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Old 03-06-2020, 07:51 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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A military historian on the Siege of Gondor

About a year ago, Bret Devereaux, a historian at UNC, wrote a six-part analysis of the movieverse's Siege of Gondor/Minas Tirith from the perspective of military history. He devotes a fair amount of space to comparing the movie's version to the book, as well, to the universal detriment of the movie (surprise - not).

The analysis starts here, with links to the six parts at the top of the post.

There's some interesting stuff in there! He spends a chunk of time discussing the morale effects of the Witch-King's siege, and highlights just how well Tolkien used his own WWI experiences to write them (in contrast to the movie, the morale battle in the book entirely clears out the gateway for the Witch-King's entry - except for Gandalf). There's also loads of stuff about catapults, and how to capture Osgiliath (Jackson's orcs actually had a decent plan, though Faramovie's response left a lot to be desired), and right now I'm deep into cavalry tactics and why the movie should have ended with a whole lot of dead horses.

hS
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Old 03-07-2020, 10:43 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
About a year ago, Bret Devereaux, a historian at UNC, wrote a six-part analysis of the movieverse's Siege of Gondor/Minas Tirith from the perspective of military history. He devotes a fair amount of space to comparing the movie's version to the book, as well, to the universal detriment of the movie (surprise - not).

The analysis starts here, with links to the six parts at the top of the post.

There's some interesting stuff in there! He spends a chunk of time discussing the morale effects of the Witch-King's siege, and highlights just how well Tolkien used his own WWI experiences to write them (in contrast to the movie, the morale battle in the book entirely clears out the gateway for the Witch-King's entry - except for Gandalf). There's also loads of stuff about catapults, and how to capture Osgiliath (Jackson's orcs actually had a decent plan, though Faramovie's response left a lot to be desired), and right now I'm deep into cavalry tactics and why the movie should have ended with a whole lot of dead horses.

hS
Thanks, I shall start digging in tomorrow.
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Old 03-08-2020, 05:46 AM   #3
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Very interesting, especially for the insights into pre-modern military science, something I don't know much about. I'm more up to speed with tactics/strategy/logistics in the Napoleonic and World Wars, and am very much a "Clausewitzian" in that regard. I've only scanned through the first couple so far but it's a subject I find quite curious.

I don't suppose anyone knows of any study of military matters specifically as they apply to the books and Professor Tolkien's own writing? I remember once seeing a book in the University of Sydney library called "Warfare in Fantasy Fiction" (or similar) which had nothing in it about Tolkien; he wasn't even mentioned in the index. It was bizarre.
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Old 03-08-2020, 01:20 PM   #4
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Excellent! Thank you!

Especially significant- and Clausewitzian - were his comments on the "morale battle," and why it is dispositive in warfare*- something that Tolkien knew, and PJ evidently did not.

*Short version- you don't win a battle by killing the enemy, but by making them run away. Killing some is just a means of getting the rest to run.
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Old 03-14-2020, 06:47 PM   #5
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Thank you for sharing this! I was finally able to give this a read, and really enjoyed it. As someone who knows remarkably little of warfare tactics of any age, this wqs both interesting and educational. But I also find that the differences the author highlights - a battle of morale vs a battle of weapons - reflects on my perspective and emotional involvement in the struggle as an audience. Audiences are not emotionally attached to weapons, but we do feel for the characters through their moments of rollercoaster hope and dread. And the army of the dead - don't get me started on this one, it doesn't take a military historian to call cowdung on that stunt. So, thank you Huey! I will go on to read the GOT pages now, see how he (deservedly) bashes the hyped up Winterfel battle sequence.
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Old 08-05-2020, 07:47 PM   #6
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Glad I stumbled upon this thread Huey. Thanks for sharing! I'll try to read his Helm's Deep analysis at a later date.

I wanted to bring up one minor quibble and that is with Mr. Devereaux's estimate for the size of Mordor's siege force.

The movies I think he has it correct, I recall headlines/promos for the battle stating 200,000-250,000 size. An army that size as he explains for the movies was unrealistic.

His estimate (granted he's right that Tolkien didn't pin down exact numbers and so was using wikipedia as a reference) of half the size of the movies is I believe too high.

In Karyn Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-earth she gives reasonable estimates based on some of the force sizes Tolkien does give.

I'll start with the Battle of Morannon since it will make her reasoning for these estimates clearer.

