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That Guy Who Carries the Banner by Nath

Author: Nath
Title: That guy who carries the banner
Rating: G
Theme: January 12 potluck
Elements: August 2011 non-fiction challenge
Summary: a brief textual overview
Word Count: 3300


This essay is perhaps redundant. There already is an excellent character bio of Halbarad in the HASA Resources section, written by Dwimordene. Even so, I hope to be able to add some small scraps of textual background for this minor, but – to me at least – fascinating character.

Halbarad is mentioned by name a mere fifteen times in the Lord of the Rings – the same number of times as Eärendil, Radagast and Snowmane, although he surpasses Elladan (fourteen times) and Elrohir (thirteen). The Grey Company, the Rangers led by Halbarad, rate only five mentions (six if you count the chapter title ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’). Looking at several other minor characters, we find that Háma is mentioned twenty-four times, Glorfindel forty-two and Tom Bombadil and Haldir both make it forty-four times.

Lord of the Rings

First I will summarise Halbarad’s story as it is written in Lord of the Rings, after which I will look briefly at what can be found about him in History of Middle-earth.

Halbarad arrives in Rohan as Aragorn returns from Isengard with Théoden and a company of Riders, as well as Legolas, Gimli and Merry. He has been ‘summoned’ south – through Galadriel’s intervention? – and brings the Grey Company, as well as Elladan and Elrohir. He has word from Arwen, and carries the standard she has made for Aragorn.

Later, in the Hornburg, he stands by Aragorn as Aragorn goes to face Sauron in the Isengard palantír. Then, despite foretelling his own death, Halbarad follows Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, leading the Grey Company. He unfurls the standard for the first time (that we know of – I would hazard a guess that it is also displayed in Aragorn’s confrontation with Sauron at the Hornburg) at the Stone of Erech, where Aragorn summons the Army of the Dead. It is safe to assume Halbarad also fights at Pelargir, quite likely as standard-bearer. Of his final battle on the Pelennor, little is known, except that he bears the standard again and that he dies.

Aragorn refers to him as ‘kinsman’, but we have no indication of how exactly they are related.We don’t know when or where Halbarad was born, whether he was married or not, or anything else about him, really, except that he was one of the Rangers involved in keeping the Shire safe (as is clear from his words to Aragorn in Rohan):

‘A little people, but of great worth are the Shirefolk,’ said Halbarad. ‘Little do they know of our long labour for the safe-keeping of their borders, and yet I grudge it not.’ The Passing of the Grey Company, Book V, Return of the King

One thing that is obvious, from the way that Aragorn greets him in Rohan

…he ran forward and embraced the newcomer. ‘Halbarad!’ he said. ‘Of all joys this is the least expected!’
The Passing of the Grey Company, Book V, Return of the King

is that not only are they related, they are also good friends. Furthermore, what we see of his actions shows that Halbarad is a man of great courage and loyalty. Unfortunately, this is pretty much all that can be found out about him from Lord of the Rings.

Textual history

Looking at History of Middle-earth, the name Halbarad is attached to several different characters before it finally settles where it is in Lord of the Rings. This first appearance may come as a bit of a shock, but it is oddly fitting for the friend of a man who started out as a hobbit named Trotter:

[…] of the horse that he got in Rohan Gandalf says, ‘One at least is saved. He is a grey horse and was named Halbarad, but I have called him [Greyfax changed at once to] Shadowfax. Not even the horses of the Nine are so tireless and swift...’ HoME VII pg 152 ch. VII – The Council of Elrond

The name Halbarad was added at the same time as Greyfax > Shadowfax, and these changes look as if they were made at once. In Gandalf’s tale in the fifth version of ‘The Council of Elrond’ the horse that Gandalf got in Rohan was likewise named Halbarad and Greyfax, and there Greyfax was certainly changed to Shadowfax in the act of writing. HoME VII pg 390 ch. XX – The Riders of Rohan

Perhaps here we can already see the emergence of the theme of Halbarad’s appearance in Rohan? (Author removes tongue from cheek before continuing writing.) His second incarnation is as the messenger who brings the Red Arrow from Minas Tirith to Théoden (who is here named as the sister-son of Denethor – this character is later called Hirgon).

Halbarad sister-son of Denethor. He asks for ten thousand spears at once.
HoME VIII pg 236 Pt. 3 ch. II  – Book Five Begun and Abandoned - in a list of notes for The Muster of Rohan

Eowyn bears wine to him, bidding him drink and be glad. Even as Theoden drinks the cup, the messenger of Minas Tirith arrives.? Barahir ? Halbarad.

