fords of isen


Helm’s Deep was a narrow valley in the White Mountains. Within this there was a fortress known as the Hornburg. The Hornburg was built by the old Gondorians (Numenoreans) along with Isengard to defend the Fords of Isen.  Along with the keep was the Deeping Wall to defend the valley and Helm’s Dike to defend the hills outside. Inside the mountain behind the keep was the Glittering Caves, a complex escape route of tunnels. When Rohan became independent Helm’s Deep became a garrison for the Rohirrim, and served them well during a succession war with the Dunlendings. During the War the people of Rohan under Helm Hammerhand withstood a long siege against the men of Dunland, but were ultimately victorious when Gondor came to aid them. Helm Hammerhand died after blowing the great horn in the keep and leading a sortie against the Dunlendings. During the War of the Ring it was used as a last refuge for Rohan’s people as the forces of Saruman attacked. The garrison of Edoras, The Three Hunters, Rohan’s royal family, and refugees from the countryside all went to the fort, Gandalf went to seek the disbanded Rohirrim roaming the countryside and promised to return with reinforcements. Saruman attacked with an army of Uruk-Hai, Orcs, Dunlendings, and siege weaponry including rams, ladders, and “blasting fire” (possibly or similar to gunpowder). The Battle of Helm’s Deep consisted of a skirmish at Helm’s Dike, the prolonged fighting at the Deeping Wall ending with a large breach in an open culvert (courtesy of Saruman’s “devilry”), and the final battle for the keep. With the remaining Rohirrim and the Three Hunters trapped in the keep defending the women and children in the Glittering Caves, they sallied forth once more under the horn of the Hornburg to meet the enemy. They rode out into the horde as Gandalf returned with an army of Rohirrim. Saruman’s forces were routed, and the retreating orcs and Dunlendings were destroyed by the Huorns (Ents) of Fangorn. The uruk-hai and orcs were piled into a large mound while the dead Rohirrim were buried. The fortress was rebuilt with dwarven stonework, a new gate, and the Glittering Caves became a dwarf colony under Gimli. 

“’This is more to my liking,’ said the dwarf, stamping on the stones. ‘Ever my heart rises as we draw near the mountains. There is good rock here. This country has tough bones. I felt them in my feet as we came up from the dike. Give me a year and a hundred of my kin and I would make this a place that armies would break upon like water.’” - Gimli upon inspecting the fortress before the battle. The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep.


The History of Middle-earth \ Kings of Rohan Part II

For two generations, during the coincidental conflict many thousands of Orcs tried to claim a refuge in the White Mountains and troubled the Rohirrim; Brytta fought them off, and when he died it was believed Rohan was free of Orcs; they were not entirely driven from the White Mountains until T.A. 2864 by Folca.

Around 2960 Saruman started to harass Rohan and in 3014, he began using his influence to weaken the King, Théoden, as part of a campaign to invade or take over the kingdom. In 3019, he launched a full-scale invasion of Rohan, with victories; (Théoden’s son, Théodred was killed during the First Battle of the Fords of Isen) and defeat at the Battle of the Hornburg, where the Huorns came to the aid of the Rohirrim. On the heels of this victory, Théoden rode with an army to Minas Tirith and helped break its siege in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where he was slain. Éomer, the nephew of King Théoden, then succeeded to the throne, beginning the third line.”

Marshals of the Riddermark

Traditionally, Rohan’s army had three chief commanders: the First, Second, and Third Marshals of the Riddermark, in descending rank. The First Marshal was always in charge of the military based in Edoras. The Second and Third Marshals were assigned territory depending on the situation (so, for example, during the war with Saruman, the Second Marshal was in charge of the West-mark, where all the action was.)

Because Theoden had become king at a pretty young age, and was more than capable of riding into battle, he made himself the First Marshal. When they were old enough, his son Theodred was Second Marshal, and his nephew Eomer was Third Marshal (who was in charge of the East-mark, by the way.) 

This actually contributed to all the problems Rohan faced during their conflict with Saruman. Since Theoden aged so rapidly and unnaturally, he never adjusted the ranks - Theodred should have been made First Marshal, etc, but it never happened. So Rohan essentially lost a marshal as Theoden fell under Grima’s control. And Tolkien tells us “this situation continued, and there was no effective central command: a state of affairs encouraged by his counsellor Gríma.” Even worse, this meant that when Theodred died Rohan was now down to a single Marshal, Eomer, who was soon after placed under arrest. Had Gandalf, Aragorn, and the others not arrived, Rohan would have been left without a central military command, a king firmly under Grima/Saruman’s control, and a giant army marching towards them. To Rohan’s credit, Tolkien mentions that some leaders (namely Erkenbrand and Elhelm) did what they could to fill this positions, but still - the situation was pretty grim.

