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|J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location|
fortress of Rohan|
Kings of Gondor|
later Marshal of the West-Mark
|Notable locations||the Glittering Caves, the Hornburg, Helm's Dike, the Deeping-coomb|
|Location||the Westfold of Rohan|
In J. R. R. Tolkien's high fantasy writings, Helm's Deep was a large valley in the north-western White Mountains of Middle-earth. The Battle of Helm's Deep (also called the Battle of the Hornburg), a major episode in The Lord of the Rings, is set in Helm's Deep.
Helm's Deep is properly the narrow gorge or ravine at the head of a larger valley (this larger valley was the Deeping-comb), but by extension Helm's Deep can also refer to the general location, which included the fortifications at the mouth of the gorge and the larger valley below.
The gorge, which wound deep into the White Mountains at the feet of a massive peak called the Thrihyrne, led into Aglarond, literally the Glittering Caves, an extensive series of spectacular speleothems. Gimli, a Dwarf and therefore experienced in geology, referred to the caves as one of the wonders of Middle-earth after a visit. He went on to describe them more fully:
- "immeasurable halls, filled with everlasting music of water that tinkles into pools, as fair as Kheled-zâram in the starlight. ... when torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then ... gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose... fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, or into the dark recesses where no light can come..."
The Deeping-stream flowed through the gorge and then down through the Deeping-coomb. This provided a supply of fresh water, particularly useful in times of siege.
The mouth of the gorge was called Helm's Gate. A large battlemented wall, the Deeping Wall, was built across the mouth; it is described as standing 20 feet (6 metres) tall, and wide enough for four men to stand abreast at the top. It was essentially solid stone, except for a small culvert which allowed the Deeping-stream to pass underneath.
At one end of the wall was a natural mountain spur, and on this spur stood a castle originally known as Aglarond (named after the caves), but later as the Hornburg (referring to the castle's great tower).
Inside the keep there were stables and an armoury, as well as a great hall in the rear which was dug out of the mountainside. There also was a great tower (the Hornburg), where the great horn of Helm Hammerhand was kept. Access to the fortress from within the Deep was made possible by a long stair which led to the Hornburg's rear gate.
A long causeway led down from the castle's main gate. About two furlongs (400 metres) down from the gate was an outer line of defence called Helm's Dike. This was a trench and rampart built right across the Deeping-coomb.
In addition to his narrative descriptions, Tolkien drew a detailed sketch of the vicinity of Helm's Deep and another of the fortifications at the mouth of the gorge itself.
In the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings, the history of the valley states that it was home to a small Gondorian regiment, but after the place which was called Calenardhon became Rohan, it became an encampment of the Rohirrim, where the guards of the Fords of Isen lived.
It also states that during the war with the Dunlendings under Wulf, the Rohirrim under King Helm Hammerhand and many of his people sought refuge in the keep, where they held out during the winter of T.A. 2758–2759.
In The Two Towers, the fortress guarding Helm's Deep becomes the refuge of the main army of the Rohirrim, under King Théoden during the War of the Ring. Théoden said that "the Hornburg has never fallen to assault" giving an impression of invulnerability. This was tested during the Battle of the Hornburg, as a massive army of Uruk-hai sent by Saruman almost overwhelmed the defences of the Rohirrim. Saruman's orcs used an explosive blast of fire within the culvert which, when detonated, breached the long Deeping Wall. The origin of this explosion is unclear and Tolkien denotes it as "Saruman's devilry". The Rohirrim defenders held out long enough in the fortress until dawn, giving Gandalf time to gather and lead a counter-attack, while Théoden led a cavalry charge that drove the Orcs from the fortress.
Aglarond and Angrenost (which later became Isengard) were the two fortresses built by Gondor to guard the approaches to the Fords of Isen. Like Angrenost to the north, it was initially well guarded, but as the population of Calenardhon (the later Rohan) dwindled it was not maintained and, losing importance, was left to a hereditary small guard who intermarried with Dunlendings.
When Cirion, Steward of Gondor, gave Calenardhon to the Éothéod, Aglarond was transferred into the care of the Rohirrim, who named it Súthburg (southern burg in their language). The Gondorian guard was merged with that of Angrenost to the north, which remained in the keep of Gondor. Guard duty of the Fords was initially shared between Gondor and Rohan, but later maintained only by the Rohirrim.
During the reign of Helm Hammerhand, Rohan was attacked by Dunlendings from across the river Isen. Edoras was taken, and Helm and many of his people retreated to Súthburg. Because Helm always blew a great horn before riding out to fight the beleaguering Dunlendings, the keep was renamed Hornburg. During the War of the Ring, the Hornburg was the refuge of the Rohirrim as they defended Helm's Deep.
After the war, Gimli the Dwarf, who fought in that battle, established a colony of Durin's folk there. Aglarond lay in front of a huge and very beautiful cave system, which proved irresistible to him. Gimli became known as 'the Lord of the Glittering Caves', although this new realm was presumably under the overlordship of Thorin Stonehelm, his kinsman and heir of the lordship of all Durin's Folk. The dwarves of Aglarond restored the Hornburg following the War of the Ring, and it became a fortress they shared with the Rohirrim.
The fortress was featured as a scenario board in the Lord of the Rings board game, first released in 2000.
In Peter Jackson's 2002 film The Two Towers the keep was built into the mountainside and resembles a World War I bunker, in keeping with Tolkien's history as a soldier in that war. The entrance to the glittering caves of Aglarond is also contained within the Hornburg itself, rather than at the top of the deep behind the Deeping Wall as in the book. Further, the Uruk-hai assault the main gateway in a testudo, or locked-shields style formation, and the 'blasting fire' is depicted as gunpowder.
The 2013 expansion to The Lord of the Rings Online entitled Helm's Deep depicts the fortress of Helm's Deep as well as the surrounding area of Western Rohan. The Battle of Helm's Deep features prominently in the expansion.
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Two Towers, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 3 ch. VII pp. 134-134; ISBN 0 04 823046 4
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A(II) p. 347; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- For example J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Two Towers, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 3 ch. XI p. 194 ("Messengers have gone ahead to Helm's Deep"); ISBN 0 04 823046 4
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Two Towers, 2nd edition (1966), book 3 ch. VIII pp. 152-153; ISBN 0 04 823046 4
- Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (1995), J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, Harper Collins, pictures 160 & 161 (p. 165); ISBN 0-261-10322-9
- "Helm's Deep". Tolkien Gateway.