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Old 06-04-2005, 01:39 PM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril LotR -- Book 5 - Chapter 02 - The Passing of the Grey Company

This chapter takes us back to Rohan, jumping back in time to the point of Gandalf and Pippin's leaving. Since only one hobbit remains there, it is Merry's point of view from which we experience the events, at least at first. When he leaves, we stay with Aragorn, then later switch to Gimli for the passing of the Paths of the Dead.

There is much drama and suspense in this chapter, and the various characters must accept the paths laid before them. Merry's fate to accompany Théoden is told to him by Aragorn; Aragorn's is shown to him by the Palantír, in fulfillment of Malbeth's prophecy; and Éowyn's task is confirmed by Aragorn's refusal to allow her to accompany him. In these various occurrences, we see him showing himself as king more and more.

We are introduced to the Dúnedain and to Elrond's sons - what impresses you most about them?

Malbeth's prophecy gives us some alliterative poetry to look at. How clear are those words to you?

In my opinion, the emotional highlight of the chapter is the conversation between Aragorn and Éowyn. She states her feelings as plainly as she can in her situation, and we can feel her anguish. There are many memorable lines in that passage - which ones leave the strongest impression on you?

What do you think of the passage of the Paths of the Dead?
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Old 06-13-2005, 02:00 AM   #2
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Silmaril

(I must say this should be a chapter with a lot of interesting discussions, and I'm looking forward to thought-provoking posts...and greater participation by other BDers.)

With Gandalf once again gone, I sort of expected Aragorn to take over the tasks the wizard unexpectedly left behind: one, to assume leadership of the rest of the Fellowship; and two, to maintain the strong ties they have formed with Rohan. But earlier on in the chapter Aragorn was already certain that he has a different path to follow than that Gandalf forged for him. The remaining members of the Company - Legolas, Gimli, and Merry - still look to him for leadership and express their desire to follow him wherever he goes. Curiously though, Merry seemed to want to come just so he could be of use, more than any reason else. His attitude at this time was endearing; he really wanted to help, but he acknowledged the fact that he could be bothersome to the Riders. We see his level of security take a slight plunge as he begins to entertain thoughts of being useless and unneeded, more so this time since Pippin was not with him to share with the feeling as he did at the foot of Orthanc. A little later, as they have encountered unknown travellers in the forest, he once again "felt more like unneeded baggage than ever." With the help of his survival instinct, he recovered from the feeling and tried to make himself useful. Following his line of thought,

Quote:
Supposing the king's small escort was trapped and overcome, but he escaped into the darkness - alone in the wild fields of Rohan with no idea of where he was in all the endless miles?
it would seem that he was only after his own welfare, or at least thinking more of himself than the others. But later on, when they are assured that the travelers are friends, we see this is not so.
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...but it seemed that there would be no need to die in Théoden's defence, not yet at any rate.
This early, without a command or imposition but by his own will, he chooses to fight for the king and offer his own life for him, if needs be.

The king and the hobbit's conversation afterwards is one of the most touching dialogues in all the books. It seems to me here, though, that Tolkien was already setting the stage for Théoden's death. Just when the king becomes a little more "human" by showing his sensitivity to Merry's needs, just when their relationship becomes official and more intimate, just when Merry (and the reader) begins to sincerely love him...Théoden foretells his death through a simple phrase: "For a little while."

Shifting gears...The final trial for Aragorn in preparation for his kingship has come the moment he decided to take the Paths of the Dead. I find it funny that this same man who once warned Gandalf of going into Moria is about to go through another dangerous road himself. (Hmm...Aragorn has inherited Gandalf's flair for dark, scary pathways! ) In both situations they have this in common: they consider the end more important than the means. Gandalf led the Fellowship through Moria despite the warnings and the danger because the Ring has to reach Mordor somehow. Aragorn is going through the Paths of the Dead despite the Rohirrim's fear and trembling, Eomer and Théoden's disappointment, and the fact that he is leaving Merry alone with the Rohirrim because he has to reach Minas Tirith, and attend to an unfinished business along the way. Once he becomes king, he can no longer think about his own safety, nor that of any single person or a handful of people. He has to think about the welfare of the kingdom as a whole. Even if the means seems dangerous, hopeless, or even strange, he has to resort to them if left with no other choice. Aragorn acknowledged the drive of need, more than his fear, or his unwillingness, or anything else that might serve as a hindrance.