Having lived through all of this, it’s not too surprising that Eomer changed the rules a bit when he became king. In the Fourth Age the First, Second, Third Marshals were replaced by a Marshal of the West-Mark and Marshal of the East-Mark which were equal in rank (for those interested, the first appointed were Erkenbrand to the west, and Elfhelm to the east.) Furthermore, during times of war an Underking was appointed to replace the king should he die (also to rule in his stead if the king went to war, or to lead the army if the king remained behind.)

SOURCES: The Unfinished Tales (“The Battles of the Fords of Isen”)

The Fellowship and the Gap of Rohan

This was, of course, the route that Boromir suggested to the fellowship (especially after the Redhorn Pass proved unmanageable), saying “If we cannot cross the mountains, let us journey southwards, until we come to the Gap of Rohan, where men are friendly to my people, taking the road that I followed on my way hither.” However, it is quickly shot down by Gandalf (and earlier Frodo overheard Aragorn criticizing this route for the same reason), citing the dangerous proximity to Isengard and Saruman.

But what exactly would the fellowship have encountered on this path? There is, of course, the truly dangerous proximity to Saruman (and, while avoiding Moria would have avoided Gandalf’s duel with the balrog, there’s a good chance he would have been lost in a duel with Saruman anyway.) Beyond Saruman himself there’s his armies to content with - the orcs and uruk-hai as well as the Dunlendings Saruman had manipulated into joining his cause. The Dunlendings are important since they live in - of course - Dunland, which is the region bordering the southern segment of the Misty Mountains. So even before reaching the Gap of Rohan itself, the fellowship would have been dodging suspicious men for much of their southern trek. Gandalf sums all this up by saying that “The danger will increase with every league that we go south under the naked sky.”

And then there are the risks that Gandalf and Aragorn didn’t know about. While they knew of Saruman’s rising power, they probably didn’t predict the open warfare it would cause in Rohan (especially since, at the time, they were pretty suspicious of Rohan’s loyalties anyway.) In fact, I think there’s a decent chance the fellowship would have reached the Gap of Rohan only to find a battlefield lying between them, Isengard, and the relative safety of Rohan itself. Because in late February and early March the Gap of Rohan was the location of the Battles of the Fords of Isen. And, seeing as how the journey from Rivendell to Moria took 19 days (December 25-January 13), I estimate that they’d arrive at the Fords of Isen around late February (seeing as how, to avoid the Dunlendings and Saruman’s spies, the southern half of the journey would go much more slowly.)

Finally, there’s the opportunity cost. While traveling through Moria did have some very negative effects on the fellowship (mainly the loss of Gandalf), it had some great benefits as well. Mainly the fellowship’s stay in Lorien, and the advice and gifts of Galadriel. After all, how would Frodo and Sam gotten past Shelob without Galadriel’s phial?

SOURCES: LotR, The Unfinished Tales (“The Battles of the Fords of Isen”)

((The map is an excerpt from Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle Earth))

The Unfinished Tales

I am a huge fan of the Unfinished Tales, so I’m going to say absolutely yes. The book is made up of four individual chapters/essays, which honestly include something for every type of Tolkien fan. Here’s an idea of what you get with this book:

  • “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” If you’re already familiar with The Silmarillion, you know the basic story of Tuor and Gondolin. This first part is a much more detailed description of Tuor’s early life, his meeting with Ulmo, and his journey to Gondolin with Voronwe. It’s written in narrative form, so it’s basically a short story.
  • “Narn i Hin Hurin (The Children of Hurin)” Again, for those who’ve already read The Silmarillion, the full story of the children of Hurin is already familiar. This is a more detailed version (which later was written in an even more detailed version and published as The Children of Hurin.) So Turin fans, this one’s for you!
  • “A Description of the Island of Numenor” The title is pretty self-explanatory. But if you were ever curious about Numenor, it’s a must-read.
  • “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” I love this story. Love it. Not only is it a good story in it’s own right, but it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a “normal” “every-day” love story in Middle Earth. Also, it includes tons of interesting information about Numenor, its customs, and its rulers.
  • “The Line of Elros: Kings of Numenor” This is basically a glossary of Numenor’s rulers - an invaluable resource for any Numenor fans out there.
  • “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” This chapter is definitely the book’s heavy hitter. Despite the title, this essay will actually give you tons of new information on all sorts of elves - especially Eregion and the Sindarin elves of Mirkwood and Lorien (any Thranduil fans out there? Yeah, this is for you.)
  • “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” In this short narrative, Tolkien goes into the story of Isildur’s death in more detail. Great for anyone interested in Gondor’s early history, or in Isildur in general.
  • “Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan” Are you a fan of Rohan? Or of Gondor? Or of the friendship between Rohan and Gondor? This is the story of Eorl, the first king of Rohan, and how he became the first king of Rohan. It also includes some fascinating information about mid-Third Age Gondor.
  • “The Quest of Erebor” Hobbit fans! Gandalf fans! Listen up - this section is another narrative. It’s Gandalf talking to a few members of the fellowship after the quest (while they’re all relaxing in Minas Tirith.) He ends up telling them his version of the beginning of The Hobbit - fascinating, and kind of funny. Because, you know, Gandalf.
  • “The Hunt for the Ring” Interested in what the nazgul were up to during the early chapters of Fellowship of the Ring? This account followers their actions (including some interesting information on the relationship between Saruman and Mordor.)
  • “The Battles of the Fords of Isen” For anyone wanting more information on what was happening in Rohan just before we arrive there in Two Towers, this section is for you. It focuses on Rohan’s early battles with Saruman, before Gandalf and the others arrive, and the Battle of Helm’s Deep, etc.
  • “The Druedain” For anyone interested in the men of the First Age, or looking to learn more about (in my opinion) the most mysterious and fascinating mannish culture of Middle Earth. The Druedain is part essay on this strange sub-culture, and part short story about the friendship between a man of the Druedain and a man of the House of Haleth.
  • “The Istari” Have you been wondering just what the wizards are? Where they came from, when and why? Or how they were chosen in the first place? Then this short essay is definitely for you!
  • “The Palantiri” The Palantir seeing-stones are a mysterious part of Lord of the Rings. This essay tells us all about the stones themselves - their abilities and history.

