CHOMSKY: Look how the mead is flowing amongst the drunken, passive citizens of Rohan.
ZINN: Gimli has challenged Legolas to a drinking contest. Who, exactly, are these Dwarves? They’re virtually invisible in this conflict.
CHOMSKY: They’re an ancient race, arguably more ancient than the Elves, and yet have always been treated as second-class citizens.
ZINN: Hence their natural antipathy towards Elves?
CHOMSKY: Yes, though Gimli is a sad exception, enchanted as he is by Galadriel.
ZINN: I think, culturally speaking, the Dwarves are not very far removed from the mores of Orcish culture.
CHOMSKY: Which could be one of the causes of pervasive Dwarvish anxiety. The Dwarves are used in a manner similar to how the Communists of Eastern Europe used miners to beat up students. How well will these Dwarves be treated when the power struggle is over?
ZINN: Now look at Merry and Pippin engage in more tiresome Hobbit minstrelry. We are to believe that Hobbits are an entertaining—ostensibly entertaining—race of singers and dancers. The basic falsity of this supposition is evidenced by how badly they actually sing and dance. They sing songs about getting drunk and dancing in taverns while getting drunk and dancing in taverns. They seem oblivious to the real reason audiences enjoy them—namely, their shameful abdication of pride and their cheerful servitude.
CHOMSKY: Here’s a terrible little scene of Gollum confessing to his own reflection in the water. Gollum, who is so conscious of the machinations of Middle Earth. The only figure truly aware of all the competing viewpoints and legitimacies and illegitimacies of these viewpoints. And he’s driven insane by his inability to comprehend the vastness of the conspiracy.
ZINN: Yet I must question the efficacy of this supposed “secret path” to Mordor, which is found directly in front of the main gate of Minas Morgul.
CHOMSKY: I notice that Frodo and Sam’s relationship is clearly torn by some … unspoken dynamic between them. It would not be beyond Gandalf to have noticed Samwise’s tempestuous feelings towards Frodo in selecting him for their mission. Remember how he insisted on his presence in the first film.
ZINN: Oh, I believe completely that Gandalf was cannily exploiting Sam’s latent hobbosexuality from the very beginning. If nothing else, Gandalf is a sophisticated psychologist with a keen understanding of the plight of the closeted Hobbit in the intolerant, provincial Shire. Why else did he select Bilbo as the burglar for Thorin’s party in The Hobbit? Perhaps because he knew the company of 13 male Dwarves might be appealing?
CHOMSKY: You mean Bilbo’s hobbosexual, too?
ZINN: Well, you know what they call an eleventy-one-year-old bachelor in Buckland, right?
ZINN: Sam’s jealousy has taken a dark turn. He completely lacks sympathy for Gollum’s plight, and uses Gollum’s mental illness—I think one can call it that—as a justification for his own murderous thoughts.
CHOMSKY: You’re right. Sam has clearly said that he would kill Gollum if he had the chance, whereas Gollum struggles with whether he should kill Sam or not. Is not Gollum the more ethical of the two?
ZINN: As has been proven, time and time again, cut off a Hobbit’s steady access to pipe-weed and ale, and it is only a few short, hairy-footed steps to intellectual barbarity. To wit: In this scene Pippin can’t keep his thieving hands off the newly acquired Palantir, and is nearly driven mad by it.
CHOMSKY: It’s interesting how the scene is framed by a scene in which Aragorn—
ZINN: As we’ve discussed, I think we should refer to Aragorn only as Strider. Aragorn is a royal name, and I do not believe it is a legitimate name for a man in his position. Would a “king” so casually use his false birthright to impress women? He seems to go pretty quickly from true love with Arwen Evenstar to tucking in Eowyn.
CHOMSKY: Have you noticed that there are few consonants in any of these names? What we see—or perhaps I should say, “What we hear”—is a kind of linguistic hierarchy.
ZINN: Between that of an Orcish name such as Grishnák and a Mannish name such as Eowyn, you mean?
CHOMSKY: Eowyn is hardly a name at all—it’s just a series of dipthongs. When the Elves or wizards or their deluded human pawns have consonants in their names at all, they’re mostly alveolar approximants or labiodental fricatives. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas.
ZINN: Whereas the Orcs—
CHOMSKY: They get saddled with clotted sequences of nasals, velar plosives, and occasional palato-alveolar affricates. It’s quite extraordinary. The abstract vowels in the overlords’ names are clearly being valued at the expense of the more earthly consonants.
ZINN: Another case of Elves and wizards not wanting to get their hands dirty.
