There’s a song by Rhapsody(ofFire) called “Unholy Warcry”. I don’t understand where exactly in the song is located this warcry, but since it’s unholy I assume it’s the villain Nekron making it… anyway, the topic for this post is the psychology of both warcries and speeches right before battle. I’ll be taking examples from Redwall and Lord of the Rings.
My basic question is this… what are people thinking when they make those noises? They are, I am sure, excited and it is kind of a natural action. The Redwall badger warcry of “eulalia!!!” is only steps away from some sort of mindless scream. But some part of them has to be thinking exactly what I’m thinking – this (the warcry) is kind of absurd. I know that when I go to baseball games, I will get interested in the game (I have a rooting interest in the Texas Rangers, and I do get excited when they score a run), but I often see something exciting happen (like a home run), am excited, and see everybody else yelling at the top of their lungs… but I can’t really bring myself to do that. It just seems so silly. I wonder if the badgers are that self-conscious when they charge into battle.
Then again, most warcries aren’t just combinations of syllables. Aragorn cries, “Elendil! Elendil!”. Gimli, and all the dwarves, have the gutterally supreme “baruk khazad! khazad aimenu!” (axes of the dwarves! the dwarves are upon you!). This is more like when you get up a “let’s go rangers let’s go” chant at the ballpark. I can understand it as such. But… well, isn’t it usually the fans who cheer on the players? it seems to me that the if you have a running monologue that you say during battle, it will distract you a bit. (I guess part of the purpose, in addition to strengthening your resolve, is to distract your enemies, but it could easily backfire…) I would probably just be dead silent and concentrate all my energy on winning. Of course, I’ve never been in battle.
I guess my basic point is that these characters seem really un-self-counscious. Which doesn’t seem particularly realistic. Though perhaps the face of death tends to do that.
Then there are those speeches given before battle… here’s what Théoden said before charging across towards Minas Tirith:
Arise. Arise, Riders of Théoden.
Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered.
A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
This is obviously very stylistic. It’s meant to instill a certain emotion – I’ve talked before about manufactured emotions, actually, ,and this is an example. But I can’t imagine saying this line without sort of laughing at myself. A sword day? A red day? Really? The scene in the movie, while very epic and grand, is also very easy to laugh at exactly because it is so epic and grand and, well, pretentious.
I think a lot of the problem I have (and, I think, the modern reader in general has) with taking this stuff entirely seriously is that our culture is one of constant cynicism. It’s the same thing that causes people to laugh at epic metal. People can’t take heroism for heroism or glory and honor at face value – they’re always intended ironically, or exaggerated to oblivion. And I guess that’s part of the reason I listen to epic metal – I can really get into the music, and feel the “glory, honor, bloodshed” and not feel compelled to laugh at it. But I can’t stand listening to it with other people, most of the time, because they view it as just cliche and camp.