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The duality between Medieval and Industrial Warfare

When the Great War “generated“ Morgoth and the dark powers in Middle- earth,  it is necessary to take a closer look at Sauron’s warfare in The Lord of the Rings. His industrial warfare and its machinery resembles the war machinery of the Great War of both sides the allies and the central powers. In contrast, the forces of Rohan and Gondor remind the reader of medieval warfare as the characters do follow chivalric codes.

One of the most epic moments in the books is the arrival of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor fields. It does not lack anything: The scene portrays the chivalry of the soldiers, to perform heroic deeds and, in particular, their king Theoden is the model of a medieval king. This is epitomised in his speech the moment before the battle:

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword- day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor! “ (The Lord of the Rings)

In this speech Theoden portrays everything a soldier would think about a battle before the Great War. Everyone is ready and wants to fight. There is no reminder of the warfare and its machinery which would bring death and trauma, but rather a memory of glorious fighting, how it often was portrayed in Medieval heroic poems. Especially in the next scene, the reader is reminded again of Medieval heroic times: “ With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner bearer, and blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

A reader educated in medieval poetry knows that this scene resembles The Song of Roland where Roland blows the horn to call for aid and so turns the tide in the battle against the Pageans. So does Theoden and his army. They portray everything that is medieval European, fighting against an alien invader. Here a metaphor can be built between The Song of Roland and the battle of the Pelennor fields, as Gondor and Rohan fight against an alien invader threatening their lives and the survival of their culture. After all, in The Song of Roland two religions, Christianity and the Islam, were fighting for dominance over Spain and what culture would continue to be superior in this area. Another moment in The Lord of the Rings where a medievalist finds influence of The Song of Roland is when Boromir blows the horn so he would receive help from Aragorn:

 “ for the image of Boromir blowing his horn even as he falls-calling down the vengeance of his allies upon those who have taken his life and taken the hobbits-is quite obviously owed to The Song of Roland, the non-Trojan medieval epic of France: One need only replace the ores with the Song’s Saracens, its hobbits with Roland’s comrades Olivier and Turpin, and Aragorn with Charlemagne. “ (Michael Livingston, Troy and the Rings)

The other two powers in The Lord of the Rings that remind the reader of medieval heroism are Lady Galadriel and Gandalf the wizard. When one thinks about medieval heroism and Gandalf, one is immediately reminded of Merlin. There are indeed a lot of parallels, as Merlin is supporting a king to gain his throne and to unite a kingdom. Gandalf helps Aragorn to gain his throne and unite Gondor once more. As mentioned in the beginning of how trauma can lead to escapism, Gandalf is definitely one of those figures. He represents a supernatural help that every fighting soldier in the Great War could have wished for. Above all, he is like a mentor to young soldiers, such as to the four hobbits:

“ My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

He clearly states that his time of teaching is over and that he makes space for the young and trained to set things right. Again, this can be seen as a great contrast to the Great War. Trained soldiers who are properly taught, survive the war and can continue to do good. As Paul Fussell explains throughout his book, young soldiers whether on the English side or any other front were hardly trained and had no idea what was ahead of them, as mentioned in the previous part of this serial article “ never such innocence again “ and therefore stands in great contrast to the world of Middle- earth. Indeed, Frodo and his friends were innocent as well but they had a proper guide in Gandalf to transform their innocence into awareness. Everything the soldiers of the First World War lacked.

One of the greatest supernatural powers within the storyline is Lady Galadriel. She represents the ultimate contrast to Sauron the Lord of Darkness. Nevertheless, she could be undermined by his power as well, as, like Gandalf, she is a ring bearer. She guides the fellowship in a similar way as Gandalf. She and her handmaidens wove the elven cloaks that protected the fellowship in many dire situations. Furthermore, in the chapter The Mirrior of Galadriel she gave Frodo further wisdom. She continued to teach him about the rings, something what Gandalf could no longer do. One of the most famous scenes of The Lord of the Rings is the one where she hands out the gifts to the fellowship that would continue to guide them further on their perilous journey. It is especially Sam’s rope and Frodo’s phial that are game changers to the plotline later on and give them the needed security in a world that is controlled by a huge war machinery:

 “ In this phial, ‚ she said , ‚ is caught the light of Earendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her Mirror! “ (The Lord of the Rings)

Concerning war, this is one of the most strongest statements that can be made. Many artists have considered light and darkness in their artworks when it came to representing war. For instance, in Picasso’s Guernica, two lamps were shining over the bombing of the city in his painting, although the bombing happened during the day. Art scholars wondered about these lamps in the painting, why they were there and why they were providing light during the day. It is argued that because of the bombing and because of the killing of so many innocent civilians, day was so dark it turned into night and therefore lamps were needed:

