January 12, 2015

Gundabad - What was that exactly?

"The Battle of the Five Armies" spoiler warning!

The Battle of the Five Armies surprised me in many ways.  I already dealt with the most jarring embellishment, the Were-worms, in an earlier post.  Now I turn towards that fortress Legolas and Tauriel travelled to in the film.  Unlike the aforementioned worms, Gundabad plays a significant role in the the story of Middle-earth.  However, that role is a bit different in the book(s) than in the movie so in this post I want to take a look at the mountain/fortress as Tolkien described it, uncover its rich history, and compare that to the version Peter Jackson depicted.

Gundabad as seen in "The Battle of the Five Armies"

Gundabad's early history....
The history of Gundabad, or Mount Gundabad as it should be called, goes back to near the beginning of Middle-earth.  According to the dwarves, it is where the first of their race, Durin the Deathless, awoke shortly after the the elves appeared.  From that time on it was regarded as a sacred place of sorts, highly revered by the dwarves.  However, no large dwarven settlement was ever established there.  After awakening, Durin travelled south and founded the dwarf kingdom of Khazad-dum, or Moria as it was later called, and that became the capital or main stronghold of the Longbeards (Durin's Folk - Thorin Oakenshield's family). 

     For the rest of the Years of the Trees and the First Age the Misty Mountains remained a relatively peaceful area, or at least no major conflicts are recorded.  The next mention of Gundabad appears about 2700 hundred years later when Sauron invaded Eriador in the year 1697 of the Second Age.  During that campaign the dwarves of Khazad-dum allied with the elves against Sauron, earning the Dark Lord's hatred.  Orcs were let loose upon the dwarves in retaliation and before long they successfully carried out the First Sacking of Gundabad and occupied it for the next forty-five hundred years.  

The realm of Angmar circled in red. ("Suza" marks
where the Shire lay.)
     Later, during that long occupation by the orcs, the realm of Angmar rose in the north of Middle-earth in the year 1300 of the Third Age (T.A.).  Led by the Witch-King, it proved a serious threat to Arnor, the Elves of Rivendell, Hobbits, and the other Free Peoples before Sauron returned.  Its dominions stretched across either sides of the Misty Mountains, and it was control of Mt. Gundabad that secured this power.  From that central location attacks could be launched on either side - against Arnor in the west or against the men who lived in the Vales of Anduin in the east.  The enemy's hold on the mountain was so strong that even after Angmar was defeated in 1975 T.A. Gundabad still remained under orc control.
     This orcish occupation of the site where Durin the Deathless awoke did not sit too well with the dwarves and when the War of the Dwarves and Orcs broke out in 2793 T.A. (after Thror's murder) Gundabad was one of the dwarves' first targets.  The Second Sacking of Gundabad was carried out and the orcs were apparently cleansed from the area.  However, not long after the dwarves' campaign moved south towards Moria orcs soon repopulated the region around Gundabad and by the time of The Hobbit in the year 2941 T.A. it had once again become the capital of the orcs and goblins in the North.

In The Hobbit itself...

     Now we come to the point where Gundabad actually plays a part in the story of The Hobbit.  During the chapter titled, The Clouds Burst, Tolkien gives us an explanation for the sudden arrival of an army of Goblins and Wild Wolves (or Wargs).

Mt. Gundabad
Ever since the fall of the Great Goblin of the Misty Mountains the hatred of their race for the dwarves had been rekindled to fury.  Messengers had passed to and fro between all their cities, colonies, and strongholds; for they resolved now to win the domination of the North.  Tidings they had gathered in secret ways; and in all the mountains there was a forging and an arming.  Then they marched and gathered by hill and valley, going ever by tunnel or under dark, until around and beneath the great mountain of Gundabad of the North, where was their capital, a vast host was assembled ready to sweep down in time of storm unawares upon the South.
This "vast host" was led by Bolg, son of Azog in an attack on the Lonely Mountain after word had spread of Smaug's death.

     During the Battle of Five Armies the goblins were routed (after Beorn killed Bolg) and it is said that "three parts" of all the goblin warriors of the North were destroyed.  Their loss majorly impacted the region for the rest of the Third Age.  The orcs and goblins of the northern Misty Mountains would never again, for the rest of Middle-earth's recorded history, provide such a serious threat to the safety of the Free Peoples (despite the fact that some orcs remained at Mt. Gundabad and other colonies).

In the film...

