Impossible Odds, Unexpected Salvation

Justin Fike '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

An outnumbered group of heroes facing down impossible odds with incredible courage: This is a situation we often find in fantasy literature, though rarely do we find this epic dynamic more fully explored than in Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the Two Towers, the human kingdom of Rohan is assaulted by a massive army of orcs intent on their utter destruction, who lay siege to them in their ancient fortress of Helm's Deep.

It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark, and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash . . . For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes . . . hundreds and hundreds more were pouring over the Dike and through the breach.

After a long battle, the forces of men are nearly overcome, and choose to ride out for one last charge against the countless orcs. They expect it to be their last ride, but Gandalf appears over the horizon bringing reinforcements, and the day is saved by a hair's breadth

There suddenly upon a ridge appeared a rider, clad in white, shining in the rising sun. Over the low hills the horns were sounding. Behind him, hastening down the long slopes, were a thousand men on foot; their swords were in their hands.

This kind of salvation from an unexpected direction at the last moment is another common element of fantasy literature, and yet we rarely grow tired of it or fail to be stirred and excited by the heroes' triumph.


1. How is the story of the men of Rohan similar to that of Narnia in The Last Battle? How is it different?

2. Is the sudden salvation of the army of men at the end of the battle of Helm's Deep similar to Menolly's salvation by a dragonrider from the approaching Thread? Are orcs and thread similar or different?

3. Does Tolkien's use of these somewhat stereotypical literary elements help or hinder the story? Why or why not, and in what ways?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 25 February 2004