So Aragorn marches out from Minas Tirith with 7,000 (1,000 horses, 6,000 infantry). 1,000 of them get cold feet and don't make it to the Black Gate. So Aragorn arrives with a force of 6,000. After the Mouth's message it's said:

Quote:
The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies.~The Black Gate Opens
This places Mordor's force at 70,000. 'and more than ten times their match' references that only 6,000 of the original 7,000 Aragorn marched out with reached the Black Gate.

It is unlikely the force at Pelennor fields was larger than this, because Sauron's mistake was he rushed the siege before his full plans were made and before his full strength gathered. Aragorn reveals the reforged sword and his identity to Sauron via the palantir of Orthanc, and this causes Sauron to rush his plans to attack Minas Tirith.

We do have some ideas of the size of the force (Fonstad settles on the conservative minimum estimate of 45,000 - roughly 4 times the estimated size for the forces of Gondor, Rohan and Aragorn's Grey company).

At the start Faramir comments that 'we may make the Enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet rue the exchange.' And Faramir's force was 'ten times outnumbered at the Causeway forts. (The Siege of Gondor)

We are told the size of the Haradrim force (18,000) for the Rohirrim 'at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone' (Battle of Pelennor Fields). Theoden remarked during their mustering at Dunharrow, they gathered 6,000 spears and that was 'less than half' what he hoped for.

So far, 6,000 for the forces of Gondor. 18,000 for Mordor.

Gondor:

6,000 Rohirrim

We don't have all the precise estimates of the fiefdoms forces that came to Minas Tirith, but after they all arrived 'And that was all, less than three thousands full told.' (Minas Tirith) Fonstad estimated the total forces from Gondor's fiefdoms 2,800.

The Tower of the Guard had at least 3 companies (Beregond was in the 3rd company) plus an 'out-garrison'. I believe a modern company consists of something like 80-200 troops. I can't quite remember the reasoning, but Fonstad seems to estimate that a 'company' in Lord of the Rings totals 400-500 troops each. With this she estimated the Tower Guard having no more than 2,000 troops.

Add in Aragorn's Grey Company of 30. Plus he comes with a force from the fiefdoms that were held back in defense of the arriving Corsairs. She estimates this to be 1,000 based on:

Quote:
But when the men of Lossarnach had passed they muttered: 'So few! Two hundreds, what are they? We hoped for ten times the number. That will be new tidings of the black fleet. They are sparing only a tithe of their strength.'~Minas Tirith
So all in total, Gondor and their allies seem to have mustered 11,000-12,000.

Mordor:

18,000 Haradrim.

Frodo witnesses the Minas Morgul host leaving and the narrator remarks it was the 'so great an army had never issued from that vale since the days of Isildur's might...and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.' (The Stairs of Cirith Ungol).

She estimates this host at 20,000 based on the causeway forts being outnumber 10 to 1 and Faramir's comments about making the enemy "pay ten times our loss."

So that makes 38,000.

I think her weakest case is the forces from Khand and Rhun which she settled on the conservative estimate that Mordor's force at the Pelennor fields was 4 times that of Gondor's. So she applies a minimum estimate of 45,000 leaving Khand and Rhun forces to make up the remaining 7,000.

Personally, with how often the overwhelming odds and vast size of Mordor's force is described, I think 45,000 is too low (but Fonstad admits that's the minimum amount), but I don't think it would have been over the 70,000 that issued out the Black Gate. Because as mentioned, Sauron actually made a mistake of besieging Minas Tirith before his full plans were made due to Aragorn's reveal. So I favor the higher end of 60-65,000.

I hope this was helpful. I really enjoyed reading his analysis, excellent stuff. And can't wait to get time to read his Helm's Deep analysis.
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Old 08-07-2020, 11:09 AM   #7
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Boots There is a limit at which being late is no longer fashionable

I'm rather late to this discussion.

I am so late that Boro made the point I was going to make. Although I think Fonstad's numbers are more on the money than Boro does. I've come to think lately that there is a bit of a trap not only in inflating the Mordorian numbers but also a trap in potentially deflating the Gondorian numbers too much.

I will add, however, that in spite of Mr. Devereaux seeming to feel that he could justly be accused of being too hard on the movies, I think he is not hard enough on them by half.

But I am a known opponent of the films.
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Old 08-07-2020, 11:22 AM   #8
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Glad I stumbled upon this thread Huey. Thanks for sharing! I'll try to read his Helm's Deep analysis at a later date.