He asks for ten thousand spears at once! The Swertings have come. The forces of Sauron have crossed the Nargul ? Pass and raised the men of Harad and of ? Umbor. A fleet has put out from the Havens of Umbor - once Gondor's, but long lost - and sailed up the Anduin and reached Anarion, at the same time more enemies have crossed the river and taken the fords of Osgiliath again. HoME VIII pg 242 Pt. 3 ch. II – Book Five Begun and Abandoned

Aragorn (with Gimli and Legolas) has ridden on ahead to Dunharrow, as in text C (p. 241); and in these notes is the first mention of the coming south of a body of Rangers. Eowyn’s reference to the assault on Rohan long before, when in the days of Brego ‘the wild men of the East came from the Inland Sea into the Eastemnet’, is a sign that the history of Rohan had been evolving unseen. […] It is here that the possibility first appears that Aragorn (or Eomer) will lead some part of the forces mustering at Dunharrow across the mountains, rather than ride to Minas Tirith along their northern skirts, in view of the news brought by the messenger from Gondor (see further pp. 252-3). The name proposed here for the messenger, Halbarad (beside Barahir), has appeared already in the original draft A of ‘The Muster of Rohan’: see p. 236 and note 10. HoME VIII pg 244 Pt. 3 ch. II – Book Five Begun and Abandoned

Now that Halbarad is no longer Shadowfax, in the next phase of writing this part of the story starts taking on a more familiar form. The Grey Company emerges, as do the Paths of the Dead as the way south that Aragorn and co. will take, though the Stone of Erech is currently, it seems, a Palantír; and some other elements are still missing:

To Aragorn’s words ‘But why they come, and bow many they are, Halbarad shall tell us’ Halbarad replies, Thirty we are, and the brethren Elboron and Elbereth are among them. More of us could scarcely be found in these dwindling days, as you well know; and we had to gather in haste. We came because you summoned us. Is that not so? To which Aragorn replies: Nay, save in wish.’

[...]The new draft B continues on from the point reached in the pencilled opening, but the passage that immediately follows in RK (in which Elrohir son of Elrond delivers his father’s message to Aragorn concerning the Paths of the Dead, and Aragorn asks Halbarad what it is that he bears) is entirely absent. The text continues (RK p. 48):

[…] ‘Aragorn has a company of his own now,’ said Gimli. ‘[He seems changed somewhat, and some dark care is on him. But [he] looks more like a king than Theoden himself.] They are stout men and lordly. The Riders look almost like boys beside them; for they are grim and worn for the most part, such as Aragorn was. But he seems changed somewhat: a kingly man if ever there was one, though some dark care or doubt sits on him.’

‘Where is he?’ said Merry.

‘In a high chamber in the tower,’ said Gimli. ‘He has not rested or slept, I think. He went there soon after we came here, saying he must take thought, and only his kinsman Halbarad went with him.’

[…] In a group by themselves were the Rangers. They were clad in dark grey and their horses were rough-haired. Hoods were over the[ir] helms. They [?wore] spear and bow and sword. There was nothing fine or splendid in their array, no sign or badge, save this only, that each cloak was pinned on the left shoulder by a silver brooch shaped like a rayed star. Dark and sombre and proud men they looked.

Presently Eomer came out of the gate of the Burg, and with him came Halbarad and Aragorn. They came down the ramp and walked to the waiting horses. Merry sitting on his pony by the King was startled by Aragorn. He looked grim, grey-faced, weary, old, and leant a little on Halbarad.

‘I have evil tidings, lord,’ he said standing before the King. ‘A grave peril unlooked for threatens Gondor. A great fleet is drawing near from the south, and will cut off all but scanty help from that region. From Rohan alone can they expect much help now. But I must take new counsel. I fear, lord, and Eomer my friend, we must part - to meet again, maybe, or maybe not. But how long will you take to reach Dunharrow?’

[…] Aragorn watched until the King’s men were far down the Coomb. Then he turned to Halbarad. ‘I must eat,’ he said, ‘and then we must speed on our way. Come Legolas and Gimli. I would speak to you as I eat.’

‘Well,’ said Aragorn as he sat at the table in the hall. ‘I have looked in the Stone, my friends. For my heart [foreboded that] told me that there was much to learn.’

‘You looked in the Stone!’ said Gimli, amazed, awestruck, and rather alarmed. ‘What did you tell - him?’

