5.06. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Ingold
Rohan comes at last!
Just as Gondor seems to fall Tolkien and Jackson both agree that the Rohirrim arrived on the Pelennor Fields. In the movie, they just show up on Mordor’s flank, however in the book, wild man Ghan-Buri-Ghan, has shown them a secret way because the main way is blocked. In the book, the battle is largely through Merry’s eyes. In the movie, it is arguably shown mainly through Éowyn’s point of view.
Théoden’s speech is similar from book to film. In the movie he says:
Théoden: Arise, Arise, Riders of Théoden!
(Théoden rides in front of Éowyn and she hides her face from him.)
Théoden: Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
In the book he says:
Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be, shield be splintered,
A sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor! [5.VI.]
In the film, Théoden also says, “Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending! Death!” In the book, it is Éomer who says these lines after finding the bodies of his uncle and sister. One notices by now that Mr. Jackson has a habit of doing this in his films, giving a line from the book to a different character.
The Rohirrim then charge, they break the main Orc line and rout them forth but then as in book so in movie they encounter the Haradrim. Again, however it is a somewhat different transition from the page to the screen. According to Professor Tolkien: Southward beyond the road lay the main force of the Haradrim, and there their horsemen were gathered about the standard of their chieftain. And he looked out, and in the growing light he saw the banner of the king, and that it was far ahead of the battle with few men about it. Then he was filled with a red wrath and shouted aloud, and displaying his standard, black serpent upon scarlet, he came against the white horse and the green with great press of men; and the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars.
Then Théoden was aware of him, and would not wait for his onset, but crying to Snowmane he charged headlong to greet him. Great was the clash of their meeting. But the white fury of the Northmen burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter. Fewer were they but they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest. Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel’s son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain. Out swept his sword, and he spurred to the standard, hewed staff and bearer; and the black serpent foundered. Then all that was left unslain of their cavalry turned and fled far away. [5.VI.]
In the movie, Théoden sees a long line of oliphaunts coming towards him and his army. Rather than shying away from it Théoden leads his cavalry in a charge headlong into the line of mumakil. They are promptly decimated. Horse and rider are gored, crushed, and shot down by the oliphaunts and their masters. Ironically enough in the book, Tolkien says: But where the mumakil came there the horses would not go, but blenched and swerved away; and the great monsters were unfought, and stood like towers of defense, and the Haradrim rallied about them. [5.VI.]
However despite the initial carnage, Théoden and his troops start to have some success: Éomer brings down two of the beasts by hurling his spear at one of the drivers, Éowyn also hamstrings an oliphaunts and brings it down. The Rohirrim have some success against the animals by shooting them but they are still being attacked.
Théoden is then swarmed by Orcs in the movie, Éowyn, unhorsed, immediately rushes to his defense and brings down several Orcs and even punches Gothmog in the face and seriously wounds him. Merry, too fights back against the thralls of Sauron.
A Far Green Country
In the movie, Gandalf and Pippin having dealt with Denethor, return to the front line where the remnant of the army of Gondor are desperately holding the 3rd or 4th level of the City while a trolls tries to hammer his way in, while doing so, Gandalf and the Hobbit have this conversation:
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
(Gandalf looks at him in surprise.)
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.
(Pippin listens hopefully, as the sounds of the battle around them fade.)
Pippin: What, Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond. A far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.
The movie seems to imply that the gate is broken in afterwards. In the book, to put it bluntly: This conversation never happened but is largely lifted from a dream which Frodo had about the realm of Valinor in the house of Tom Bombadil. In addition in the book the forces of Gondor are mustering for a counterattack at the Great Gate itself, the bulk of the army of Mordor dealing with the Rohirrim. Plus Gandalf and Pippin are with Beregond, bringing Faramir down to the Houses of Healing at this point. So this scene was basically a Peter Jackson innovation.
Éowyn vs. Witch-King
It basically happens the same way: Théoden is in his element and is promptly dispatched by the Witch King and his fell beast. Just as all seems lost, Éowyn approaches him and challenges him. However book and movie differ as to when the Shieldmaiden reveals her identity: Tolkien has her declaring her gender before the Witch King strikes. Jackson afterwards. There is also a lot more dialogue in the book which you can read in ROTK 5.VI. Again the fell beast in the movie attacks Éowyn before she declares herself; in the book it’s afterwards. After she kills the beast, the Witch King rises to his full height and attacks, breaking Éowyn’s shield and arm and just as all seems to hopeless, Merry strikes with his sword behind the Witch King’s knee then Éowyn rams her sword into its head killing the Lord of the Nazgul. (It is worth noting, in the book, Merry has an enchanted blade, not so in the movie).
