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Literature / The Iron Tower

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The Iron Tower is a trilogy of high fantasy novels in the Mithgar series by Dennis L. McKiernan.

The trilogy was published in 1984, later being released as an omnibus in 2000.

It consists of:

  • The Dark Tide
  • Shadows of Doom
  • The Darkest Day

For thousands of years, the forces of the dark lord Modru and his master Gyphon have been trapped in hiding, rendered powerless by the light of the sun. Now however, with the arrival of the Myrkenstone, Modru has found a way to blot out the sun, and his armies set out to ravage the land of Mithgar. Standing against him are the armies of man, led by King Aurion Redeye and his sons, Galen and Igon. They will not be enough, however, and Aurion, desperate to hold back the dark tide of Rucks, Hloks, Ogrus, and worse, calls for aid from the other good races of Mithgar.

Tuck Underbank is a Warrow—a small, elf-like humanoid renowned for their ability as archers. Having left home with a band of friends to become Thornwalkers—guardians of the border—Tuck finds himself recruited into the king's army when his captain, Patrel Rushlock, answers Aurion's call for aid. Though Tuck doesn't know it, he's about to find himself at the centre of events that will shape the future of Mithgar for centuries to come.


This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Merrilee Holt, Tuck's girlfriend, and one of the best shots in the Boskydells after Tuck and Danner themselves. She manages to put an arrow straight through the heart of a mounted, moving Ghul, from a few hundred yards away, which earns her a position as leader of the resistance.
  • Adventure
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Ogrus/Trolls, who are giant Rucks/Goblins with stony skin and sadistic temperaments.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Apparently all of the evil minion races under Modru. Whether they're like this because they were created for evil by Gyphon, or because they've lived under his and his henchmen's tyranny for so long that any good has been beaten out of them is unclear.
  • Always Night: The Dimmendark blots out the sun (creating endless night and endless winter) so that all of the evil creatures banished (and destroyed) by the sun can further the Modru's plan to conquer the world.
  • Ascended Fanfic: The story was developed as backstory for The Silver Call, which was originally supposed to be a sequel to The Lord of the Rings.
  • Backstory: To The Silver Call and other Mithgar stories.
  • The Berserker: Danner Bramblethorn, who loses his mind as the series progresses, becoming a giant ball of Unstoppable Rage.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The Warrows, who are the nicest people you'll meet, but deadly archers.
  • Big Bad: Modru. Gyphon's more powerful and is implied to be more evil, but it's Modru who is driving the plot.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world is saved, but most of Tuck's friends are dead and he goes blind.
  • The Bully: Danner has aspects of this, though he grows out of it as he befriends the others and then moves into berserker territory.
  • Captain Ersatz: Gyphon and Modru for Morgoth/Melkor and Sauron respectively. Various other characters bear a passing similarity with other members of the LOTR cast, though Tuck and his friends largely avoid it.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Ogrus fight with warbars—huge pieces of steel that they use to beat most enemies into the ground.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The first Journal Note states "The source of this tale is a tattered copy of The Raven Book, an incredibly fortunate find dating from the time before The Separation."
  • Distressed Damsel: Princess Laurelin of Riamon. She does at least make some attempts at planning her own escape, but achieves nothing.
  • Doomed Hometown: Averted. After the Boskydells are invaded and several towns are destroyed, the Warrows fight back.
  • Doorstopper: The omnibus edition is 648 pages including the appendices.
  • Duel to the Death: We first meet Brega when he is in the midst of one with a Hlok. Gildor challenges Modru's Ogru warden and stableguard to one after recognising him as Vanidor's murderer. Subverted when Patrel challenges the Ogru gatekeeper in order to distract it while Danner storms the battlements.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Danner, who uses his last breath to loose a giant ballista bolt, killing the Ogru that was about to crush Patrel.
  • God of Evil: Gyphon, who is basically Morgoth in terms of his role in the cosmology, but with a different backstory. A couple of other Gods of Evil are namedropped occasionally, but never in direct appearances.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Gyphon, whose summoning is the purpose of the story.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Modru's army is always proceeded by the sound of a drum whose sound is, of course, rendered as "Doom, doom". It frightens or at least unnerves most of the cast, at least up until Danner starts ranting about he would like to "shove that Ruck inside his own drum and pound it to a fare-thee-well" at which point Field Marshal Vidrion almost falls off the wall laughing.
  • Hobbits: These are called Warrows — slim, elf-like folk under four feet tall, who have archery as their hat.
  • Madness Mantra: Danner during his final charge on the walls at the Iron Tower. "King of the Rillrock! Danner Bramblethorn is King of the Rillrock!"
  • Mage Species: Mages are their own distinct race; they resemble a cross between humans and elves and while they age (especially when doing magic) they can go into special trances that let them regain lost youth. Though other races have certain mystical abilities, Mages (and hybrids like Stoke and Ydral with some Mage blood) are the only ones who cast formal spells.
  • Mouth of Sauron: Modru speaks through a number of men who are rendered mindless when he is not in control.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: The Ghuls or Ghols are undead humanoids mounted on Helsteeds who act as leaders of the Rucks, Hloks, and Ogrus. They are very hard to kill, with wood through the heart, beheading, and dismemberment being the only things that are sure to work.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Very much follow the Tolkein archetype. Complete with an utter lack of female dwarves, which is a complicated story that has been slowly teased in a number of books since.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The elves are portrayed as better than everyone else in almost everything. Just as the Rucks and so on from the Lower Plane are always evil, short-lived, mostly mindless, and so on, the elves from the Higher Plane are always good, immortal, and brilliant.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Rucks fill the Goblin role, and have this as another of their names.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Ogrus are a cross between the Ogre and Troll archetypes, and are essentially gigantic Rucks.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Rucks, Hloks, and Ogrus are all dark-skinned, bat-eared, bandy-legged gap-toothed brutes of varying sizes. Rucks, or Goblins, are four feet tall, Hloks are Orcs or Hobgoblins and stand human height, and Ogrus or Trolls are the size of an elephant.
  • Revenge: Gildor swears vengeance for his brother, Vanidor, after the latter is tortured to death by Modru's Ogru warden. He eventually claims it in a Duel to the Death.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Most nobles are portrayed as people who would actually defend their subjects. Shown, for example, with Galen.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: The main characters are separated (some voluntarily, some not) and the story follows each character or group.
  • Technicolor Eyes: Warrows have eyes that are the color of gemstones. Their ability to see much further in the Dimmendark than the other races is suggested to be linked to this, allowing Warrows to see by a different light.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Danner slides into this on occasion, though it's ultimately deconstructed — while Danner can force his way past most adversaries, his lack of concern for his own safety, coupled with the fact that he is a Warrow, mean that it ultimately gets him killed.