‘What did I tell him?’ said Aragorn sternly, and his eyes glinted. ‘That I had a rascal of a rebel dwarf here that I would exchange for a couple of good orcs, thank you! I thought I had the strength, and the strength I had. I said naught to him and wrenched the Stone from him to my own purpose. But he saw me, yes and he saw me in other guise maybe than you see me. If I have done ill I have done ill. But I do not think so. To know that I lived and walked the earth was something of a blow to his heart, and certainly he will now hasten all his strokes - but they will be the less ripe. And then I learned much. For one thing, that there are yet other Stones. One is at Erech and that is where we are going. [Struck out: At the Stone of Erech Men shall ... be seen.]’ Halbarad bears this message:

 Out of the mountain shall they come their tryst keeping;

 at the Stone of Erech their horn shall blow,

 when hope is dead and the kings are sleeping

 and darkness lies on the world below:

 Three lords shall come from the three kindreds

 from the North at need by the paths of the dead

 elflord, dwarflord, and lord forwandred,

 and one shall wear a crown on head.

And that is an old rhyme of Gondor which none have understood; but I think I perceive somewhat of its sense now. To the Stone of Erech by the paths of the Dead!' he said rising. ‘Who will come with me?’ HoME VIII pg 297-300 – Many Roads Lead Eastward (1)

‘And I learned much. For one thing, that there are other Stones yet preserved in this ancient land. One is at Erech. And thither we are going. To the Stone of Erech, if we can find and dare the Paths of the Dead.’

‘The Paths of the Dead?’ said Gimli. ‘That has a fell name! Where does it lie?’

‘I do not know yet,’ said Aragorn. ‘But I know much old lore of these lands, and I have learned much myself in many journeys; and I have a guess. To prove it we shall ride fast ere the day is much older. But harken, here is an old rhyme of my kindred, almost forgotten. It was not said openly, but Halbarad tells me that the message that came to Rivendell ended so. “Bid Aragorn remember the dark words of old:

Out of the mountain shall they come their tryst keeping;

At the Stone of Erech their horns shall blow

[…] The points in which B differed from RK, mentioned in note 6, were now all altered to the final form (save that the name Dunadan had not yet arisen); and while Elboron remained, Elbereth was changed to Elrohir. The passage (RK p. 48) in which Elrohir delivers Elrond’s message to Aragorn, and Halbarad speaks the message of Arwen accompanying her gift, is still altogether lacking; but after the description of the Rangers (RK p. 51) the following was inserted:

Halbarad their leader carried a tall staff, upon which it seemed was a great standard, but it was close-furled and covered with a black cloth bound about it with many thongs. HoME VIII pg 302 – Many Roads Lead Eastward (1)

6. A few other details in which the text differs from RK may be mentioned. Aragorn’s reply to Merry’s remark about his promise to Theoden remains as it was (note 4). In the encounter with the Rangers Merry’s thoughts are not reported; Halbarad does not name himself Dunadan; and neither Aragorn nor Halbarad dismount at first - not until the ‘recognition’ do they leap down from their horses. HoME VIII pg 309 – Notes for Many Roads Lead Eastward (1)

With the Muster of Rohan and the Paths of the Dead moving towards their final form, the next chapter is the Battle of the Pelennor, but not – geographically speaking – before they pass by Erech, with as yet no revelation of the banner by Halbarad:

‘Thither in the blackness before the storm we came. And at last we halted. And Elladan blew his silver horn, and Elrohir unfurled the banner that at the Hornburg he bore still wrapped in grey [later > black];(28) and dark as it was the stars glinted on it, as it was spread on a wind like a breath of ghosts coming down from the mountains. Nothing could we see but the seven stars of Elendil, and yet we were aware of a great host gathered all about us upon the hill, and of the sound of answering horns, as if their echo came up out of deep caverns far away.

28. It is strange that it should be Elrohir who unfurled the banner (and bore it at the Hornburg), for from the first mention of the banner (p. 302) it was as in RK Halbarad the Ranger who bore it (and it was covered in a black cloth). - In RK (p. 63) no device could be seen on it in the darkness. HoME VIII pg 424 and notes – The Last Debate

Aragorn is named ‘Elessar, Isildur’s heir’; and when men leapt from the ships to the quays ‘There came Legolas and Gimli wielding his axe, and Halbarad with the standard, and Elboron and Elrohir with stars on their brow, and the dourhanded Dunedain, Rangers of the North; and in the hand of Aragorn Branding was like a new fire kindled, Narsil reforged as deadly as of old, and about his helm there was a kingly crown.’ Thus Elboron still survived, for Elladan (see pp. 297, 302), the change being made on the fair copy. Branding, for Anduril, Flame of the West, remained until changed on the first typescript; while ‘about his helm there was a kingly crown’ was not replaced by ‘upon his brow was the Star of Elendil’ until the book was in proof.

