ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 4
"But Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice: 'Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.'"As the Ring is unmade, so is the battle before the Morannon. With the appearance of the Eagles of the North, the tide turned. The great birds bore straight down on the Nazgul, even as their Fell Beasts began to flee towards Mount Doom heeding the call of the Dark Lord. Now the eyes of the enemies showed fear and confusion. Behind them the Towers of the Teeth collapsed and the Black Gate was thrown down in ruin. Gandalf and the Captains of the West knew that the hour of doom was at hand.
"'The realm of Sauron is ended!' said Gandalf. 'The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.' And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell."
Most of the Orcs and Men of Sauron's army fled in terror but some of the Easterlings and Southrons threw down their weapons and begged for mercy. Then Gandalf summoned Gwaihir to him and asked the Eagle to bear him one last time. Along with two other Eagles, Landroval and Meneldor, Gwaihir sped away south with Gandalf on his back.
The appearance of the Eagles which heralds the destruction of Mordor and the Dark Lord is a moment that Tolkien calls a "eucatastrophe". This was a word he coined to refer to "the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears" (Letter No. 89). In a nutshell, a eucatastrophe is diametrically opposed to a catastrophe, a great and sudden calamity. By adding the prefix "eu" which is Greek for "good", Tolkien's philological invention designates a great and sudden fortunate turn of events.
There are actually several moments throughout The Lord of the Rings that would qualify as eucatastrophes. They always come, like a "deus ex machina", just when things seem their bleakest: the sudden rising of the River Bruinen to wash away the Nazgul in "Flight To The Ford", the arrival of Gandalf and Erkenbrand's army in "Helm's Deep" and the blowing of the horns of Rohan to announce the Rohirrim at "The Battle Of The Pelennor Fields" to name a few. But these moments always seem to come in answer to characters holding onto hope and making decisions of selflessness, sacrifice or altruism. Certainly Sam's feeling of pity for Gollum when he had the chance to kill him on the slopes of Mount Doom led directly to the destruction of the Ring, something Frodo found he ultimately could not do.
The origins of this idea that a sudden positive event in the face of despair no doubt is derived from Tolkien's Catholicism. For he considered the Resurrection of Christ to be the ultimate eucatastrophe. Does this imply some kind of Divine Intervention? When the hobbits ask Tom Bombadil about his hearing their cries for help in the Old Forest, Tom replies "Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it." He says it wasn't his plan to be there. Was it someone else's?
Certainly, chance plays a part. But many times these chances present themselves because on the actions of Tolkien's characters who have free will. The paths that they choose lead to positive or negative events based on what motivates them. The decisions of Denethor and, to a lesser extent, Boromir are motivated by a desire for power to defeat their enemies. But this leads to their downfall. Faramir decides, against the wishes of his father, not to bring the Ring to Minas Tirith but rather to allow Frodo to continue on to Mordor. He is motivated by wisdom and prudence.
For Aragorn and Gandalf, they had to march towards the danger of certain death on the belief that Frodo and Sam would fulfill their Quest regardless of whatever dangers they encountered or whatever sacrifices they had to make. As it turned out, their faith was rewarded. And for Tolkien, when faith and hope win out over despair, a eucatastrophe occurs. The idea that there is just as much reason to believe in the possibility of a eucastastrophic event as a catastrophic one stirs the optimism of the reader and is, I believe, one of the reasons the story is so popular among so many different nations and cultures.
As we return to Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam wait for the end on a lone hill surrounded by the lava that is bursting from the heart of the mountain. Sam tells Frodo that despite the hopelessness he doesn't want to give up just yet. "It's not like me, somehow, if you understand", he says. As if in response to Sam's hope, Gwaihir and the other Eagles spy them on the mountain. And as the hobbits lay there worn out and collapsed from the heat and fumes, the birds swoop in and, taking great care, lift them up with their talons and fly back northwards away from the Black Land.
Sam wakes a full two weeks later to the fragrant smell of Ithilien and the sight of Gandalf, now dressed all in white, beside his bed. Frodo is there, too. The Wizard tells him that it is April 8th, the fourteenth day of the new year. Ever after in Gondor the new year would begin on March 25th to commemorate the overthrow and destruction of Sauron. He and Frodo are to be taken to see the King.
When they are able, the hobbits are brought onto the Field of Cormallen, which lay in North Ithilien between the refuge of Henneth Annun and the island of Cair Andros. As they are taken to the King, they see that he is in fact Strider whom they haven't seen since that terrible day at Parth Galen when the Fellowship was broken. A great ceremony takes place and the host that is assembled praises the two Ring-bearers for their heroic deeds. And then Aragorn, to the surprise of the hobbits, lowers himself on his knee and bows to them. In Peter Jackson's Return of the King, this scene is written a bit differently. At his coronation, all four hobbits bow to Aragorn who says in surprise, "My friends. You bow to no one!", before he and Arwen both bow to them, which everyone else does as well. It is a very emotional moment in the film, assisted by Howard Shore's powerful score, and it's perhaps one of my favorite moments in any of the movies.
Later, at a great feast, Frodo and Sam are reunited with the rest of the Fellowship: Merry, Pippin, Gimli and Legolas. They have a lot of stories to share with each other. After the celebration, the host makes ready to journey back to Minas Tirith, where the rightful King would officially return and enter the gates of the City.
[Chronology: March 25th through April 30th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Steward And The King