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The Impact Of Imagination On The Lord Of The Rings

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Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Complete Best-Selling Classic. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. 520-522.

The Battle of Helm's Deep marks the Rohirrim's defense of their people and their way of life against Saruman's orc armies. Though the Rohirrim have determined to march against Isenguard, they find themselves holed up in the fortified valley to face siege at the hands of Saruman's orcs and the wild men of the Dunland fells. At midnight, the invading army attacks and Aragorn and Eomer stand together atop the Deeping Wall to lead the defense. The purpose of this passage is to show the grim possibilities and near hopelessness of the situation and to highlight the determination and heroism of the Rohirrim, who must face a vastly larger force from a tenuous position.

The tone of the passage is dark and suspenseful, beginning with the description of the dark sky and the "stillness of the heavy air." The battle for Helm's Deep begins at midnight, symbolically the time in which darkness reigns, connoting the superior position of the evil forces.

When lightning strikes, it reveals an image of the valley that is "boiling and crawling with black shapes." As the Rohirrim survey the valley, the orc army is compared to the sea and described as a "dark tide" pounding against the gates of the fortress - "They wavered, broke, and fled back; and then charged again, broke and charged again; and each time, like the incoming sea, they halted at a higher point." This comparison emphasizes the overwhelming size of the invading army, which Tolkien numbers generally in the "hundreds and hundreds."

The battle is punctuated with lightning strikes and trumpet sounds. Throughout, Tolkien continues to compare the battle to an event of nature, referring to the storms of arrows and the hail of stones. These metaphors give the battle scene a feeling of tense inevitability and fill the reader with suspense.

Having been driven into the keep, the Rohirrim meet the charge of the army with silence and do not respond to the first flights of orc arrows. This initial quiet is disturbing to the invaders and they halt briefly as they are "foiled by the silent menace of rock and wall." This hesitation heightens the tension and adds to the suspense, and the moment is broken only when the orcs begin to scream and attack, waving their spears and swords wildly.

In the paragraphs that follow, it becomes



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