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Dunharrow

Squint-eyed Southerner

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I'm somewhat astounded to find that not a single discussion has been had on this important book since the creation of this section. I'll take the opportunity to make the first post.

There are many insights into the development of the story to be discovered in this volume, but the one I'll mention is that it answers the question of the the mysteriously sketchy description of Dunharrow, the Firienfield, and especially the terrible road to the Dwimorberg, in "The Passing of the Grey Company", compared to the much fuller one in the following chapter, "The Muster of Rohan".

I assume this is one of the "defects, minor and major" Tolkien mentioned in his introduction to the second edition; whether he considered it a major or minor one, we can't know, of course.

So here's a question: could it now be "corrected"? My answer would be no, since it would require some major rewriting, and I doubt this would be tolerated, even if someone with enough hubris to try it could be found.

One way of rationalizing the text as it stands is to point to the "Hobbit-centric" viewpoint from which the story is told, something Tolkien maintained as long as he could, and returned to when possible; for instance, having the story of the Paths of the Dead related by Gimli and Legolas to Merry and Pippin, rather than showing it to us directly.

But given his lack of reticence in describing the landscape during the journey of the Three Hunters, for example, not to mention Edoras and Helms's Deep, I would find such a justification unsatisfactory.

Any thoughts?
 
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Alcuin

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We should probably discuss narrative viewpoint in a separate thread. Note that this portion of the narrative is told entirely from the view of Gimli, the weakest member of the Grey Company treading the Paths of the Dead.

For the background of the scene, Tolkien originally planned to have Aragorn cross the White Mountains by a way called the Scāda Pass. (See War of the Ring in the History of Middle-earth series.) The pass was on one side or another of Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain beneath which the Paths of the Dead ran. I think (referencing Karen Fonstad’s map) Starkhorn is to the west-northwest of Dwimorberg, and Írensaga to the north-northeast, but I did not discover which side the pass was on. I think I understand correctly that in one of the early versions, the pass went right over the top of the mountain: Anglo-Saxon scāda means “crown (top) of the head”: scalp, I suppose. The idea of Aragorn’s crossing the deadly Scāda Pass was dropped in favor of his taking the Paths of the Dead – and getting an army thereby.

Tolkien’s artwork suggests the double line of stones begins immediately at the top of the switchback road from Harrowdale. The stone Púkel-men sound and look like the stone guardians carved by the Drúedain in Unfinished Tales, so I speculate local Drúedain carved them for the Dúnedain living in Calenardhon (later Rohan) early in the Third Age before the two became estranged.

Tolkien’s picture also makes clear that the Firienfield at the top of the switchback road was divided by the double stone-lined road, with the king’s guard and others, probably the household of Meduseld, on the right, the west side; while the king himself and his kinsmen were on the left, toward the east. The rows of standing stones seem to go either between Starkhorn and Dwimorberg, or more likely into a deep dale of the Dwimorberg itself: I think the latter more likely.

From Firienfield, it seems the road passed through a bottleneck into a wider space filled with “gloom[y] … black trees”. The road lined by standing stones ended at “a single mighty stone like a finger of doom.” On the other side of this single stone was the Dark Door to the road under Dwimorberg.

Éowyn reported the folk of Harrowdale told her “that in the moonless nights but a little while ago a great host in strange array passed by. Whence they came none knew, but they went up the stony road and vanished into the hill, as if they went to keep a tryst,” something Théoden told Merry the Dead were wont to do “only at times of great unquiet and coming death.”

I presume this army of the Dead Men of Dunharrow followed and shadowed (went ahead of) Aragorn and the Dúnedain, leading them somehow to the stone door where they had broken the legs of Baldor son of Brego and left him to die. Tolkien said the door was the entrance to a temple of the Dead Men, who in life had worshipped Sauron. I expect they planned to kill Aragorn and his companions, too, until he summoned them to the Stone of Erech: then they realized their miserable waiting might at last be nearing an end.

At that point, a wind blew out the torches, which could not be relit. It is not stated, but seems reasonable that the Dead then led the Dúnedain (who kept their heads and their nerve, continuing to lead their horses, something Halbarad initially suggested might be impossible) to the other main entrance to their subterranean abode, the uprising of the Morthond (or Blackroot) on the other side of the White Mountains. This, I suppose, was to prevent any of them from learning the secret way under the mountain. Gimli seems to have been following by sound – a useful skill for a dwarf who lives beneath the earth – crawling at the last, when he finally heard the springs of the Morthond underground.

