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Old 12-15-2008, 03:42 PM   #1
Alfirin
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The Eye Winged Beasts, a squandered resource?

Greetings,

As I was re-reading the ROTK, it struck me that Sauron having the winged beasts at his disposal, seemed to make very poor use of them, both in the sense of keeping them hidden till so late in the war, and more importantly in pretty much reserving thier use for the Nazgul only. The first is barely understandable, as Sauron may have wanted to keep them as a trump card until necessary. so as to aviod giving the West a chance to devise a retaliation. (while not likely is is just possible that, if the West had known Sauron had flying troops, they might have been able to convince Gwahir and the Eagles to join with the west implicitly, by making it clear to him that his territory, the skies, would not be spared by Sauron any more than the lands were.) The second point however just seems like pure folly. Granted there are proably not many in saurons forces outside of the wraith with sufficent strength of will to master a winged beast, but there must have been a few with the strenght either inherent in themselves or gifted by Sauron, who can (and on ocassion does) give power without giving rings. For example it would not suprise me to find that the Mouth of Sauron would have enough strengh. Granted wingled beast may not be readily avalible, but there is some evidence that there are at least a few extras (Legolas shoots one down, but all of the nazgul are with beasts in the battle at Pellenor and afterwards, so it seems that there would have had to be at least one spare in Sauron's stables).

Even with the situation as it was, the Nazgul seem to make little effective use of their beasts. Indeed except for the WK they seem to use them only for either 1. carrying messages to and from Mordor and 2. flying around over the battlefields making demoralyzing screeches. Not that there arent both prefectly useful things, but the beast could be used for so much more. For example (assuming that each wraith has some comapanies of troops under his own command, with all of course ultimately under the WK command). each Wraith could use his position in the sky to survey the battle and relay commands to his troops (say through a signal flag code) In a battle like pellenor, being able to see the whole field when your opponent can't (okay so someone standing at the very top of Minas Tirirth might be able to see, but a winged beast would give you a movable "eye in the sky" also (this would be more in the case of the first argumetn where there were "winged beast troops" rather than just wraith officers a person in the air would be in an excellent position to rain arrows or throwing spears down on the enemy. They wouldn even have to be all that powerful a shot since gravity would be working for them if they were above. Now onto the WK himself

The WK in my opinion is one of the few charcters who does make effective use of his winged beast. The moment he hears the horns of the Rohirrim he turns from the Gate and Gandalf and goes to the battlefield. Not that he does not go into the battle directly, on the horse that he is riding at the time but go and mount up his beast, This in my opion is a very smart move as it allows him to take Theoden out in what amount to a "surgical strike". Had he stayed on his horse (as in the heat of battle he might have contemplated in the interest of getting to Theoden as quickly as possible, before the Rohirrin turned the battle. The WK migh have had a hard fight to get near Theoden, a fight that while the WK would still suceed in (he is after all unhinderable by any man) would have taken a lot of time and would have involved theoden actually being ready for him. As is he is able to get straight at Theoden and, had Eowyn and Merry not happen to be exactly next to the king would have be able to slaw him with no resitiance whatsoever (it's unclear whether the WK knew Snowmane would rear the moment he saw the WK, but I tend to think that this was a happy (for the WK) accident as even if the WK did know, he could not have know that the horse would be guarteed to land on the king. Once again had Eowyn not been there. I think the WK plants after this would have been as follows, he would have stuck a killing blow on the now crushed Theoden (who is still tecnically alive, if crippled and pinned at this point) possibly taking his head to show the troops of the west to further demoralize them ("See how easily I have slain your King, Men of Rohan! I and my forces cannot be overcome!") The WK words seem to imply that he plans to let his winged beast eat the king and his horse, but it is unclear to me whether the WK would want to actually allow the beast enough time to do this, in the middle of a battle. After this the WK proably planned to either fly back into the sky and command from there (as suggested previosly) or even better signal to the other wraiths (the ones that are there, at least and simply fly OVER Gondors battlements, land and attack the citys troops from the inside crushing them between the two forces. The city would likey have fallen almost instantly and the battle would have been won. (yes the over the wall would only have had the WK and maybe five or so wraiths doing the inside fighting, but all of them are unkillable or unwoundable by any of the weapons held within the city (except for maybe Gandalf's (assuming that, somehow he manage to hold onto Glamdrig until he got to Lothlorien) and they would all know not to try and attack Gandalf one on one (execpt maybe the WK himself, who migh have been sufficently matched) Yes I know this is all specuation but this is how I see it might have gone down.

Last edited by Alfirin; 12-16-2008 at 06:28 AM.
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Old 12-15-2008, 04:46 PM   #2
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Maybe this isn't pertinent to the events within the story itself, but Tolkien's own feelings on airborne warfare are certainly interesting when considering what he writes of it in his books. He was not comfortable at all with it, and I believe he was actually unhappy with his sons' choice to enter the RAF during WWII.

