HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Return Of The King Book 5 Chapter 6 Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Return of the King (Book 5, Chapter 6) : The Battle of the Pelennor Fields | Summary

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Summary

The Rohirrim fight well, but they are having a hard time overcoming the sheer number of Sauron's forces who are laying siege to Minas Tirith. Théoden, in fact, has been trapped under his horse who has fallen in battle. The Lord of the Nazgûl, riding his winged serpent-like steed, has landed near Théoden and is preparing to finish him off. Suddenly, Dernhelm stands up and prepares to defend Théoden from the Nazgûl. Amused, the Nazgûl says, "Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" But Dernhelm takes off his helmet, revealing Dernhelm is really Éowyn, and says, "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman." She then kills his steed. In fury, the Nazgûl attacks, and she is injured. He moves in for the kill, but Merry, who has gone unnoticed, stabs him from behind, giving Éowyn the chance to kill the Nazgûl, which she does, before falling unconscious.

Théoden speaks his last words, indicating that Éomer is now king. Éomer, grieved Théoden is dead, and shocked and grieved to see Éowyn lying there as well, tells the Rohirrim to "ride to ruin and the world's ending!" Théoden and Éowyn are carried inside the city, with Merry walking along, mostly unnoticed.

More soldiers of Sauron arrive and join the battle with more supposedly on the way. In fact, Éomer can see that enemy ships are coming toward them on the Anduin River. Everyone thinks this is the last straw for Gondor—even with the help of the Rohirrim, they will not be able to withstand another influx of enemy troops. But just as they lose hope, a banner on the lead ship unfurls. It is the banner given to Aragorn by Arwen, showing the symbols of Gondor and of the House of Elendil. He has brought reinforcements, including the dead who swore loyalty to him. At this, the battle turns in Minas Tirith's favor, and Aragorn and Éomer return to the city victorious, having defeated Sauron's army.

Analysis

Just as Tolkien used the prophecy about Birnam Wood from Shakespeare's Macbeth as inspiration for Ents and huorns, he uses another prophecy from Macbeth as inspiration for Éowyn's confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgûl. In Macbeth, the witches prophesy that "none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth" (Act 4, scene 1). Yet Macduff, who was born by cesarean section, is the loophole in the prophecy. As Macbeth confidently considers his chances against Macduff, secure in this prophecy, he learns Macduff was "from his mother's womb/Untimely ripped" (Act 5, scene 8). Macduff is, of course, able to kill Macbeth.

Likewise, when the Lord of the Nazgûl states with such confidence, "No living man may hinder me," he is taken aback by Éowyn's declaration she is not a man, but a woman. Éowyn, like Macduff, kills her opponent.

The arrival of the ships and the revelation that it is Aragorn, not more of Sauron's reinforcements, is a dramatic moment in the story and a turning point in the battle. As hope fails for the foes of Sauron, Aragorn's banner unfurls, displaying a white tree surrounded by seven stars with the crown of Elendil above it: "the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count." Aragorn sails into battle as the returning king, fully claiming his royal lineage. The fact that Arwen made Aragorn's banner is significant, because Elrond has stipulated Aragorn will not be worthy of his daughter unless he becomes king (Appendix A). So both Arwen and Aragorn have a lot riding on his success, besides its importance in the greater scheme of things.

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