I wanted to bring up one minor quibble and that is with Mr. Devereaux's estimate for the size of Mordor's siege force.

The movies I think he has it correct, I recall headlines/promos for the battle stating 200,000-250,000 size. An army that size as he explains for the movies was unrealistic.

His estimate (granted he's right that Tolkien didn't pin down exact numbers and so was using wikipedia as a reference) of half the size of the movies is I believe too high.

In Karyn Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-earth she gives reasonable estimates based on some of the force sizes Tolkien does give.

I'll start with the Battle of Morannon since it will make her reasoning for these estimates clearer.

So Aragorn marches out from Minas Tirith with 7,000 (1,000 horses, 6,000 infantry). 1,000 of them get cold feet and don't make it to the Black Gate. So Aragorn arrives with a force of 6,000. After the Mouth's message it's said:



This places Mordor's force at 70,000. 'and more than ten times their match' references that only 6,000 of the original 7,000 Aragorn marched out with reached the Black Gate.

It is unlikely the force at Pelennor fields was larger than this, because Sauron's mistake was he rushed the siege before his full plans were made and before his full strength gathered. Aragorn reveals the reforged sword and his identity to Sauron via the palantir of Orthanc, and this causes Sauron to rush his plans to attack Minas Tirith.

We do have some ideas of the size of the force (Fonstad settles on the conservative minimum estimate of 45,000 - roughly 4 times the estimated size for the forces of Gondor, Rohan and Aragorn's Grey company).

At the start Faramir comments that 'we may make the Enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet rue the exchange.' And Faramir's force was 'ten times outnumbered at the Causeway forts. (The Siege of Gondor)

We are told the size of the Haradrim force (18,000) for the Rohirrim 'at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone' (Battle of Pelennor Fields). Theoden remarked during their mustering at Dunharrow, they gathered 6,000 spears and that was 'less than half' what he hoped for.

So far, 6,000 for the forces of Gondor. 18,000 for Mordor.

Gondor:

6,000 Rohirrim

We don't have all the precise estimates of the fiefdoms forces that came to Minas Tirith, but after they all arrived 'And that was all, less than three thousands full told.' (Minas Tirith) Fonstad estimated the total forces from Gondor's fiefdoms 2,800.

The Tower of the Guard had at least 3 companies (Beregond was in the 3rd company) plus an 'out-garrison'. I believe a modern company consists of something like 80-200 troops. I can't quite remember the reasoning, but Fonstad seems to estimate that a 'company' in Lord of the Rings totals 400-500 troops each. With this she estimated the Tower Guard having no more than 2,000 troops.

Add in Aragorn's Grey Company of 30. Plus he comes with a force from the fiefdoms that were held back in defense of the arriving Corsairs. She estimates this to be 1,000 based on:



So all in total, Gondor and their allies seem to have mustered 11,000-12,000.

Mordor:

18,000 Haradrim.

Frodo witnesses the Minas Morgul host leaving and the narrator remarks it was the 'so great an army had never issued from that vale since the days of Isildur's might...and yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.' (The Stairs of Cirith Ungol).

She estimates this host at 20,000 based on the causeway forts being outnumber 10 to 1 and Faramir's comments about making the enemy "pay ten times our loss."

So that makes 38,000.

I think her weakest case is the forces from Khand and Rhun which she settled on the conservative estimate that Mordor's force at the Pelennor fields was 4 times that of Gondor's. So she applies a minimum estimate of 45,000 leaving Khand and Rhun forces to make up the remaining 7,000.

Personally, with how often the overwhelming odds and vast size of Mordor's force is described, I think 45,000 is too low (but Fonstad admits that's the minimum amount), but I don't think it would have been over the 70,000 that issued out the Black Gate. Because as mentioned, Sauron actually made a mistake of besieging Minas Tirith before his full plans were made due to Aragorn's reveal. So I favor the higher end of 60-65,000.

I hope this was helpful. I really enjoyed reading his analysis, excellent stuff. And can't wait to get time to read his Helm's Deep analysis.

However, Devereaux makes two salient points, both relating to the fact that an army can be TOO big. 1) after you have completely invested the besieged fortress, any additional troops (not counting the logistics and support train) are supernumerary, and 2) it takes a LOT of food to support and army - and bringing the food means wagons, which means draft animals, which means fodder for the animals......