If there is anything Aragorn has mastered in this circumstance that would be beneficial to him when he becomes king, it is leadership. Being a leader is not just about pushing the people you lead to go where they need to go. At the risk of getting no for an answer, Aragorn told Gimli and Legolas:
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"Therefore, only of your free will would I have you come, for you will find both toil and great fear, and maybe worse."
But apparently, the two have completely accepted Aragorn's leadership. Halbarad, for his part, did not discount the dangers...
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"This is an evil door," said Halbarad, "and my death lies beyond it."
but he followed nonetheless.

Finally (for now), I believe these words say all about what Aragorn has exemplified at that time:
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"But we must go in, and therefore the horses must go too," said Aragorn. "For if ever we come through this darkness, many leagues lie beyond, and every hour that is lost there will bring the triumph of Sauron nearer. Follow me!"
Then Aragorn led the way, and such was the strength of his will in that hour that all the Dúnedain and their horses followed him.
I'll let the book speak for itself. Now is that guy swoon-worthy or not?

EDIT: I suddenly had the urge to ask...why is the chapter entitled the way it is? Is the passing literal, or figurative?

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Old 06-13-2005, 07:43 AM   #3
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What do you think of the passage of the Paths of the Dead?
Problematic...difficult. How were these spirits denied the Gift of Men for so long? Was it in some way their own choice to remain and by the time Aragorn came along they had changed their minds and decided they wanted to go West?

(I think in some ways Tolkien had written himself into a strategic box. Too many enemies to deal with effectively. The Dead may be similar to the Eagles in some ways. Yes, you may attack me now. )
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Old 06-14-2005, 11:12 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Problematic...difficult. How were these spirits denied the Gift of Men for so long? Was it in some way their own choice to remain and by the time Aragorn came along they had changed their minds and decided they wanted to go West?
I got the impression that the denial of the gift of men was a curse based on their earlier treachery. Aragorn offered them a chance to redeem themselves and thus be released to wherever men go when they die.
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Old 06-14-2005, 01:35 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Aldarion Elf-Friend
I got the impression that the denial of the gift of men was a curse based on their earlier treachery. Aragorn offered them a chance to redeem themselves and thus be released to wherever men go when they die.
It does seem that the reason is Isildur's curse:

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But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfil it. For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Númenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.

Then Isildur said to their king: "Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end."
This gets back to the importance of oaths and oathbreaking. The Dead are bound by their promise, and so long as it remains unfulfilled, they must remain. However, I don't think it is within Isildur's power to keep them from going on to their ultimate fate. Sauron's keeping the Nazgul is the only other example I can think of where the sprits of Men have been prevented from passing beyond the world. Wild thought: having sworn their oaths, perhaps Eru has stepped in to temporarily rescind the gift until they make good on the oath.
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Old 06-14-2005, 01:56 PM   #6
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Wild thought: having sworn their oaths, perhaps Eru has stepped in to temporarily rescind the gift until they make good on the oath
I'm not too sure about that. Doesn't Tolkien say that Eru only directly intervened in the breaking of Numenor and the return of Gandalf? Keeping the spirits of the dead in Middle earth was not something the Valar were empowered of themselves to do (although they apparently could.)

As I said, it is a very problematic part of the story.
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Old 06-20-2005, 10:53 AM   #7
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I find the "Passing of the Grey Company" to be a... difficult.... chapter to write on.

It's very much a filler chapter, moving things forward. And yet, at the same time, it has some very important and essential parts, such as the Eowyn/Aragorn discourse.

