Haradrim, but Theoden made short work of that foe.
Sigh. You just can’t find good help these days.
So what is there for it but to take on that puny Theoden directly? Down flies the Roc of Mordor in ironic response to Theoden’s heartfelt and effective “Up, Eorlingas! Fear no darkness!” Theoden’s horse is too terrified to get the message, rears up, and falls down, ready and waiting to be Mordor Roc chow, with Theoden more or less trapped under him! That’s plenty of drama right there, but no!

Enter “Dernhelm”*, with Merry not far away. She sees what is about to happen to her uncle and manages to get between the Witch King and his prey. They bandy bold words of challenge and mockery, culminating in the Witch King’s boast that “No living man may hinder me.” Now, I’m pretty sure no one who has been paying attention the last few chapters is ever surprised by the reveal that Dernhelm is Eowyn, but it’s still an awesome moment when she laughs and informs the Witch King that she is no man. And when the Witch King and the Roc of Mordor attack her, she promptly slices off the Roc’s head. Because she is a freaking amazing warrior.

What, did they all expect her to show up dressed like this?

The Witch King is hardly fazed, though, and comes after her himself, smashing her shield and breaking her arm with his mace. She might be screwed. But no, Merry has been watching all of this, terror-stricken at first, but passing from that state to shame that his brand new liege lord is probably dying very near and Eowyn is in danger, too, and Hobbits the Snape up and stabs the Witch King in the back.

Alas, Theoden’s horse has pretty much done him in. He has a few last words, mostly forgiving Merry and Eowyn for disobeying him and coming to the battle, but also observing that “Great heart will not be denied.” And this is key, because this is our heroes first real victory against Sauron. The destruction of the Uruk Hai who kidnapped Merry and Pippin, the storming of Isengard, the expulsion of Saurman from Orthanc, those are all great, but they’re defeats of the secondary villain. Here we have finally taken down a major power from Mordor, and it’s a Womanve and a Hobbit who have done it. This is the watershed moment, doing a better job than the Flame of Arnor ever could of kindling real hope and courage for Our Side.

For me, the rest of The Return of the King is pretty much just clean-up, now.

*This ruse of Eowyn’s has always bothered me. Eowyn names herself “a shieldmaiden of Rohan” pretty early on in our acquaintance with her, and it’s always with a lower-case “s” – it’s not a title bestowed on her alone with a definite article. This implies that women getting some training in this culture’s martial arts is not an extraordinary thing. So why then the need to disguise herself as a man? I can understand not going and fighting as herself; she’s been given specific instructions by the king. But why not go as a shieldmaiden? Why aren’t there other shieldmaidens in the muster? Or if there are, why aren’t they mentioned?

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19 thoughts on “Puttin’ the Blog in Balrog – Lord of the Rings (Book V, Chapters 6-10)

  1. Because I haven’t read this series in so long, I had forgotten a lot of the details… such as ALL THE DYING. Oh, Theoden. Sigh. Book V gave me lots of tightness in the chest area.

  2. Ah, this summary is too awesome! And you’re so right, this section of the book is totally inspiring. I’ve wondered at Eowyn’s ruse too, why it was necessary. The defeat of the Witch King, with his threat that “no man may defeat [him]” wouldn’t be the same without Eowyn’s unmasking, I suppose. Loved your take on this, an epic section with an equally epic synopsis!

  3. This is why I loved Eowyn the first time I read this and still love her. “Great heart will not be denied.” Tolkien gives her so many great moments but this one steals the show, when she takes down the fell beast and then the Witch-King. Paging Aragorn: you dork, you should forget about book-Arwen and go for the shield-maiden of Rohan, who rules.
    I don’t quite like the matchmaking Tolkien does with Eowyn in the end, setting her up with [RESDACTED] who is quite worthy, but still not the guy she wanted.
    And Kate: you rolled a natural 20 with this post.

    • I go back and forth on the matchmaking. I can understand, I guess, Tolkien’s stubbornness in wanting Aragorn to stick with Arwen that they might be Beren and Luthien come again, who are Tolkien and his wife come again (or come before), but then why all the Eowyn crushing at all, then? She’s kind of sacrificed twice to his ego: he rejects her and then he gets to make himself look awesome at her expense by paying ALL THE LIP SERVICE to her prowess and whining about how it pained him to reject her. Seriously? The older I get, the more I think Aragorn’s a bit of a cock.

      But so, as consolation prizes go, [REDACTED] is of the highest quality. And never once acts like a cock. So there, I’ve just talked myself into deciding that Eowyn got something better than she wanted.

      • As ever, I find your argument compelling. But in my fanfic version, the people of Gondor would say “Ehh, Aragorn, you’re great and all, but we think you’re better suited to running around in the forest up North with your buddies, the whatchamacallem’, the Dune o’Dyin’. What we want is Eowyn as High Queen of Unified Gondor and Rohan!”

  4. Hey now… my attention span is fine… it is my memory that has limited storage… and I get distracted easily… but I can pay attention to two or three things at once, so… what were you saying?
    Good post, oh illustrious visitor, oh word-maiden, oh book-slayer. I too have always loved this part. Take note, all evil doers… never run around bragging that no MAN can ever bring you down, or you will unleash the fury of women and maybe Hobbits, or all the other beings that fall into that catagory. (He could have been gang-thumped by Elves and Dwarves and Ents and who knows what else) Why not just wear a t-shirt listing everybody who can kick your ass?
    Seriously, I remember every time I read that part, my hair stood up.
    Goof post.

  5. This was always my favorite scene in the first book of RotK as well. Which is saying a lot, considering how many amazing scenes and developments occur in these chapters. The creepy insanity of the witch king, Denethor? Man, that was some good horror writing! Nothing scarier than a man who believes he’s got nothing to lose! Then there was the strange and differing ailments of our good friends Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry. Each was suffering from a dark gloom deriving from Sauron, yet each (if I read correctly) came about it in personal ways. Finally, I really enjoyed “The Final Debate,” where our leaders strategize how to divert the Eye of Sauron away from the more important campaign in the war: the journey and destruction of the ring.

    I loved these chapters; they reminded me why RotK is still my favorite book in the series!

  6. I never read much into shieldmaidenhood. I just thought it was a term they tossed around, like “hey, you’re a jack of all trades.” (but not like that, I’m just using that as a parallel) I always thought was just to make Eowyn feel better about being stuck at home. Though it may require some training, I didn’t think it would be comparable to being a trained soldier.

    Which brings me to my anger over the second half of the TT movie. I got so frustrated watching it because there they go arming old men and children for battle and Legolas whines about how they are old and feeble or young and don’t know what to do with a sword other than pointy end in the other guy. I kept thinking, uh, you have someone (possibly many someones) who are probably are more knowledgeable, better trained, and/or stronger. Why not use them? I get “because chivalry,” but when everyone is going to die, does it really matter anymore? Either you need all the help you can get or you don’t.

    I got chills when the mouth of Sauron gave them Frodo’s clothes (is that this part?).

    And I’m frowning angrily at the people who said he was a consolation prize.

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