The Greatest or Most Decisive?: The Battle of Five Armies vs The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Following in the trails of my recent article on The Battle of Five Armies (here) and the ongoing online discussion on whether ‘There And Back Again’ should portray the battle as either greater or smaller than the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, I have decided to give my two cents on the matter …

battle of five armies

The argument from a filmic point of view: Some people are worried that if the BoFA is portrayed in a much grander way, it may undermine the significance and meaning of the Pelennor Fields in ‘The Return of the King’ film. Whilst others are all in favour of the former …

To understand the concept and meaning of the two battles, we need to take into consideration both the books and the films as reference.

On the one hand, I tend to agree with those who claim that if the Battle of Five Armies is on a grander scale, it might “undermine” the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

But then again, if it turns out that the battle in ‘The Hobbit’ really is greater (visually), does that necessarily mean that the Pelennor Fields will lose its status and relevance in the story/film?

Surely not …

Whilst the BOFA had its own significance and considerable effects on the later events during the War of the Ring, the battle in the Pelennor Fields was the culmination of the War and the thread upon which the fate of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth rested on. So it certainly was a much more decisive battle than the one in ‘The Hobbit’ – and this is evident in both‘The Lord of the Rings’ book and the film trilogy.

In book terms, the Pelennor Fields might have retained the status of being the greatest battle in the Third Age (though I’m not exactly sure if it’s stated like that), but it does not necessarily mean that the BoFA in the films will affect the scope and meaning of the Pelennor Fields.  

Let’s take for instance the Battle of the Last Alliance (yes, Second Age not Third – but still) … Surely the armies gathered for that battle were far superior than either the BoFA or the Pelennor Fields (both in the book and film portrayal) and yet, does it have an impact on the climax of ‘The Return of the King’? – apparently not.

Last Alliance

Some might argue that in both the book and film, that particular battle is barely glimpsed at and therefore might not provide the necessary emotional resonance as the other two … fair enough. The Battle of the Last Alliance had, nonetheless, its own impact on the story (with the Fall of Sauron and the Ring ending up in the hands of Isildur) and yet the size and numbers of the battle don’t really matter after all. 

I’ll be honest. I was a bit shocked at first  at the sudden realization of the possible impact and effect on the Pelennor Fields, if the BoFA DOES turn out to be grander in scale. But then I started thinking of both battles in terms of the narrative.

pelennor fields

In ‘The Hobbit’ the Battle of Five Armies could be seen as just another battle fought throughout the Third Age for particular reasons (in this case, the gold of Erebor). In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, the stakes are much higher and whilst the Pelennor Fields (along with the Battles of Dale and Lorien) involves different races, ultimately it’s all about Frodo and the Ring – armies sacrificing themselves to keep evil at bay whilst detracting the attention of Sauron and buying time for the hobbit and the Quest.

So ultimately, if PJ decides to portray the BoFA as an even larger event than the Pelennor Fields, I for one won’t be anxious about the possibility of it undermining the battle in‘The Return of the King’, because it won’t.

No matter how great, visually pleasing and emotionally resonant the Battle of Five Armies is, the Pelennor Fields (and even the Battle of the Morannon) will always remain the central fulcrum of the entire six films ….

Phew … that’s a load off my chest!

(Images taken from the ‘Heirs of Durin’ site; Battle of Five Armies image is ““The Battle Under the Mountain” by Matt Stewart from the Tolkien Gateway.)

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