The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book V Chapter 10

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The armies of the West make their way to the Black Gate of Mordor. The heralds demand that Sauron come forth. The figure that emerges instead has no name; he is called only "the Mouth of Sauron," for he is, literally and figuratively, Sauron's mouthpiece. To the dismay of the armies' leaders, however, the Mouth of Sauron displays to them Sam's sword, an elven-cloak, and Frodo's coat of mithril mail. The Mouth of Sauron demands terms of surrender from the armies, which terms are rejected. The Mouth of Sauron retreats, the Black Gate opens, and the forces of Mordor stream forth. An apocalyptic battle ensues (".as if it were the ending of the day, or the end maybe of all the world of light. [A]ll hope was quenched"). Pippin slays a troll as part of the fighting, but he is crushed beneath his victim. He feels that the adventure is ending as he feared it would: in defeat. And yet he makes this recognition with a little laughter, because he has remained true to the duty of defending the good. Just before he slips into unconsciousness, he thinks he hears a voice crying, "The Eagles are coming!" But he believes he is only remembering the end of Bilbo's tale: "This is my tale," he thinks, "and it is ended now."
Readers again catch a glimpse of Tolkien's unflinching awareness of the reality of warfare, shaped by his own experience in World War I, as Aragorn looks at the faces of his warriors who are having trouble continuing the march: "[T]hese were young men. or husbandmen. [to whom] Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass." Here, Tolkien reminds readers that warfare, however necessary, is not "glorious" in a stereotyped romantic sense. It involves real people and carries real costs (even in a fantasy world!). It disrupts and ends real lives. The lesson remains a valuable one.
Critic Tom Shippey offers valuable insight into how Tolkien's historical situation informs the demands made by the Mouth of Sauron: "French experience [in the World War II era] is glanced at [in the terms offered by the Mouth of Sauron]. [which conclude with what is] in effect the creation of a demilitarized zone, with what one can only call Vichy status, which will pay war-reparations, and be governed by what one can again only call a Quisling. 'Vichy' and 'Quisling' are words which were only proper names before the 1940s, without political meaning. [T]hey represent a natural urge to salvage something out of defeat, but an urge which Tolkien's own western world had learned by recent and bitter experience was even worse than the alternative" (Shippey, p. 166). More notably, perhaps, the Mouth of Sauron is yet another episode that demonstrates how language cannot always be trusted. The Mouth of Sauron capitalizes on the armies' (and, at this point, the readers') ignorance of Sam and Frodo's fate to tempt the heroes toward despair. He uses language to lie, not to tell truth-a cardinal sin, it seems, in Tolkien's linguistic philosophy. (After all, as a philologist-literally, a "lover of words"-Tolkien counted on words and their etymologies to reveal historical and cultural truth.)

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