The importance of weather phenomena is hard to overestimate in the world of Arda. Whether weather conditions are natural, or the result of some activity on behalf of good or evil powers, they sometimes play a defining role in certain events in Middle-earth. When it comes to wind, it is not always a mere breath of air blowing in a certain direction. Tolkien makes a clear distinction between a common type of wind and wind as a manifestation of some power.

When Sauron issued forth mirky vapours from Mordor and the Dawnless Day began, it proved devastating for most: the darkness covered the sun, blocked daylight, instilled fear and despair into the hearts of both warriors and civilians. That impregnable cloud was suffocating and stifling on many levels: physical, psychological, emotional. Morale is important on the battlefield, and Sauron was perfectly aware of that. Thus he struck mercilessly to totally destroy it in his opponents. People found it hard to lift their hearts in such depressing darkness, so it could have been easier for Sauron to achieve victory.

Could have been but never happened, though. Right on the eve of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields a change came, first hinted at by the Drúedain in the conversation with Théoden and then confirmed by one of the king’s riders:

I live upon the open Wold in days of peace; Wídfara is my name, and to me also the air brings messages. Already the wind is turning. There comes a breath out of the South; there is a sea-tang in it, faint though it be. The morning will bring new things. Above the reek it will be dawn when you pass the wall.

(Return of the King, p. 122)

That was only too true. At first nothing seemed to be happening, but then the change became apparent:

Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.

(Return of the King, p. 124)

No doubt that such a sudden change in a rather hopeless situation was uplifting for those heading for battle. After sinking low, their spirits rose again at the sign that Sauron was powerful but not almighty after all, and there were powers beyond his reach.

Frodo and Sam noticed this change of wind with only a short delay. Being in an evil plight, nearing the end of their perilous journey, the two hobbits had almost no hope left. The change in the wind was crucial for them, especially for Sam, whose heart uplifted at the mere sight of the dim light. That gave him the amount of hope enough for two, as Frodo by that time had nearly lost his:

They stood up, and then they both stared in wonder. Away to their left, southward, against a sky that was turning grey, the peaks and high ridges of the great range began to appear dark and black, visible shapes. Light was growing behind them. Slowly it crept towards the North. There was battle far above in the high spaces of the air. The billowing clouds of Mordor were being driven back, their edges tattering as a wind out of the living world came up and swept the fumes and smokes towards the dark land of their home. Under the lifting skirts of the dreary canopy dim light leaked into Mordor like pale morning through the grimed window of a prison.

(Return of the King, p. 230)

At the very same moment when Frodo and Sam saw this heart-warming change, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was on. However, the tide had turned: the Lord of the Nazgûl was no more and Sauron’s designs were collapsing. With his keen and perceptive heart Sam understood as much. For him, the wind and its effect on the darkness of Mordor were a clear sign that something grand was happening — even though not yet clear what exactly, but there was no doubt about the change being positive.

Not only did the wind begin to blow away the devilry of Mordor, but it also allowed Sam a glimpse of Eärendil the Star. At the sight of such timeless beauty hope, which had faltered, returned to Sam. Back then he had no idea what he was looking at, but that did not matter: Eärendil worked its magic on the hobbit. Seeing the star brought a revelation to Sam, strengthened his heart, thus equipping him with all the necessary attitude for the final stage of their journey.

The role of the wind was crucial in those two situations. On the one hand it was good for the emotional condition of those fighting against Sauron. After experiencing depressing darkness, people rejoiced at the sight of daylight and sunshine, their hope and determination returned. Even though it was not apparent at the time, the wind was very important for the outcome of the War of the Ring. Thus, on the other hand, it also seems to be a harbinger of the victory for the good side: right after the wind’s rising several key events happened that eventually brought down the power of Mordor.

These two instances of the wind’s influence on the outcome of events make a very vivid example of how the forces of nature can act for or against somebody. It is also remarkable that since the wind rose, it changed its direction. Initially it began blowing from the south, then switched to south-western direction and finally to the solely western one. And it is after that change that it is referred to as the West Wind: “in the high regions the West Wind still blew” (Return of the King, p. 248).