There's quite a bit of interesting material on this in various essays and in the letters - I would find some right now but it's a bit late

I did rummage out this from the letters though (it was a quote already online ):

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tolkien
...it is the aeroplane of war that is the real villain. And nothing can really amend my grief that you [Christopher], my best beloved, have any connexion with it. My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgűl-birds, 'for the liberation of the Shire'.
I agree with you, there wasn't much strategic use made of the winged beasts, but Tolkien's own feelings, I suspect, had a lot to do with this.
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Old 12-15-2008, 05:18 PM   #3
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Hi Alfirin,

good points indeed!

It is unclear how many fell beasts Sauron owned, 10 at least and perhaps a few more 'spares' but I don't think it likely that he had hundreds of them stabled out the back of Barad-Dur (the Dark Tower's pigeon loft perhaps), though of course this is just my opinion!

They do appear to be the perfect command and scouting platforms for the Witchking's army, and the great value of fast aerial communication is nothing to be sniffed at either. As you say they provide the 'god-like-overview' that would be invaluable for the management of the siege of Minas Tirith, though possibly the Nazguls' vision could be obscured by the 'foul brown reek' or the smoke from the firepits, but its difficult to say with Nazgul.

I don't think its ever been convincingly established how many of the nine were at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. In a thread long ago there was much discussion and I worked it out as far as I could (in recompense for silly joking -fool of a Took), see here

Nazgul Spotting

Obviously 'number one' was there but Gothmog is at least a possibility, and perhaps (if he was a Nazgul) he employed his winged beast to assess the situation and throw in the reserves. I think the Winged beasts were too valuable for use in 'airborne assault' of Minas Tirith, as we know they are vulnerable to bows and arrows, and Gondor had various catapults etc (although they'd have to be very lucky to hit a maneuverable flying beast) - Gondorian ack-ack if you like. The Witchking used his steed to attack only a very high value target, ie Theoden, and could have swung the Battle had it not been for Eowyn and Merry.

Also I'm not so sure that the other Nazgul were so invulnerable, they were forced back by Aragorn with flaming brands etc and, unlike WK, they weren't prophesied to die 'not by the hands of man'. So it could have been risky both for the wraiths and their mounts.

Just seen Lal's post too, quite right! I have a feeling that the winged beasts were in some part inspired by the Stukas that JRRT must have seen in newsreels wreaking havoc on allied forces and civilians (naturally emphasized for propaganda purposes) during the blitzkrieg .
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Old 12-15-2008, 08:17 PM   #4
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I for the most part agree that there would be some inherent dangers in use of the winged beasts as an attack force (most of that, as I said was predicated on a situation where Sauron did, though pre planning have hundreds or thousands of winged beasts at his disposal (i.e. he had though ahead and spend a good potion of his time in effor in his "hidden years" breeding winged beasts and incresing thier numbers.) but that theere would be advatages too, and that many of the difficulties, could be elminated, or at least minimized with careful planning. Winged beasts are indeed rather vulnerable to arrow fire, but that could be taken care of in two ways, you could keep the force high enough to be out of range of ground bowshot and still be able to shoot yourself as anything that falls from the sky eventually hits the ground (it might be hard to shoot accurately from that high up but in a piched meele you shoud still hit something (plus of course the Nazgul have the advatage of not really having a person to person care for thier troops and would likey be unconcerned with heavy losses due to "friendly fire"). With a little bit of pre planning you could also possibly get around the problem with the experident of equpping the winged beasts with light armor of thier own, as is understand was sometimes done to horses in the middle ages. It wouldn't neccarily have to be particularly heavy armor just something to block arrow and spear shots (this being pretty much the only weapon that could reach, unless the wraith in question was flying very low) fine chain mail (i.e. with rings small enough not to let an arrow through) around the belly region (maybe with a leather pad) might be enough. An no I don't know how easy it would be to get armor onto a winged beast, we dont see enough of them to really know how they behave to thier masters. (hey, for all we know, when not in battle a wraith may treat his winged beast as a man would treat his prized horse, giving it an affeconite rub on the beak, feeding it choice chunks of orc flesh as a treat, recieveing an affectionate lick from it long tounge.)

Oh, and not to be pedentic but isn't Gothmog the name of the Cheif Balrog? Do you maybe mean Khamul?
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Old 12-15-2008, 08:24 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Alfirin View Post
Oh, and not to be pedentic but isn't Gothmog the name of the Cheif Balrog? Do you maybe mean Khamul?
There was a second Gothmog, who marshaled Sauron's forces on the fields of Pelennor after the WitchKing's demise. This second Gothmog's race remains a mystery, as there is no back-history or further documentation from Tolkien as to what or who he was.
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Old 12-16-2008, 06:43 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
There was a second Gothmog, who marshaled Sauron's forces on the fields of Pelennor after the WitchKing's demise. This second Gothmog's race remains a mystery, as there is no back-history or further documentation from Tolkien as to what or who he was.
Oh I get it now, Like Grond the battering Ram is named after the same as Grond the mace. Sorry for the mistake .

