3.07. The Battle of Helms Deep by atalante_star
The Battle of Helm’s Deep plays a very different role in film and book. In the film, it is a climactic battle, the equivalent of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in “The Return of the King”. In the book, however, it is simply another battle in the lead-up to the denouement at the Pelennor Fields and Minas Tirith. As such, much less detail exists in the book, and the account of the whole battle takes up only a few pages. There were no orcs bearing the Olympic flame, no elves coming to the rescue, and thus no dramatic death scenes for Haldir. Eomer was present, and it was Erkenbrand who rode to the rescue of the besieged with Gandalf.
From the start, the tone of the battle and the place of the battle is different in book and film. The significance of Helm’s Deep to the Rohirrim is not as obvious in the film as it is in the book, nor its almost mystical sense of invulnerability: “Men of that land called it Helm’s Deep, after a hero of oldwars who had made his refuge there. Ever steeper and narrower it wound inward from the north under the shadow of the Thrihyrne, till the crowhaunted cliffs rose like mighty towers on either side, shutting out the light.
At Helm’s Gate, before the mouth of the Deep, there was a heel of rock thrust outward by the northern cliff. There upon its spur stood high walls of ancient stone, and within them was a lofty tower. Men said that in the far-off days of the glory of Gondor the sea-kings had built here this fastness with the hands of giants. The Hornburg it was called, for a trumpet sounded upon the tower echoed in the Deep behind, as if armies long-forgotten were issuing to war from caves beneath the hills.” [3.VII.]
Immediately Helm’s Deep is given an intrinsic significance beyond a simple fortress.
In the book, Helm’s Deep is also shown to be the heart of a populated region, with villages scattered beyond the Deeping Wall. Its Lord is Erkenbrand, whereas in the film, there is no true lord of the Hornburg, and the refugees have gathered from further away.
Arrival at the fastness
On their way to safety in the book, Theoden, Eomer and the Rohirrim encounter roving bands of orcs on their journey to the fastness, unlike in the film, where the orc army moves as one body. Indeed, in the book, Theoden and his men arrive at the Hornburg only just before the orc army. Though the motivation for the change in the film is obvious – it is far more dramatic to have one vast army arrive all at the same time.
When in the fortress, the party from Edoras first meet Gamling, who tells them of the orders Erkenbrand left in place before riding out to the Fords of Isen (in lines given almost word for word over to Aragorn in the film): “”Maybe, we have a thousand fit to fight on foot,” said Gamling, an old man, the leader of those that watched the Dike. “But most of them have seen too many winters, as I have, or too few, as my son’s son here.”” [3.VII.]
By this point in the book, the old and young, the women and children of the Westfold had already been taken through into the caves, along with great stores of food, and their animals and fodder.
This is clearly different from the situation in the film, where the population of Helm’s Deep has been bulked out by refugees from all over the Westfold. The defenders of the castle are much fewer, and only know of the strength of the army and its closeness when Aragorn returns from his little fall off a cliff.
Théoden: A great host, you say?
Aragorn: All Isengard is emptied.
Théoden: How many?
Aragorn: Ten Thousand strong at least.
Théoden: Ten Thousand?
Aragorn: It is an army bred for a single purpose: To destroy the world of Men. They will be here by nightfall.
From this point on, things become even more different. In the films, Theoden is seen having doubts about his own abilities, and his abilities to lead his people as a king, but he is also shown as being overly confident that Helm’s Deep could not fall – a rather interesting set of contrasts:
Théoden: Who am I, Gamling?
Gamling: You are our king, sire.
Théoden: And do you trust your king?
Gamling: Your men, my lord, will follow you to whatever end.
Théoden: To whatever end.
Théoden: Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountains. Like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into shadow. How did it come to this?
Théoden: We will cover the causeway and the gate from above. No army has ever breached the Deeping wall, or set foot inside the Hornburg!
Gimli: This is no rabble of mindless Orcs. These are Uruk-Hai. Their armour is thick and their shields broad.