This capitalisation is not accidental. Throughout The Lord of the Rings there are several instances when the West Wind is capitalised, both in the narration and in some of the songs. The wind here is not a mere weather phenomenon, but an active participant in the actions, a character of its own. No wonder Tolkien used the wording “there was battle far above in the high spaces of the air” to emphasise the special nature of the West Wind and its activity. The West Wind challenged Sauron’s darkness, fought it and defeated it. Interestingly, its counterpart, the East Wind, is also sometimes capitalised throughout the book. However, blowing from the direction of Mordor, it is associated with evil and darkness, bad tidings and everlasting cold, bringing misfortune and calamity.

With its effect and power, the West Wind rising at the crucial stage of the War of the Ring seems to be a direct interference from the Valar, namely from Manwë:

In Arda his delight is in the winds and the clouds, and in all the regions of the air, from the heights to the depths, from the utmost borders of the Veil of Arda to the breezes that blow in the grass. Súlimo he is surnamed, Lord of the Breath of Arda.

(Silmarillion, p. 16)

By the Third Age the Valar had almost ceased acting explicitly to assist the dwellers of Middle-earth, to try and influence the course of its life. However, act they did, either through their emissaries in Middle-earth, or through their own expressions of power. The West Wind seems like one of such actions on behalf of Manwë. The capitalisation used by Tolkien, the direction of the wind as well as its powerful effect on the darkness of Mordor and on the hearts of people hint at its not-very-common nature. It cleared the mirky fumes and gave the key players of those evil days the most important spiritual weapon: hope.

In early Elvish lore winds seemed to be no common occurrence. That was reflected in the development of their language:

In addition Manwë, the most powerful spirit in Arda, in this respect was Lord of Air and Winds, and the winds were in primitive Eldarin thought to be especially his emission of power for himself.

(Nature of Middle-earth, p. 236)

So we see that not only did Manwë take delight in winds and airs, but he also used this element of his to express his power, to act when it was necessary. The West Wind could easily be Manwë’s emission of power at the dark hour to assist those fighting for Middle-earth and its future against the tyranny of Sauron.

Further reading:

Under the cover of darkness.

Melkor and Manwë: like night and day.

Works consulted:

1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.

2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.

3. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Nature of Middle-earth (edited by Carl F. Hostetter); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2021.

Featured image: Gust of Wind by Jean-François Millet.

12 thoughts on “The Wind of Change.

  1. Thank you so much for this, Olga. Here in these islands we are expecting wild winds and weather from the west in the next few days. All the trains in Scotland are to be shut down later today and further south we await the storm on Monday. My thoughts turned to Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind and the line, “Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!” We await destruction in these next days but also the rain that makes these islands so green. Poor Sauron, who desires control over all things and yet so vulnerable to the Wild Spirit.
    I greatly enjoyed your appreciation of those two men of the earth, Widfara and Sam Gamgee. One, a horseman of the great plains of Rohan; the other, a gardener of the Shire. Both, so in tune with the weather. This is a wonderful celebration of the real as against Sauron’s deadening artificiality.

    1. That’s a great thought, Stephen! The forces of nature are always stronger than artificial devices. And those living close to nature, in all aspects, understand it far better than those trying to subdue it.
      I hope the storm brings more life than destruction. Stay safe!

  2. Reading this essay a few days after it was posted, while storms rage in the UK/Ireland and in parts of the southeastern US, makes me wonder whether you’ve been given somewhat of the Eldar’s gift of prescience 🙂 Thanks very much as always for sharing your insight!

    1. Brendan, thank you! I would feel blessed, if I could claim at least a tiny bit of such a gift 🙂 I hope you’re safe with all this stormy weather!

  3. Interesting in our world we are free to reap whatever evil that can be dreamed up, yet in Tolkien’s creation his Gods are activists in the background. I would imagine the horrors he lived through in the war left some scars, and maybe some bitterness in his Christianity perhaps?

    Lovely post as always Olga, thank you

    1. Thank you very much, Allan!
      I’m sure Tolkien’s experiences did leave marks which can be traced in his writings. They are there, albeit not deliberately put there, I assume. It seems that Tolkien’s faith indeed underwent a certain change throughout his life.

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