LotR - Book 5 - Chapter 3 - The Muster of Rohan
With this chapter, we finally catch up with Merry as he rides with Theoden
towards Harrowdale. As they ride through the mountains, day fades, and when
they catch sight of Harrowdale, it is evening. They have ridden slowly
but with little rest for nearly three days. Merry has talked with Theoden a
great deal during this journey, telling of the Shire and in turn listening
to tales of the Mark. Merry is also exposed to the language of the
Rohirrim, alike to his own Westron tongue and yet unalike.
Eomer's concern for Theoden's age and condition are reflected here as he
councils the King to remain in Edoras when they arrive, and to stay there
until the war is over. Theoden refuses this, and is clearly resolved to
lead his warriors into battle.
When Theoden and his company cross the Snowbourn they are greeted by glad
cries, horncalls and trumpets. So Theoden returns, victorious in battle
against Saruman. Dunhere, the chieftain of the folk of Harrowdale, tells of
Gandalf's coming three days before. He also speaks of the winged shadow,
like a monstrous bird, passing over Edoras. Dunhere tells of Gandalf
instructing them not to assemble in the fields, but to meet Theoden in the
valley under the mountains, and to kindle no more fires then necessary.
As they make their way through the valley, they see many men, and behind
them ordered lines of tents, booths, picketed horses, stores of arms and
piled spears "like thickets of new-planted trees." Merry guess that this
must be a great army, many thousands strong.
Even as he looks at this great gathering of men, they come up under the
cliff on the eastern side of the valley, and Merry's sees a road like no
other he has encountered, winding upwards, "coiling like a snake, boring
itself way across the sheer slope of rock." It is as steep as a stair,
looping backwards and forwards as it climbs, and is apparently very
defensible. At each turn there the great statues carved in the likeness of
men, "buge and clumsy-limbed, squatting cross-legged with their stumpy arms
folded on fat bellies." These are the Pukel-men, and while Merry feels no
terror in them, he does have a sense of pity.
At last, after climbing many hundreds of feet above the valley, the road
passes through a cutting between the walls of rock, and into a wide upland;
the Firienfeld, between the Starkhorn to the south and the Irensaga ("the
saw-toothed mass") to the north, with Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain,
running between both. A double line of standing stones cleaves the valley
in two, disappearing into the shadow and the trees, to the black Dimholt,
the menacing pillar of stone and the forbidden door. This great work was
done by men apparently now forgotten, and their purpose is apparently
unknown. They dwelt here, apparently, during the Dark Years before the
coming of the Numenoreans.
Merry seems to already have some disconcerting feel about these standing
stones, and hopes the king won't be going down that path. That is not the
destination of course. There are encampments in the Firienfeld, with a tall
pavilion. Here Merry sees Eowyn for the first times, and he thinks that she
might have been weaping. Eowyn tells the king that the people, though
troubled by being marched from their fields, are well. When talk turns to
Aragorn, Eowyn's grief is clear, and when it is learned that Aragorn went
into the Paths of the Dead, Eomer is himself grieved, clearly thinking that
he will never see Aragorn again.
Merry gets his first official duties as the King's esquire, serving him in
the Pavilion. The king invites Merry to sit at his left hand, to lighten
his heart with tales, though there ends up being little talk. Finally Merry
asks Theoden about the Paths of the Dead. No one answers save Eomer, who
tells Merry that no man knows where they lead. Theoden then recounts the
tale of Baldor, son of Brego, who passed through the door and was never seen
again, after making a brash vow at the feast to commemorate the completion
of Meduseld. Theoden tells of the Dead Men out of the Dark Years who guard
the Paths and who at times come down the stony road, during times of great
unquiet and coming death. Eowyn tells of a host in strange array passing
into the Paths on a moonless night not so long ago.
Most seem to think Aragorn went mad, and judging by the general opinion of
the Paths of the Dead, I guess that would seem a likely explanation to them.
However, Theoden does gives a slightly more optimistic part of the legend,
about Brego and Baldo ascending the Stair of the Hold and coming to the
Door. There they apparently met an old man who had once been tall and
kingly. The old man told them that the way was shut until the time comes,
though the man apparently died before he could elaborate.
