Éowyn and Merry Go to War

Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say.”

So speaks Dernhelm to the unhappy Merry as the host of Rohan prepare to make the great ride to the battle before the walls of Minas Tirith. Merry is unhappy because he is to be left behind. His pony could not follow the war steeds of the Rohirrim and, as Théoden says, “In such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, swordthain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?”

Merry has faced the same question ever since Elrond pondered in Rivendell about who should accompany the Ringbearer upon his journey. There it was not his stature that counted against him, for Frodo and Sam were chosen straightaway, there it was his youth, but ever since the Fellowship left Rivendell Merry has felt like baggage in someone else’s journey to be taken or left behind at the will of another but never at his own.

Now, once again, it is the choice of another to take him to battle. Briefly in the story we know the rider who bears Merry as Dernhelm. Merry had noted the rider on the morning of that day glancing keenly at him. “A young man, Merry thought as he returned the glance, less in height and girth than most. He caught the glint of clear grey eyes; and then he shivered, for it came suddenly to him that it was the face of one without hope who goes in search of death.”

Théoden will learn that Merry disobeyed him and rode to battle and at the end he will smile at the knowledge of the hobbit’s disobedience honouring his valiant heart and his courage. But he will never learn the true identity of Dernhelm and so will not die in grief but in comfort, for Dernhelm is Éowyn and the words that she speaks to Merry that began this blog post she speaks also regarding herself. She too, like Merry, did not lack in will. She desires to go to war and so end her life upon the battlefield, a life that she believes has no meaning without the love of Aragorn. But like Merry also, she lacks a way, at least a way that is permitted to her. Théoden will have her rule in Edoras in his absence just as she did while the host was at Helm’s Deep but this time she will not obey him although her disobedience is secret.

So once again Tolkien shows us the greatness of Éowyn. It is not in her despair that we see her greatness nor in her disobedience but in her decision to take Merry with her. This is not some kind of suicide pact of which Merry is ignorant nor is it the choice of a proud man that others should share his despair and die with him like the pilot who deliberately crashed the passenger plane into a mountainside. What Éowyn does is to recognise one who is a fellow sufferer and her heart goes out to him. This tells me that despair has not won its final victory in her heart for if it had her heart could not have seen anything beyond its own pain. Julian of Norwich put this beautifully when she said, as did Meister Eckhart, that there is a part of the human heart that has never said, Yes, to sin. This is what Tolkien shows us when her heart goes out to Merry. Is this what keeps her alive after the battle with the Lord of the Nazgûl and will not let her die even when she thinks that she wants to while lying in the Houses of Healing? In my imagination I see Julian and Eckhart reading her story and agreeing that this is exactly why she survives and then is gloriously restored to life through the patient and strong love of Faramir. It is her love for one who is almost a stranger to her that will hold her in her darkest days.

5 thoughts on “Éowyn and Merry Go to War

  1. Eowyn sees a kindred spirit in Merry, someone who wants to go into battle but is barred as she is, so they ride together, all unknowing to fulfill a vocation and a prophecy, the only two that can do this. I love what you said that Eowyn was not in complete despair and so could aid Merry. Love her.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • I agree with you entirely. Éowyn recognises herself in Merry. And that is her glory. I keep thinking of the tragedy of Denethor. In his despair he can see no further than himself. He has become everything and not even a triumph over Sauron can be enjoyed if it does not mean that the glory is his alone. Éowyn is broken hearted and, for a time, has lost all hope for herself, but at no point does she see herself as greater than the welfare of her people or greater than the ones that she loves. I think that this makes all the difference.
      Just to say here that I have just begun to read your Moments of Grace and I think that the word that comes to mind as I think of it is, beautiful. Grace is not just your subject matter but it is also in the way that you write. I look forward to reading the rest of the book.

      • Thank you so much for your kind words about my book! 🙂 Glad you are enjoying it so much. I didn’t write it alone anymore than Tolkien wrote his, so praise the Secret Fire for any grace in it. I was just a pencil in God’s hands, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said she wanted to be. I am working on another book specifically about Bilbo and Frodo (mostly Frodo, being the Frodo-holic that I am, I may have told you). Could I add your own beautiful words to my website as a testimonial?

        Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

      • I look forward to reading what you have to say about Frodo. I find that my most popular blog posts are about Sam but like you Frodo remains my favourite character. Of course the hobbits of the Shire held Sam in higher regard than Frodo which caused great sadness to Sam.
        Please use my words on your website. I meant every one of them.

  2. Thank you! One of my friends has said “Frodoandsam is my favorite” – one word, one person. Sam is a very very close second favorite, so close he’s practically sharing the space with Frodo as number 1, but Frodo is still ahead by a nose. 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

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