This is again quite different from page to screen. In the book, Éowyn is unconscious, Théoden blissfully unaware of her presence, the king bids Merry farewell, pardons him for riding to war against his wishes and proclaims Éomer king on the field of battle, and dies there; in the movie the battle is over, Éowyn is conscious, Théoden much aware of her presence, Merry unconscious, and Éomer uncrowned and unproclaimed king. Uncle and niece have this exchange:
(Éowyn crawls to Théoden’s side.)
Théoden: (Opens his eyes and looks at her.) I know your face…Éowyn.
(Éowyn smiles tearfully.)
Théoden: My eyes darken.
Éowyn: (Strokes Théoden’s head gently.) No. No. I am going to save you.
Théoden: (weakly) You already did. Éowyn, my body is broken. You have to let me go. I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company, I shall not now feel ashamed. (He draws a labored breath.) Éowyn…
(Théoden dies and Éowyn cries bitterly over his body)
This again is remarkably different. According to Tolkien, Éomer after finding his sister’s body launched a charge born out of rage and comes to regret it when faced with superior numbers, the Gondorians have ridden forth to help Éomer but Mordor is trying to drive a wedge between them all the while trying to trap the horselords and reinforcements for Mordor are streaming out of Osgiliath. Watchers are now screaming that the Corsairs of Umbar have come because black ships have been seen. Just as Éomer is preparing to make one last stand, the Professor says: …Upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it , and a high crown above, the signs of Elendil that no lord had bourne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells. But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand. [5.VI.]
Tolkien goes on to describe Gondorian reinforcements rushing to the aid of their Kingdom and slowly but surely destroy the army of Mordor.
In the movie this is far less dramatic: The Rohirrim are toughing it out against the mumakil and the Gondorians are still trapped in the City. Aragorn then comes in the Black Ships but there are no Rohirrim cheering and no banner but the forces of Mordor were shocked and bewildered (as were probably many readers of the book) as the Army of the Dead storms through the armies of Mordor like a cloud wrecking and destroying Sauron’s invasion force. Meanwhile Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are hacking down Orcs left and right when Aragorn and Gimli save Éowyn’s life by dispatching Gothmog and Legolas through amateur heroics takes down an oliphaunt thus ending the battle.
- 5.04. The Siege of Gondor by Ingold
- 5.05. The Ride of the Rohirrim by Rosearialelven
- 5.06.*a. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by elenluin
- 5.06.*b. The Corsairs of Umbar by elenluin
Our Gallery has has screencaps of the theatrical version, as well as the extended edition.
A transcript of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Return of the King' can be found in our Film Fun & Facts section.
A summary of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Return of the King' can be found in Elrond's Library.
Some articles that are related to this sequence:
- The Middle-earth Section of Elrond's Library has articles about The Lands of Rohan, The History of Rohan, Éowyn of Rohan and Théoden son of Thengel.
- Under Literature Studies you can find an article about The Rohirrim and the Anglo-saxons.
- The Armoury Section has articles about The Battle of the Pelennor Fields and Fighting styles of the Rohirrim.
Forum threads related to this sequence:
- You can discuss this sequence in detail in ROTK Sequence by sequence #10: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields in the Movies Forum.
- The Book Club discusses this chapter here.
Take a look at how some artists saw this part in the book:
- The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Ivan Allen
- The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Allan Lee
- The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Per Sjögren
- Éowyn and the Nazgul by Per Sjögren
- The Final Battle by the Brothers Hildebrandt
- Éowyn and the Nazgûl by John Howe
- Éowyn challenges the Witch King by Rankin & Bass
- Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar by Michael Kaluta
- The Witch King Decends Upon Éowyn by Peter Xavier Price
- Éowyn Fights the Witch-king by Ted Nasmith
- Éowyn Fights the Nazgul by Ted Nasmith
- Éowyn and the Witch-king by David Wyatt
- Éowyn and the Witch King by Frank Frazetta
- Éowyn, Merry & the Nazgul by Agnus McBride
- Merry Stabs the Witch King by Rankin & Bass
Looking for something more creative - you may find it here: