Chapter IV: The Field of Cormallen
Frodo and Sam have saved Middle-earth, with a little help from Gollum. The Ring has been destroyed and Sauron has fallen. We come back to the Black Gate where the armies of the West are making their last stand, and Gandalf suddenly notices that the Eagles are coming. These aren’t just any eagles, they’re the servants of the Valar. They are gigantic, sentient creatures and they’re here to fight the Nazgûl. And before you ask, no, they could not have just flown Frodo to Mordor and saved him the trouble of walking that whole way. They’re not Middle-earth’s Uber. Calling on them to help you out would be like calling on the Archangel Gabriel because you forgot to pay your rent. They’re helping the armies of the West, not fighting the battle for them.
It turns out that their help isn’t needed, though. Sauron’s defeat has ended the Nazgûl’s power. They flee the scene and disappear into the shadows, where they presumably whither into dust. The towers of the Black Gate crumble, and Sauron’s army falls into chaos and is utterly defeated. Gandalf bids the army of the West to stand, and then declares that the realm of Sauron is ended. From Mordor, a vast dark hand seems to rise above them and then is blown away. The battle is over.
Gandalf takes his leave then and asks the Eagle lord, Gwaihir to carry him one last time. Middle-earth is safe, but he doesn’t intend to abandon Frodo and Sam if there is a chance to save them. Now that the great tasks have been accomplished, Gwaihir agrees and they fly off toward Mount Doom.
Back on Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam have gotten out of the Sammath Naur and. But Mount Doom is erupting and they don’t have long before the whole mountain is ablaze. When they get as far away as they can, they stop. Sam wishes they would be able to hear the stories that will eventually be told about the Quest, and even though he’s expecting to die, Sam looks northward and hopes.
They finally pass out, hand in hand, whether it’s from the volcanic fumes or despair, and that’s how Gwaihir and Gandalf find them at the last moment, and so Frodo and Sam are saved from death at the last.
Tolkien coined a term for this sudden turn of events: “eucatastrophe”, and he defines it as one of the greatest parts of a fairy story in his essay, “On Fairy Stories”, “The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.“
There are mechanisms in Middle-earth that allow for these sudden, joyful moments of salvation, but they cannot be counted on to happen at all, let alone again and again. Our heroes have pushed themselves beyond their limits and achieved their goals, and so they are granted rescue from death, but not from the hardships of life, as we will see.
We jump forward two weeks. Sam finally awakens, and the first thing he notices is the scent of Ithilien’s flowers. He’s confused at first, but when he sees Frodo asleep nearby with one of his fingers missing, he realizes it wasn’t all a dream. He asks where they are, and to his great surprise, Gandalf answers. It’s like all the terrible things that have happened have come untrue, and Gandalf’s response is to laugh- a pure, wonderful sound that has been absent in Sam’s life for too long. Frodo wakes up, and Gandalf informs them that the two of them had been near death for a while, but now that they are awake and recovering, the King would like to see them. And, by the way, Gondor’s New Year’s Day is now on March 25th, because that’s the day two little hobbits essentially defeated Sauron.
They get cleaned up because there will be a banquet in their honor. That sounds nice, but the reality is overwhelming, because there are all these great lords and warriors, and the place is beautiful, and everything is shouting their praises. And then they go to meet the King, and what do you know, but it’s Strider! Good ol’ Aragorn, the tattered traveler is arrayed like a king of old. And here he is, praising them and making them blush. But what really wrecks Sam is when a minstrel stands up to tell everyone a story: ‘Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom’.
Later, they see a couple of familiar faces- Merry and Pippin are there, too! And they’re all dressed up in their formal attire from Rohan and Gondor, respectively, and they’re taller than Sam remembers. It seems that their friends have had adventures of their own, and though Legolas and Gimli are willing to tell it all, Gandalf tells them it can wait. Frodo and Sam are both tiring out, and Pippin needs his rest, too. He, too, is recovering after nearly being crushed by a troll.
They spend many days in Ithilien, hearing tales of everything that happened while they were trekking to Mordor, and Frodo is saddened by the many losses. Meanwhile, everyone else is preparing to return to Minas Tirith, where at last Aragorn will be crowned King.
Chapter V: The Steward and the King
Back in Minas Tirith, before the downfall of Sauron, Éowyn is resting in the Houses of Healing. Resting, but not content. She wanted to ride to battle with the rest of the army, hoping to find death there but they would not let her go. And now, no one will tell her what is going on. With nothing to do but stare at the walls, she’s anxious to do something. So the warden brings her to Faramir, who is also recovering from his injuries. They are equally impressed with each other, but Faramir pities Éowyn. He asks what she wants, and she tells him she would like to leave so she can ride to war. Faramir reminds her that the army left days ago, and she would not be able to catch up. He isn’t well enough to leave, either, so they are both stuck in the Houses of Healing. At the very least, Faramir orders the Warden to give Éowyn a room looking eastward, so she might look out and see what is going on in the world.
