Kevin Roger Black - Where the Shadows Lie
"Proud and willful are the men of Roi-Tan, and they value highly land and power. But these lands are often those of their neighbors, and they are hence mickle unpopular. Though ignorant of letters, they are fond of song and dance and premeditated homicide. But warfare is not their only craft, for they run summer camps for their neighbors handsomely fitted out with the most modern oven and shower facilities."
The title of this chapter brings up a sticky point for some critics: not only does Tolkien consistently use the male collective to refer to human beings, but the characters in his work are almost entirely male. Women are almost completely invisible. In all of Minas Tirith, the capital city of the human realm of Gondor, the only woman seen is Ioreth, an old crone who works in the Houses of Healing. It is implied that there are other women who work in the Houses, but the Warden of the House is a man. All other women, we are told, have been moved from the city in preparation for the upcoming war. The only other human woman to appear in the whole trilogy is Éowyn, from the neighboring country of Rohan, where she is also the only female in evidence. She is a very strong character, of course: she disobeys orders, disguises herself as a man, and rides off to war, where she avenges the death of her uncle, King Théoden, by slaying the Lord of the Ringwraiths. But before this adventure she is seen serving at a feast, despite her royal blood, and afterwards, in her marriage to Faramir, she pledges to "be a shieldmaiden no longer" and to help him "make a garden" in the dukedom of Ithilien (III: 300), factors which undercut her feminist stature. As for the other races, there are no female Dwarves, and only two such Elves: Arwen and Galadriel, and only Galadriel is prominent. But she is the Queen of Lórien, so we have no idea what role lesser women play in the Elvish community, though we are told that Galadriel and "her maidens" wove the cloaks that are given to the companions. There are three female Hobbits, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Mrs. Maggot, and Rosie Cotton, all of whom are minor characters. And Tom Bombadil's wife, Goldberry, is a "River-goddess." These eight females are not very prominent in a work that has a nine-page index of "Persons, Beasts, and Monsters," though Éowyn and Galadriel are quite memorable. And by the end all eight are married or widowed except Ioreth, whose marital status is unknown. Clearly, Tolkien had very traditional views about women's roles. The high value that he placed on male society has been well documented, a product of a life spent in the then all-male community of Oxford. But he was also a devoted husband, and left his congenial habitation at Oxford after retirement for a location that would offer more social opportunities to his wife, though he was unhappy as a consequence and returned to Oxford after her death. No misogynist, Tolkien was a believer in marriage, and the lack of women in the trilogy is partially symptomatic of the degeneration of the communities that must unite to face Sauron, for these communities lack fertility and growth.
Tolkien always describes the different nations of Men in Middle-earth in racial terms, races that are viewed as having varying degrees of "purity." The most cogent summation of this comes from Faramir, nobleman of Gondor, in his encounter with Frodo and Sam on the plains of Ithilien after the breaking of the Fellowship:
For so we reckon Men in our lore, calling them the High, or Men of the West, which were Númenoreans; and the Middle Peoples, Men of the Twilight, such as are the Rohirrim and their kin that dwell still far in the North; and the Wild, the men of Darkness. (II: 364)
The most heavily represented groups in the story are the "High" men of Gondor and the "Middle" Rohirrim, or people of Rohan. But the wild, and by implication, Low, men appear also, in several different groups. First are the Haradrim, after their home country of Harad, also called the Sunlands. They are from the South, and they have allied themselves with Sauron. The Haradrim are black-skinned, and thought to be very exotic; they bring elephants with them to use in the war. Frodo has a close encounter with one of these men who is fleeing from an ambush:
For a moment he caught a glimpse of swarthy men in red running down the slope some way off.... Then suddenly straight over the rim of the sheltering bank, a man fell... nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched in blood. (II: 340)
The Haradrim are clearly modeled on Africans, and possibly "low," according to Tolkien, because of the gaudy vanity of the bright colored clothing and gold that they wear. This is the only time that a man from Harad is seen at close quarters, and they are never given a voice in the text. When Sauron is defeated, some of the most proud Haradrim stay and fight to the death, while most flee and some sue for mercy. The portrait is not flattering, though Tolkien stresses that it is important that even these men should be respected, and not killed when it can be avoided, for they are a much higher order than the Orcs.
The other "Wild" men that are met live in the forests of Rohan, and are called the Woses. They are a short and powerful people, built like tree stumps, and they wear skirts of grass. Their leader, Ghân-buri-Ghân, does a service to the Rohirrim by guiding them through the secret paths of the Druadan Forest, allowing them to avoid an ambush by Orcs. Tolkien's point here seems to be that all Men have an interest in Sauron's defeat, and a contribution to be make when they are listened to and respected. Later, as a reward, the Woses are given the Druadan Forest as their private domain, freeing them to live in their self-determined way without interference.