This dark discussion is interupted by a messenger, Hirgon, from Gondor
bearing the Red Arrow. Merry is stunned, seeing that this messenger
looks so much like Boromir. The news is grim, however, and Denethor is
calling upon Theoden to keep the oaths of long ago. However, Rohan's
strength is not what it could have been, as so many were lost or divided by
the treacheries of Saruman. The messenger indicates that Denethor would
like the Rohirrim within the walls of Minas Tirith, but Theoden reminds him
that the Rohirrim are mounted warriors. The messenger makes the point
that Minas Tirith is soon to be beset, and that haste is needed. Theoden
says that he will lead six thousand men, and arrive in Minas Tirith in a
week, which is not good news to Hirgon.
The messenger is bade to remain the night, and Merry is dismissed to, though
the hobbit imprudently vows to follow Theoden even into the Paths of the
Dead, which gets a scolding and a bit of a revelation that Theoden does not
intend to take Merry with him.
Merry is awoken at dawn, but there is no dawn, for clouds out of the East
have obscured it. It is like a heavy roof, that sinks Merry's heart, and
apparently the hearts of others as well. When Merry arrives in Theoden's
quarters, Hirgon is explaining that the cloud comes from Mordor.
Merry learns that he will travel with the king as far as Meduseld, but there
he is to remain, for he would be too much of a burden for any of the Riders
when they begin the great race to Minas Tirith. But he is given some armor
(a helm, a round shield and a knife) by Eowyn, and she ominously tells him
"Yet maybe we shall meet again, you and I."
Finally the riders depart, leaving behind their women, children and old men.
Theodeb rides forth with 5,500 hundred men, along with a dozen of his
household-men, on his right Eomer and behind him poor Merry on Styba. Merry
notices a young man, less in height and girth than the other riders, with a
face without hope, searching for death.
Here we have a poetic interlude, a stirring one obviously in the mode of
such songs in the tongue of the Rohirrim. When they arrive at Edoras,
Merry begs the king one last time to take him along, which is rebuffed.
Merry bows and walks away unhappily, but then is confronted by a rider, the
one he had noticed earlier, who offers to take him on the great ride to
Minas Tirith. Merry accepts, and then asks the rider's name. The rider
seems a little surprised that Merry does not know his identity, but answers
that his name is Dernhelm.
So Merry, secretly, rides to war with the Riders of Rohan. As they ride,
news reachings them that there is war in north, and on the eastern borders
of Rohan. Eomer tells the Riders to ride, and that it is too late to
turn back, and so they pass out of Rohan and into Gondor, riding past
the beacon hills, though their fires are now quenched.
Points of Interest
 The imagery that Tolkien uses to describe this region of the White
Mountains is rather extraordinary, and for the first time I'm reading it
carefully, and again in awe of Tolkien's magical way with prose. Having
visited the Rockies a good deal when I was younger, I was struck by how very
true to the feel of such regions his imagery is. In particular his
description of the Starkhorn is amazing "Away to the right at the head of
the great dale the mighty Starkhorn loomed up above its vast buttresses
swathed in cloud; but its jagged peak, clothed in everlasting snow, glamed
far above the world, blue-shadowed upon the East, red-stained by the sunset
in the West."
[1a] Most poignant of all, and somehow so fitting within the greater mythos
of which the War of the Ring is only a part is Merry's feelings of being
"borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle Earth".
 A lot more is discussed of the language of the Rohirrim to the Westron,
and particularly to the dialect used in the Shire, but it is notable that
Merry's interest in these people and their language truly begins here.
 I think we see a bit more of Theoden's character here, as he gently but
firmly rejects Eomer's council; "Nay, my son, for so I will call you, speak
not the soft words of Wormtongue in my old ears!"
 What reason did a Nazgul beset Edoras? Was it to try to determine the
whereabouts of Pippin, or was it simply a bit of psychological warfare?
 It seems that Gandalf has been very busy, and that the Rohirrim now view
him as sturdy and reliable a councillor and lord of Rohan as any of the
Theoden's knights. What a change from the first time we meet Theoden.
 Here we meet the Pukel-men, clearly images of the Druedain, images out
of the ancient past. The wording here is peculiar; "The Pukel-men they
called them, and heeded them little: no power or terror was left in them..."
