In the chapter 7 of book three in Lord of the Rings titled "Helm's Deep", the scout says the following.

‘It is very great,’ said the scout. ‘He that flies counts every foeman twice, yet I have spoken to stouthearted men, and I do not doubt that the main strength of the enemy is many times as great as all that we have here.

Who is "He that flies"? I also can't understand the meaning of the whole passage, so please explain it all.

  • 31
    "He who flies" is a way of describing someone who is fleeing a battle. It doesn't refer to a particular character. – user888379 Jun 8 '19 at 16:24
  • 4
    @user888379 "Flies" as in "fly you fools." – Misha R Jun 8 '19 at 16:32
  • @Lorendiac, I guessed it might be Gandalf since the scout reported his being sighted before with Shadowfax. Anyways... I got my answer, thanks everyone!! – klaus Jun 9 '19 at 13:14
  • 1
    Comments were getting way off-topic; this meta post continued the discussion, but TL;DR is this question is on-topic here. – Rand al'Thor Jun 10 '19 at 15:00
  • 2
    If you’re going to be pedantic there are 7 books in the “epic novel” that makes up The Lord of the Rings. However since that isn’t exactly common knowledge it makes much more sense to use the volume titles, in this case The Two Towers. – Edlothiad Jun 13 '19 at 9:43

It means "the accounts of people who are scared enough to flee the battle are unreliable because they tend to overestimate the size of the enemy force, but I have spoken to brave men and they confirm our enemies are indeed numerous".

Here "fly" means to run away, the same as when Gandalf utters the famous "fly, you fools!".

  • 20
    There we have it: actually the famous Gandalf quote has always been misinterpreted! What he really meant there was, he'd suddenly come up with a much better plan of how they should go about destroying the ring. Too bad he didn't have time to explain anymore... – leftaroundabout Jun 9 '19 at 17:35
  • 4
    @leftaroundabout, I'm guessing you're just joking around. But I wanted to express my opinion that that theory about flying over Mordor is not practical in Middle Earth at that time. – klaus Jun 10 '19 at 4:01
  • 16
    @klaus You only say that because Mordor has who knows how many bowmen, siege machines, its own air force, an all-seeing air detection system and thick clouds of pollution that would choke an eagle in a few minutes. Frankly, with that kind of defeatist mind, we'd never had won WWI in four months of glorious infantry charges. – Eth Jun 10 '19 at 13:16
  • 3
    @Eth Obviously, you're forgetting that you need to blindfold the eagle and have Aragorn distract Sauron in order to pull this off. "Well, that was incredibly easy." "Yes, it was." "Can you imagine if we had walked the entire way?" – reirab Jun 10 '19 at 15:47
  • 1
    @Eth, well, I haven't even thought along those lines. I just thought that Eagles doesn't like to be bothered with other people's meddling. Even when Gwaihir rescued Gandalf from Orthanc, he only bore Gandalf to safety, not to the ends of the earth. They possess bigger, or similar, power than Gandalf, and given that the Ring can be destructive in the hand of a powerful being, it's not practical to involve a sovereign species of such great power. This was my line of thought. I didn't even think about the WWII war tactics and stuff, I'll leave that to you. – klaus Jun 11 '19 at 5:19

The paragraph before the OP's quote is:

'It will go ill with Wormtougue, if Gandalf comes upon him,' said Théoden. 'Nonetheless I miss now both my counsellors, the old and the new. But in this need we have no better choice than to go on, as Gandalf said, to Helm's Gate, whether Erkenbrand be there or no. Is it known how great is the host that comes from the North?'

Théoden is talking about Wormtongue fleeing Rohan and Gandalf.

Therefore I read 'he who flies' as a reference to Wormtongue.

The scout does not wants to name a pariah, a common trope in the old English literature that Tolkein draws from.

  • 6
    This is wrong. It is a generic "person running away" as in "A person running away will count every foeman twice, but even so I think there are a lot of them." – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jun 11 '19 at 10:17
  • @MartinBonner unless you are the original author, we only have the text. This is a valid reading of the text, and not naming pariahs is a common on tropes in the literature than Tolkien draws on (and became a trope in the literature than drew on Tolkien - 'he who must not be named'). – Pete Kirkham Jun 11 '19 at 11:42
  • 2
    "This is a valid reading of the text." Clearly both I and the down-voter disagree. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jun 11 '19 at 11:49
  • @MartinBonner what part do you disagree with? There are no other people described in the text as flying from the battle. Tolkien probably would have used 'those who fly' as more correct grammar. Tolkien based Rohan on old English where such forms to describe individuals were common. I am saying that the 'generic person' interpretation is not also a valid reading of the text, just it isn't how I read it given the flow of the conversation and the language tropes in use. – Pete Kirkham Jun 11 '19 at 11:51
  • 5
    I also don't think "he who flies" refers to Wormtongue. Because the reporter said that Wormtongue was seen, as in the soldiers identified a person who might be Wormtongue. Wormtongue wouldn't bother stopping in Helm's Deep, IMO. He was running for his life towards Isengard. Also, if Wormtongue actually stopped at Helm's Deep and talked to the guards there, the guards would not just say, "Some say also that Wormtongue was seen earlier, going northward with a company of Orcs." – klaus Jun 11 '19 at 12:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.