Merry Thinks About “Being Overlooked” Just One More Time

When Meriadoc Brandybuck enters the City he is just one more weary soldier among many others at the end of battle. All attention is given to the King of Rohan whose body is covered in a great cloth of gold and received with state and reverence. And with the king is Éowyn who is borne upon a litter and whose beauty calls forth tender sorrow from all who look upon her.

At the last it is Pippin who finds him as he wanders aimlessly along a narrow lane and as the friends meet again at last Merry sits down upon a step and weeps.

“I wish I could carry you,” Pippin anxiously declares. “You aren’t fit to walk any further. They shouldn’t have let you walk at all; but you must forgive them. So many dreadful things have happened in the City, Merry, that one poor hobbit coming in from the battle is easily overlooked.”

Now those who know Tolkien’s story well will know that Merry has carried a certain resentment about “being overlooked” throughout it. When we first meet him near the Bucklebury Ferry early in the journey of the Ring from the Shire he exudes competence and confidence in everything he does. He is the one who has prepared the cottage at Crickhollow for the frightened travellers, who have encountered the Nazgûl for the first time, with hot baths and a good meal. He is the one who reveals the conspiracy to Frodo and announces that wherever Frodo goes he and Pippin and Sam will go too. He has ponies and provisions ready for the journey and is able to offer local knowledge about the way into The Old Forest and even a little about the forest itself.

And then as soon as he steps outside the world he knows it all starts to unravel. The encounters with Old Man Willow, the Barrow Wight and the later the Nazgûl in Bree, the last of which leads Barliman Butterbur to wonder if he might actually be on his holidays rather than a dangerous adventure, all cause him to lose the confidence with which he began. He is way out of his depth in a story so great and often so terrifying that it is always beyond his conceiving.

And yet he goes on.  It is Gandalf who says to Elrond of Merry and Pippin, “It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they had dared, and be shamed and unhappy.” And it is Merry’s refusal to be overlooked that leads him to go to the battle with Éowyn. At no time does he ever feel competent as he did at the outset of the journey but he never gives in and even his resentment, his feeling that he is no more than a piece of luggage to the great ones around him ultimately plays its part. It leads him to the moment when The Lord of the Nazgûl stands over the wounded Éowyn and is about to kill her. So intent is the deadly king upon his prey that he neither sees nor fears what lies behind him. And so it is Merry, “Master Bag”, who thrusts his sword into the tendons behind the knee of one who, until this moment, has believed himself invulnerable. Only Merry the hobbit and Éowyn the woman could have brought down this deadliest of foes and in the strangest of ways it is rejection and “being overlooked” that brings them both together to this vital moment.

Never again will Merry feel resentment about “being overlooked” or, if he does, it will be his memory of this moment that will transform that feeling.

“It’s not always a misfortune being overlooked,” he says to Pippin. “I was overlooked just now by…”

Merry is now both sadder and wiser. His journey to adulthood, as it is for all who really get there, has been one that has been through fear and failure and sorrow. He has given his heart away and seen it broken and now he sits and weeps. But he does not give up. Step by step he keeps on going both to adulthood and a greatness of which he is entirely unaware.

10 thoughts on “Merry Thinks About “Being Overlooked” Just One More Time

  1. So when he tells Pippin, “I was overlooked just now” and doesn’t finish, he means the Witch-king? When I saw your title for this post, my heart did a little leap because I thought maybe I’ll find out what he means because that has always puzzled me. I took it to mean that very moment he was speaking he was overlooked and I didn’t know by who, but it would make sense that he thinks of the Witch-king and the wraith’s non-awareness until too late. Somewhere I can’t remember (Unfinished Tales I think) Gandalf says something like, “It was a small oversight but it proved fatal. Small oversights often do.” 🙂

    Love what you say about Merry.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • I must finish this reply to your comment. The “send” button on my tablet is a little too easy to hit by accident. I love the way Tolkien develops these themes around his characters and this connection between “being overlooked” and Merry’s story is definitely one of them. I did not know that quote from Gandalf. Thank you. Gandalf has a very strong sense of the irony of life especially in its relationship to those who believe themselves to be great. The Witch King must have anticipated the day in which he would ride into Minas Tirith in triumph for many years and even confronting Gandalf at the gates would have seemed fitting. But falling at the hands of a hobbit and a young woman? I don’t think that ever entered his darkest dreams.

  2. As always, Stephen, a thoughtful and rewarding piece. Thank you. Merry is shrewd and brave from the start. I marvel at his behavior in Bree. He goes out for a walk, catches sight of a Black Rider, and follows him, astonishing Strider. It is little wonder that he summons up the courage to strike the Witch-king. Unfortunately, the importance of the blow he strikes, which saves Eowyn’s life and allows her to strike the fatal blow, is often overlooked.

    • Many thanks for reminding me of a more positive reading of the events in Bree. I was more inclined to be on Butterbur’s side! One aspect of Merry’s character (and Pippin’s too) is the way in which he gives his heart away. I think that it is his love for Théoden and for Éowyn that arouses his courage. I think too that Tolkien is perfectly aware that Merry’s part in the slaying of the Witch King is overlooked, both within the story itself and then in the way that these events are recalled later on by most of the readers and the fans of Jackson’s films. I think he meant Merry to be overlooked, and that it would no longer matter to him. Merry has grown up.

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