Nerwen we actually seem to be on the same wavelength. I am aware that the Dark Lord did not have "hundreds of thousands" at his disposal in the real world, all thouse presumption were a "might have been" had Sauron done just what we both said, started the breeding scheme years if not centuries earlier. But you covered this too and ultimately the question of why it went bad. Sauron though of the beasts late, and had no time to truly use them well and work out all the wrinkes. Bad timing that's ultimatley the answer to the whole mess I asked, the beast were not used well becuse the was no time for them to be used well. Still, we can dream "what if"
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Old 12-16-2008, 07:28 AM   #7
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It makes you wonder if Sauron (or his agents) were searching out the last brood of FBs or if they just found them by accident. I should imagine Sauron was delighted as they must have been fairly pliable in terms of training, to get them ready so quickly for flight. And you simply cannot imagine any Dragon allowing you to ride on his back. So they were probably the only creatures capable of flight available for his use.

I still feel sorry for creatures like this, the last of their kind, wiped out in warfare, like the Mumakil.

Though those 'fell meats' still intrigue me, as there must have been a Hilary Briss operating in Middle-earth
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Old 12-16-2008, 07:43 AM   #8
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Well, we know there must have been more than nine, because Legolas shot one down:

"This is Nazgul Two to Ground Control
I'm feeling very still,
And I think my Fell Beast knows which way to go.
Tell Khamul I love him very much..."

"He knows!"

"Ground Control to Nazgul Two your circuit's dead, there's something wrong.
Can you hear me Nazgul Two?
Can you hear me Nazgul Two?
Can you hear me Nazgul Two?"

"Can you...here am I sitting on my Fell Beast
Far above the world.
Middle-earth, I seek the Ring
On my pterodactyl thing."

Ummm...sorry, David Bowie moment.
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:01 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alfirin View Post
most of that, as I said was predicated on a situation where Sauron did, though pre planning have hundreds or thousands of winged beasts at his disposal (i.e. he had though ahead and spend a good potion of his time in effor in his "hidden years" breeding winged beasts and incresing thier numbers.
But that's the problem, Alfirin: there's absolutely no reason to think that was the case... in fact all we are told of the beasties points the other way:

Quote:
A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed.
–RotK, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

So–

1. The winged beasts are very rare– in fact they're now extinct in the wild.
2. The Ringwraiths' mounts seem to be the first generation to be domesticated.
3. They probably all come from a single clutch/litter/whatever you call a family of adorwable widdle cuddly baby winged beasties.

So– why didn't Sauron use "hundreds or thousands" of winged beasts? He didn't have them. It's that simple.

A more interesting question is: why didn't he start his breeding program earlier, so that he would have hundreds by the time of the War?

Well, the passage suggests these things are "living fossils", something that had supposedly vanished long ago. If we assume that even the Dark Lord didn't know of them– or at least didn't realise they were still around– they must have been a chance discovery (by some evil minion, I suppose).

By the way– I hope I'm not being rude, but would you mind breaking up your paragraphs? They're hard to read.
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Old 12-16-2008, 02:21 AM   #10
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1. The winged beasts are very rare– in fact they're now extinct in the wild.
2. The Ringwraiths' mounts seem to be the first generation to be domesticated.
3. They probably all come from a single clutch/litter/whatever you call a family of adorwable widdle cuddly baby winged beasties.

So– why didn't Sauron use "hundreds or thousands" of winged beasts? He didn't have them. It's that simple..
Quite right. Likely the FB had originally been some small bird-like reptiles. Sauron fed them growth hormones , to make them reach such monstrous size.
And there is a passage in the Hunt for the Ring about the timing.
Quote:
It was no doubt at the end of 1418 that Sauron (S. likely aided by Angmar) bethought him of the winged mounts; and yet withheld them, until things became almost desperate and he was forced to launch his war in haste. - RC, p. 262-3
That means that the Fell Beast project was quite recent indeed. Actually, the nazgul had only 2-3 months to train! The FB project was under-developed, unfinished, because Sauron had to start the war and release the beasts in haste, earlier than planned. That's why, perhaps, nothing was yet devised to protect the beasts: especially their long thin necks. No wonder the nazgul tried to fly out of arrow range, having such rare and highly vulnerable mounts.

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Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
If we assume that even the Dark Lord didn't know of them– or at least didn't realise they were still around– they must have been a chance discovery (by some evil minion, I suppose).
It reminds me of this funny story about Fluffy the Fell Beast.
Fluffy-I and Fluffy-II
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Old 12-16-2008, 04:19 AM   #11
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Thanks for the link, Gordis.
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