This seems to indicate that there was some power of some kind in them at one
time? Is there some relationship between these statues and the Faithful
Stone we read of in UT? Was there some particular and peculiar Druedan
enchantment upon these mighty stones at one time?
 Even the mere name "Dwimorberg" sends chills up my spine. Again Tolkien
is painting a picture of a haunted place, as he did with the Barrow Downs,
and with a few words paints a picture of a very frightening place. He was
indeed a master of language, able to invoke moods and images with words like
an artist with a brush.
 Here we find something of an oddity. We know that the Men that Isildur
cursed were akin to the Dunlendings, but what could the identity of the
builders of this line of stones and of the Pukel-men be? Were they akin to
the Dunlendings and the Dead Men? Or were they rather akin to the Druedain?
Knowing what we do know of the Druedain, I can't really imagine them delving
into mountains to make dark temples, which seems to be the purpose of the
place, and yet would anyone else make statues that were clearly meant to
represent the Druedain?
 Why do the Dead come out into the lands of the living? Are they
attracted to terrible times of death? Or do they just like to scare the
pants off of people living on either side of the White Mountains?
 What is this host in strange array? Was this the Dead, or other Dead?
 Hmmm, more mystery to the Paths of the Dead. Who was this once tall
and kingly man? We learn that it (which I presume refers to the door) was
"made by those who are Dead and the Dead keep it, until the time comes."
Obviously this refers to the Heir of Isildur, but as with point , it
leaves the mystery of who fashioned this whole complex up in the air.
 Don't you just love the symbolism of the Red Arrow?
 Does every Dunedan of Gondor look the same?
 In this passage Theoden alludes to Denethor's odd ability to know of
things going on far away; "Is it not true, Hirgon, that the Lord of Minas
Tirith knows more than he sets in his message?"
 I love this passage; "'A week! said Hirgon. 'If it must be so, it
must. But you are like to find only ruined walls in seven days from now,
unless other help unlooked-for comes. Still, you may at the least disturb
the Orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower.'"
 You know, Sauron must have been one powerful being to actually block
the sun of so much of that region of Middle Earth. I certainly would hate
to think what he would be capable of if he regained the Ring.
 There's a good deal of foreboding in this song, which was clearly
written long after the events. I find it interesting that after all the
thousands of years since Elendil came to Middle Earth, that other Men still
refer to the Numenoreans as the "Sea-kings".
 Theoden's final words to Merry on the subject almost seem to indicate
he was getting annoyed "I will say no more." It seems even Merry has
something of a gift for trying the patience of his betters.
 Did anybody on their first reading know who Dernhelm was? I confess
that, though hints are dropped very thickly by the good professor, that I
was rather surprised when Dernhelm's true identity was revealed.
 This is the first time, as far as I am aware, that we are told that
Sauron has launched open attacks elsewhere than just on Gondor.
 It comes to my mind that the attacks on Rohan's eastern borders may
very well have been a maneuver by Sauron to rob Gondor of the support of its
major ally. Clearly Sauron must have hoped that Saruman would have
accomplished that, but as that did not work out quite as planned, perhaps He
is putting together his own assault.
 What an ominous end to a chapter! But why were the fires of the beacon
hills not lit? It almost, by insinuation at least, seems that they may
actually be abandoned. Did Denethor recall every soldier he could to the
defense of Minas Tirith?
"Will you kindly explain to me the reasons to debar individuals in certain
branches from rising by merit to commissioned rank? If a cook may rise, or a
steward, why not an electrical artificer or au ordnance rating or a
shipwright? If a telegraphist may rise, why not a painter? Apparently there
is no difficulty about painters rising in Germany!" - Winston Churchill
>  What reason did a Nazgul beset Edoras? Was it to try to determine the
> whereabouts of Pippin, or was it simply a bit of psychological warfare?
My guess is that the purpose was partly spying, partly trying to psyche
the Rohirrim out. But apparently Sauron had less than adequate knowledge of
the land of Rohan, since he didn't send the Ringwraith up to Harrowdale.
Nothing would have menaced or hindered it.