Anyway, the book is really fantastic, and I’d highly recommend it to a Tolkien fan looking to learn more about Middle Earth (and the mix of narratives and essays makes it especially great for anyone who’s not necessarily looking to “study” Middle Earth, and would prefer to learn things in story-form.)

SOURCES: The Unfinished Tales, obviously

Short Stories About Middle Earth

For the purpose of narrowing down this post, I’m only listing short stories actually written by Tolkien himself. Even so, Tolkien wrote several “short stories” (basically short narratives that didn’t make it into any of the major published works) that are both enjoyable and informative:

  • “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” (The Unfinished Tales) This is a sort of prequel/expansion of the beginning of “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” from The Silmarillion. It basically goes into much greater detail of Tuor’s youth and journey to Gondolin with Voronwe.
  • “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” (The Unfinished Tales) This is a must-read for anyone who wishes we saw more “everyday” stories about Middle Earth. The main focus of the story is the romantic/personal drama between Aldarion, heir of Numenor, and his wife Erendis.
  • “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” (The Unfinished Tales) This narrative tells the story of Isildur’s death, in much much more detail than the mentions we get from Lord of the Rings. It also offers a sort of “deleted scene” of Aragorn and his friends looking through Orthanc after the War of the Ring.
  • “Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan” (The Unfinished Tales) Just as it sounds, this is the story of Cirion (steward of Gondor) and Eorl (first king of Rohan), and how Rohan came to be, and how the friendship between their two countries formed.
  • “The Quest of Erebor” (The Unfinished Tales) This short narrative is Gandalf talking to the hobbits in Minas Tirith after the War of the Ring, and reflecting on his point of view of the beginning of The Hobbit (meeting Thorin and convincing him to take Bilbo on the quest.)
  • “The Hunt for the Ring” (The Unfinished Tales) This short narrative is really a description of what Gollum and the nazgul were up to during the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • “The Battle of the Fords of Isen” (The Unfinished Tales) This piece falls somewhere between narrative and essay, to be honest - it kind of reads like a chapter from a history textbook, since it’s really Tolkien giving a historical account of the war in Rohan up until Aragorn and the others arrived on the scene.
  • “The Druedain: The Faithful Stone” (The Unfinished Tales) Included as an appendix to an essay on the Druedain, this short story is a folktale surviving from the First Age. It tells the story of the friendship between Aghan and Barach, and some of the magic that Aghan used to protect his friends.
  • “The Lost Road” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 5) This one’s interesting - it’s actually the beginning of a time-traveling story that Tolkien wrote as part of a science-fiction challenge with C.S. Lewis. Though the story isn’t complete, the premise was connecting Numenor with the “real world” through a series of father/son duos with similar names (seriously, Tolkien is such a linguistics nerd.)
  • “The Epilogue” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 9) An epilogue to Lord of the Rings that Tolkien ultimately abandoned, this short story is a conversation between Sam and his children, as they ask questions about the story.
  • “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 10) Though it’s not really short (and it’s not really a story), this narrative is a long philosophical debate between Finrod, a Noldorin prince, and Andreth, a wise-woman of the Edain. It includes, among other things, an account of the early days of men, and Andreth’s romance with Finrod’s brother Aegnor.
  • “The Cuivienyarna” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 11) This short legend (technically an appendix to a long linguistic essay), tells the folktale-ish version of the awakening of the elves, and how the three great cultural groups (Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri) were formed.
  • “The Shibboleth of Feanor” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12) This is another story hidden inside a linguistic essay. But it basically gives a much ore detailed account of the dramatic story of the death of Miriel, Finwe’s first wife, and his marriage to Indis, his second wife, and the many negative feelings his son Feanor had about the whole situation.
  • “The New Shadow” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12) This is the beginnings of a sequel to Lord of the Rings that Tolkien abandoned after writing only 6 pages. While you can’t really get a sense of the plot, though, those 6 pages do provide an interesting look at “everyday” Gondor in the Fourth Age.