And given that the W-K is wholly dependent on in effect a single road (Black Gaqte- Ithilien-Osgiliath - the black Gate -Cair Andros route being untenable for serious supply - I would cap the effective force at around 28,000, which was about as large as pre-industrial armies could commit to a single road. (It was for this reason that Napoleon's corps d'armee were set at around that size; they would march by parallel routes and concentrate for battle).
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Old 08-07-2020, 01:09 PM   #9
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1) after you have completely invested the besieged fortress, any additional troops (not counting the logistics and support train) are supernumerary
Unless an immediate assault is intended.
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Old 08-07-2020, 04:04 PM   #10
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Unless an immediate assault is intended.
Yes. The plan was not to lay siege to Minas Tirith to starve it out, the plan was to conquer by fear and fire and dark magic within a few days and more onward to presumably secure the lands beyond - Gondor, Rohan, who knows how far west and north from there. Also, if the siege is taking too long, they might leave a sufficient force to guard the city while the bulk of the army might just move onward to subdue the small forces scattered around Gondor or reinforce the roads to allies, like they have with the Rohirrim, or do whatever other goal Sauron might have had. The invasion wasn't supposed to stop at conquering Minas Tirith.
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Old 11-10-2020, 05:58 PM   #11
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More from Devereaux- this time analyzing (scathingly) the movies' Helm's Deep campaign and battle (short version- if movie-Theoden had "fought many wars," he sure didn't learn a single thing from any of them!)


https://acoup.blog/2020/05/01/collec...at-helms-gate/

https://acoup.blog/2020/05/08/collec...ii-total-warg/

https://acoup.blog/2020/05/15/collec...st-of-saruman/

https://acoup.blog/2020/05/22/collec...-men-of-rohan/

https://acoup.blog/2020/05/28/collec...ers-are-chaos/

https://acoup.blog/2020/06/05/collec...-a-good-sword/

https://acoup.blog/2020/06/12/collec...g-by-a-thread/

https://acoup.blog/2020/06/19/collec...nd-of-saruman/
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Old 11-13-2020, 03:18 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
More from Devereaux- this time analyzing (scathingly) the movies' Helm's Deep campaign and battle (short version- if movie-Theoden had "fought many wars," he sure didn't learn a single thing from any of them!)
Cool! It took me a few days to get through it (but still felt like less time than the Helm's Deep sequence in the movie... ). I liked that (part of) the takeaway was "the Witch-King was an idiot because Jackson didn't understand the books; Saruman was an idiot because Tolkien deliberately wrote him that way".

I did not need reminding about "cavalry charge down a 45-degree slope directly into a wall of pikes" being Gandalf's strategy for victory, though.

He also made an interesting comment somewhere early on: that the Battle of the Hornburg is somewhat sparse on details, because Tolkien deliberately avoids his characters As-You-Know-Bob-ing at each other, and there's no conveniently ignorant hobbits around to be explained to. I put that together with my own memory that the battle seems to mostly be told by its lulls - Aragorn talking to Theoden, Legolas and Gimli counting shots, etc - and that it's explicitly a battle where the viewpoint characters don't know everything - doesn't Aragorn spend half of it thinking Eomer's probably dead? - and remembered just how very different Tolkien is from his successors and imitators.

hS
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Old 11-13-2020, 11:27 AM   #13
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battle where the viewpoint characters don't know everything
Truth in television: Tolkien, as a communications officer in combat, knew very well about the 'fog of war' and the fact that participants don't know anything about what's going on beyond what they can see (not much), and the commanders know little more than whatever messages might reach them (usually late and garbled).

A problem with the movie trilogy throughout is that everyone always knows too much.
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Old 11-20-2020, 09:18 AM   #14
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Apparenly I must spread some reputation around before I can give it to William Cloud Hicklin again.

While overall this continues to be a very good series (I enjoyed the discussion on cavalry tactics especially) there is something that got my goat this time.

While I agree with Mr. Devereaux's contention that Saruman's army was a fundamentally green and untested force which contributed significantly to its ultimate defeat, I think that the author significantly underestimates how long Saruman had been building and preparing his army, which I think serves to diminish the achievement of the Rohirrim in defeating Saruman.

The biggest problem in the article is that I think the author assigns the movie far too much esteem, even though he is still mostly criticizing it. Specifically to this topic, I think the orc spawning in the films was nonsense.

