With The Hobbit, Part 1 of Question Mark now in wide release, the internet needs to prepare itself for the deluge of dweebs who will surely take issue with this or that aspect, citing the Silmarillion and the notes of Christopher Tolkien like they were writing a legal brief. Their complaints will be about inconsistencies with the literary source of the movies, and that’s boring.
Rather, let us return to the biggest problem in the Lord of the Rings epic. I’m not talking about the 800-page nature walk or the thousands of pages of rote conversation about what to do next. I refer to a key problem with the whole grand final battle, the big event: the fact that Aragorn somehow fails to mention, at any point, despite ample opportunity, that he just happens to be able to call on an invulnerable army of the dead.
Let’s be clear that having the ability to summon an INVULNERABLE ARMY OF THE DEAD might be useful, if planning a war. And not only does he have the ability to summon them, but it is “foretold” that he’ll do so (a foretelling in Middle Earth is akin to a Nate Silver prediction in our time– the shit’s going down whether you throw a fit on Fox News or not). So why allow so much bloodshed before mentioning this important strategic game-changer? Doesn’t seem like a quality I’d look for in a returning king. I think a real monarch would have acted early.
No need to be a jerk about it. Aragorn could be quite diplomatic. Let me suggest a few moments he might, helpfully, casually, have brought it up.
1: Council of Elrond
“Listen, I know you overruled me on the whole giant-eagle-dropping-the-ring-into-the-volcano plan, but I should note that there’s a ghost army that will follow my every command. They can’t be killed, so they might be more help than these four hairless Ewoks.”
2: Mines of Moria
“I get it, the Balrog is scary. But you know who’s not scared of the demon beast of Morgoth? My friends what can’t be killed, that’s who! Quite useful, when you think about it. Should I call them now, or…”
3: In Rohan at Helm’s Deep
“Helm’s Deep is well protected, very safe. Know what else is? Being in the rear column of an advancing spectral army that kills everything it touches. Sorry, did I not mention that I can muster an army just like that? I can. And here’s the kicker: they’re just over the next pass, so no need to tangle with a bunch of hill people on hyenas. Just an idea. You’re the Horse Lord.”
4: The Black Gate
“I know we’ve put a lot of confidence in the untrained, frightened halfling. But just in case, I thought maybe I’d bring along my invincible army. The one that can’t be killed, yes. The one that destroys all enemies in its path while suffering no casualties, correct. The one that won’t stretch our supply lines or put us in any danger or desert the cause because they obey my command, you heard right. Send them home? You sure? Maybe want to sleep on that one? I don’t want to be the ‘I told you so’ guy tomorrow, so…”
5: The Hobbit.
(NB: Aragorn isn’t actually in The Hobbit. Still.)
“Look nerds, I don’t trust anyone to get off a lucky shot with that dragon scorching the earth. I don’t know why everyone keeps thinking we’re on Endor, where pluck and cuddliness beats superior firepower, infinite resources, and air support. No, I’m going to insist we use my Army of the Dead for this one or I’m done with this king business. Let’s just see how far you get in a “democracy” with the orcs hating your freedom and Mordor obtaining jewelry of mass destruction.”
Brian Forrest is a freelance comic-book guy in Minneapolis. Peter Jackson has declined his consulting services out of pure shame.