The lack of clarity in the telling might arise from the fact that the tale is told from the view of Gimli, who was unfamiliar with either his surroundings or the history of the place, much less the backstory and explanations Tolkien provided later, or that come to us from his notes at Marquette or Oxford. I think it is intentionally vague (thus creepier and more confusing) because we know only what Gimli experienced, which he found singularly unpleasant.
 
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Squint-eyed Southerner

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Oops, I see I was a little too oblique, there. I was referring, not to Gimli's account, but to to the placing of the fuller description of the scene (with Merry present) after the episode of Aragorn's entry into the Dimholt, in the next chapter, in fact. For those who may not have WotR, I quote some of Christopher's remarks on p. 313:

It is to be remembered that at this time the further story of Aragorn and the Grey Company, their coming to Dnharrow and their entering the Gate of the Dead, was not present in the narrative; the present passage was to be the first account of the Dwimorberg, the Firienfield, the line of standing stones, the Dimholt, and the great monolith before the Dark Door. When afterwards the structure of the narrative was charged my father largely retained this description in the chapter "The Muster of Rohan" (RK pp. 67-8): he treated the coming of the Grey Company to Dunharrow two nights before the arrival of Theoden in a single sentence ('they passed up the valley, and so came to Dunharrow as darkness fell', RK p. 56), and said almost nothing of the scene. . .

The approach of the Company to the Dark Door next morning is described with a mysterious brevity: the double line of standing stones across the Firienfield is mentioned cursorily, as if their existence were already known to the reader: 'A dread fell on them, even as they passed between the lines of ancient stones and so came to the Dimholt' (RK p. 59).

Sorry for the confusion. I agree that a general discussion of point of view should be in another thread; I brought it up only as a a possible way out of the "difficulty", if that's what it is.

Thanks for mentioning the Scada Pass branch of the story; I'd forgotten about its existence , brief though it was.

BTW, on the Druedain, it's interesting to note, a couple of pages later (p. 316) in the story of "The Way is Shut Guy", as someone put it here, this passage:

. . .and there there sat an old man aged beyond count of years, withered as an old stone. Very like the Pukel-men he was as he sat upon the threshold of the Dark Door.

An echo, or more, of "The Faithful Stone" in UT! I believe it was dropped as Tolkien's conception of the "Wild Men" evolved, and he decided they were not related to the Dead Men. As we know from UT, he ultimately intended to insert them, retroactively, into some of the stories of the First and Second Ages, but alas, never did. They would have added an additional flavor to those tales.

In only one thing I would have a (very slight) disagreement with you. And here, I admit my memory played tricks on me: Tolkien does show the Paths of the Dead "directly", up through the scene at the Stone of Erech. In any event, I would say that it is Aragorn who leads, and it is he who makes the side-trip to the stone door; I doubt the Dead Men would want anyone to find it. The narrative certainly seems to indicate this, as well as Aragorn's words:

'Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!'

As for intending to kill them, well, maybe, but we have to keep in mind that Aragorn is not Baldor; he is unique in fact, being the Heir of Isildur, who placed the curse on them, and is uniquely able to remove it. Whether they were able to sense this, or realized it only, as you suggest, after he proclaimed his summons, I don't know.

 
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Alcuin

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BTW, on the Druedain, it's interesting to note, a couple of pages later (p. 316) in the story of "The Way is Shut Guy", as someone put it here, this passage:

. . .and there there sat an old man aged beyond count of years, withered as an old stone. Very like the Pukel-men he was as he sat upon the threshold of the Dark Door.
An echo, or more, of "The Faithful Stone" in UT! I believe it was dropped as Tolkien's conception of the "Wild Men" evolved, and he decided they were not related to the Dead Men. As we know from UT, he ultimately intended to insert them, retroactively, into some of the stories of the First and Second Ages, but alas, never did. They would have added an additional flavor to those tales.