At the end of the chapter as first written Duinhir of Morthond is named among the fallen, whereas in RK it is his sons, ‘Duilin and his brother’ (Derufin), who were trampled by the mumakil. Grimbold of Grimslade is not named (though he has appeared in ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’), and instead the sentence in which he is named in RK reads: ‘Neither Hirluin the Fair would return to his green hills, nor Elfhelm to Eastfold [written above: Westfold], nor Halbarad to the Northlands, dourhanded Ranger.’ HoME VIII pg 370-371 – The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

As we can see, not all names have settled in their final form and the tally of the dead is not yet the same as in the book. Halbarad does die here as well, though. Or does he…?

And the Prince Imrahil said: ‘Wise are your words, lord, if one who is kinsman of the house of the Stewards may venture to give counsel. Yet I would not have you remain at the door like a beggar.’

‘Then I will not,’ laughed Aragorn. ‘[added: I will enter as one.] The banner shall be furled and the tokens no more displayed.’ And he bade Halbarad [> Elladan] to furl the standard, and he removed the crown and stars and gave them to the keeping of the sons of Elrond. And he entered the City on foot clad only in a grey mantle above his mail and bearing no other token save the green stone of Galadriel, and he said: ‘I come only as Aragorn Lord of the Rangers of Forod.’

And so the great captains of victory passed through the city and the tumult of the people, and mounted to the Citadel, and came to the Hall of the Tower seeking the Steward. HoME VIII pg 389 – The Houses of Healing

Even if Tolkien changed his mind as soon as he noticed above, there is room for argument in Lord of the Rings as well. One could, if one were so inclined, argue that the passage in The Battle of the Pelennor Fields doesn't explicitly state that Halbarad dies. It merely says that he doesn't go back north, and that this is mentioned in the middle of a list of those slain in the Battle of the Pelennor is but a coincidence. (Yes, I'll go and get my coat now...)

All in all, while History of Middle-earth does show how the character Halbarad entered the narrative, we still don't know all that much about that character.

Credits and notes:

  • Dwimordene’s Character bio of Halbarad at HASA

  • Surgical Steel uses the wriggle room in the list of the slain of the Pelennor to good effect in her 'Happy AU' stories, blaming Halbarad's inclusion on a 'scribal error' by Frodo

  • History of Middle-earth volumes VII and VIII

    Editions used: HarperCollins (Grafton) 1992 paperback for both HoME 7 – the Treason of Isengard and HoME 8 – the War of the Ring

    For brevity's sake (*looks up* hmm, well, it could have been a lot longer...) I have made various cuts to the text I quoted and for clarity removed references to notes that I do not reference here. Square brackets with dots […] indicate cuts. Within the quoted text square brackets are used as in the original text and indicate various editorial observations by Christopher Tolkien. “>” stands for “emended to”.

  • TextSTAT concordance software; a very useful little freeware tool (I use version 2.7).


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
It's always wonderful to expand our knowledge of the minor characters and you did a great job researching and presenting Halbarad to us. I enjoyed reading through this and learned something as well.

- Erulisse (one L)
Jan. 21st, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it (and learned something *g*)
Jan. 17th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
I love figuring out the backstories of our beloved characters such as Halbarad, and love the research you have done on him.
Jan. 21st, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you:-)
Jan. 17th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
A very nice "biography" of Halbarad, it's very nice to see all of the canonical information on him laid out so clearly!
Jan. 21st, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks; such a pity there isn't more on him...
Jan. 19th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
What a delightful essay! I always enjoy reading people's essays on Middle-earth. I generally find them quite enlightening and this is no exception. While the information is well-presented, I must say that it was your flashes of humor that made this extremely enjoyable. :)
Jan. 21st, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you:-) I'm glad you liked the flashes of humour, as well as the serious bits.
Jan. 21st, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)
I enjoyed reading about the evolution of Halbarad, a favourite of mine.
Jan. 21st, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it:-)
Jan. 27th, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
Halbarad is one of my favorite characters even though he's not a big part of the narrative. This was a really great look at how the character became what he is in the books today.
Jan. 28th, 2012 11:46 am (UTC)
It would have been nice to have more to work with *g* Glad you liked it, though.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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