Merry Feels Useless as He Prepares for Battle

We are on the road with the Rohirrim passing through the Druadan forest and it is held against us by our enemies. We could engage them in battle and doubtless would prevail but there is no time for delay, not even a victorious one, because the hosts of Mordor are at the gates of Minas Tirith.

Théoden and his commanders are busy about the business of war and are in conference with the people of the Druadan wood, seeking a way to bring the riders past those who would prevent their passage but one among their number is lonely and unhappy.

We have seen Merry like this before, on more than one occasion. He carries a great burden with him, one that he does not seem to know how to cast away, and that is his sense of insignificance.

Elfhelm, the commander of the éored to which Dernhelm/Éowyn is attached, trips over Merry, hidden as he is by the elven cloak that he wears, and roundly curses the tree-roots.

“I am not a tree root, Sir,” Merry said, “nor a bag, but a bruised hobbit.”

Poor Merry! It was his desire to be of some use that brought him here but it is his sense of uselessness that afflicts him now that he is close to battle. He wishes “he was a tall rider like Éomer and could blow a horn or something and go galloping to his rescue.”

Ah, the blowing of horns and the business of galloping about. How many people are relieved to spend their time going from meeting to meeting, not because of the value of what each meeting can bring to the enterprise that they are meant to serve but because each meeting can fill the void that otherwise they would gaze over as each day’s work begins. When they take their place around the meeting table at least they do not have to justify their reason for being there.

Merry is there in disobedience to the king’s express command. What can we say to comfort him? Elfhelm does not try and Dernhelm keeps silent. And if they did speak there would be nothing that they could say. Soon as they look down upon the Pelennor Fields and the hosts of Mordor massed against them they will all feel afraid and they will all have to master their fear. Even Théoden will “sit upon Snowmane, motionless, gazing upon the agony of Minas Tirith, as if stricken suddenly by anguish, or by dread.”

And at that moment all that there will be for any to do will be to rush into the heart of battle. Only a few battle hardened veterans will know what it is that they must do when they meet the enemy, the rest will have to learn quickly or perish as they do so. And Merry will find himself confronting a foe so terrible that even if he had been a veteran of many battles and had won many victories, not one of them would be of any use to him. But we will have to wait until another time to think about that story.

So there is no comfort that we can give him now and if we were to tell him what he will face in the battle we might terrify him so much as to unman him completely. It is best not to think too much about what lies ahead. John Henry Newman puts it well in his beloved hymn, “Lead Kindly Light” and we will end this week’s reflection on The Lord of the Rings with his words. Newman was a priest at the Birmingham Oratory whose clergy raised Tolkien after his mother’s death and so I would imagine that he knew this hymn very well.

“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom; lead thou me on! The night is long and I am far from home; lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene- one step enough for me.”

Anyone who has walked in real darkness will know one step is all that you can take at any point. Faith tells you that it is all you need. It is enough.

7 thoughts on “Merry Feels Useless as He Prepares for Battle

  1. I always feel so sorry for Merry in this situation. He seems so lost and miserable, and I think here it shows how alien Hobbits are to the world of battles and wars. But I love his persistence and that he goes against the king’s orders just because he is sick of feeling so small and useless. Merry shows courage, I believe. Blind courage probably. I do not think he knows what he will be up against at the battlefield, but facing the unknown can be worse than facing the enemy you know well.

    • I am sure that Merry does not know what lies ahead although he has been in battle and so when he sees Eowyn confront the Lord of the Nazgûl he does not freeze in terror.
      I agree with you about his persistence. I chose to quote Newman’s hymn because of the line, “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” Merry has no choice but to take one step at a time and when I walk through a darkened wood I have learned that the secret to doing it well is to do exactly that, feeling with my feet to “see” if I am still on the path or not.

      • It made me think of Galadriel’s words about treading paths which the Fellowship might not see yet, though these paths might be laid before them. I guess discovering them is also taking one step at a time and seeing where it leads you in the end. They say the first step is always the most difficult and then it gets easier, once you stay on the road.

      • All the Fellowship proved those words of Galadriel true! And when it comes to finding the journey a little easier after each step then I have to mention that Merry’s journey to the Pelennor Fields leads him to the fateful meeting with the Lord of the Nazgûl!

    • I think that at the present time when there is so much fear, anxiety and uncertainty that Newman’s hymn becomes even more important. I am also struck that Merry has not yet attained this faith. His mind is flying all over the place and yet step by step he moves towards his destiny. The steps are taken for him by the advance of the Rohirrim and by Éowyn’s horse. This comforts me. I may be assailed by fears today but the day that God has given will carry me forward. My feet are being kept. Once again, thank you for your encouragement and your blessings. May God bless you too.

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