>  Here we find something of an oddity. We know that the Men that
> Isildur cursed were akin to the Dunlendings, but what could the identity
> of the builders of this line of stones and of the Pukel-men be? Were
> they akin to the Dunlendings and the Dead Men? Or were they rather
> akin to the Druedain? Knowing what we do know of the Druedain, I
> can't really imagine them delving into mountains to make dark temples,
> which seems to be the purpose of the place, and yet would anyone else
> make statues that were clearly meant to represent the Druedain?
My guess is that the Púkel-men were wrought by ancient kinsmen to the
Drúedain. Then they disappeared, perhaps being driven off by newcomers who
were ancestors to the Dunlendings and to the people whom Isildur cursed.
These built the unholy hallows, worshipping Sauron perhaps - and then
Isildur chips in. In our own world we often find several layers of
civilization, such as Stonehenge, that was built by the Stone Age people,
though popularly connected with the druids who belonged to the Celts, who
settled Britain well into the Metal Age.
>  Did anybody on their first reading know who Dernhelm
> was? I confess that, though hints are dropped very thickly
> by the good professor, that I was rather surprised when
> Dernhelm's true identity was revealed.
I didn't guess, and thought it a young man who was in sympathy
with Merry's need to be part of the action, and try to reunite
with his companions. It was quite a surprise to me when I found
out it was Eowyn.
"I keep telling you, chew with your mouth closed!" Kell the
coach offers advice on keeping that elusive prey caught.
Do we know from which direction it appeared?
Perhaps that doesn't even matter. The Nazgûl that flew over the camp of
our protagonists shortly after Pippin's misadventure with the palantír
would have had time to report on the state of Isengard and for Sauron to
start wondering what was going on in Rohan.
The primary purpose, I suppose, was that of spying, but instilling a dose
of 'healthy' fear in the people who had just defeated Saruman's armies
was probably an important secondary purpose -- otherwise they would
probably have done as after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where
they, according to Gandalf, "passed over this field ere the sunrise,
though few of the weary and sleeping were aware of them."
So secrecy was not in Sauron's interest at this earlier point.
> But apparently Sauron had less than adequate knowledge of the land
> of Rohan, since he didn't send the Ringwraith up to Harrowdale.
> Nothing would have menaced or hindered it.
Good point, even if a bit strange to my ears. Sauron should have known
about Harrowdale -- the Dead Men had worshipped him, and Saruman had been
spying on Rohan for years, even having his spy very close to the throne.
Did Saruman keep what he knew about the structuring of Rohan to himself?
I suppose he might well have -- trying always to get the upper hand in
his dealings with the Black Tower.
>>  Here we find something of an oddity. We know that the Men
>> that Isildur cursed were akin to the Dunlendings, but what could
>> the identity of the builders of this line of stones and of the
>> Pukel-men be? Were they akin to the Dunlendings and the Dead Men?
>> Or were they rather akin to the Druedain? Knowing what we do know
>> of the Druedain, I can't really imagine them delving into mountains
>> to make dark temples, which seems to be the purpose of the place,
>> and yet would anyone else make statues that were clearly meant to
>> represent the Druedain?
> My guess is that the Púkel-men were wrought by ancient kinsmen to
> the Drúedain.
We do know that the Púkel-men use Drúedain for models, and that the
Drúedain did, at one point, live in the White Mountains
"They said that they had always been there, and had former
lived also in the White Mountains. [...] From the East,
they said had come the tall Men who drove them from the
White Mountains, and they were wicked at heart."
(UT 4,I 'Further Notes on the Drúedain')
> Then they disappeared, perhaps being driven off by newcomers who
> were ancestors to the Dunlendings and to the people whom Isildur
Yes, I'm pretty sure that that is the intention of the above; that the
ancestors of the 'Dead Men' were those who drove the Drúedain from the
White Mountains: "wicked at heart" they even worshipped Sauron in the
> These built the unholy hallows, worshipping Sauron perhaps -
I'd put the 'standing stones' down to them, and the Púkel-men to the
Drúedain, so that we have two sequential civilisations building in the
same place -- one a stronghold, and the other using that for access to
the road leading to their unholy temple.
