A Cock Crow Announces the Fall of Mordor

The Lord of the Nazgûl chooses to enter the gates of Minas Tirith on horseback. He has waited long years for this moment and it must be done in the appropriate manner. All the defenders of the city flee before him except one. Gandalf remains upon Shadowfax who does not desert him. Gandalf is steadfast but even he cannot stand alone before his enemies.

And then something happens that surely no one notices and yet Tolkien, as narrator, knows is of the most profound significance.

“Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.”

It is a glorious moment and one easily missed because of the event that follows immediately after. And Tolkien gives space to the moment because there is a theme that has run throughout The Lord of the Rings and that is the resistance of the natural world against all that the powers of darkness can hurl against it.

Contrast the massive effort that turns the mûmakil of the Harad, the “oliphaunts” that Sam so delighted to see in Ithilien into engines of war to the simplicity of the cockcrow. Think of how after all the effort to train them the Lord of the Nazgûl casually wastes their lives, for “their purpose was only to test the strength of the defence and to keep the men of Gondor busy in many places”. Contrast too the one horse upon which the Lord of the Ringwraiths rides, a once free and proud beast, savagely broken so that it might become the instrument of its master’s will, to the free  choice of Shadowfax who does not flee when  all others do, whether man or beast. Cavalry is the one thing that the forces of Mordor do not possess. The bond between horse and rider that Gandalf and Shadowfax display or which brings the Rohirrim to the battlefield can only be created by the armies of Mordor with the most brutal force and it is easier to put the energy that is required to break the horses to a different, though equally savage, use.

The cock crows in the city because it is a cock. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wonderfully declares in his great poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, 

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells; crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

 Note please that Hopkins does not say “What I do is for me”. The Lord of the Nazgûl says that endlessly even in his service of Sauron. What Hopkins declares is far more profound because unlike the slave King of Angmar Hopkins is free, as is the kingfisher, as is the cock in the city courtyard, as is Shadowfax, as is Gandalf. And so he can say “What I do is me”!

The day has dawned in the sky above the war in Minas Tirith despite all the mighty efforts of the Dark Lord. Far away Ghân-buri-Ghân sniffed the air on the previous day and a light came into his eyes as he said, “Wind is changing!” Sauron is not the lord of the weather despite all the outpouring of his might and for that brief and glorious moment as the cock crows in complete indifference of all the powers of darkness, “recking nothing of wizardry or war” he is not even lord of a simple creature who is being itself.

We will encounter many who claim to be “lords” and sometimes we will feel quite powerless before them. If we are to stand against them in total freedom as Gandalf does then we need to learn how to commune with all that is free, with the free creation that Selves. We need to learn how to delight in all around us in its freedom and its beauty. To allow it to be itself even as we learn to become our true selves.

 

 

6 thoughts on “A Cock Crow Announces the Fall of Mordor

  1. We can learn a lot about how to manage worry from those in nature. We let so much overwhelm us when we could instead greet the morning as a gift, defiantly resisting all the dark clouds about us that want to stress us out. The cock just goes about doing what it has ever done. Sauron cannot cow it as you mention. We should not let anything cow us either.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

  2. I’ve been reading your writings here for some time, but have felt shy of commenting, as I’ve nothing enlightening to say, merely that I have so appreciated the lift to my spirits you’ve given over the past year through your thoughtful and hope-filled reflections on this favorite set of books.

    This time, though, I had to comment, because you’ve touched on one moment in the books that means a lot to me. I’m so glad that you devoted a post to this wonderful but often forgotten little moment with the crowing cock. I love the way this moment shakes apart the dark mess and lets the light shine through the cracks. It’s one of a pair of moments that have the same effect for me, the crowing cock and Sam’s star over Mordor. They are two glimpses of the world outside the turmoil, two reminders that something else continues calmly, steadily, and faithfully along the way it’s supposed to go, no matter what racket of disturbance we’ve managed to tangle ourselves up in.

    I’ve found the natural world, animals, plants, weather, stars, always has this ability to bring us back to the center of what’s real, especially when we’re so stressed out that we just can’t see a way clear. That Tolkien was aware of this hopefulness of nature, and made room for it to be part of his story, strikes me as a reminder that this “shot of hope” isn’t only contrived for effect in a book, but is all around us in our lives, too, if we are alert enough to notice. When I read about the cock crowing in the middle of a terrible battle, just because the sun is coming up as usual, it makes me realize that the neighborhood dogs are barking at squirrels and the squirrels are running around collecting acorns, and the sun is rising and setting, no matter what’s going on in our messed-up human lives. And that somehow leads me back to trusting God, though I can’t explain exactly why.

    That’s why I’m so glad you wrote about the crowing cock. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much for being a regular reader of my blog and for leaving your first comment. I do hope that you will leave many more! I think you are quite right to connect this moment in the story and the wonderful moment when Sam sees the star in Mordor. I would also add the crown of flowers surrounding the head of the fallen king at the crossroads. As Frodo says at that moment, “They cannot conquer forever!”
      Just one further thought on that glorious moment at the gates of Minas Tirith: it is no ordinary sunrise that the cockerel announces, it is one that Sauron never intended to happen, hence the title of my piece.
      I loved your thought about the everyday sounds that play such a part in our lives. I begin each morning with a walk with my dog and one of the reasons that I do not play music through headphones is because I want to hear the sounds of the early morning, even the traffic on the nearby highway. And I look forward to the sounds of spring very much indeed.
      Every blessing.

  3. “…the resistance of the natural world against all that the powers of darkness can hurl against it.” I love the way you’ve stated this ever-present theme in the legendarium. Thank you for an excellent read!

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