“How Shall a Man Judge What to Do in Such Times?” Eomer Ponders The Making of Choices. To Aid or To Thwart Aragorn.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 565-571

Eomer dismisses his company in order to speak to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in private, and in order to give himself time to make his choice. Whether to aid or to thwart the hunters in their effort to find Merry and Pippin. He has already taken a risk in leading his men against the orc band that had slain Boromir and taken the hobbits prisoner. Theoden, the king, did not give him permission to go. Now what will he do about these three strangers who walk across the fields of Rohan?

Eomer needs space in order to make his decision. Anke Eissmann depicts the meeting between him and Aragorn.

Eomer needs space to think. He also needs space to reorient himself after all the things that he has just been told.

“It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dearf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

In my last piece on this blog I wrote about a world “grown strange”. I wrote about how hobbits were dismissed as mere “children’s tales out of the North” while Galadriel is feared as one who belongs to “net-weavers and sorcerers”. Tolkien once wrote that if someone comes bearing tales of dragons either he will not be believed and so will be dismissed as a mad man or he will be believed and so will be regarded as dangerous and uncanny. Aragorn and his companions seem to be regarded as both at one and the same time and so Eothain, who speaks for the ordinary person dismisses them as “wild folk” who should be left to their fancies.

Bilbo tells tales of dragons and so is dismissed as mad, even though he gives very good parties.

It was not just because the world would be a more delightful place if it were to be more magical, to be re-enchanted, that Tolkien and the other Inklings wrote their stories. It was because the world would be more true. So the good, the beautiful and the true are really one and in order for something to be true it is not necessary to separate it out from the beautiful.

Nor is it necessary to separate the true from the good. “How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” Aragorn’s answer is both clear and simple.

“As he has ever judged… Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

Boromir began to make his choice to take the Ring while in the Golden Wood.

So Eomer is left with a choice to make. Aragorn has made it clear to him that he will not abandon Merry and Pippin. He determined to find them when at Tol Brandir even at the cost of his own life. If the wise choice were simply about finding out what was in his own interest and then pursuing it he would certainly not have followed the orc band. The wise choice would probably have been to go on to Minas Tirith. He could have spoken of his promise made to Boromir and expressed genuine regret about the unhappy fate of Merry and Pippin but the principle of self interest would have left him little choice in the matter. Of course by going to Minas Tirith he would have brought himself into conflict with Denethor who would have contested any claim that he might have made, but then politics and the achievement of power is always a matter of navigation through one set of circumstances after another in seeking to achieve the goal. That Aragorn would not have met with Gandalf once again in the Forest of Fangorn nor played his part in the defeat of Saruman and through that to win the loyalty of Rohan not just in the battles that immediately lay ahead but in the future too would simply be unfortunate. After all, it is not possible to achieve everything at any one moment. But Aragorn does not make this choice. He chooses the good in his loyalty to the young hobbits and so wins the respect and the aid of Eomer who chooses to try to do the good also. He gives horses to the three companions to aid them in their task and this choice will cost him his freedom, for some time at least.