A Meditation on a True King

The Riders of Rohan ride for two days towards the Fords of Isen where the remnant of the army that had been commanded by Theodred, son of Théoden, until he fell, still strive to hold out. They are met by a messenger who counsels them to go no further.

“Where is Eomer?” he cries, “Tell him there is no hope ahead. He should return to Edoras before the wolves of Isengard get there.”

The whole mood is one of despair and the arrival of Eomer makes no difference to this. But then Théoden rides forward and speaks to the messenger.

“I am here,” he says. The last host of the Eorlingas has ridden forth. It will not return without battle.”

And with those words everything is transformed. The messenger falls to his knees “with joy and wonder”. No new hope has been given. The likely end to this story is still death for them all and the end of Rohan and yet despair has gone because the King has come to his people. What until that moment had been expectation of a meaningless death is now full of meaning. We know that the title of the last volume of The Lord of the Rings was The Return of the King and that it refers to Aragorn and his return to Gondor; but it could equally refer to Théoden and his return to his own people, the Rohirrim. The return of the King always brings transformation.

In their study of the masculine psyche, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette write, “The mortal man who incarnates the King energy or bears it for a while in the service of his fellow human beings, in the service of the realm (of whatever dimensions), in the service of the cosmos, is almost an interchangeable part, a human vehicle for bringing this ordering and generative archetype into the world and into the lives of human beings.” In other words it is the energy that matters more than the person. If Eomer were the king as he will be later then his arrival would be enough. He would incarnate the King energy just as Théoden does now. What matters is that the energy must be incarnated by a true king who gives his life in service of the people, the realm, the cosmos. When that happens a life giving order comes to the world.

This is what distinguishes a true from a false king. The false king, as Moore and Gillette say, is either a tyrant or a weakling. The Rohirrim go to war with Saruman, the tyrant, the false king, who can only impose order by force and fear and whose rule will always take life and not give it. Even the instruments of the tyrant must ultimately be a denial, a mockery, of life. In The Lord of the Rings this mockery is expressed by means of the orcs. But it is not only from the tyrant that the people seek liberation but from the weakling too. The Rohirrim have been delivered from their own weakling king. As Moore and Gillette put it, “Kings in the ancient world were often ritually killed when their ability to live out the King archetype began to fail. What was important was that the generative power of the energy not be tied to the fate of an aging and increasingly impotent mortal.”

Gandalf has liberated Rohan from their increasingly impotent king and an energy is released in its people that Saruman and his slaves can never know. Now even if they are defeated the defeat will not be meaningless but still generative. Now the deaths that have been suffered at the Fords of Isen and the death of Theodred, the king’s son have meaning. We will end this week with Moore and Gillette again.

“When we are accessing the King energy correctly, as servants of our own inner King, we will manifest in our lives the qualities of the good and rightful King, the King in his fullness… We will feel our anxiety level drop. We will feel centred and calm, and hear ourselves speak from an inner authority. We will have the capacity to mirror and to bless ourselves and others.”

15 thoughts on “A Meditation on a True King

  1. This is one of the things that detracted from the LotR films, for me. As much as I love those films, for the most part, Aragorn, in order to be more accessible(?) to the modern audience, is much less at peace with his royalty than the Aragorn of the book. He has self-doubt in the book, but his royalty is always just below the surface even when he is incognito. When it shines through, it is unambiguous.

  2. I agree with you entirely, including your liking of the films for the most part. We do seem to have a contemporary unease with the notion of kingship. I wonder if that is because we generally experience kingship in its immature form, either through the tyrant or the weakling. Cate Blanchett expresses the king energy wonderfully both in The Lord of the Rings and also in the two Elizabeth films. I found the way she grew into her kingly vocation in the first movie absolutely spell binding and compelling. I would fall to my knees with delight and some fear if she came into the room.

    • Indeed.
      I think, having seen power so misused by fallen man, we’ve become wary and jaded. Perhaps we have, for the most part, come to disbelieve in the ideal simply because all human kings fall short of it.
      In both the U.S. and the U.K., modern western though has made us forget the purpose of legend and ideal. :/ I run across that a lot when trying to discuss Arthurian legend with people.

