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Siege of Gondor

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Siege of Minas Tirith by Stephen Hickman
The Siege of Gondor, also known as the Siege of Minas Tirith after Gondor's chief city Minas Tirith, was a series of battles waged by Sauron against Gondor, as part of the War of the Ring. The siege was broken by the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

The city of Minas Tirith was besieged following the fall of Osgiliath and the Rammas Echor, Gondor's final barriers against the forces of Mordor. In the retreat to the city, Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, was severely wounded. Since the despairing Steward refused to leave his son's side, the Wizard Gandalf took command of the city's defences.[1] Meanwhile, the enemy forces assembled before the city on the Pelennor Fields. The Great Darkness blotted out the sun.[1] The Nazgûl, Sauron's most feared servants, flew over the battlefield on fell beasts, causing the defenders' morale to waver.

After repeated futile attacks by catapults and siege towers, Sauron's forces were able to breach the city gate using the giant battering ram Grond. The Witch-king entered alone at dawn and was confronted by Gandalf. However, at that moment the Rohirrim arrived and charged into battle.[1]


Sauron's army from Minas Morgul, led by the Witch-king of Angmar (chief of the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths) greatly outnumbered the combined armies of Gondor and its allies. Sauron's forces included Southrons of Harad (or Haradrim), who brought elephantine beasts called mûmakil {or Oliphaunts), Easterlings from Rhûn and Variags from Khand, as well as great numbers of Orcs and Trolls. Tolkien describes the army as the greatest to issue from that vale since the days of Isildur's might, no host so fell and strong in arms had yet assailed the fords of Anduin; and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.[2]

The defenders' numbers were considerably less. Tolkien writes that Faramir was outnumbered by ten times at Osgiliath, where he lost one third of his men.[1] Tolkien also gives a catalogue of companies from outlying provinces of Gondor, totalling somewhat less than 3,000 soldiers, that came to the aid of Minas Tirith.[3] Prominent among them was a 700-strong contingent[1][4][3] led by Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Denethor's brother-in-law. The total contingent of allies was smaller than expected since Gondor's coastal towns were being attacked by the Corsairs of Umbar.[3][4]

A 6,000-strong cavalry army from Rohan, Gondor's ally, [5] arrived at dawn the next day - whereupon the battle proper began. The Men of Rohan (Rohirrim) were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone.[6]

Reinforcements from the coastal towns of Gondor later sailed on Corsair ships to the city.[4] They had been relieved and were now led by Aragorn, a man with a claim to the throne of Gondor due to his descent from the Kings of Arnor. He also led a small force[7] of Rangers of the North, representing Arnor.[6]

The battle----

The battle begins immediately following Gandalf's denying the Witch-king's entry into the city.

After breaking the gate with Grond, the Witch-king rode under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed. Gandalf, with Shadowfax, alone stood in his way. But before the two could fight, the Rohirrim arrived. Dawn broke, and the battle proper began. The Rohirrim had bypassed Sauron's lookouts thanks to the mysterious Wild Men (Drúedain) of Drúadan Forest.

Charging the ranks of Mordor, the Rohirrim split into two groups. The left group, including the van, broke the Witch-King's right wing. The right group secured the walls of Minas Tirith. They destroyed siege engines and camps, and drove off Haradrim cavalry. The Witch-king exchanged his horse for his winged steed and went straight for Théoden. The king's horse was killed by a dart, and it fell and crushed the king.

The King's niece Éowyn (disguised as a man and calling herself "Dernhelm") challenged the Witch-king. She was the only member of the King's guard to oppose him. In the ensuing combat she slew the Witch-king's mount, but he then broke her shield and shield arm. The Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck, who had accompanied "Dernhelm", intervened and stabbed the Witch-king behind his knee with his Barrow-blade, an enchanted sword. The Witch-king was bitterly wounded due to that particular sword's special magic. Éowyn then "drove her sword between crown and mantle", slaying him. This was a fulfilment of Glorfindel's prophecy following the fall of Arnor that the Witch-king would not die "by the hand of man". Both weapons that struck his undead flesh were destroyed as well.

Éowyn's brother Éomer arrived to find Théoden mortally wounded; he named Éomer king before dying. Éomer then saw his sister unconscious. Mistaking her for dead, he grew furious and led his entire army in a near-suicidal charge against the enemy forces. His vanguard broke out far beyond the rest of his forces. Meanwhile, Imrahil led Gondor's forces in a sortie from Minas Tirith. Imrahil rode up to Éowyn and found she still lived. She and Merry were sent to be healed in the city. The Ringwraith's Black Breath had made them both gravely ill, as with Faramir earlier.[6] Their right arms were left numb and cold after striking the Witch-king, and Éowyn's left arm had been broken in the mêlée.

Before the Rohirrim arrived, Denethor prepared to burn himself and his son upon a funeral pyre, believing Faramir to be beyond cure. Only the intervention of the Hobbit Peregrin Took, a guard named Beregond, and Gandalf saved Faramir, but Denethor immolated himself before they could stop him.[9] Tolkien indirectly states that Théoden's death could have been prevented if Gandalf had helped the Rohirrim instead, as he had intended.

Out on the Pelennor Fields, the battle was turning against Gondor and its allies. Though the Rohirrim had inflicted enormous damage on their enemies, Sauron's forces were still numerically superior, and Gothmog, the lieutenant of Minas Morgul, who had assumed field command on the death of the Witch-king, summoned reinforcements from nearby Osgiliath. The Rohirrim were now on the southern half of the Pelennor, with enemies between them and the Anduin, and Gothmog's reinforcements threatened to occupy the centre of the Pelennor, thus surrounding the Rohirrim and preventing the Gondorian troops from joining with them. Éomer was by this time only about a mile from the Harlond, so rather than cut his way through to the river, he prepared to make a last stand on a hill.