One thing that I find somewhat... annoying about this chapter, is the fact that Aragorn's confrontation with Sauron is just passed over, referred to after the fact. As a result, this is an almost-forgotten episode compared with some, but in reality it is an event comparable to the Battle of the Pelennor or for the Morannon in what effect it has upon Sauron and the deployment of his troops.

Had Tolkien chosen to give us a firsthand look at this incredibly important, and epic, episode, I imagine that the movies would have been rather different...
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Old 06-24-2005, 01:14 PM   #8
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s Theoden not equally guilty? After all, as both an old man and the king of Rohan
No not at all. In a warlike society, such as the Rohirrim, if the king is able to ride and lead the army to war, it is the duty of the king to ride and lead the army to war. That is part of his job description.

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but to Eowyn it might appear as such.
I seriously doubt that.

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Perhaps Eowyn is following her uncle's example: first she does her duty, as does he, then she goes chasing after glory, as does he.
I don't think so.
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Old 06-24-2005, 02:19 PM   #9
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is Theoden not equally guilty? After all, as both an old man and the king of Rohan
Remember, even when Theoden was under the influence of Saruman and Grima, it was still evident that he had some strength in him. He may be getting on in years, but he's hardly weak.

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No not at all. In a warlike society, such as the Rohirrim, if the king is able to ride and lead the army to war, it is the duty of the king to ride and lead the army to war. That is part of his job description.
Also, this was to be a last stand of sorts, and knowing they'd be greatly outnumbered, the Rohirrim would need all the morale they could get. To be fighting alongside the king would probably inspire his men to fight harder. It's more heartening to have the king right there than doing what might be seen as hiding away where it was safe.
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Old 06-24-2005, 10:43 PM   #10
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When I said that Theoden trusted Eowyn I meant that he knew that of all his captains etc.(who were going to war anyway) she would be the most capable of ruling Rohan if a crisis arose.He knew that she was strong enough.
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Old 06-25-2005, 09:12 AM   #11
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When I said that Theoden trusted Eowyn I meant that he knew that of all his captains etc. she would be the most capable of ruling Rohan if a crisis arose.He knew that she was strong enough.
True. Being of the royal family helped too.

(Actually, being of the royal family was the decisive factor).
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Old 06-25-2005, 03:18 PM   #12
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First of all, apologies for my late arrival! Secondly, further apologies if I repeat what others may have posted to some degree, as I feel a bit rushed. Thirdly, even more apologies for this being a bit long - I’m trying to get a fortnight’s posts into one. If anyone feels daunted, as the poet said, ‘Look, & pass.’

1

The chapter begins with Gandalf & Pippin having just departed - the Fellowship, having in part rejoined, has now broken up again. This fragmentation will continue in this chapter. Only four of the original nine remain. Soon three will depart - Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli - & Merry will be left alone. Its often overlooked that he, of all the Fellowship is left completely alone with ‘strangers’. Its understandable in a way that he feels like a piece of luggage. Merry ends up isolated from kith & kin, having to make his way among a group of men who all know each other, share a history & cullture & with high matters on their minds. He is a Hobbit who set off for an adventure many months back, who in many ways had been the leader of their expedition at the start. Even after their capture at Parth Galen, when it was just him & Pippin, one got the sense that (as far as he was concerned at least) he was the ‘leader’. To go from that to feeling like ‘a piece of baggage’ must have been a shock to the system to say the least. The appearance of the Dunedain can only have added to his feelings of insignificance. Great deeds are afoot - what can one lone(ly) Hobbit do but get in the way?