Admittedly, the problem is that we are mostly left in the dark about orc breeding (which in most respects is probably just as well). However, it is stated that orcs "breed and multiply after the manner of the Children of Ilśvatar." To me this renders it impossible that the film conception of orc birth and growth can be accurate. Much of Mr. Devereaux's argument is based upon the idea that Saruman spawned and reared the entire corps of the Fighting Uruk-hai over the course of six months.

I think that is just malarkey, but that is a disagreement rooted in our fundamental disagreement about the value and quality of the ideas in the films.

Admittedly, it is a weakness in the written story that Gandalf somehow failed to perceive the changes in Isengard when he initially arrived (most prominently that there were wargs and orcs about.) I concede this is an issue. Maybe he was just in such a hurry to get into the tower to talk to Saruman and had tunnel vision. One explanation is that the orcs were housed on the far side of Isengard (and probably also largely underground) so that they may have been out of sight of Gandalf when he arrived. Another explanation for it is this is just one of those spots in the story that Tolkien didn't write very well. There are a few of those, and realistically this is the most likely explanation.

As an aside, Saruman’s Uruk-hai themselves are an extremely ambiguous feature in the trilogy. There are basically two possibilities regarding them: A) They were a new breed of uruks especially crafted by Saruman, this is the usual interpretation, and the one that is best supported textually. It does beg the question of where Saruman got his breeding stock. It also begs the question of how long Saruman had been up to this. Breeding them after the manner of the Children of Ilśvatar would suggest a minimum of a decade and a half of work if Saruman started from scratch.

There is another possibility.

An alternative interpretation of The Uruk-hai chapter in The Two Towers could be that Saruman’s uruk-hai were just Mordor uruk-hai that he had co-opted somehow and retrained and equipped to a different style of fighting. Uglśk and Grishnįkh seem kind of familiar with each other, moreso perhaps than just the few weeks of acquaintance we definitely know about from the text might suggest. Also, if the Isengard uruks were purely Saruman’s creation, why would Grishnįkh think that threatening to report them to Barad-dur would make the slightest impression on them.

However, neither of these possibilities changes the fact that Saruman must have invested years, if not decades, into the development of his new army. Co-opting and retraining Mordorian uruks would actually be the faster way to go about this, but that would still be a years long endeavor. You don’t relearn how to fight with new tools quickly.

Of course, I think the true answer to this problem is that Tolkien himself didn’t work it out. As we know, he struggled with the conception of orcs until the very end. We could also get into the question of just what exactly an orc is and is it possible or even likely that elves, men, and orcs might just be various forms of the same species (making dwarves the only special beings about. )

As a final aside, I do have to smirk a bit about Mr. Devereaux's complaint that the movie uruks mostly just grunt and growl at each other. If they are only six months old beasts with almost no socialization, OF COURSE all they are going to be capable of is screeching at each other and everything else. But I give Jackson no credit for this. I’m sure this is just something he accidently managed to “get right.”
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Old 11-20-2020, 09:46 AM   #15
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In Deveraux's defense, it must be said that he is explicitly criticizing the movies, with sidebars about the book (and how much more plausible Tolkien's version was).
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Old 11-20-2020, 10:15 AM   #16
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Yes. The plan was not to lay siege to Minas Tirith to starve it out, the plan was to conquer by fear and fire and dark magic within a few days and more onward to presumably secure the lands beyond - Gondor, Rohan, who knows how far west and north from there. Also, if the siege is taking too long, they might leave a sufficient force to guard the city while the bulk of the army might just move onward to subdue the small forces scattered around Gondor or reinforce the roads to allies, like they have with the Rohirrim, or do whatever other goal Sauron might have had. The invasion wasn't supposed to stop at conquering Minas Tirith.
But in that case you don't send your exploitation reserve to the end of the logistical tether; you keep them near a supply base. It would make perfect sense for the W-K to keep his battle-reserve at Osgiliath, as in the book, and his exploitation-reserve at Minas Morgul where they could eat without burdening the system, while still being just a day's march from the crossings of Anduin.