In the last Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, Peter Jackson & Co. have added a bit to Tolkien's history I've summarized above.  First, Gundabad is used as part of Sauron's strategic plan to overwhelm the North.  In the films it seems that Sauron's first plan to re-conquer Middle-earth rested entirely with the idea of re-establishing the Realm of Angmar.  Gundabad provided the key to that land.  To accomplish his goal Sauron needed to move his servants north-west from Dol Guldur (see map below).  Going so close to the Lorien and the Great Eagles probably wouldn't have been a smart decision so Sauron sent his forces around the eastern side of Mirkwood.  Plus, Azog was apparently instructed to take and secure the Lonely Mountain* and that route conveniently passed right by Erebor.  If successful it would have been a decisive victory.  Not only would Sauron have an enormous amount of treasure for which to pay his mercenaries, but he would have also isolated Dain and the dwarves of the Iron Hills.  Remember, Easterlings lived just south and east of Erebor, and many of their men served in Sauron's armies.  They could've besieged the Iron Hills from the south and east while one of Sauron's armies could have held them in on the west.  From the Lonely Mountain Sauron would've had a clear road to the the Grey Mountains and to Angmar.  From Angmar he could then assemble the evil creatures (as he was apparently already doing - Bolg was able to get the army together pretty quickly) living in the North and launch an assault into Eriador (the Shire, Bree, Rivendell, etc.).  However, things didn't go as planned.  Smaug was destroyed and armies of Elves, Dwarves, and Men assembled at the Mountain.  Azog sent Bolg to gather the army at Gundabad to serve as reinforcements in preparation for a stout defense of the Mountain.  Then, during the battle Azog's forces were defeated and Sauron resorted to focusing his attention on Gondor and the South.

Sauron's strategy for conquering Middle-earth in The Hobbit films.

     Second, the filmmakers add some backstory with Mirkwood Elves and Legolas's mother.  Nothing is said of the Elvenking's wife in Tolkien's books, but in the film we learn she apparently died at or near Gundabad while their people were at war with the Realm of Angmar.  No such struggles were ever recorded by Tolkien, but it's an entirely safe assumption considering Angmar's strength and close proximity to Mirkwood.

     Third, and this is more of a minor point, Gundabad is depicted as a fortress in the mountains, not necessarily a fortress in/on a mountain.  Mt. Gundabad  was a very large, distinctive mountain, traditionally depicted with 3 conjoined peaks, but this has entirely been done away with in favor of a fortress reminiscent of Minas Morgul.   

*This begs the question though, why would Sauron need to send out an army to secure Erebor if Smaug already held the Lonely Mountain?  Remember, Sauron sent out his army from Dol Guldur in DoS, before Smaug was killed.  There could be a few explanations.  First, the events in the movies aren't depicted in exact chronological sequence.  During the end of DoS and the beginning of BotFA the story jumps between many different characters and plot threads (Thorin, Bard, Kili, and Gandalf primarily) that all take place at about the same time.  Perhaps Sauron really sent out his army soon after he heard Smaug had been destroyed.  Second, Azog's army could really be heading straight to Angmar and the Lonely Mountain was intended to be a stopping point until they heard of the dragon's fall.  Third, Sauron intended for Smaug to attack with his orcs.  In many of the great Silmarillion battles dragons often went to war with armies of orcs.  Or, perhaps the orcs were intended to hold the Mountain while Smaug was away laying waste to Sauron's enemies.  Fourth, since don't know if Smaug was entirely aligned with Sauron, perhaps the army was sent to force Smaug to give up some of the treasure.  In the end Sauron's true intentions are a bit vague.  They make it clear that he intended to rebuild Angmar and acquisition of the Lonely Mountain was required, but his reasoning and the details of his plan aren't perfectly laid out.  I hope we get some more explanation in the Extended Edition, but perhaps we were never intended to fully know just as Gandalf had to piece together the puzzle.   

     Well there you have it.  Nearly everything you could ever want to know about Mt. Gundabad.   What did you think of PJ & Co.'s use of the fortress in the film?  Despite all the changes along the way, it ended up being fairly accurate to the book in some regards.  Bolg ended up leading a large goblin army (accompanied by bats) from Gundabad to attack the Lonely Mountain.  Even so, did you find Sauron's strategy a bit confusing?  Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below!  


  1. I think Mt. Gundabad plays a very significant role because it completes the chain across Middle Earth. Mt. Gundabad, Dol Guldor, and Mordor split Middle Earth in two, which makes it easier for Sauron to destroy the Free Peoples(divide and conquer)

  2. i think that they are needing to connect the lord of the rings as you said to the hobbit as it is a prologue. so it seems that sauron would come to mind,and he needs a fortress,after all,so they probably looked at the mountains fortres and embeleshed it to suit their needs M.S.M

    1. Absolutely Michael, in these Hobbit films they've tried really hard to draw more connections to the LotR story as Tolkien himself did after publishing The Hobbit. A lot of this material has been embellishments, but it is all based on snippets from the Appendices of LotR.