In only one thing I would have a (very slight) disagreement with you. And here, I admit my memory played tricks on me: Tolkien does show the Paths of the Dead "directly", up through the scene at the Stone of Erech. In any event, I would say that it is Aragorn who leads, and it is he who makes the side-trip to the stone door; I doubt the Dead Men would want anyone to find it. The narrative certainly seems to indicate this, as well as Aragorn's words:

'Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!'
Aragorn leads, and the Dúnedain Rangers follow him, as Elendil’s men followed him, and Eärendil’s and Barahir’s followed them in the First Age. But it is through Gimli’s eyes that we see the story until we reach the Stone of Erech; afterwards, sitting in the sun in Minas Tirith, Legolas tells the story to Merry and Pippin when Gimli initially declines, with Gimli later adding color and detail as the darkest parts of the subterranean journey are left behind. In the spirit of the author’s conceit that this is part of the tale told in the Red Book, we should assume Gimli has recalled this part of the story for Frodo, who wrote it down in Minas Tirith before he left. The gaps and vagueness are then Gimli’s failure to comprehend or recollect, and for some reason, Frodo did not pursue the matter with Legolas.

My copy of WotR is still packed. I do recall your point that CJRT said that the final version of the story only emerged later; I did not recall that the Dead Men of Dunharrow were related to the Drúedain: I thought they were either distant kin of the Second House (like the Dunlendings and the inhabitants of the primeval Gwathló forests whom the Dúnedain battled to near eradication during the Second Age) or of the swarthy men of the mountains (like the father of Tal-Elmar in Peoples of Middle-earth, the forerunners of the smaller, stockier mountain folk the Stewards of Gondor recruited to their service in the last third of the Third Age, intermingling with them to maintain the strength and vitality of the realm). In fact, I thought the Drúedain were unique in western Middle-earth in association with the Second House, and that they were ever few in number, that the few families that ventured to Númenor returned beginning in the second millennium of the Second Age when the Kings turned away from the Valar, and that Ghân-buri-Ghân and his furtive distant kin in Andrast were all that remained.
As for intending to kill them, well, maybe, but we have to keep in mind that Aragorn is not Baldor; he is unique in fact, being the Heir of Isildur, who placed the curse on them, and is uniquely able to remove it. Whether they were able to sense this, or realized it only, as you suggest, after he proclaimed his summons, I don't know.
You have a higher opinion of the Dead Men of Dunharrow than I! I thought they planned to kill Aragorn and his companions, and held off only because they hoped to be set free at last: I don’t believe they recognized him as the Heir of Isildur until he named himself so at Erech, and I don’t think they planned to let any of them leave their dark realm until he summoned them to Erech. I consider them evil, and believed the curse that fell upon them did so through their refusal to turn from worshipping Sauron and practicing his necromantic ways: Had they been decent folk who followed Eru, Isildur’s curse would have had no effect upon them. I believe they “sacrificed” Baldor, and hoped to “sacrifice” the Dúnedain, too: thoroughly awful people who followed Aragorn “to fulfill [their] oath and have peace.” Hence the concluding comments of Legolas and Gimli in the Houses of Healing,
“Strange and wonderful I thought it that the designs of Mordor should be overthrown by such wraiths of fear and darkness. With its own weapons was it worsted!” [said Gimli.]

…Legolas [answered,] “In that hour I looked on Aragorn and thought how great and terrible a Lord he might have become in the strength of his will, had he taken the Ring to himself. Not for naught does Mordor fear him. …”
 
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Squint-eyed Southerner

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But it is through Gimli’s eyes that we see the story until we reach the Stone of Erech;
You are correct, sir, and as I said, I had misremebered, so thanks again. So we have, then, at least three types, or levels, of narrative techniques:

1. Direct description
2. "Mediated" description, i.e., seen through a character's eyes and thoughts
3. "Narrated" description -- a story told by one character to another

The first is the most objective, of course, and seems to be used when there is a great deal of dialogue involved, or (especially) when no hobbits are present. This is the case in the journey of the Three Hunters, as I mentioned, with only slight deviations.

The second, the subjective technique, is Tolkien's preferred method, usual, as I say, when any of the hobbits are part of the story. As you noted, the story, from the entry into the Paths of the Dead, through to at least the Company's emergence from the ravine into the Morthond Vale, is seen from the viewpoint of Gimli. I believe Tolkien used this device here because he felt it was needed, in order to convey directly the sense of overwhelming fear and horror caused by the Deadmen. With no hobbits present, he had a set of characters from which to choose: Aragorn was a special case, for the reasons I gave above; Legolas would not do ("I do not fear the Dead"); and the Rangers are latecomers to the story, and, we must admit, pretty much "extras", so it would be very odd to see anything from their viewpoint. That leaves Gimli, the only appropriate Mortal participating in this episode.