Real-world example, which Tolkien knew: the Somme. Haig's exploitation reserve was the Reserve Army under Gough, which (in the original plan and OOB) comprised three cavalry divisions, kept well back from the trench lines and expected to rush into the German rear after the Fourth Army broke through. Another, contemorary with the LR: Montgomery's Operations Epsom and Goodwood around Caen were supposed to create a gap in the German lines through which the 7th Armoured, held in reserve, would go lolloping off towards Falaise.
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Old 11-20-2020, 10:20 AM   #17
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In Deveraux's defense, it must be said that he is explicitly criticizing the movies, with sidebars about the book (and how much more plausible Tolkien's version was).
Understood. I don't think he went far enough.
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Old 11-28-2020, 01:08 AM   #18
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I am about halfway through the series, and I see what you mean about the timeline of Saruman's orcs, Kuru. Regardless of the exact nature of Saruman's genetic engineering, those orcs have been around for longer than just a few months, and the industrialization of Isengard too. Firstly, there are a few key observations from Gandalf's visit. The gates are "strongly guarded", in a tone that suggests they previously weren't - in retrospect, possible evidence for militarization. From the top of the tower, he is able to see the entire valley, which is already "filled with pits and forges", and housed wolves and orcs. Why did he not see them on his way into Orthanc? Not because they weren't there, but likely because he didn't see the entirety of the valley, plus nighttime setting in (he arived late in the evening), plus his urgency and preoccupation with his own thoughts. But most importantly, because Saruman was expecting him - the guards are specifically on watch for him, and Saruman is ready for the reception seemingly without being notified by his servants. With the benefit of reader's hindsight, I suspect the palantir at work to warn Saruman of Gandalf's coming. Saruman had time to prepare. He would still be sharp enough to know that a prominent display of orc drilling would immediately turn Gandalf against him, and he would have less hope of luring him into the tower and no hope of converting him. How easy is it for Saruman to send the bulk of his in-house troops out of sight for one evening, either confined to their barracks or out on a field trip? In other words, I do not interpret Gandalf's observations as Saruman developing and building all these changes during his imprisonment, but rather that he noticed more and more horrible details as he spent more time on the observation deck. At the very least, I see it as a plausible alternative.

The other two arguments are weaker, and require a little broader text digging. Firstly, how likely are all of Saruman's "professional" (Uruk) armies to reside in Isengard at all times? Given how much Mr. Devereaux spoke preciously about provisioning large armies, it makes me wonder where their food is coming from. Not the Shire produce - that was only to treat Saruman himself and a small force of Men. Perhaps Dunland contributions. Certainly, with the valley industrialized to be a maze of forges, it's impossible to grow sufficient food locally. Is it possible that at least some of Saruman's army was always abroad in the form of small scattered units for the purpose of foraging or self-feeding without drawing too much premature attention? It's possible that the mustering that Gandalf sees really is a muster of units previously scattered over Eriador, and merely brought together rather than bred feom scratch. These units would have to have stayed far away from Lorien, and not yet given Rohan too much concern, and not been in sufficiently large units as to alarm Elrond's scouts. Could they have passed off as "your usual orc raiding parties from the Mountains"? Is that too constraining? On the plus side, some Dunlennish stationing would give the two troops to get used to each other before they have to cooperate on the field - not to the point of working smoothly together, but to the point of knowing each other's basic styles and not killing each other on reflex.

The other questionable objection that occurred to me is that of the Ents. Given their speed, how long would it take for them to accept the new reality of how their forest was treated? Or the new reality of what Saruman did? How long does it take for the cup to overfill by the time Merry and Pippin arrive to inflame and direct their anger, even with the atrocities of good trees left to rot etc? I have vague recollections that Treebeard's account of the change in Saruman seemed to span more than just a few months, but right now I am not up to reading the Ent chapters for clues o that timeline.