Théoden: I have fought many wars, Master Dwarf. I know how to defend my own keep.
Furthermore, the interplay between Theoden and Aragorn makes it seem as if Theoden is acting unwisely, almost irrationally, and Aragorn is a calming voice of wisdom.
Théoden: They will break upon this fortress like water on rock. Saruman’s hordes will pillage and burn. We’ve seen it before. Crops can be resown, homes rebuilt. Within these walls we will outlast them.
Aragorn: They do not come to destroy Rohan’s crops or villages. They come to destroy its people, down to the last child.
Théoden: And who will come? Elves? Dwarves? We are not so lucky in our friends as you. The old alliances are dead.
Aragorn: Gondor will answer.
Théoden: Gondor?! Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell?! Where was Gondor when our enemies closed in around us?! Where was Gon–? No, my Lord Aragorn, we are alone.
Nothing of this idea is seen in the book, where Aragorn’s part of the battle is described only briefly.
Eowyn has a much enlarged role in this part of the film, even if she is not allowed to fight. In fact, she isn’t even mentioned in this chapter of the book. In the film, Theoden orders her into the caves to look after the people who have come to the Hornburg to find shelter. However, Eowyn does not consider this an honourable charge, and asks Aragorn if she can, instead, fight with him:
Éowyn: To mind the children, to find food and bedding when the men return. What renown is there in that?
Aragorn: My lady, a time may come for valor without renown. Who then will your people look to in the last defense?
Éowyn: Let me stand at your side.
Aragorn: It is not in my power to command it.
Éowyn: You do not command the others to stay! They fight beside you because they would not be parted from you. Because they love you. I’m sorry.
Interestingly, while this whole conversation isn’t remotely like anything in the books, Eowyn mentions something that underlies the whole Rohirric way of life in the books – renown and glory.
Troops are also arranged differently for the start of the battle. In the book Eomer is in charge of the battle arrangements: “Quickly Eomer set his men in readiness. The king and the men of his household were in the Hornburg, and there also were many of the Westfold-men. But on the Deeping Wall and its tower, and behind it, Eomer arrayed most of the strength that he had, for here the defence seemed more doubtful” [3.VII.]
In the film, everything is different, not least because a whole troop of elves turns up, led by Haldir.
Théoden: How is this possible?
Haldir: I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell. An alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together. We come to honor that allegiance.
Aragorn: Mae govannen, Haldir. You are most welcome.
Aragorn, instead of Eomer, is in charge of the troops stationed along the Deeping Wall (elves on the left, Rohirrim on the right), while Theoden takes charge of the keep. Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn are with Haldir’s elves, Gimli hardly able to see over the battlements.
One thing that is constant between the film and the book, however, is the friendship between Legolas and Gimli:
Film: Gimli: What’s happening out there?
Legolas: Shall I describe it to you? Or would you like me to find you a box?
Book: “Gimli stood leaning against the breastwork upon the wall. Legolas sat above on the parapet
“But you comfort me, Gimli, and I am glad to have you standing nigh with your stout legs and your hard axe.”
“Yet my axe is restless in my hand. Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!”” [3.VII.]
The start of the battle
The battle is engaged at night in both versions, and here some of the bits in the film really echo the descriptions in the book: “It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark, and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash. Branched lightning smote down upon the eastward hills. For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields. Hundreds and hundreds more were pouring over the Dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff. Thunder rolled in the valley. Rain came lashing down.” [3.VII.]
But again there are large differences. In the film, the first move is made (if only accidentally) by the defenders; in the book, however, it is the attackers who first let off volley after volley. It is only after the attackers are bowed by the mass of rock and wall that the defenders then let loose their own arrows.
Gaining the advantage
In the film, Saruman’s army gains entry to the inner keep through the Deeping Wall with the infamous orc who dashes through the hordes with an Olympic flame to ignite explosives set into the culvert – the only weak point in the Wall. The orcs then dash through the gap. This only happens much later in the book.
