So, here we find ourselves at last, the Black Gate of Mordor has opened and the Final Battle has begun. Nine chapters to go before the end of this great, vast, complicated and textured novel that’s been around more than a decade than I have.
Well. . .That’s at the end of Book V, which once carried Tolkien’s preferred title “The War of the Ring.” As this is a review of the entire “book,” the fifth of the six volumes that comprise the long novel known as The Lord of the Rings, (and, just to complicate matters, the first half of The Return of the King, which is widely regarded as the third installment of the “trilogy,” even though we true nerds know it’s not a trilogy at all) we should probably start this post where we last left off, with our review of Book IV: The Journey of the Ringbearers.
There’s no Frodo or Sam in this book. We left our two stalwart hobbits in a precarious position. Sam was going to attempt to save Frodo from his orc captors after finding out that Frodo was still alive after being stung by Shelob the great and terrible spider queen. And that particular plot thread dangles still, awaiting our arrival in Book VI.
At the open of Book V, Gandalf and Pippin ride east to the city of Minas Tirith in Gondor. While they are there, Pippin pledges his sword to Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, mainly because Denethor’s son Boromir sacrificed himself to save the hobbits earlier. Denethor accepts Pippin’s pledge of fealty, even though it seems he isn’t a true fan of Gandalf’s.
A vast Darkness issues from Mordor and soon covers the skies above Minas Tirith. This is some of Sauron’s psych ops, an attempt to dishearten his enemy and sap their strength and spirit. It seems to work, too.
Elsewhere, Aragorn parts company with Theoden and decides to take the Paths of the Dead to Gondor. He is accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, and while taking the Paths Aragorn apparently has the charisma to raise an army of the dead to join them in their fight.
Back in Gondor, Denethor sends his other son, Faramir, to meet the approaching Mordor army at Osgiliath. Faramir and his soldiers hold off Sauron’s forces as long as they can. As Faramir is retreating to the city, he is struck down by one of the Nazgul’s poisoned arrows. He is grievously wounded, but not dead yet. Denethor loses his mind and locks himself in a crypt with Faramir. He plans to burn both himself and his son alive. It seems that the Steward of Gondor had also been twisted by Sauron through his use of one of the hidden planitirs.
The Riders of Rohan arrive just in the nick of time to prevent the army of Mordor from breaking through Minas Tirith’s defenses. The Black Captain, the leader of the Nazgul, kills King Theoden. Lady Eowyn and Merry manage to slay the Black Captain, though both are wounded. Aragorn also arrives, sailing up the Anduin River in the enemy’s black ships, which he conquered with his Army of the Dead.
Pippin and Gandalf manage to stop Denethor from killing Faramir. But, they can’t prevent Denethor from killing himself, throwing himself onto a burning pyre. Aragorn enters Minas Tirith and begins using his healing arts on those wounded by the Black Captain in battle. This fulfills some sort of prophecy about the next king of Gondor and is more Jesus-like than I care to talk about at the moment.
The leaders of the armies of the West decide to launch an assault on Mordor that seems to be doomed to failure at the outset. The assault is meant largely to distract Sauron from looking for Frodo, the Ringbearer. As Aragorn’s army reaches the Black Gate, the soldiers are confronted by Sauron’s Lieutenant, who claims that the hobbits have been captured as spies. Gandalf refuses to negotiate with the Lieutenant, who seems to be genuinely frightened of the wizard. As the book comes to a close, the great armies of Mordor are unleashed upon the forces of the West.
And we’re left with another cliffhanger.
Now it’s getting real. Nine chapters to go and the War of the Ring is forging ahead, full speed. Of course, we’ve got to find out what’s going on with Frodo and Sam, don’t we? I bet that’s where we’re headed next.
I had almost forgotten what a great rush this part of the novel was. I am enjoying reading it again. By the same token, I’m also looking forward to finishing it.
One Ring to Rule Them All. And One More Post to Finish the Book.