Meanwhile, a fleet of ships, apparently the navy of the Corsairs of Umbar, who were Sauron's allies, sailed up Anduin to the Harlond. Just before reaching the quays, the flagship unfurled the ancient banner of the Kings of Gondor. This sight alone put heart into the Rohirrim and Imrahil's forces and demoralised Sauron's armies. The ships indeed were manned by Aragorn and his Rangers of the North, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, the Half-elven brothers Elladan and Elrohir and many troops from south Gondor.[4] (Later in the book, Legolas and Gimli relate how a ghostly host commanded by Aragorn, the Dead Men of Dunharrow, captured the ships from the Corsairs chiefly through fear.)[10]

This proved the turning point of the battle. A large portion of Sauron's forces were now pinned between Aragorn's and Éomer's forces, while Imrahil's troops advanced from the direction of the city. Though the advantage now rested with Gondor, fighting continued throughout the day, until at sunset no living enemy remained on the Pelennor Fields. A brief respite was won until the Battle of the Black Gate.


Various artists have illustrated the battle or elements of it, including Alan Lee, John Howe, the Brothers Hildebrandt, and Ted Nasmith.


In the BBC radio series The Lord of the Rings, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is heard from two sides, the first being mainly Pippin's. One hears him discussing with Denethor, and like in the book, he has to find Gandalf to prevent Denethor from burning Faramir. This part is very similar to the book. The second side is the battle itself. Théoden's speech is declaimed, followed by music. A vocalist sings how the Rohirrim host rides forth and attacks the forces of darkness. Then the vocalism changes again and one hears Jack May and Anthony Hyde, voicing respectively Théoden and Éomer, saying a Nazgûl is coming. The 'opera' begins again, stating the Witch-king attacks Théoden, smacks him down and prepares to kill him. The vocalism ends here, then one hears Éowyn facing the Witch-king and slaying him.

Live-action film----

The battle is the major centrepiece of Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the battle proper, importance is given to the arrival of the Rohirrim, the combat with the Oliphaunts, and the death of the Witch-king and the added presence of the Dead Men of Dunharrow on the field.

The enemy officer Gothmog, the Witch-king's field commander, is interpreted as a grotesquely misshapen Orc.

The siege of the city begins with Sauron's forces throwing severed heads of Gondorian soldiers into the city with siege engines, as in the book. Gandalf acts as the general of Minas Tirith and oversees the defence. Unlike the book, siege towers filled with Orcs manage to reach the wall and Gandalf leads the Gondorians in fighting off the Orcs. The Orcs are later joined by the Nazgûl who destroy Minas Tirith's trebuchets. Eventually the city gates are broken by Grond, and deviating from the book, the armies of Mordor enter the city and the defenders fall back in rout to the upper levels of the city.

As dawn breaks, Théoden and the Rohirrim arrive and rout the Orcs. Unlike the book, the film makes it clear beforehand that Éowyn has ridden secretly with the others; she does not use the alias "Dernhelm". The Rohirrim then face mûmakil. Théoden orders a second charge against these, which results in many casualties. Nevertheless the Rohirrim bring down some beasts with arrows and spears.

As Théoden is marshaling riders for a third charge, the Witch-king bowls Théoden and his horse over with his fell beast. He is armed with a huge flail (instead of the book's mace) and a sword. Éowyn then faces him. Like in the book she rides with Merry who in this version is aware of her identity and like in the book helps her defeat the Witch-King. She reveals herself as a woman just before giving the Witch-king the fatal blow, whereas in the book she reveals her true nature before they fight. She and Théoden exchange words before the latter dies; in the book Théoden talks to Merry, not Éowyn, before dying.

Aragorn arrives on the Corsair ships accompanied by only Legolas and Gimli and the "Army of the Dead" (a term Tolkien does not use), and go on the attack. The Dead, invincible and unstoppable, annihilate Sauron's forces; in the book, as well as being absent from the battle, their ability to inflict physical harm is left vague and their ability to inspire fear is emphasized instead. Following the battle, Aragorn dismisses the Dead, but only after a scene of silent hesitation, where Gimli suggests that they keep them for their usefulness.

The Extended Edition of the film expands on the involvement of some characters. New scenes depict both Éowyn and Merry fighting the Orcs and Haradrim on foot, as well as a brief fight between Éowyn and Gothmog in which the latter is wounded, and later killed by Aragorn and Gimli. put the battle on a list of best and worst battle scenes in film, where it appeared twice: one of the best before the Army of the Dead arrives, and one of the worst after that, dubbing the battle's climax an "oversimplified cop out" as a result of their involvement.

Concept and creation----

Sauron Defeated, the fourth volume of The History of the Lord of the Rings, part of the History of Middle-earth series, contains superseded versions of the battle. Some changes of detail are apparent. For example, Théoden dies by a projectile to the heart instead of being crushed by his horse; when Éowyn reveals her sex she has cut her hair short, a detail absent from the final version. Tolkien also considered killing off both Théoden and Éowyn.

Critical response----

The battle has been analyzed in various publications.

War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien by Tolkien scholar Janet Brennan Croft examines the influence of World War I and II on Tolkien's fantasy writings, and the development of his attitude towards war.

Michael D. C. Drout's "Tolkien's Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects", featured in the academic journal Tolkien Studies, published by West Virginia University Press, analyzes Tolkien's writing style and deduces influence from and parallels with King Lear. Drout also writes about the evolution of events in the narrative using material from the History of Middle-earth series.

The events of the battle are also analyzed in Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Matthews, which explores "how fantasy uses the elements of enchantment and the supernatural to explode everyday reality and create profound insights into essential human realities."