[Note: Just so you know, in the following post I’ve chosen to give Grond the Battering Ram male pronouns; I am aware of the dangers in assuming anyone’s preferred pronouns in this day and age, but I choose to refer to Grond as a male character for humor’s sake, and it just makes sense. Grond is NOT referred to in the literature as any kind of actual character and so do not mistake my treatment of his pronouns in any way other than humorous. Thank you.]
It is no secret or surprise that Tolkien was a lover of names, especially the names of things of his own creation. He had names for everything, and most of those things also had an often interesting history: mountains, hills, specific parts of rivers, specific trees, single buildings, streets, specific weapons, etc, etc, etc. He had made up entire languages and was not afraid of naming every piece of his fictional worlds that he could with those languages. Not only did the heroes of the story get fancy weapons with cool names and intricate histories, but Tolkien also gave the bad guys some special attention in way of naming their weapons. One of those in particular is significant to the War of the Ring yet few are aware of its name, let alone its backstory. Well, if that’s you, it’s time to get acquainted with a sinister inanimate object named Grond. He’s a battering ram and he’s not ashamed of it.
In The Return of the King, the War of the Ring culminates in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, fought just outside the fortress of Minas Tirith, the last bastion of Gondor and the bulwark of the West. If the Tower of Guard fell, nearly all hope would be lost for the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Sauron knew this and, though he foolishly struck sooner than he needed to, he focused all of his might on razing the White City. The thing about Minas Tirith, though, is its outer walls are essentially impenetrable, unless the very earth underneath could be rent apart. The only weakness was the Great Gate set in the lower circle on the eastern side; the main entrance to the city. No enemy had ever before set foot inside the circles of Minas Tirith, but Sauron meant to make history and do just that. He created (or, more likely, had created for him) Grond, the great battering ram, solely made to crush the Gate of the White City. This is the excerpt from the fourth chapter of the fifth book of The Lord of the Rings, “The Siege of Gondor”:
“Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it.”
One hundred feet long, forged in Mordor, head shaped like a wolf made of steel, spells of ruin on him, drawn by great beasts and wielded by mountain-trolls: what else could you ask for in a battering ram? Passages soon after talk about how no fire would catch on his housing from the desperate defenders’ flaming arrows. Some of the beasts pulling him would rampage out of control in a fit of madness as more were sent in to pull the ram into position. The Witch-king himself came to see Grond do his thing.
Needless to say, Grond accomplished what he came to do. He knocked on the door of Minas Tirith, but not lightly. Three times he knocked and each time the Black Captain would speak some dreadful spell to aid in bringing down the gate. On the third stroke the gate burst open and the Lord of the Nazgûl rode into the city; the first enemy to ever do so, thanks to Grond.Not much else is said about ol’ Grond after he does his work on the gate. What else can a a battering ram do after he breaks open the most difficult gate in the known world? There’s not much upward mobility in Sauron’s army, especially not for inanimate objects designed for only one job. Perhaps Grond was scrapped or pillaged by the Men of Gondor after their victory not long after the felling of the gate. Maybe Grond was salvaged and re-purposed as some catapult or…something. I don’t know. What do you really do when your now-defeated enemy leaves you all their broken machinery of war in your front yard?
Post-war conversion of battering rams aside, the more interesting part about Grond is not found in his future, but rather in his history, specifically his namesake. In an etymological sense, the word grond in Quenya comes from the word that means “club” or “rough piece of wood”. It’s not the most praiseworthy of titles, but a battering ram takes what he can get. In the blockquote up above, the most intriguing line includes something about how Grond of the Third Age got his name:
“Grond they named [him], in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old.”
Grond was actually the name of the huge mace used by the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, in the First Age. That’s right: Sauron named his battering-ram-to-end-all-battering-rams after his boss’s weapon. Maybe he was feeling sentimental or wanted to honor his fallen idol with his new creation. Either way, Grond also played a small, but significant role in the Elder Days.In those days, Fingolfin was essentially the king of all the elves in Middle-earth; if not the actual king of them all, he was almost certainly the greatest, both of courage and skill in combat. I won’t spend much time on the specifics here (though I hope to in a forthcoming Fact) and I’ll skip to the goods about Grond:
Fingolfin challenges Morgoth, the Dark Lord, to one-on-one combat and, get this, Morgoth is actually reluctant to fight him. Nonetheless, he comes out of his abode (called Thangorodrim, by the way) wielding none other than the Hammer of the Underworld, Grond; the spiritual grandfather of the Third Age battering ram. Both Morgoth and Grond Senior are so large that every time the Dark Lord swung at and missed the Elven King, huge pits and rents were made in the ground where the mace fell. (Spoiler) This actually is what leads to Fingolfin’s brave but unfortunate death. He stumbles wearily in the broken ground, after doing some serious damage to Morgoth, and is finally crushed by his foe.
It’s not necessarily a happy story in isolation, but Grond Sr. makes his appearance here and performs spectacularly, followed up many millennia later by Grond Jr. outside Minas Tirith also fulfilling his purpose in life. Destruction of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth is apparently a family business.
In the most recent film adaptation Grond makes a dramatic appearance, and even by name. A little more emphasis is given to him in the extended edition of The Return of the King, but his most prominent role is featured in both versions: As the beasts pull the battering ram into position you can hear the army of orcs nearby chanting “Grond! Grond! Grond!” repeatedly. It’s not something you would necessarily pick up on unless you were listening for it, so I thought I would throw this tidbit of information in here.
There you have it: Tolkien even cared about the enemy batter rams in his works. All creatures (and wood/metal constructions) in his universe were equally respected, at least in terms of attention to detail of name and history. Grond is not the most interesting or nice character (…really he’s not even a character…) but I can definitely say he’s my favorite battering ram of all time, without a doubt.