One can feel his despair:

Quote:
'Don't leave me behind!' said Merry. 'I have not been of much use yet; but I don't want to be laid aside, like baggage to be called for when all is over. I don't think the Riders will want to be bothered with me now. Though, of course, the king did say that I was to sit by him when he came to his house and tell him all about the Shire.'
'Yes,' said Aragorn, 'and your road lies with him, I think, Merry. But do not look for mirth at the ending. It will be long, I fear, ere Theoden sits at ease again in Meduseld. Many hopes will wither in this bitter Spring.'
He has not been much use, he says, no-one could possibly want to be bothered with him. Even though Aragorn tells him that his road lies with Theoden, he offers little hope for that road. Perhaps Aragorn’s own feelings of despair cloud his judgement, but from Merry’s point of view the situation could hardly seem worse. Worse will come, of course, but he will pass through the coming darkness. I can’t help but be reminded of the end of Bilbo’s tale. Both he & Merry find themselves in the midst of a terrible battle where the one they swore to serve is killed & both are made into better people as a result. Through suffering & loss they find maturity. Its also interesting that like Bilbo, Merry goes on to write books. There is a difference though - Bilbo’s books - his ‘Translations from the Elvish’ - deal with high & ancient glories of the lost past, whereas Merry’s are about the simple things of the Shire. As he will tell Pippin later, it is best to love first what you are fitted to love..& the soil of the Shiire is deep.

For now, though, his mind is on the situation at hand. He will die defending the King if needs be - like Fili & Kili long ago.


2

The Dunedain appear - summoned by Aragorn? Well, only in wish. Thirty have come with Halbarad, along with the Sons of Elrond. Thirty? What point is Tolkien making here? That the Dunedain of the north are a fading people - even gathering thirty together was a major achievement. Denethor, it seems, is right - if Aragorn is not exactly the last of a ragged house he is pretty close to being so. But these are Dunedain. Even thirty of them is a force to be reckoned with. They each bear a single star as insignia - as did the seven shipe that survived the downfall of Numenor - Seven Stars & Seven Stones & One White Tree....

It is Elrohir who passes on his father’s word about the Paths of the Dead, & Aragorn rejects it. This is interesting in itself. If he knows the words of the Seer & believes himself to be the Heir of Isildur then it is his destiny to take that road, but he is here seeking to avoid it. Halbarad then shows him the Standard of Arwen. This is the Standard of the King of the Dead - Aragorn himself, not the leader of the dead host. Yet Arwen has made this standard. The one who stands beneath that standard is King of both the Living & the Dead. In this we see Arwen’s foreknowledge & her power manifest. She is a ‘shadowy’ figure, little glimpsed in the story itself, but here she seems to be a ‘power’ - like her foremothers, Galadriel, Luthien & Melian. Whatever device she has woven onto the standard is invisible to mortal eyes - only the dead may read the signs upon it. As has been said before, the High Elves live in both worlds at once. Legolas will later say that he does not fear the dead, & in the folklore Tolkien drew upon the Elves have a close association with the dead - often there is no distinction made between them.

3

Aragorn looks into the Palantir, confronts & challenges Sauron

Quote:
'I have looked in the Stone of Orthanc, my friends.'
'You have looked in that accursed stone of wizardry!' exclaimed Gimli with fear and astonishment in his face. 'Did you say aught to--him? Even Gandalf feared that encounter.'
'You forget to whom you speak,' said Aragorn sternly, and his eyes glinted. 'What did you fear that I should say to him? Did I not openly proclaim my title before the doors of Edoras? Nay, Gimli,' he said in a softer voice, and the grimness left his face, and he looked like one who has laboured in sleepless pain for many nights. 'Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough--barely.'
He drew a deep breath. 'It was a bitter struggle, and the weariness is slow to pass. I spoke no word to him, and in the end I wrenched the Stone to my own will. That alone he will find hard to endure. And he beheld me. Yes, Master Gimli, he saw me, but in other guise than you see me here. If that will aid him, then I have done ill. But I do not think so. To know that I lived and walked the earth was a blow to his heart, I deem; for he knew it not till now. The eyes in Orthanc did not see through the armour of Theoden; but Sauron has not forgotten Isildur and the sword of Elendil. Now in the very hour of his great designs the heir of Isildur and the Sword are revealed; for I showed the blade re-forged to him. He is not so mighty yet that he is above fear; nay, doubt ever gnaws him.
Aragorn states his right to the stone - a right even Sauron himself does not have. In the battle of wills Aragorn came out the victor, wrenching the stone from the control of Sauron himself. Sauron has seen Aragorn - but in ‘other guise’ than Gimli sees him - what ‘other guise’? Legolas has already seen Aragorn with a ‘crown’ of flame flickering on his brow in the earlier confrontation with Eomer. How did Sauron see him? It seems that Aragorn is also a ‘dweller in both worlds’ - he is not what he seems. But with the passage of time that ‘inner’ Aragorn is surfacing, breaking through. This is not so much an evolution as a gradual revelation of his true nature.