 “ The black setting, then, which is broken by the figures, flames, and lamps as though by erratic flashes of light, must have been chosen because of its immediate symbolism. Thus, the event is interpreted as being visible- existent- only because of the lamps and the flames. “ (Rudolf Arnheim, The Genesis of Painting)  

The same happens towards the last days of the war against Sauron. From Mordor, a vast cloud that casts a shadow over all of Middle- earth appears and turns day into night. For Frodo and Sam, Lady Galadriel’s phial became a crucial life saver. Its light was toxic to the spider, Shelob, and then continued to guide Sam through the unknown paths of Mordor. Clearly, parallels between artists concerning how to express war and trauma can be drawn, whether it comes from the visual arts or literature. Their meaning is the same and reflects on the horrors of real war and a light, a symbol of hope that was needed in war but unfortunately was never given. In contrast, Tolkien provides his characters with this magical light  because, after all,  Middle- earth is still a place to escape from the horrors of real war where no magic supports a soldier into a world with wonders aiding “soldiers“ like Frodo and Sam in hopeless situations.

This heroic medieval warfare stands in great contrast to Sauron’s warfare. He literally produces a machine of war that is only meant to destroy the free people of Middle- earth. One of such grand mechanic devices is Grond:

 “ Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain- trolls to wield it. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

This is one of Sauron’s war machines that the soldiers of Gondor and Rohan have never seen before. Normal weapons do not harm this machine and it only brings destruction upon its surroundings:

 “ … and some great beast that hauled it would go mad and spread stamping ruin among the orcs innumerable that guarded it, their bodies were cast aside from its path and others took their place. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

Clearly, this is an image of a war machine causing death all around itself with its only purpose to break the walls of Minas Tirith. It creates an echo of a tank, an unbreakable war instrument casting aside anything in its way. Interestingly enough, one of the first tanks ever to be used was at the battle of Somme in 1916 where Tolkien was present.

At the battle of the Pelennor fields both sides of warfare are portrayed. The chivalric and heroic warfare of the Rohirrim glorifying a time of war when men were fighting in a one to one combat, while the contrasting side is portrayed by Sauron using mechanised warfare to kill and destroy everything in order to reach his goal:

 “ Tolkien in his less direct approach to using his Great War memories manages to do both, honouring the courage of the common soldier while at the same time criticizing the modern trend toward anonymous and mechanized war. “ (Janet Brennan Croft, War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien)

Although Sauron is presumably the greatest sorcerer within Middle- earth, he does not use magic openly like Gandalf or Lady Galadriel. He always hides his magic within his body of war which is definitely supported by his magic, nevertheless, like Grond, it appears to be mechanised and modernised. His war machinery is therefore completely alien to Gondor, Rohan and Gandalf who is leading Minas Tirith’s defence:

 “Siege- towers roll and crawl across the field, crashing and burning; none are reported reaching the wall of the city. But the great battering ram Grond, forged by the technologies of Mordor, brings down the city gates.“ (Janet Brennan Croft)

The entirety of Sauron’s warfare can be summarised by a quote from C.S. Lewis. He, just like Tolkien, experienced both World Wars and recognises the similarities in Tolkien’s work:

“One, surprisingly, is realism. This war has the very quality of the war my generation knew. It is all here: the endless, unintelligible movement, the sinister quiet of the front when “ everything is now ready, “ the flying civilians, the lively, vivid friendships… “ (C.S. Lewis)

Especially, these lines by C.S. Lewis bring out a striking point. It is this movement of war that is most present in The Lord of the Rings and in the World Wars. For instance, when students study the World Wars at school they do not learn about individual officers or soldiers who fought in the wars, but about armies that moved through countries or were fighting along the trench lines. This movement is most present towards the last days of the War of the Rings, epitomised by another war technology caused by Sauron, his great cloud of darkness:

 “ Nay, ‚ said Beregond, ‚ this is no weather of the world. This is some device of his malice; some broil of fume from the Mountain of Fire that he sends to darken hearts and counsel. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

This shadow continues to crawl over Middle- earth, on the one hand to enable orcs to walk freely so they are not harmed by daylight, and on the other, as Beregond says, “ to darken hearts and counsel“. Most of all it is a symbolic device to show that great movement of darkness is rolling over Middle- earth and great armies move in a once fair world, ready to strike.

In the third Part of this series of articles the duality and relationship between Hobbits and Sauron the Dark Lord will be discussed in depth, as well as focus on the One Ring and its relation to Hobbits and Corruption.

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