Just caught up...


New Member
I started listening to ELotR in mid-September and immediately got hooked. Having dedicated almost all my driving, exercising, cooking, etc. time to listening over the past seven weeks, I've just caught up. It's been a tremendously rewarding deep dive (even the boulders thing), more than I would have guessed. (My wife has been incredibly patient with my frequent comments on interesting insights from the discussion.)

There are only two problems. First, I'm now completely accustomed to hearing your voice at higher than usual speed! Second, there are so many questions I would have liked to have asked along the way.

On the chance that you have time for a look-back question or two, please see below. The best I could do was to narrow it down to three, so do with these what you will.

1. The Darkest Hour??

We are told that the Nazgul are weakened in daylight, so it seems reasonable to conclude that they would be strongest when it is darkest. Yet repeatedly, we see them making their move just before dawn. This happens at Crickhollow (cock crows in the cold hour before dawn), at Minas Tirith with the Witch King at the gates (cock crows), and though not an attack, even when the company senses the flying Nazgul in Hollin (near dawn). (Weathertop is an exception as they attack in earnest shortly after the rise of a waxing gibbous moon.) Are these near dawn attacks meaningful or is the role of darkness less important that it would seem? People will often say "It's always darkest [just] before the dawn", but it is not in fact darkest just before the dawn. Was Tolkien falling prey to this misconception (seems unlikely) or was something else going on here?

2. The Providence Trap.

The discussion on Gandalf's terrible plan to go on foot into the Ettenmoor's when chased by the Nazgul seemed to settle on a Providence justification for the move, paraphrased roughly: do the silly thing and trust to providence. But this seems to me to be an unsatisfying take on the role of providence in the story. In the many cases we've seen where decisions "relied" on providence -- choosing Frodo even though he couldn't throw the ring into a fireplace, sending Merry & Pippin instead of Glorfindel, Aragorn leaving Frodo to save M & P, et cetera -- the decision was made to attend to the signs, to trust friendship over strength, to do the right thing rather than the "optimal" thing. If there is to be a balance between free will and the music, Providence must help those who help themselves, but attentively. Eschewing rational optimization in favor of other considerations makes sense, but the notion that one does the foolish thing in order to entrust Providence does not seem to be a good operationalization of the concept, does it?

(I think we should just leave it at Gandalf having made a mistake. I know you caution against such argument, but I can't help but take the meta view that Tolkien needed a reason to keep Gandalf and too much other help away from the Ford in order for the scene to unfold properly.)

3. Aragorn, Superhero.

You've mentioned several times that Jackson's films do not depict movie Aragorn as a larger-than-life hero, but I don't see it. Movie Aragorn single-handedly defeats the Nazgul at Weathertop, takes on scores of orcs alone at Amon Hen, saves the battle of Helm's deep, and struts onto the Pelennor Fields to chew bubblegum and kick ass (without any bubblegum), among other superheroic exploits. Book Aragorn is more hesitant, self-critical, and makes more mistakes. Book Aragorn does yearn for Minas Tirith more openly, and movie Aragorn demonstrates hesitation to accept power, seemingly because of doubts as to whether he can resist the Fall when his forebears did not. It does not take movie Elrond much effort to push through this resistance, and we can view that "humility" as heroic in its own way. My question is: how does movie Aragorn not meet your standards for larger-than-life hero?


-- Christopher Genovese (ChristopherOnTheRiver on Twitch/Discord)

P.S. I really enjoyed your analysis of the Ring Poem in Black Speech. FWIW, my take on the extra syllable in the Black Speech version is that it reflects -- in the language itself -- evil's tendency towards its own undoing: analogous to a flaw in Persian rug but essentially rather than intentionally.

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
People will often say "It's always darkest [just] before the dawn", but it is not in fact darkest just before the dawn. Was Tolkien falling prey to this misconception (seems unlikely) or was something else going on here?
Astronomy was not necessarily his strong point; JRRT also wrote about seeing stars during the day from the bottom of a deep canyon (the paths of the dead, if I remember correctly), also a popular misconception. Or, of course, perhaps it's magic, like the stars seen in the Mirrormere... I usually just take mythic elements at their face value: agreement with scientific fact is not much relevant. But now you've got me wondering: if Tolkien's upbringing had been more rural, and he'd gotten up before dawn to milk the goats every day, would he have moved all those ringwraith attacks back towards midnight instead?

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
The Nazgûl waited at Crickhollow until near dawn, but that seemed to be chosen to allow the fear to really soak in. At Weathertop the Nazgûl seem to have been held off for a while by Strider’s storytelling, and the only time reference we are given is a comment made by Merry: “‘Look!’ said Merry. ‘The Moon is rising: it must be getting late’”

Given they haven’t slept yet, I take Merry’s statement more to mean late to be getting to sleep, than getting towards dawn. However, the Moon has risen at the time of the attack.

This leads me to conclude that it’s not the presence or absence of light that governs their power, but more the circumstances. If the situation is already ‘spooky’ their power is increased. Fatty Bolger is certainly spooked, the situation at Weathertop is spooky, and the massive pall of darkness covering Gondor is spooky, while there’s nothing less ‘spooky’ than daylight in the Shire.