Quote:
Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.
Here we have a glimpse of Aragorn, the King to come, seen by Malbeth centuries previously. Malbeth has seen that Aragorn shall walk the Paths of the Dead. So, what of free will in Middle earth? In a sense Aragorn has already walked the Paths of the Dead, because Malbeth has ‘seen’ him do it. So, where did Malbeth’s vision have its origin? Eru?


4

Aragorn leads the Grey Company into the Underworld, dwelling place of the Dead who have bound themselves to an eternity between the worlds, unable to die unless they are released by the heir of the one to whom the Oath they swore. They cannot release themselves from the oath of service they swore. It is binding on them.

Quote:
The company halted, and there was not a heart among them that did not quail, unless it were the heart of Legolas of the Elves, for whom the ghosts of Men have no terror.
What do they fear? Ghosts? Horror of the fate of the Oathbreakers? What power do the Oathbreakers have? Simple terror. Certainly this is what they use against the enemy when they come face to face with them later. It is the horror of death without release that the Oathbreakers exude, an eternity spent in the dark, not alone, but with others suffering in the same horrific way, horror feeding on horror with no end in sight, in full knowledge that they have brought it on themselves.

Yet Aragorn can release them, & he summons them to follow:

Quote:
'The Dead are following,' said Legolas. 'I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The Dead are following.'
'Yes, the Dead ride behind. They have been summoned,' said Elladan.
The Elves can see the Dead following their company. Its interesting the way the Oathbreakers are called the Dead, capitalised. they are truly ‘Dead’ - bound within the Circles of the World by their oath. Mortals die, yes, but this is a release, a moving on to their destined home. The Oathbreakers cannot move on. They are the dead who cannot ever truly die.

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Long had the terror of the Dead lain upon that hill and upon the empty fields about it. For upon the top stood a black stone, round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground. Unearthly it looked, as though it had fallen from the sky, as some believed; but those who remembered still the lore of Westernesse told that it had been brought out of the ruin of Numenor and there set by Isildur at his landing. None of the people of the valley dared to approach it, nor would they dwell near; for they said that it was a trysting-place of the Shadow-men, and there they would gather in times of fear, thronging round the Stone and whispering.
The Dead can pass out from their dwelling & gather at the Stone brought by Isildur from Numenor. The stone is (or was) clearly sacred. What kind of ceremony was involved in the Oathtaking is difficult to imagine, but it was obviously not just a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that the Oathbreakers would ‘help out’ if they weren’t too busy that day. They swore an oath that would bind them, living or dead. Again, we see the power of oaths in Middle earth - once sworn they are inescapable. At this point we may remember that Merry himself has just sworn an oath of service to Theoden. The chapter begins with an oath sworn out of love by a simple Hobbit, which we may find touching. It ends with a display of the consequences of taking such an oath.

Aragorn summons the Dead to serve not him but the oath they swore. He is not binding them to his service but rather offering them a way out of Death. They not only accept but seem driven to do what they must to achieve release:

Quote:
and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them, until they came to Calembel upon Ciril, and the sun went down like blood behind Pinnath Gelin away in the West behind them.
This is the chapter in which Aragorn’s true nature is made manifest to all. He has become King in all but title.
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