Faramir is smitten with this brave shieldmaiden of Rohan, and he tells her so. But Éowyn isn’t impressed by pretty words, even if she does think he could be a great warrior. She rode to war to find death, and though she’s still alive, a shadow still lies upon her heart. But as the days progress and the two spend more time together, Faramir falls more and more in love with Éowyn. They walk together in the gardens Faramir gives Éowyn a beautiful blue robe that once belonged to his mother. While they look out over the plain one day, darkness falls over the land and then it suddenly falls. The sun brightens, and as Éowyn and Faramir watch, hand in hand, the darkness passes away. A great Eagle brings tidings of the end of the war and victory for the people of Middle-earth.
The days that follow are wonderful- like spring and summer and the best vacation all wrapped into one. The Warden of the Houses of Healing declares Éowyn to be healed, and though she can leave if she wants, she chooses to stay, even though her brother has returned and has invited her to join him for the celebrations on the field of Cormallen. Funny that, given how anxious she was to leave. Faramir asks her about this, “…why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cari Andros, where your brother awaits you?”
He’s hoping it’s because she loves him in return, but in truth, she doesn’t want to encounter Aragorn. She wanted him to love her, but that’s not going to happen. She doesn’t want his pity, either.
Faramir doesn’t offer her pity, though he felt it when they met. She is too great a lady for that, plus she has done great deeds and he thinks she’s more beautiful than words can say. Over these past few weeks he’s fallen hard for her, “And I love you. One I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?”
At that moment, Éowyn either changes her mind or realizes what she hasn’t admitted to herself: she loves Faramir in return. And not only that, she wants to live again. She’ll become a healer now, and love all things that grow. And she doesn’t want to be a Queen anymore. In other words, Eowyn has admitted to herself that she loves a man who will love her no matter what, that titles aren’t everything, and oh yeah, she’s decided to become a doctor. Of all the ‘ever afters’ in The Lord of the Rings, I’ve always thought that Éowyn and Faramir have the happiest.
Soon enough, though, the time for formalities arrives. Aragorn has returned from the field of Cormallen with just about everyone- including two hobbits that everyone is praising (even though it freaks them out a little bit). Minas Tirith is preparing for the coronation of its first king in centuries. The time has come for the line of Stewards to give over command of the city to the line of Kings. Faramir is not troubled by this like his father would have been. He is happy to have a King in Gondor once more. Faramir brings the crown out from where it has been stored all these years and gives it to Frodo, who brings it to Gandalf, who then crowns Aragorn. At long last, the King has returned, and his reign as King Elessar is blessed.
But first, there is some housekeeping to do. Aragorn makes peace treaties with the Dunlanders, the Easterlings, and the Haradrim– all Men who had fought for Sauron but will find peace with Gondor now that the war has ended. Then we turn to Beregornd. For his crimes of killing the guards he is exiled from Minas Tirith, but because it was for love of Faramir he will be part of the White Company and guard Faramir, who will be the Prince of Ithilien. To Éomer, Aragorn declares that the two kingdoms are as one family. Though Aragorn offers to bury Theoden among the ancient Kings of Gondor, Éomer wants to bury him in Rohan. Eowyn will return with her brother, but when Theoden has been laid to rest she will return to Gondor and to Faramir.
So life is wonderful! The hobbits, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn are enjoying their days in Minas Tirith during this beautiful spring and summer. But Aragorn seems to be waiting for something. What that is, no one really knows until Gandalf takes Aragorn out of the city onto the southern slope of Mount Mindolluin. There they look out over Aragorn’s realm, and Gandalf says, “‘This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much now pass away; and the power of the Three Rings also is ended.” The time of the Elves is over at last. They will depart into the West, leaving it behind forever. The Fourth Age of the world belongs to Men.
But there are still signs of the earlier ages. Aragorn finds a white tree growing in a barren place on the mountain– it is a descendant of the eldest tree, Telperion, which once grew in the paradise of Valinor. It is a sign of the kings of Gondor, and Aragorn has it carefully planted in the citadel, replacing the dead tree that had stood there for centuries.
Then, the day before Midsummer, Elves come riding into Gondor– the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir carry the banner of their kin, and behind them are Glorfindel and the remaining people of Rivendell, followed by Galadriel and Celeborn. Last of all are Elrond and his daughter, Arwen. At last, Frodo understands why they have waited all this time. Arwen has made the choice of Luthien, and after many years of waiting, she will marry Aragorn at last.
Next week: All good things must come to an end, even the Fellowship. Chapters VI and VII: ‘Many Partings’ and ‘Homeward Bound’.