The "High" men of Gondor are faced with the wasting away of their "pure" heritage. Faramir tells the Hobbits that "We are a failing people, a springless autumn" and continues with:
...if the Rohirrim are grown in some ways more like us, enhanced in arts and gentleness, we too have become more like to them, and can scarce claim any longer the title High. We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things. For as the Rohirrim do, we now love war and valour as things good in themselves, both a sport and an end; and though we still hold that a warrior should have more skills and knowledge than only the craft of weapons and slaying, we esteem a warrior, nonetheless, above men of other crafts. (II: 364)
The cheapening of culture and values in favor of the celebration of warfare was something that Tolkien bemoaned in his own England, as shown in this letter:
I can't see much distinction between our tone and the celebrated "military idiots." We knew Hitler was a vulgar and ignorant little cad... but there seem to be many v. and i. l. cads that don't speak German, and who given the same chance would show most of the other Hitlerian characteristics. There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation.... The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.... The Vulgar and Ignorant Cad is not yet a boss with power; but he is a very great deal nearer to becoming one in this green and pleasant isle than he was. (LOT: 93)
I think that Tolkien wrote about the moral degeneration of Gondor with England in mind, and the mention of crafts and knowledge being lost is a pointed one. Among what is lost when a society ignores its arts is familiarity with its literary tradition, or lore, which preserves the sense of its cultural past. Symptomatic of this is the loss of a feeling of being rooted in ideals that are noble and worthy of preservation, such as Tolkien found in the poem Beowulf, which very few of his countrymen had the skill to read except in translation. Tolkien wanted to see his country act with a consciousness of its history, not succumb to selfishness and short-term gain. Through Faramir, Tolkien shows us that Gondor's culture has historically emphasized honor as an important value: "'We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt'" (II: 367). But Gondor is losing touch with its past and sliding towards despair, as we find when its capital city, Minas Tirith, is visited in the third volume by Pippin and Gandalf.
Gandalf and Pippin have ridden to Minas Tirith ahead of the army that is mobilizing behind them in Rohan. The city is preparing for an attack by the armies of Sauron. The first sight of the city fills the hobbit, Pippin, with wonder:
Pippin gazed with growing wonder at the great stone city, vaster and more splendid than anything he had dreamed of.... Yet it was in truth falling year by year into decay; and already it lacked half the men that could have dwelt at ease there. In every street they passed some great house or court.... and yet now they were silent, and no footstep rang on their wide pavements, nor voice was heard in their halls, nor any face looked out from door or empty window. (III: 26)
Gondor lacks a sufficient quantity of both green vegetation and women to lighten the grim austerity of the soldiers who remain to defend its walls. For grim they are, and they are always going on or off dutyround the clock work with little rest, according to their Oaths as soldiers of the Guard. One thing they seem to lack in their diligence is imagination: sticking to the letter of their Oaths is stressed as a supreme value, and thus they are not forced to consider anything beyond their duty and needs of the moment.
The poverty of the lore and imagination in the minds of Gondor is shown, interestingly, in their reaction to Pippin. To Gondor, hobbits, which they call halflings, only exist in fairy-tales, just as to the hobbits Gondor is a matter of obscure legend. Pippin's arrival understandably causes quite a sensation amongst the town, and rumors start that he is actually the Prince of the Halflings, commander of 5000 swords. Pippin's laughter rings in the gloomy streets as if it is giving them new life. The men that Pippin meets are eager for stories of his adventures, but also of the Shire, which for them is wonderful and mysterious. When Denethor, the Steward of the City, knights Pippin and makes him his page, the first duty that he requests is to be sung to, saying "We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it" (III: 96). For Gondor, the Shire is like the land of Faërie; and stories from it deliver the Escape, Recovery, and Consolation of fairy-stories, strengthening the men for the return to their duties and bolstering them against the ever-present threat of despair.
Rohan has fallen into a different trap than Gondor. It is farther from the borders of Mordor than its neighbor, and it hopes to shut out the threat of Sauron by closing its doors to the world. Horse patrols sweep Rohan's fields, warding off intruders, and the horse-marshal, Éomer, says "we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil. We welcomed guests kindly in the better days, but in these times the unbidden stranger finds us swift and hard" (II: 43). The guards at the hall of their King, Théoden, have instructions not to admit anyone into its doors who does not speak their native language. The old King within bows under the insular and fearful doctrine of isolationism. The fear of Rohan threatens to doom the resistance against Sauron, for their strength makes up a crucial part of the forces of the West. Also at stake is the honor of Rohan's ancestors, who always before rode in glory to the aid of Gondor in its times of need.
Both Gondor and Rohan suffer from an excess of national pride, even chauvinism; they hold their own needs above all others and jealously guard their own security. Therefore Denethor wants victory for Gondor at all costs, even if it means using Sauron's Ring, for he cannot tolerate risk to his city. Théoden is lulled by his counselors into staying out of the conflict altogether. Neither ruler can yet appreciate what the times require of them: bold, collective, and unselfish action that will go down in history.
As the nations degenerate, they fall ever increasingly under the Shadow, which not only signifies the threat of Sauron's armies, but a loss of character. Through corruption, they come to resemble the Enemyand in the Enemy can be seen the ultimate end, according to Tolkien, of the Men's path towards moral decrepitude. The process of corruption has only begun in Gondor and Rohan, but it has been completed elsewhere, by Saruman, the former leader of the council of Wizards, now a traitor who has raised his own army of Orcs to threaten the West. In his misguided stratagems are the reflections of the worst mistakes of the twentieth century as Tolkien saw them. The next chapter discusses the Enemy in its manifold manifestations, of which Saruman is one.