October 27, 2014

What are the Armies in "The Battle of Five Armies"?

The Battle of Five Armies - Watercolor and Digital - Justin Gerad
What armies fought on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain?  The answer is plainly stated in the book, but there still seems to be some confusion...

The issue...

Ever since the name of the last Hobbit film was (unfortunately) changed from There and Back Again to The Battle of the Five Armies I've noticed a dramatic increase in comments like this (seen below) on social media sites and particularly on YouTube.

It's a perfectly legitimate question, especially if it comes from someone who never read the book (although, they aren't completely off the hook because everyone should read The Hobbit).  The trouble comes when others who either did not read the book or have a poor(er) memory incorrectly rattle off a list of armies.

Of course it's a Star Wars fan who makes such claims... ;-)

In reply to someone else who suggested hobbits made up one of the armies (a ridiculous comment):

Seriously?  So the Eagles are the fifth army just because you say so?  Don't you have any proof?!  I wouldn't be so irked if people were honestly mistaken and allowed themselves to be corrected once shown an example from the text, but others in the YouTube comments on this same video provided evidence from The Hobbit itself refuting the false claims and yet the argument still persists!

The armies as Tolkien described them...

     OK, ranting aside, let's settle down and look at the evidence.  In The Hobbit the entire sequence of the Battle of Five Armies is told in Chapter XVII, The Clouds Burst.  If you move down to the top of paragraph 44 you'll read the following.
So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible.  Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves. (emphasis added)
Tolkien couldn't be more clear.  He states that the Battle of Five Armies began and then in the following sentence lists those 5 armies!  On the one side we have the Elves, Men, and Dwarves and on the other the Goblins and Wargs (a term used interchangeably with Wild Wolves).

A quick little graphic I drew up to illustrate

Cause for confusion - Will the films be different?

     No one is really arguing about who the good guys are - it's the villains that cause so much trouble.  This is where I think the Peter Jackson films have confused things.  Going back to Cmarsmith95's comment posted above, he claims that wargs are simply mounts for goblins to ride upon.  Actually, in The Hobbit they were not just tamed beasts but sentient, calculating, intelligent, malicious creatures.  They even had their own language (Chapter VI).  In the films they are much more simple and stupid, only used by orcs to hunt.  I believe this has made wargs, in the minds of the average moviegoer, incapable of forming a unified, organized, motivated army.  In the films they really are just mounts.

      That brings up another point of discussion; who or what rides the wargs?  In The Hobbit it is an army of goblins and wargs that attacks the "Allies" on the Lonely Mountain, not orcs and wargs.  This is another discrepancy between the different tellings.  In the book the goblins' chief purpose for going to war is revenge, retaliation for the death of the Goblin King as described in Chapter IV, Over Hill and Under Hill.  In the films orcs were sent by Sauron in Dol Guldur to attack.

     That being said, could we see a different grouping of forces come December? If wargs are too stupid in the films to form an army what will fill their place? Perhaps the Eagles could. I've tried to remain spoiler-free as much as possible (which is really hard), so there may be some interview or spy report that confirms this already. It seems like a logical choice though wouldn't it? Gandalf, Bilbo, and/or Beorn don't make up a whole army. Eagles are the only remaining option. In the book the Eagles came in towards the very end of the conflict and aren't technically an army (an organized military force equipped for fighting on land) so they weren't counted among the main contingents. A second possible replacement for the wargs could also be vampire-like bats. They came to the mountain with the goblins and contributed to the atmosphere and climate of the battle, but there is little indication that they actually allied with one side or the other. They just came along to get a drink. As seen in promotional material and heard in rumours, they will appear in the film. We just don't know yet exactly how big of a role they will play.

(Finally, before I end it must also be noted that in Ralph Bakshi's 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit the wargs are substituted with Eagles. This may have caused some confusion with older fans.)

Whatever ends up on the silver screen, the 5 armies in Tolkien's battle will always be made up of dwarves, elves, men, goblins, and wargs!

The Battle of Five Armies by John Blanche

1 comment:

  1. That makes sense, because we should just go back to what Tolkien said. And, in the book really the only big part the Eagles play is in driving the orcs out from behind the Allies. Beorn is almost an army in himself, but technically he isn't classified as an army. Great post.