  3. A King then, is someone who is so genuine in Kingship, and so secure, that their Kingly power is not expended in subjugating or impressing others. Rather that, in blossoming from deep roots it has power to reach out, uncover and foster the noble intention of others’ hearts? The king that had not yet reached maturity in himself could not inspire others? Is this like a “Love thy neighbour as thyself” question; the King has to recognise and accept his own authority, but without narcissism, (hence Aragorn comments) before he can effectively bring forth others? A false King therefore being one who either over or under-represents himself and, therefore, is insecure, not genuine, and cannot inspire a genuine response?

    I’ve probably totally missed the mark, but thank you for an interesting article and for food for thought ….

    • I think you have entirely hit the mark! Your statement “blossoming from deep roots it has the power to reach out, uncover and foster the noble intention of others’ hearts” puts the whole thing beautifully. We all know that we have met someone rather special when we catch a glimpse of that quality.

  4. I’m a little timid to comment (let alone twice) as I have no training in this sort of thing (I’m a musician). But it’s a subject quite close to my heart, so I thought I brave it!

    ….As for ideal and legend. I agree that people are “jaded” – It seems to me to be worsened by the current media driven need to uncover “dirty washing”, which has induced a scepticism of the very idea that something pure and shining can be other than tainted.

    Perhaps, also, as young people are conditioned by experience at school these days to be unable to cope with failure, the very concept of aiming toward something, rather than simply achieving it, becomes alien? Alongside that of a “tick box” objective and assessment process that makes the unquantifiable appear unreal and irrelevant.

    This is also, perhaps, an unfortunate flip side to the stance that one has a right to be accepted for who one is. Although that is true, it can engender complacency and a lack of desire to improve. If we have also dismissed the “ideal” as purely fantastical (and, as such, unachievable, and therefore not worthy of emulation), it seems increasingly irrelevant to have something to which we can aspire?

    Perhaps the important phrase, then, is the incarnational one: hope (however fantastical) is given substance when the king says “I am here” ?

    It is so long since I have read the Trilogy – do they win the battle? You have quite inspired me to rediscover it!

  5. Once again I thank you for your comment. As the father of a musician and a lover of music myself I certainly don’t think that being a musician disqualifies you from entering the world of ideas. It never put Wagner off!
    I think that the one thing I would say in reply is that Théoden is not an “ideal” king. What he is is a man who is brought from the darkness in which he feels his own failure as king to his people to the man who is able to say “I am here” and with those words to rouse them once again. Moore and Gillette would argue that the “King Energy” is always there but that the weakling or tyrant are unable to access it. Only the true king, the one who gives up his/her life for the sake of the people is able to do that. And only a king whose people receive the gift can access the energy. At the moment Gandalf rouses Théoden from his dark slumber he is able to do this.
    I find myself saying to you that I want you to wait, either until you read it again yourself or until I write my blog in a few weeks time on the end of the battle. Please forgive me. I am exercising a writer’s privilege! I am so glad that you are being inspired to rediscover The Lord of the Rings.

  6. Hah, that is true! Perhaps that was their contribution to the art of modern mythmaking? 🙂
    There are characters from older myths that I connect to, but I do agree with Lewis that the plot seems much more important than character. Character serves more as an archetype, or a symbol of the ideal.

  7. I appreciate you drawing our attention back to how the book fleshes out what a true king looks like. The connection between a king’s honour in the face of grave danger and the hope of his people is one that always moves me. Theoden’s calvary charge at Helm’s Deep never fails to give me shivers.

  8. Thank you so much for leaving this comment and for reblogging the post on your site.The True King is a theme at the heart of The Lord of the Rings if the book can be said to have themes. I am sure that I will return to it many times here and I look forward to future conversations with you. I agree with you, by the way, on Théoden’s charge at Helm’s Deep. It is a wonderful moment.

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