Last night’s reading session was a milestone, friends; one for which I have been waiting for…well…years.
We had just a couple of pages of The Siege of Gondor remaining, so we began our session on a high. Pippin took his leave of the Lord Denethor, and ran off into the city in search of Gandalf; the Lord of the city had seemingly lost his mind and Pippin knew only one person who might be able to offer the help that Faramir so desperately needed.
Yet Pippin was not hopeful.
‘Oh, where can I find Gandalf? In the thick of things, I suppose; and he will have no time to spare for dying men or mad-men.’
When Pippin, at last, finds Gandalf, he is (of course) ‘in the thick of things’. Gandalf stands alone before the main gates of the city, facing the most powerful enemy on the battlefield (indeed, the most powerful servant in the Dark Lord’s innumerable forces: the Lord of the Nazgûl.
It is a scene not a little reminiscent of his lone stand against the Balrog in Moria. Indeed, the paralells are striking.
‘You cannot enter here,’ said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. ‘Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall back into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!’
And with that [the Lord of the Nazgûl] lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
His enemy halted again. … ‘You cannot pass. … Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!’
From out of the shadows a red sword leaped flaming.
In both instances, Gandalf stands alone. He does not attack his enemy. He commands his enemy to ‘go back’ to a ‘nothingness’. And Gandalf is threatened or outright attacked ith a flaming sword both times.
On the ‘nothingness’: the abyss is presumably the outer void … outside the confines of the World … where Morgoth was already sent ages ago. A shadow is, arguably, a ‘nothingness’, being merely an absence of light. Yet Gandalf refers to the Shadow, with an uppercase S. So there is more to consider here.
Back on point: Gandalf is never actually attacked by the Lord of the Nazgûl. For at the very moment he would make his strike, a cock crows somewhere in the city. And ‘as if in answer’, another sound: Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
A strong start to the evening’s reading. We then moved onto The Ride of the Rohirrim, which Lucy was more than keen for. As I read out the chapter’s title, she enthusiastically exclaimed, ‘Horses!’
As we read through the chapter, and Dernhelm got a mention or two, Lucy confided to me: ‘I’ve been thinking and I’m not sure if Dernhelm is really Dernhelm.’
I have to be honest friends, I was a bit crushed. I was hoping she would be completely blindsided by the revelation of the following chapter. But I merely acknowledged her suspicious and carried on.
There wasn’t much to tell of in this chapter. She enjoyed Ghân-buri-Ghân, of course. And she told me that he reminded her of someone…but who that was escapes me at the moment. I’ll have to ask her.
It isn’t a long chapter, so we were soon looking at The Battle of the Pelennor Fields. It was, by this time, easily, ‘bedtime’. But I scanned ahead into the chapter and was surprised to see that within a page turn, the confrontation between Éowyn and the Lord of the Nazgûl was beginning.
‘Lucy, I can’t read you this whole next chapter tonight. But I’ve got to read the next few pages.’
Sensing the importance of what was to come, Lucy snuggled down into her pillow, gripped Pinky Pie the pony tightly, and waited.
And as I read, I could feel the goosebumps creeping up my arms and shoulders. I could feel a lump forming in my throat. I could feel the heat in my eyes.
Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.’
Lucy gasped. I took a few breaths so I wouldn’t begin weeping.
‘Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. [another gasp from Lucy] You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.’
Well, you know how the encounter ends. The Lord of the Nazgûl is vanquished, and Éowyn becomes arguably the biggest badass in the book.
If I was worried that the impact of the moment would be lessened because Lucy ‘suspected something’, I needn’t have been. She was on the edge of her bed. She was open-mouthed. And when the moment actually happened … when the sword was thrust ‘between crown and mantle’ and ‘the crown rolled away’, she gave the biggest cheer.
She would confess to me as I tucked her in that, when Merry heard Dernhelm’s voice, and it sounded like ‘some other voice that he had known’, she wondered for a moment if Dernhelm might actually be Bilbo.
Bilbo! Now that would’ve been interesting (but certainly not as good).
She then realised Bilbo was still back in Rivendell and told herself, apparently, ‘It must be Éowyn.’
But her shrewd guess certainly didn’t diminish the joy of the moment when she was proven to be correct.
She has long known (because I told her) that Éowyn does something amazing in the book. And so this payoff to that promise has been a long time coming. I am pleased and relieved to know that she was not let down.
I think we may re-read that encounter in-full at our next reading.
I should also point out at this time that dwimmerlaik is one of may absolute favourite words in the entire book. And Éowyn’s brother, Éomer, has one of my other favourites: dwimmercrafty.
Works Cited: Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings, v, 4, ‘The Siege of Gondor’; 6, ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’
What a wonderful listener Lucy is! How satisfying it must be to read to her.
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Thank you! Yes, she really is a great listener, and it’s a privilege.
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I am astounded by the plain joy of both yourself and dear Lucy at this reading. Some beautiful moments, both in the text you read and relate here and in your’s and Lucy’s responses.
Her suspicion that Dernhelm is not Dernhelm is insightful and, though I have not read the chapters myself for many years I suspect myself that the suspicion was planted in your daughter’s mind by Tolkien himself through the previous chapters. And, as master story-teller which he is, he does not allow suspicions to even be hinted at unless he knows it will further the story and the power of its reading.
I have read many ideas as to how Éowyn was able to slay the Witchking whom no man could slay, yet a plain reading seems to suggest that Éowyn herself knew the answer: that she was no man but rather a woman. Tolkien, as a devout Catholic, would have known and believed that the roles assigned to man and woman differ, and that they differ in many respects beyond the mere outward appearance of the body. And thus, as a woman, Éowyn had both limitations and capabilities which were different than those of a man. And, apparently, one of those capabilities was the ability to slay a creature of nothingness which no mere man could hope to slay!
Blessings my friend,
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Thanks, Pip! Yes, the hints are certainly there if you’re paying attention!
Thank you so much for sharing this story about sharing a story. It brought tears to my eyes.
I came here while looking for the quote from the book, after listening to an amazing audiobook adaptation of it. I can share it with you if you’re interested (it’s a fan-made audiobook and not officially endorsed, so it’s hard to find).
Your story reminded me of the first time I read Lord of the Rings (which was before the movies came out) and how vividly the images were painted in my mind. Éowyn’s strong story in the books is very different from her rather submissive role in the movies and I believe she may be one of the strongest female characters ever written. People complaining about the lack of women in Tolkien’s works have clearly never read them. Either that or they value quantity over quality.
Your daughter Lucy can not ask for a better parent and I am sure she will fondly remember your time together in Middle-Earth for the rest of her life.
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What a wonderfully kind comment. Thank you very much.
She is going away on a school trip for 3 days and 2 nights soon, and she’s advised me she plans to take FotR with her. I couldn’t be more pleased.
And yes, please feel free to share the fan-work. If you could email a link through the contact form it would probably be best, so as to avoid any question of promoting non-licensed material.