The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Return of the King: Book 5, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A day’s ride away from Minas Tirith, Merry lies restlessly in a forest where the Rohirrim have camped. He’s exhausted, lonely, and has been ignored by the Riders for the whole journey. He wanders towards a lantern, under which Théoden and Éomer are discussing strategy. He sees beside them a squat Wild Man, similar in stature to the carved men on the cliff path at Dunharrow. The man explains that he has brought news to help the Rohirrim: many enemies occupy the roads towards Minas Tirith. The Wild Man gives his name—Ghân-buri-Ghân—and explains that he is the leader of the Wild Men who are adept observers. He offers to show the Riders of Rohan along a different road unknown by the enemy. Théoden and Éomer accept his offer. Merry slips away unseen to prepare for the journey.
Even when he’s completely exhausted, Merry’s curious spirit doesn’t relent. He doesn’t thrive on being ignored or cast aside—he’d rather be a part of the action, or at least know what’s going on, which is why he follows the lantern light. Ghân’s willingness to help Rohan suggests both that he's desperate for the orcs to be defeated, because their tendency to destroy nature is a threat to his home, and that he trusts Rohan’s honor enough to reveal the existence of his people to them and offer them help. 
Themes
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
The Riders make their way along the hidden path towards Minas Tirith. The Wild Men report to Ghân that the surrounding area is clear of enemies, though there are many at Minas Tirith, and the outer wall has been destroyed. Éomer takes this as good news, because it means the wall cannot be held against them. Théoden thanks Ghân and farewells him. Just before leaving, the Wild Man sniffs the air and tells the Riders that the wind is changing. Soon after, the king’s scouts return to report they’ve found two dead men and two dead horses. One of the men was carrying a red arrow. Théoden realizes that must mean Denethor hasn’t received any news of the Rohirrim’s approach.  
Éomer’s reaction to the destruction of the wall proves he's an innovative and resourceful strategist—a strength that will allow him to profit off Mordor’s arrogance and brutality in this instance. The Wild Man’s connection and communion with nature provides the Rohirrim with knowledge and hope they would’ve otherwise overlooked, suggesting that the power of nature is in more than just its beauty, and Mordor’s disregard of it may contribute to their downfall.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
The Rohirrim ride through the night. Merry rides with Dernhelm, and he notices he has left his place in his designated company in order to be nearer the king. Théoden rallies the Riders with a speech and instructs Éomer to lead into battle. They increase their speed. Merry holds tight to Dernhelm and worries about his ability in battle. The Rohirrim pass the destroyed wall stealthily: the enemy troops are focused on their destruction of the city. Suddenly, Merry feels the wind change as Ghân-buri-Ghân predicted. Théoden gives a battle cry, the horns of the Rohirrim sound, and the darkness seems to disappear as the enemy is destroyed underfoot.
Dernhelm’s change in position suggest he has a special loyalty or connection to Théoden that Merry has yet to understand. Despite all his courage and curiosity, Merry is beginning to realize he has no idea how to help in battle and might be out of his depth. Nevertheless, the Rohirrim’s arrival at Minas Tirith comes hand in hand with the changing wind and the retreat of the shadow, suggesting their strength and impending victory is a force of nature, and will go similarly undetected by Mordor’s troops.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Quotes