> and then Isildur chips in. In our own world we often find several
> layers of civilization, such as Stonehenge, that was built by the
> Stone Age people, though popularly connected with the druids who
> belonged to the Celts, who settled Britain well into the Metal Age.
Precisely. And often such sites are re-used by later settlements /
civilizations. Many of the earliest churches were built at places of
heathen worship, and old bronze age mounds have been re-used for iron-age
burials, when the people who built them and their beliefs had been
This isn't right. This isn't even wrong.
- Wolfgang Pauli, on a paper submitted by a physicist colleague
(Thus speaks the quantum physicist)
>itself way across the sheer slope of rock." It is as steep as a stair,
>looping backwards and forwards as it climbs, and is apparently very
Well, yes, any long, exposed road up a cliff is very hard to go up if
anyone above you is capable of lifting a rock and then dropping it. If
they have any proper weapons, so much the worse.
>Merry learns that he will travel with the king as far as Meduseld, but there
>he is to remain, for he would be too much of a burden for any of the Riders
>when they begin the great race to Minas Tirith. But he is given some armor
>(a helm, a round shield and a knife) by Eowyn, and she ominously tells him
>"Yet maybe we shall meet again, you and I."
More hopeful than ominous, if one is reading for the first time.
>Finally the riders depart, leaving behind their women, children and old men.
>Theodeb rides forth with 5,500 hundred men, along with a dozen of his
>household-men, on his right Eomer and behind him poor Merry on Styba.
More than 5500 men: that is merely the number of fully armed Riders.
There are also "many hundreds of other men with spare horses lightly
burdened" -- that is, anyone with a horse and a pointed stick. So
Theoden's "six thousands at the least" appears to be an accurate
assessment of his forces.
>Here we have a poetic interlude, a stirring one obviously in the mode of
>such songs in the tongue of the Rohirrim.
I am impressed by the various voices Tolkien gives to peoples in his
verse, but I think he does his finest work in the alliterative verses.
> When they arrive at Edoras,
>Merry begs the king one last time to take him along, which is rebuffed.
>Merry bows and walks away unhappily, but then is confronted by a rider, the
>one he had noticed earlier, who offers to take him on the great ride to
>Minas Tirith. Merry accepts, and then asks the rider's name. The rider
>seems a little surprised that Merry does not know his identity, but answers
>that his name is Dernhelm.
Actually, "he" says, "call me Dernhelm" -- which is different, as it
makes no statement and therefore can be no lie.
> What reason did a Nazgul beset Edoras?
He's a big jerk. Now that the secrecy thing is over, there really
doesn't need to be any more motive than that.
> It seems that Gandalf has been very busy, and that the Rohirrim now view
>him as sturdy and reliable a councillor and lord of Rohan as any of the
>Theoden's knights. What a change from the first time we meet Theoden.
Well, Gandalf seems to have been actually trusted by a fair few Riders
even before he miraculously returned their King to vigor and hope and
helped them defeat their enemies. After doing all that, Gandalf is
> Why do the Dead come out into the lands of the living? Are they
>attracted to terrible times of death? Or do they just like to scare the
>pants off of people living on either side of the White Mountains?
I think maybe they were hoping for somebody to show up and let them
fulfill their oath so they could rest. That wasn't going to happen
when things were sunshine and roses.
> What is this host in strange array? Was this the Dead, or other Dead?
It was some Dead. Remember that they come up behind the living on the
> Does every Dunedan of Gondor look the same?
From hobbit-level, yes.
Seriously, they have a lot of general physical similarities and look a
lot different from other groups of Men that Merry has had experience
with, so "they all look alike" at first glance.
> What an ominous end to a chapter! But why were the fires of the beacon
>hills not lit? It almost, by insinuation at least, seems that they may
>actually be abandoned. Did Denethor recall every soldier he could to the
>defense of Minas Tirith?
Why keep them lit? They've done their job or they haven't. Also, those
beacons take a lot of fuel and once you run out, it will take some
time to gather more, so you might as well not bother. Also, once the
enemy actually arrives, you're exposed and very visible -- you don't
want to still be running the beacon then. You would burn the beacons
long enough everyone knows war is on and then you get somewhere that
you can do some useful task, be it fighting or something else.
R. Dan Henry