Many of Tolkien’s other writings (the more scholarly/essay-type writings) also include bits of narratives, or summaries of stories, that I think are very interesting. But if I were to create an anthology of Tolkien’s “short stories”, these are the ones I would include.

SOURCES: The Unfinished Tales, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 5, 9, 10, 11, and 12

The Best and Worst Stewards of Gondor

Compared to the kings, Tolkien doesn’t tell us as much about the stewards of Gondor. I’d say they overall did a positive job, but since it would take to long to talk about all 26 of them, here are what I think were the best (and worst) ruling stewards:


  • Mardil Voronwe (ruled 2050-2080) The first ruling steward, Mardil was awesome in a couple of ways. First of all, he set a very noble precedent for the ruling stewards - because nobody ever knew what exactly happened to Earnur (the last king), Mardil swore to rule “until the King’s return”, and this oath was repeated by each steward after him. He was a capable ruler on his own, and earned the name “Voronwe”, which meant “steadfast.”
  • Boromir I (ruled 2477-2489) Boromir I ruled after Denethor I, and inherited a Gondor that was at war with the renewed strength of Minas Morgul, and had recently lost Osgiliath and Ithilien. He led Gondor’s armies into several battles, and managed to push the orcs back out of Ithilien (though the region remained depopulated), and broke the stone bridge of Osgiliath as a defense against future attacks. Through his military career Boromir I came to be feared even by the Witch King, though he did suffer from a morgul wound that significantly shortened his life.
  • Cirion (ruled 2489-2549) The son of Boromir I, Cirion also faced significant military threats against Gondor. While the orcs of Mordor had been driven back, Gondor was now under threat from the Balchoth of Rhovanion. Unable to fight off the invaders alone, Cirion requested help from the Eotheod. His call was answered by their king, Eorl. After fighting off the Balchoth together, Cirion offered Eorl the land of Calenardhon (now known as Rohan.) The two then swore an oath of alliance and friendship between Gondor and Rohan that proved to be very important in the future.

THE WORST STEWARDS: (relatively - none of them were really actually bad, as far as I can tell)

  • Denethor I (ruled 2435-2477) Okay, so this is totally not Denethor I’s fault, but it was during his reign that Sauron started regrowing his strength at Dol Guldur. Also during this time, an army of orcs and Uruk-hai attacked Gondor from Minas Morgul and took possession of Osgiliath and Ithilien. Again, not actually his fault, but on paper he doesn’t look too great…
  • Egalmoth (ruled 2698-2743) Again, not really a “bad steward.” But he was busy with Gondor’s renewed war with the orcs that, when the king of Rohan asked for help fighting the Dunlendins, Egalmoth wasn’t able to send any soldiers to help.
  • Beren (ruled 2743-2763) This is the steward responsible for handing control of Isengard over to Saruman. Though, at the time, this was a good decision - keeping a wizard at Isengard helped Gondor and Rohan defend against the hostile Dunlendings. Despite this, retrospect tells us that it was a bad idea to give Saruman so much power in the region.

SOURCES: LOTR Appendices, The Unfinished Tales (“Cirion and Eorl”, “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”), The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12 (“The Heirs of Elendil”)

Eomer and Eowyn's Childhoods

I can tell you that they were the children of Eomund (noble-born and Marshall of the Mark) and Theodwyn (sister of King Theoden.) They were raised in Aldburg, one of the oldest towns in Rohan (and actually originally served as the capital, until it was moved to Edoras.) Aldburg was still home to many nobles, and also served as the central point of the Muster of the East-mark, which means there would have been plenty of riders/warriors about. 

I can also tell you that both their parents died in 3002 TA, when Eomer was 11 and Eowyn 7. Eomund died in battle, and Theodwyn died of grief shortly after. So Eomer and Eowyn went to live in Edoras with their uncle, King Theoden. Theoden’s wife had died many years before this, and Theoden’s son Theodred was already 24, but it seems that the four formed a fairly close family. 

Any details beyond that are up to you to imagine yourself. :)

SOURCES: LOTR, LOTR Appendices, The Unfinished Tales (“The Battles of the Fords of Isen”)