Éowyn, Merry and The Lord of the Nazgûl

As Théoden lies, his body broken beneath Snowmane, only two among his household knights remain beside him. One is the hobbit, Meriadoc Brandybuck, who began the great ride of the Rohirrim in some indignation feeling that his offer of service to the king had been disregarded but who at this moment of horror is at Théoden’s side only because he has been carried there. And the other is the one who carried Merry into battle and who followed the king wherever he went in the fight. This knight named himself, Dernhelm, but is now revealed as Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, and niece to Théoden.

Éowyn is there because of her love for Théoden who has been as a father to her, and she is there because she seeks death. Indeed we could describe her as being one who has already died and so feels no fear.

“Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!” she cries. And the Lord of the Nazgûl who has journeyed deathless through long ages and through battles beyond numbering, advances upon her to destroy both her and Théoden.

But he is resisted. The fear that robs all who try to cross his path of the strength even to try and resist him has no power over her for she is beyond fear, and then something new and entirely unexpected is brought to the story. When Éowyn declares her intent to hinder him he cries out that, “No living man may hinder me!” and in so doing he grants to Éowyn a new strength and determination for, as she declares to him, “no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him.”

Doubt enters the Ringwraith’s mind and amazement the mind of the terrified hobbit and, within moments, Éowyn and Merry have pierced the sinews of the Black Captain that he had thought invulnerable to all hurt “and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died”. So passes the Lord of the Nazgûl in utter despair.

This is a moment of great power in Tolkien’s story and it is one that neither Éowyn nor Merry have foreseen nor even dreamt of. Merry wanted simply to follow Théoden into the battle. Indeed, all he wanted was not to be left out. Éowyn wanted only a death in battle to obliterate the unendurable pain of rejection that she has had to bear since Aragorn’s departure. But a deeper feeling is awoken in both of them by the Lord of the Nazgûl. Deeper than Éowyn’s despair or Merry’s fear and sense of insignificance. In Éowyn it is her love for Théoden and in Merry a realisation that he cannot stand by and let Éowyn die alone. These deeper feelings rouse them to action but, by themselves, could do little more than bring them to a brave death that would have achieved nothing. It is the pronouncement of the prophecy by the Lord of the Nazgûl, the Witch King of Angmar of old, that brings about his own destruction, turning Éowyn and Merry into deadly foes and making vulnerable an undead body that has been untouchable through long ages.

Many who have achieved something of significance in their lives have spoken of an energy, a strength, that is given to them at a critical moment. At that moment and for that moment only it is as if no power can stand before them. The desire to do some good and the strength to do it come together irresistibly. It is as if some latent possibility is released that can, it seems, achieve anything. It can never be ordered and we can never know when it will come but when it does then we must act with all the courage that we can muster. And such power comes to those who desire some good for others and never for some selfish end. It is this divine power that comes to Merry and to Éowyn at this critical moment.

6 thoughts on “Éowyn, Merry and The Lord of the Nazgûl

  1. Your closing paragraph made me think of the statement that people sometimes are filled with extreme desperation and give up right before they succeed. It’s in a way “the darkest hour” that comes before dawn. It’s great to see how Éowyn and Merry handled their dark hour.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful write-up!

    • That is a wonderful thought, Olga, and a challenge to me not to give up when things look bad. Although when I think of what happens at that moment in the battle it strikes me that Éowyn and Merry have both “given up”. Éowyn’s heart is stirred by the Black Captain’s threat against her beloved Lord. Merry’s is stirred by the threat against Éowyn. But the strength to resist must have been present within them and capable of being roused.

  2. I love this moment, both in the book and the movie. The Witch-king thought he was perfectly safe because who but living men fight in battles and who would be strong enough to stand against him anyways. Then he meets the only woman and hobbit on the battlefield and that hobbit holds a dead man’s sword. The prophecy is true. Love what you said about Eowyn being beyond fear. Love is stronger than fear or death or anything else, and evil for all its might is helpless against it.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • What strikes me about Éowyn is that when she enters the battle her fearlessness comes from a desire to die. But when Théoden is threatened by the Lord of the Nazgûl it is not despair but love that is awakened in her heart. Then, as you so rightly say, she and Merry too, have a power that their terrible foe cannot withstand. I wonder too if it is this love that first, Aragorn, and then, Faramir, are able to reach in the Houses of Healing later on.
      Thank you once again for your comment and God bless you too 😊

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