I also had an objection to another one of his premises, that an army of orcs would need extensive training to create cohesion. But I wonder if that is such a big factor in orc armies as it is in Men armies. Firstly, the force that seems to consistently drive all of the "professional" orc armies is not comraderie or respect or good military habits or any other positive thing, but the fear of what their Boss (and Boss's Boss, etc) will do in the event of failure. As long as there is central control exerted over the army, they would rather die than face the consequences of not giving their 100% best effort. We see this with the WK's forces, and with the orcs driven by Sauron's will, but in a reduced scale with the smaller units, like Ugluk's forces and the garrison at Cirith Ungol. There's a reason that the commanders are also the orcs that give the greatest fear to their fellows; it's a fear-based and strength-based hierarchy. The moment the Boss Who Will Make You Regret It loses the control of the situation / does not seem as scary / has no means of carrying out the threat, there is no cohesiveness, they scatter in a disorganized every-orc-for-himself sort of way. Even at the Black Gate, where they still have every opportunity to overwhelm Aragorn by sheer number and no reason to doubt victory. In the best of scenarios, orc armies rely on fear to drive competence on the battlefield; this just seems to be how theh function, not only in Saruman's case. Do they need extensive training for skill? Well, we're told that they were used pretty much as arrow fodder; they went in for the dangerous jobs like they were possessed (check) and died by the dozen and had fresh volunteers on the ready. Never are we told that they were skilled fighters. Rather, they seem to be used as an inexhaustible force that can suffer enormous losses and it won't matter, they win by numbers rather than the skill of their fighting. Saying that, in Minas Tirith they do an impressive fast job of setting up camp and seige equipment - but then those orcs really would have been preparing for a long time. I get the feeling that the bulk of orc armies was trained to a barely mediocre level, a "kinda know what to do, be passably skillful at it, don't jave the misfortune to get underfoot, and most importantly DISPLAY LOTS OF ENTHUSIASM DOING IT OR ELSE" level. Their purpose seems not to be that of an efficient force rather than an "easily assembled in great numbers just to be expended" force. I don't know if such a force would need as much "professional tradition" as the more efficient model of greatest function from fewer men. There could also have been better trained units; perhaps Ugluk's was one such, it would make sense for Saruman to send something above average for such an important mission. So, all in all, I wonder if the orc armies needed as much drilling as Mr. Devereaux believes based on Man-society models (where you generally have more competent soldiers who are less expendable and are not as readily controlled by fear of fate worse than death), but this is all speculation and I could be entirely wrong.

(There is also a certain inverse relationship between expendability and function; we see consistenty that the life value of Men in the baddie armies is worth more than Orcs, and they seem to be more functional, though there may be different reasons for that. Still, surely there had to be some elite orc forces which had more experience and skill, and would be deployed with less disregard for their fate? Or was that treatment reserved for Men? Are Saruman's orcs really that different culturally from other regular troop orcs - and thus, is the problem with Saruman's training plan, or with orc nature, or just that neither Sauron nor Morgoth before him thought to actually make their armies good and he just unthinkingly plagiarized their design?)

Saying this, I am really enjoying the series. I learned a lot from his Minas Tirith series, and this one is equally entertaining and educational. I highly recommend a read to anyone who hasn't seen them yet.


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But in that case you don't send your exploitation reserve to the end of the logistical tether; you keep them near a supply base. It would make perfect sense for the W-K to keep his battle-reserve at Osgiliath, as in the book, and his exploitation-reserve at Minas Morgul where they could eat without burdening the system, while still being just a day's march from the crossings of Anduin.
Fair enough, I see your point. Mind, there was a reserve force in Osgiliath, which Gothmog advanced when the WK fell. But your point still stands: if not all the troops were needed for the seige, they did not need to be at the seige itself. Except for - as a stretch - for the fear factor, and possibly the seemingly amazing speed of digging all those fire trenches.
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Old 11-28-2020, 11:30 AM   #19
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I also had an objection to another one of his premises, that an army of orcs would need extensive training to create cohesion. But I wonder if that is such a big factor in orc armies as it is in Men armies. Firstly, the force that seems to consistently drive all of the "professional" orc armies is not comraderie or respect or good military habits or any other positive thing, but the fear of what their Boss (and Boss's Boss, etc) will do in the event of failure. As long as there is central control exerted over the army, they would rather die than face the consequences of not giving their 100% best effort.
That would apply in "garrison" and peacetime operations, perhaps even on the march. But the 'cohesion" BD is talking about is how a unit, or individual orc, responds to the shock of battle- the point at which the natural flight response has to be overcome by some sort of artificial conditioning. Certainly this can be done with vast conscript armies using fear (think Red Army in WW2); the problem with Saruman's (and Sauron's) armies in the movies is that there aren't nearly enough officers. This sort of organization only holds together by having a very full chain of command; you just can't place an undifferentiated company of 3-500 under one officer and expect it to hold. (In the Napoleonic wars, where nearly all the troops were conscripts, it was standard tactics for skirmishers and riflemen to pick off the NCOs and officers, for precisely that reason. And a British battalion of that time had a c-o-c running down to corporals in charge of just 10 men (not unlike the Romans).
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Old 11-28-2020, 12:20 PM   #20
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There could also have been better trained units; perhaps Ugluk's was one such, it would make sense for Saruman to send something above average for such an important mission.
This was so; in unpublished writing Tolkien said that Ugluk was captain of Saruman's scouts and you get the impression that his company were sort of Isengard's Force Recon. Grishnakh had a similar role (explicitly stated) in the service of Mordor.
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