At the same time as this explosion, another lot of orcs cross the causeway to the keep with a battering ram, and start attacking the gates.
In the book, the first thing to fall under attack are the gates, and when Aragorn and Eomer see their plight they leave the Deeping Wall: “”Come!” said Aragorn. “This is the hour when we draw swords together!
Running like fire, they sped along the wall, and up the steps, and passed into the outer court upon the Rock. … There was a small postern-door that opened in an angle of the burg-wall on the west, where the cliff stretched out to meet it. On that side a narrow path ran round towards the great gate, between the wall and the sheer brink of the Rock. Together Eomer and Aragorn sprang through the door, their men close behind. The swords flashed from the sheath at one.
“Guthwine!” cried Eomer. “Guthwine for the Mark!”
“Anduril!” cried Aragorn. “Anduril for the Dunedain!”
Charging from the side, they hurled themselves upon the wild men. Anduril rose and fell, gleaming with white fire. A shout went up from wall and tower: “Anduril! Anduril goes to war. The Blade that was Broken shines again!”” [3.VII.]
It is easy to see that a good few bits from this book quote were plundered and moved around for the film. Theoden has the line about drawing swords together, just before he and Aragorn ride out of the keep. The sortie from the postern-door in the film involves Aragorn and Gimli, and luckily the book does not include tossing Eomer (though one would have to wonder whether Gimli or Eomer would be heavier, and therefore harder for Aragorn to throw across a wide gap). However, Gimli makes an appearance in this bit of the book as well, springing from the shadows to save the day just as two orcs are about to jump on Eomer.
A final thing to note is that in the book Anduril has already been reforged, and is wielded as a symbol of hope and light by Aragorn.
In the film, a few extra bits and bobs of ‘drama’ are added during this section of the battle, notably Legolas surfing down the Deeping Wall on a borrowed shield.
The battle continues through the night, and in the book, when dawn starts to glimmer in the sky, the orcs were still assaulting the Deeping Wall. “The men of Rohan grew weary … Three times Aragorn and eomer rallied them, and three times Anduril flamed in a desperate charge that drove the enemy from the wall.” [3.VII.]
But soon the orc army breaks the wall and enters the Deep. In the film this breakthrough includes the unfortunate, and dramatic, death of Haldir on the battlements.
In the continued rallies and fall-backs, it is Aragorn who keeps the troops in order and enthusiastic in both film and book. It is he who looks to hope, and he who provides hope.
“”Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,” said Aragorn.”
“Nonetheless day will bring hope to me,” said Aragorn. “Is it not said that no foe has ever taken the Hornburg, if men defended it?””
This, in the film, was translated into Aragorn’s earlier role, offering hope when Theoden would only despair.
Aragorn: … there is always hope.
Legolas: We have trusted you this far. You have not led us astray. Forgive me. I was wrong to despair.
Aragorn: Ú-moe edaved, Legolas. *There is nothing to forgive, Legolas.*”
Aragorn holds back the foe in both book and film, until he is recalled back into the keep, by Theoden in the film and Legolas in the book. As in the film, he stumbles as he runs up towards safety in the book.
At this point in the book, Eomer and Gimli are lost. (They are later discovered in the caves).
The End Game – towards dawn
By dawn, the Deeping Wall has fallen in both film and book, and a general retreat has been sounded to the Keep. Within the Keep, Theoden becomes restless, not knowing what he can do against such reckless hate (a phrase used in both book and film). A plan to ride out and face the enemy is then formed – by Theoden in the book, Aragorn in the film: “Snowmane and Hasufel and the horses of my guard are in the inner court. When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm’s horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song” [3.VII.]
Plan agreed, Aragorn in the book walks out to above the great gates and talks to the orcs and uruk-hai. He tells them that a new day is dawning, and that they should flee before each and every one is killed. Unsuprisingly, the orcs simply laugh. This dramatic scene simply has to left out of the film, for Aragorn does not have Anduril, or yet the presence to do such a thing.
