The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book V Chapter 5

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The action shifts back to before the Rohirrim arrive at Minas Tirith. At one point on their journey they encounter the Woses, "the Wild Men of the Woods." Their leader, Ghen-buri-Ghen, gives the Riders information about another road to Minas Tirith, a road not overrun by orcs. For this assistance, he gains from King Theoden a promise that the Woses will be left alone to live in peace after the war is over. As the Woses lead the Rohirrim, they note a "new wind" blowing: "There comes a breath out of the South; there is a sea-tang in it, faint though it be." The Riders move under cover of the darkness cast by Sauron: the Dark Lord intends it as a weapon, but it acts as a cloak. As eomer remarks, "Our Enemy's devices oft serve us in his despite." When the forces arrive at Minas Tirith, Theoden calls his Riders to war with renewed vigor, and they join the battle.
Like the Ents and the Pekel-men, the Woses are "[r]emnants of an older time," and serve to remind readers that the current conflict with Sauron, however pressing it is, does not define the entire history of Middle-earth. Further, they represent a different kind of wisdom than that of military strategists: they represent the ancient wisdom of forgotten lore. eomer at first seems tempted to reject this wisdom; Ghan-buri-Ghan must remind him that "Wild Men are wild, free, but not children" (emphasis added). The Woses enable Tolkien to develop further his emphasis on remembering and learning from the past. Indeed, as Tom Shippey points out, the very name of the Wild Men is Tolkien's philological, backward reconstruction: "It would not have escaped Tolkien. that his office at Leeds University. stood just off 'Woodhouse Lane.' which crosses 'Woodhouse Moor' and 'Woodhouse Ridge.' These names may preserve, in mistaken modern spelling, old belief in 'the wild men of the woods' lurking in the hills." (Shippey, Road to Middle-earth, p. 65n).
As a "flashback," this chapter also serves to reinforce Tolkien's stress on realizing that no one has access to all knowledge in a given situation. Theoden and eomer, for instance, realize that Denethor has no news of the Rohirrim's coming because Hirgon was killed as he was returning to Gondor. This again is an example of how Tolkien's mastery of interlacing allows him to tell a rich and complex story. Critic Tom Shippey explains: "The main effect of his interlacing technique. does not lie in surprise and suspense [although it also achieves these aims]. What it does is to create a profound sense of reality, of that being the way things are. There is a pattern in Tolkien's story, but his characters can never see it (naturally, because they are in it). To them the whole story seems chaotic. It may not be possible to draw any certain correct conclusion from the confusions and bewilderments of Middle-earth, but it is possible to see one always marked as unequivocally and permanently wrong: which is, that there is no point in trying any further" (Shippey, 107, 111). For example, Denethor's coming decision for suicide will underscore the wrongness of despair. He will go to his pyre even as the Rohirrim ride to Minas Tirith's aid. Interlacing, then, helps Tolkien further develop and dramatize his concept of true heroism.

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