The Lord of the Rings – Book 5, Chapter 9: “The Last Debate”

Gimli and Legolas reunite with Merry and Pippin in the Houses of Healing, where the Hobbits are eager to learn about the Paths of the Dead.  Gimli reveals that on that road, he was shamed, carrying forth only for the will of Aragorn.  Legolas, however, goes into detail of how Aragorn led both the Company and the army of the Dead to the Great River.  At his command, the Dead swept over the Enemy’s ships, using the Enemy’s greatest weapons of darkness and fear against them.  This freed the way for thousands of potential defenders of Minas Tirith.  True to his word, Aragorn released the Dead from their curse and then set sail for Minas Tirith with the local Men of Lamedon and others.  It’s conjectured that Sauron fears what might happen should Aragorn claim the Ring for himself, that Aragorn’s might could rival that of the Dark Lord if not for his steadfast heart.  But Aragorn fulfilled his vow, and it was an army of free Men that he led into Gondor.

As the companions swap tales, Aragorn has assembled a meeting with the Captains of Men in his tent outside the city.  The words of Denethor are considered to see if there is truth or merely perception in them.  Gandalf, however, councils not the prudence of a strong defense as was done in all the days of Denethor.  Victory, he claims, cannot be won by arms.  Gandalf reveals that Mordor has thus far restrained itself, that the greater part of its army has yet to take the field.  Minas Tirith will face far greater assault if things continue as they will.  Further, the Ring is somewhere within Mordor.  Hope will be lost should Sauron attain it.  Gandalf also reminds his audience — the assembled Captains and us, the readers — that Sauron is himself only a servant of evil.  To distract the Dark Lord and to keep his attention away from Gondor, the Ring, and the Ring-bearer, Gandalf proposes an assault on the Black Gate.  The idea is that Sauron may think Aragorn has claimed the Ring and has chosen to attack with this new power at his command, and he will open the Gate in a bid to take the Ring from Aragorn.  Attacking Mordor is potentially a suicide mission, but Gandalf believes it is their duty to defend against evil while it remains in their power to do so.  The Captains agree.

At the beginning of the chapter, Tolkien gives us a little world building in the form of Legolas’s Song of the Sea.  Legolas was warned by Galadriel of the gull, and now that he has heard it, it calls to him to the point where he wonders if he’ll be happy again in the forest.  It’s a powerful idea, and through it Tolkien expresses what it must be like for all of the Elf-folk who are leaving Middle-Earth at this time.  The call of the sea for them must be akin to a siren song, powerful enough to override all other concerns, including that of defending against the likes of Sauron.  If you’d like to hear The Tolkien Ensemble’s rendition of “Legolas’s Song of the Sea,” you can find that here.

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