The third method, the "story told", was clearly used for the rest of the journey in order to maintain the suspense: we are not to know what becomes of the Company until their reappearance at a crucial moment in the narrative.

I stress that I see no problem with the depiction of the Paths of the Dead episode, as seen through Gimli’s eyes; it is entirely appropriate, given the darkness and dread pervading that part of the story. My OP was about the disjunction, in the final text, between our initial, mysteriously sketchy, introduction to the the Firienfield, the standing stones, and the approach to the Door, and the much fuller description given in "The Muster of Rohan". We now know, thanks to WOTR, quoted above, how this happened; my question was "what can be done about it?". And I think the answer must be "nothing".

As for "The Way is Shut Guy", whatever Tolkien's initial conception may have been, it's clear from the final text that he wasn't one of the Druedain. Theoden says:

On the threshold sat an old man, aged beyond guess of years; tall and kingly he had been ,but now he was withered as an old stone.

Indeed, it could be speculated that he was not related to the Dead at all: if, as seems to be the case , they had connections with the Dunlendings, or other of the Lesser Men, the words "tall" and "kingly" strike me as hardly appropriate.

Concerning the Deadmen, don't worry -- I don't have a very high opinion of them either! :D

But perhaps a slightly more sympathetic one: my impression of them is as more deluded, than just purely "evil". They were among those Men left to their own devices by the Valar, after the War of Wrath; they worshipped Sauron, during the Dark Years, but it should be remembered that even then, he still retained his "noble" form.
And they were certainly "cowardly", or at least ambivalent, as Isildur discovered. Most importantly, they were Oathbreakers, a damning indictment in Middle Earth, as it was in "our" Northern World.

This, and the descriptions of their appearances "in times of great unquiet and coming death", lead me to view them, as I say, perhaps more sympathetically than you do; my impression is that they are seeking to fulfill their oath, but until the coming of Aragorn, there is no one with the authority to enable them to do so.

I really see no indication of their attitude or intent towards Aragorn and the Company; the dread and fear they inspire I interpret as being due to their status in Middle Earth as "Dead". They are, in fact, not really "dead", but "undead", caught between life and death, a particularly horrible state in Middle Earth, as witnessed by the Nazgul.

It's worth noting that they haunt, not only the caverns of the Paths, but the surrounding mountains; as Eowyn tells:

'Yet it is said in Harrowdale,' said Eowyn in a low voice, 'that in the moonless nights but little while ago a great host in strange array passed by. Whence they came none knew, but they went up the stony road and vanished into the hill, as if they went to keep a tryst.'

One other point: I've seen Baldor's "broken legs" mentioned before, but can find no reference to it. Could you direct me to the relevant passage?
 
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Alcuin

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I may have misunderstood your question, Squint-eyed Southerner, and if so, I apologize.

I reread your initial post: The Firienfield as described in “The Passing of the Grey Company” is but a hastily-drawn shadow of the description in “The Muster of Rohan”.

“Is this a ‘defect’ of some sort?” Is that the question?

One other point: I've seen Baldor's "broken legs" mentioned before, but can find no reference to it. Could you direct me to the relevant passage?
Pleased and honored to oblige you. The reference is obscure: Vinyar Tengwar #42, 2001, “The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor” by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Carl F. Hostetter with additional commentary and materials provided by Christopher Tolkien.

JRR Tolkien’s note #6, in full:
The Men of Darkness built temples, some of great size, usually surrounded by dark trees, often in caverns (natural or delved) in secret valleys of mountain-regions; such as the dreadful halls and passages under the Haunted Mountain beyond the Dark Door (Gate of the Dead) in Dunharrow. The special horror of the closed door before which the skeleton of Baldor was found was probably due to the fact that the door was the entrance to an evil temple hall to which Baldor had come, probably without opposition up to that point. But the door was shut in his face, and enemies that had followed him silently came up and broke his legs and left him to die in the darkness, unable to find any way out.
This passage has been widely disseminated through Tolkien discussion boards: that’s I learned of it.