CHOMSKY: Or their tongues. I mean, could you imagine an Orc being named, say, Lewahoo or Horaiowen? It would be unheard of.
ZINN: Quite so. Notice, here, that Gandalf sleeps with his eyes open.
CHOMSKY: I’m amazed he can sleep at all, given the things he’s done. It’s a clear sign of overwhelming guilt, even when at rest in what is essentially Middle Earth’s Green Zone.
ZINN: Gandalf is never welcome anywhere. In fact, who are the only people who welcome Gandalf? Hobbits, Elves, and opportunistic rangers with aspirations for the throne. Now we have Gandalf cunningly manipulating the once proud but now pliant Theoden into going to Gondor’s aid against the Orcs.
CHOMSKY: To “save” a man, Denethor, who wants no saving.
ZINN: Who is actively seeking, I suspect, some sort of rapprochement with Orcs.
CHOMSKY: I really enjoy the unintentional comedy of Aragorn’s “leadership” here. He actually believes that he has agency—that he has some proactive role to play in this. It’s almost touchingly sad to see this idiot ingenuously assert his silly plan: “I’ll warn Minas Tirith of the dangerous army that’s massing right in front of them.” Can you imagine the brilliant Denethor’s reaction to this simpleton? Of course, Gandalf quickly shuts Aragorn up and tells him he must go by another path.
ZINN: And here Gandalf steals Pippin away with him to Minas Tirith.
CHOMSKY: A provocative act. Let us ponder it. Could there be any greater spur to an army of Orcs than the fact that the mastermind of all of their oppression is in the castle across a huge lush pasture that has always been forbidden to them? This war appears to be Men versus Orcs but is actually Orcs versus the Istari, Orcs versus the Elves, Orcs versus anyone who allies themselves to the colonial powers.
ZINN: Orcs are Middle Earth’s last nationalists, creatures standing up to a colonial power coming in to enforce some “better” ruling order. But guess what: There won’t be any Orcs left by the time that order is established. Their very Orcanity is at stake.
CHOMSKY: And now a scene of the mass exodus by the Elves. How long have they been living in this land as colonizers? And look at how calmly they leave! When everything is falling apart around them, when the hornet’s nest they’ve kicked and poked is finally broken open, they seek the Grey Havens to escape. Here Arwen orders that the blade Anduril, “the flame of the West,” be recast. An Elf—and let’s think about this—an Elf reforging a sword meant for Men to use to conquer their fellow indigenous people, namely the Orcs. It’s obscene.
ZINN: One of the things that I think we see is the extent to which Men have been convinced of the power of these material objects, be they rings or swords. They are completely blind to whatever labor value goes into their creation. Orcs could have whipped out 20 Andurils in the time it took these two Elves to make one.
ZINN: Now we arrive at Minas Tirith. And what is a more appropriate symbol of the kingdom of Men than a series of seven ringed walls to keep Men inside and Orcs out?
CHOMSKY: Up at the top, Gandalf walks across some sort of campus quad, with a dead tree. Obviously, this is the borrowed architecture of a colonized power.
ZINN: Gandalf greets Denethor, son of Ecthelion. The mighty Denethor, the wise Denethor, the grieving Denethor, who is justifiably suspicious of Gandalf’s machinations.
CHOMSKY: Grieving because he’s lost a son in one of Gandalf’s worthless wars.
ZINN: And Gandalf openly questions his right to grieve! He says, “There will be a time to grieve for Boromir, but it is not now.”
CHOMSKY: Yes. “I’m sorry I made your son the custodian of a bunch of helpless halfwits insensibly addicted to drugs, whose recalcitrance in turn got him massacred by Orcs, but get your head back in the game.”
ZINN: A sickening scene here of Pippin pledging his allegiance to Denethor.
CHOMSKY: Funny how Hobbits wind up as the footmen to all these powerful kings. Is it because Gandalf wants them close?
ZINN: “The enemy is on your doorstep,” Gandalf says.
CHOMSKY: Indeed. “The enemy is on your doorstep. The enemy is at your feet. The enemy is standing two feet in front of you and he’s holding a big stick and wearing a huge white robe.”
ZINN: “With your left hand you would use me as a shield against Mordor and with your right hand you would seek to supplant me.” That is what Denethor, insightfully, says to Gandalf.
CHOMSKY: A moment of clarity that is treated as the ramblings of a maniac. This speaks to me.
ZINN: And notice that word Gandalf spits out: “Steward.” Gandalf calls him a steward and not a king!
CHOMSKY: Clearly, in colonial Middle Earth, a king’s power is not derived from his people but from the Istari. Gandalf says who is king.
