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In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings Gandalf the Grey Wizard duels the Nine Black Riders, including the infamous Witch King, on the summit of a hill named Weathertop. One might say the October 3rd encounter was a draw BUT Gandalf leaves the scene, and five of the Nine attack Strider and the four hobbits three nights later at Weathertop. Whether Strider should have had the company go to Weathertop at all is debatable. There is probably something to be said for just Strider actually going to Weathertop, and having the hobbits and their pony keep going due east while remaining well north of Weathertop. Gandalf at the Council of Elrond (October 25) later remarks that four of the Black Riders had briefly followed him as he fled northeast. It is true that left only five to attack the hobbits, but five was more than enough to wound Frodo. Had the Black Riders simply slaughtered the four hobbits or even just wounded Frodo and Bill the pony it is likely the book would have ended very early. Later on January 15, Gandalf stands alone on a narrow bridge to save the Fellowship (the four hobbits plus Strider having been supplemented by Gimli the Dwarf, Legoslas the woodland elf and Boromir, man of Gondor) from a Balrog, which is a fire-demon about equal in power to Gandalf. It is not exactly clear when Gandalf dies in that encounter, but he is sent back (resurrected) with greater powers. Later on March 13 during the chapter titled The Siege of Gondor, Gandalf mounted on his horse Shadowfax drives off some (exact number hard to discern) of the Nine who by this time are flying on beasts that sound like pterodactyls. At the end of the chapter on March 15 the Witch King had cast a spell that helped the forces of Mordor shatter the main gate of the city of Minas Tirith. The Witch King is ready to ride through the ruins of gate in triumph but he is opposed by Gandalf mounted on Shadowfax. Just as it seems a magical duel is going to start a rooster crows. “And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindoulluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”   It is very tempting 75-odd years later to draw a correspondence with England (=Gondor) and especially London (=Minas Tirith) going through the Battle of Britain (Churchill’s speech June 18 1940; actual combat July 10 to October 31) and the Blitz (dates depend on who is writing the history – perhaps September 7 to May 31 1941) and waiting for help from America (=Rohan). As far as I am aware, no one ever surveyed American politicians and asked if the failure to help the British had, in retrospect, any justification. Any. Any at all.

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