Hostetter has uncovered a number of obscure but mighty interesting facts from JRRT’s notes. For instance, the surviving Dúnedain of Arnor lived in Rhudaur in the angle of the rivers Mitheithel (Hoarwell) and Bruinen (Loudwater). Hence Butterbur’s seemingly-cryptic comment to Frodo: “there’s no accounting for East and West, … meaning the Rangers and the Shire-folk.”

I presume “The way is shut” guy was their king who swore allegiance to Isildur, then broke his oath. If the Dead Men of Dunharrow were akin to the Second House of the Edain, as were the Dunlendings, it would make sense that he was “tall and kingly.” He’d been sitting there for about 25 centuries: that in and of itself suggests something necromantic about him, or at least about his interacting with Brego and Baldor.

But I can’t see how Isildur, a good guy, not yet in possession of Sauron’s Ruling Ring, would curse the Men of Dunharrow in such a way that they would be unable to leave the Circles of Arda: that’s an inherently evil act, or so it seems to me. However, if they were already following Sauronic practices, they could become trapped by them: that makes sense to me philosophically; but that’s mere opinion, not backed by anything substantial in the text other than their aforementioned worship of Sauron, whom I assume they presumed “dead” (and thus no longer worshipful) until his reappearance following the destruction of Númenor at the end of the Second Age: It was “safe” to ally themselves with Isildur, a known enemy of Sauron’s but a powerful king who dominated their territory, until their god-king showed up again.

I agree with you about the sacred importance of oaths. Medieval oaths were often taken over relics. (William of Normandy is said to have tricked Harold Godwinson by secretly hiding relics under the table when Harold committed himself to William after the Norman duke saved his life: that was William’s excuse for invading England.) My opinion about how the Men of Dunharrow became ghosts doomed to haunt the mountains is an attempt to conceive of some mechanism for their predicament in The Return of the King.
 
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Squint-eyed Southerner

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I may have misunderstood your question, Squint-eyed Southerner, and if so, I apologize
No, it is I who should apologize for being obscure in my OP.

As for the abreviated description of the area, and the stones, "as if their existence were already known to the reader", yes, that can be seen as a defect; Christopher Tolkien saw it that way, and showed how it happened, and why it was unintended. My question was "can anything now be done to rectify it?"; my own feeling is that nothing can be, as I said above.

Speaking of obscure, the reference you provide certainly is, to me, at least! Thank you for the quote. I wonder when this was written? [Edit: 1969]. Tolkien must have had a great change of mind about the Deadmen at some point subsequent to the publication of LOTR, as all the descriptions of them there seem to point in the opposite direction: "for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear" says Gimli. The impression given by the description of Baldor's body is that his death was due to fear, or perhaps thirst; certainly no injuries are mentioned. In fact, I always felt that, despite his "rash oath", his bravery in facing the horror of the Dead, all alone, is unrecognized, similar to the way Tolkien noted that Boromir's hardihood during his great journey is unrecognized. This shines a very different light on things.

Your conjectures concerning the Curse of Isildur seem reasonable. I'd mention, as a possible alternate explanation for the act by a "good guy", my discussion of him as a tragic hero, on another thread; he is, after all, the same person who claimed the Ring for himself as "weregild". Both kinds of acts appear frequently in Medieval saga (as indeed does the "rash oath"). It could be seen as an indication of character, the sort of character that could be led to commit the fatal error of taking the Ring. But as I say, only a possibility.

Interesting point about William the Trickster. My opinion of him was never very high anyway.

I found this interesting article on oaths, and their effects, here:

https://www.quora.com/How-could-Isildur-a-human-cast-a-magical-curse-on-the-Dunharrow

The thrust of the argument is that the circumstances of the Deadmen are due solely to the breaking of their oath, reducing Isildur to a passive role; making him, at most, a foreteller, a "prophet", as the author calls him, who recognizes the terrible fate into which they have cast themselves. This would undercut both our ideas (mine more than yours, I think).

But we have the flat statement by Aragorn in RK that seems to contradict this:

'Then Isildur said to their king: "Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and and thy folk; to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end"'.

That sounds definitive to me: Isildur plays an active part in the fate of the Deadmen. The article's author certainly makes clear the importance, for Tolkien, of oaths as one of the "laws" of Middle Earth; I would argue that the curse obeys the same laws.

Exactly how the various laws interacted among themselves, and with the circumstances of this particular case, is another question.
 
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