ZINN: “A madman,” Gandalf calls Denethor.
CHOMSKY: It’s infuriating to see how upside-down this world is. “The city will fall at the whim of a madman,” Gandalf says. The madman is actually Gandalf.
ZINN: Now we’re back to Sam and Frodo. Frodo seems bent on suicide. Sam seems bent on … something else.
CHOMSKY: Gandalf so completely understood the dynamic between these two. He knew that Frodo’s desperate drive for suicide and Sam’s desperate attempt to earn Frodo’s love would short-circuit the mission they’re supposed to do.
ZINN: Look how wistfully Sam and Frodo gaze at the disembodied head of this statue of the old monarchy. Hobbits couldn’t be happier that they’re about to reinstitute it.
CHOMSKY: There’s always room for little people in the court of a king.
ZINN: Corrupt kings need somebody to bow down to them.
CHOMSKY: And to dance around, and sing songs. Which Hobbit do you suppose is going to be the court jester when Aragorn’s placed on the throne?
ZINN: All four have essentially been auditioning for that part since the very moment Strider met them.
CHOMSKY: Gandalf mentions to Pippin here the so-called mercenaries coming from Mordor’s coast. These are the men of Haradrim, who are aligned with the Orcs. Somehow this is shameful. Actually, it’s inspiring. These are the only Men still interested in standing up for the rights of indigenous self-determination. It’s important to note the diversity of this anti-Istari coalition: Men, Orcs, Uruk Hai, trolls … The Haradrim are open-minded enough to forge a political alliance with the most misunderstood and trodden-upon race in Middle Earth. It’s quite moving.
ZINN: Gandalf also mentions the Witch King of Angmar.
CHOMSKY: The Witch King is not just a name; it’s a question every colonial administrator must ask himself: Which king? Which king do you want, Gandalf?
ZINN: I’m impressed by the explanatory power of that analysis. Again, here we are at Minas Morgul, the dead city. Sam, Frodo, and Gollum climb the “secret staircase.”
CHOMSKY: Minas Morgul looks more like an emerald city, frankly, than a dead city.
ZINN: I would like to point out the discipline with which the Orcs march out of Minas Morgul. You know, I think they’re a handsome people. I know Men are taught to demonize them, but I think their culture is lovely, cooperative, and utterly unstandardized.
CHOMSKY: This is an insurgency that feels at home in its own land. Orcs don’t feel the need to put on false identifying garments that somehow unite them, as the men of Gondor and Rohan do. Orcs are united by the very fact that they’re from this place.
ZINN: I agree. But I also think it’s unwise to view Orcs uniformly. Do all Orcs want to massacre Men? Surely some Orcs want to do that, but it seems very far-fetched to argue that every single Orc is bent on killing every last Man. It’s interesting to note the one group of Orcs that did employ the symbols of Man—the white hand of Saruman—were all wiped out … by Men.
CHOMSKY: Here is Pippin—how I hate him—scaling the heights to light the Beacon of Amon Din.
ZINN: Lighting these fires to inspire two groups of Men to fight an enemy neither of them wants to.
CHOMSKY: One wonders why Gandalf didn’t just send one of his fireballs to light that thing instead of sending this fool Pippin.
ZINN: Gandalf is always indifferent to the dangers to which he exposes his proxies. And indeed Pippin almost burns himself to death. And here we get our first-ever glimpse of this commander of the Orc army. A very curious character.
CHOMSKY: He’s the only pink Orc, for one.
ZINN: A pink Orc, moreover, with one eye missing and some sort of external brain on his shoulder. He’s been through hell, obviously, but it’s somehow accepted that he’s an Orc. An equally plausible explanation is that he is an agent of Gandalf’s who has exposed himself to some sort of chemical or magical alteration and is, in fact, leading Orcs on an aggressive and clearly atrocity-minded raiding party, all the better to provoke the war Gandalf so dearly wants to fight.
CHOMSKY: I’d like to pause and contemplate what a feeling it must be for these Orcs right now to cross this river and enter land that has been forbidden to them for so long. They’re finally upon fertile soil.
ZINN: It is little wonder they’re acting with enthusiasm and haste.
CHOMSKY: I want to be clear: We must ultimately hold these Orcs responsible for their actions. They’ve been misled. But we must also acknowledge how they got here.
ZINN: There’s an almost Normandy-esque feeling when these Orcish amphibious vehicles open up their front tailgates and Orcs storm out onto the beaches.
CHOMSKY: Perhaps we should call this O-Day?