🧙 The Tolkien Forum 🧝

Welcome to our forum! Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox! Plus you won't see ads ;)

Battle of 5 Armies as a Medieval Battle

JeffF.

Registered User
Joined
Jan 3, 2002
Messages
142
Reaction score
16
The Battle of Five Armies as written in the book and shown in the Atlas of Middle Earth doesn't make tactical sense to me.

First I need to explain, I'm a recently retired career soldier and a military historian. Medieval military history is one of my areas of study.

The mountain as described with two of its arms nearly encompassing the ruins of the city of Dale the scale of the mountain is too large for the battle as described. The map in the Atlas of Middle Earth is probably correct and shows several miles between the two arms and thus that distance would separate the Elves from the Men and Dwarves. Both those wings would also be separated by several miles from the entrance that Thorin and his companions were holding. The numbers we have: 1,000 elvish spearmen in addition to unspecified number of elvish bowmen, 500 dwarves, unspecified number of men under Bard, Thorin and his twelve. If ever you have seen a military parade you can see how small this number is when talking of massed ranks in formation. In a medieval battlefield these numbers are relatively small and no commander would separate his wings by miles (there is no point in a battle without long ranged weapons). Also the second orc attack is described as passing over the mountain itself, but such a mountain, miles long would require hours if not days to traverse. If the wings were separated by the distance shown in the battle map (of the ME Atlas) the dwarves/men would not have mixed with the elves and the sally by Thorin and his twelve would have been unnoticed by the separated wings.

It seems to me that the Elves, men and Dwarves must have been deployed near the crest of the mountain where the arms described in the book come together nearly at the crest. The wings would be separated by a couple hundred feet (feasible in a medieval battle) and the gate centered between them. If the battle took place in a bowl near this crest it would make more sense. There would still be the problem with the ruins of Dale as described being in the center of the battlefield.

It seems to me that Tolkein, an experienced World War One officer, described a battle fought the way it would have been in modern times with rifle armed infantry instead of swords, spears, axes and bows. Ever Tolkein's weak spot, the battle scenes of authors inspired by Tolkein stories (like Dennis McKiernan's and Robert Jordan's books) seem more authentic if less magical than the master.
 

Grond

Morgoth's Mace
Joined
Oct 31, 2001
Messages
3,040
Reaction score
37
Location
Somewhere in a Tolkien story.
At the time of the writing of The Hobbit, I'm not sure how much thought JRRT was giving to tactical reliability of any of his scenes. At the time, he was writing a "fairy tale book" for his children. I don't think he spent nearly the time on it, either in the writing or in the revision (the one exception being the riddle game). The riddle game revision was only done to bring the Hobbit in line with the plot of LotR, so I think it was just a work that got him on the path to his later writings.
 

JeffF.

Registered User
Joined
Jan 3, 2002
Messages
142
Reaction score
16
I Agree But He Never Does

In general the scale of his battles/armies are too large. In the Silmarillion he describes Morgoth's last host as so great that "Angfaulith could not contain it." Such an area conforms to the size of northern europe and a medieval type army standing shoulder to shoulder could number in the billions and still not fill it. I take most of his battle descriptions to be metaphor or allegory and not to be taken literally (most of the time).
 

Walter

Flamekeeper
Joined
Nov 20, 2001
Messages
1,766
Reaction score
3
Location
Austria
JeffF, I think You have a point in saying that Tolkien's descriptions of battles and wars are not overly realistic and it may well be that his knowledge and experience of military strategy and tactics leave room for improvement. But we should keep in mind that Tolkien was mainly a philologist and professor of language, his own experience as a soldier was very limited and military strategies seem not really to have been an area of major interest to him.

But now since You mention it, I wonder if the battles described elsewhere - like in the Illias or the Nibelungs are more realistic...
 

Thread suggestions

Top