The climax of the battle in both book and film is Theoden’s ride forth from the Keep. From the book: “And with that shout the king came. His horse was white as snow, golden was his shield, and his spear was long. At his right hand was Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, behind him rode the lords of the House of Eorl the Young. Light sprang in the sky. Night departed.
“Forth Eorlingas!” With a cry and a great noise they charged. Down from the gates they roared, over the causeway they swept, and they drove through the hosts of Isengard as a wind among grass.
On they rode, the king and his companions. Captains and champions fell or fled before them. Neither orc nor man withstood them.”” [3.VII.]
Théoden and his riders drive a path through the attackers to the Dike, from where they see the arrival of reinforcements led by Gandalf and Erkenbrand. The charge of Erkenbrand’s thousand men turns the tide of the battle, and victory comes to the Rohirrim.
In the film, Theoden rides out with the ever-present Aragorn (and Legolas):
Théoden: So much death. What can Men do against such reckless hate?
Aragorn: Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.
Théoden: For death and glory.
Aragorn: For Rohan. For your people.
Théoden: Fell deeds, awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red dawn [stealing a line of Eomer’s from the book]. Forth Eorlingas!” [3.VII.]
From that point on, victory is assured, and occurs in a similar fashion in book and film. In both, Gandalf appears, shining white in the rising sun. Erkenbrand and his men accompany him in the book, Eomer and his riders in the film. They rout the attackers, many of which flee (unwisely) into Fangorn Forest: “Down through the breach of the Dike charged the king’s company. Down from the hills leaped Erkenbrand, lord of Westfold. Down leaped Shadowfax, like a deer that runs surefooted in the mountains. The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.” [3.VII.]
- 3.01.*b. The Burning of the Westfold by Figwit
- 3.06. The King of the Golden Hall by atalante_star
- 3.06.*a. The Journey to Helm's Deep by Figwit
- 3.06.*c. Isenard Unleashed by Figwit
- Aragorn by Figwit
- Ã‰omer by elenluin
- Ã‰owyn by Aervir
- Gandalf the White by EruantalincÃ«
- Gimli by Rosearialelven
- Legolas Greenleaf by Ithildin
- ThÃ©oden by atalante_star
Our Gallery has has screencaps of the theatrical version, as well as the extended edition.
A transcript of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers' can be found in our Film Fun & Facts section.
A summary of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers' can be found in Elrond's Library.
Some articles that are related to this sequence:
- Some more information about the Rohirrim can be found in our Middle-earth section, which has articles about The History of the Rohirrim, Ã‰owyn of Rohan, ThÃ©oden son of Thengel, Helm Hammerhand and a Family Tree of The Kings of the Mark.
- In the Literature Articles section you can find an article about Eorl's Hym, and about The Rohirrim and the Anglo-Saxons.
Forum threads related to this sequence:
- You can discuss this sequence in detail in TTT Sequence by sequence #12: Preparations Before the Battle, TTT Sequence by Sequence #13: The Battle of Helm's Deep and TTT EE Sequence by Sequence #6: Helm's Deep in the Movies Forum.
There's also a thread about the Characterization of ThÃ©oden. And of course ... Stand Up For Elves in Helm's Deep and Haldir's Death.
- In the Book Forum you can discuss the theme of hope in "Courage and Strength When Hope Is Gone".
- The Casting Forum is the place to be for fans of Haldir / Craig Parker. You can vote for him in the contest Figwit, Haldir or Legolas?
Take a look at how some artists saw this part in the book:
- Helms Deep by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Legolas and Gimli at Helms Deep by John Howe
- Attack of Helms Deep by Cavini
- Helms Deep by Darrell Sweet
- The Battle of the Hornburg by Ian Miller
- The Battle of Helms Deep by John Howe
- The Battle of Helms Deep by Alan Lee
- Helms Deep by Agnus McBride
- Helms Deep by Michael Kaluta
- The Battle of the Hornburg by Cor Blok
- Helms Deep by the Brothers Hildebrandt
Looking for something more creative - you may find it here: