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.

How Do We Know if the Time has Come Unless We Try the Door?

One night of rest remains before the host of Rohan begin the great ride to the plains before Minas Tirith. Théoden sits at table with Éomer and Eówyn upon his right and Merry upon his left. At first there is little talk as tends to be the way of it before a great event. What is there left to be said? But at last it is Merry who breaks the silence.

“Twice now, lord, I have heard of the Paths of the Dead,” he said. “What are they? And where has Strider, I mean the Lord Aragorn, where has he gone?”

Théoden does not reply but just sighs and so it is Éomer who tells Merry of the road into the mountains that Aragorn has just taken and the sad story of Baldor, son of Brego, who once dared to pass the door and who was never seen again.

Then it is Théoden who adds something to the telling of the story in order to bring some comfort and hope. He tells of how when Brego and Baldor first climbed the road in search of places of refuge in times of need they met a man of great age sitting before the door.

“The way is shut… It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.”

Until the time comes.

This begs the question that Éomer now asks.

“But how shall a man discover whether that time be come or no, save by daring the door?”

Éomer’s question is answered in the asking of it and we know that Aragorn has already received the answer by daring the door with his companions and has passed through safely, commanding the dead to follow him.

There are moments of crisis in our lives when a choice must be made. It is at such times that the original meaning of crisis is revealed. A crisis is a time of judgment when the reality of who we are is brought into the light and revealed for what it truly is. The unhappy Baldor swore an oath in the pride of his youth, emboldened by the strong drink in the horn that he bore and so the way remained closed to him. Aragorn passed the door as the heir of Isildur at the great moment of the Age commanding the Dead to follow him and so fulfil their oath. Aragorn knew the authority that had been given to him and knew his greatness. To know this is not pride in the sense that it was for Baldor. In Baldor’s case the swearing of the oath was an aspiration, an attempt to declare himself a man of substance, of greatness, who could command the loyalty of his men. In Aragorn’s case the greatness was not something that he sought to grasp; indeed we saw him lay it down with all his personal hope of happiness in order to follow the orcs and try to free Merry and Pippin. Aragorn’s destiny is not an aspiration but is bound with the hope of the West and so he cannot refuse the attempt to pass the door.

And what of us?

Few of us will be called to a deed in which our lives will be put at risk as Aragorn was. But most of us, at some point in our lives, will be called to take a risk, to take a lead, at great cost to ourselves. At such times it will be necessary to examine ourselves to see if what we really desire is a reputation, a name that will gain the respect of others. If we can face ourselves and say that what we desire above everything is some expression of the Common Good then we should take the risk. It may be that in doing so we will achieve a reputation but that will not be our primary purpose. And we will not know, can never  know for sure, as Éomer asked, whether the time has come or not, until the risk is taken.

 

 

The Care of the Elderly: What Théoden has to Teach Us.

On the morning of March 2nd in the year, 3019 of the Third Age Théoden of Rohan was an old man sitting in his chair in Meduseld. On March 15th, just thirteen days later, he was dead. When we read these facts, presented in this manner, there is little to surprise us. An old man fades away and dies. We have seen it before and when we think of the old men that we have said farewell to, we sorrow over the fading and think back, as I think of my father, to a time when they were full of vigour.

But this is not the story of Théoden. He dies on the battlefield before the gates of Minas Tirith, the second great battle that he has fought in those few days, after a mighty ride at the head of his men, and after a charge into the heart of the forces of Mordor that raises the siege of the city and turns the battle.

Is the story of the last two weeks of his life simply the fruit of the imagination of the author? Or is there something to learn here about how life can be lived in our final years?

It is after the intense drama of the passage of the Paths of the Dead, and the display of Aragorn’s banner at the Stone of Erech, that Théoden arrives in Harrowdale after a wearying three days ride from Helms Deep. Éomer looks at him with concern and speaks to him in a low voice. “If you would take my counsel, you would return hither [to Edoras], until the war is over, lost or won.”

Théoden’s response is to smile and say, “speak not the soft words of Wormtongue in my old ears! Long years in the space of days it seems since I rode west; but never will I lean on a staff again. If the war is lost, what good will be my hiding in the hills? And if it is won, what grief will it be, even if I fall, spending my last strength?”

The key phrase here, I think, is “long years”. All who reach a certain age become aware of the speedy passing of the years. It is something that steadily creeps up upon us. At one time the prospect of waiting a few years meant to wait for ever. There comes a time when to look back over five or even ten years seems all too brief. As the psalm read at a burial puts it, “Our days are like the grass. We flourish like the flower of the field. When the wind goes over it, it is gone and its place will know it no more.”

No change of perspective can change this reality but for as long as it is possible we can choose to live each day fully. It was in Wormtongue’s interest to turn Théoden into an invalid, a man whose life had shrunk to the size of his darkened hall, but Éomer is no traitor or intriguer, he is just concerned for his uncle. It is the old man who reminds him that his gentle concern will have the same effect as Wormtongue’s intrigues. And Théoden resists his kindness. He will give himself up to life until his final breath.

Actually this is what the gospels mean when they speak of dying to self. We tend to think of this phrase in terms of some act of self-denial. What it really means is what happens when Théoden gets out of his chair with the fierce encouragement of Gandalf. It is his small self that Théoden casts aside with his stick and a big self that he grasps with his sword, a true self. And he grasps a big truth when he realises that two weeks of true life is worth far more than years of shrunken existence. It is like “long years”, and glorious years.

Gimli Crawls Like a Beast on the Ground.

So we end our short season in this blog of guestposts on Eówyn of Rohan and judging by the record number of “Visitors”to the blog they have been well received. Of course, this is not the last time that we will think about Eówyn’s story. We will travel with her on the great Ride of the Rohirrim, stand with her when she faces the Lord of the Nazgûl, wait at her bedside in the Houses of Healing and delight in her reawakening as she finds love and hope with Faramir there. Some of these events within her story have already been touched upon by contributors but if you would still like to make a contribution then please send in a Word Document to mail@stephenwinter.net including a brief biographical piece on yourself and links to any work that you have done. I look forward to hearing from you.

And this week we return to the journey of Aragorn’s Company through The Paths of the Dead and Gimli’s humiliation. I look forward to reading your comments. It is always one of my favourite aspects of the blogging experience.

If we tend to do all that we can to try to avoid pain then our efforts are even greater to avoid humiliation. We hold onto a picture of ourselves that we may have spent years trying to construct. We associate that picture with words like honour and reputation. We may extend the picture to involve others so that our spouse, or other members of our family, also serve our reputation and honour. Or perhaps we may find ourselves having to uphold the reputation of a family or an organisation so that the picture that we have of ourselves is inexorably linked to that bigger picture. Sometimes this might give us strength. To be one of the Dúnedain and to follow the Lord Aragorn gives great strength and resolve to every man within that company. They know their greatness. Sometimes it will impose a great burden upon us such as when the reputation and honour of the people to which we belong is under threat as it does to Eówyn during the days when Théoden is imprisoned within the darkness of his own mind.

Whether it is the image of our self that is under threat, or the image of the people or family to which we belong, we will do all that we can to avoid humiliation. But sometimes humiliation is unavoidable. So it is with Gimli and his journey through the Paths of the Dead.

Aragorn, the sons of Elrond and the Dúnedain of the North and Legolas the Elf of the woodland realm, have all passed through the terror of the Door until Gimli is left all alone.

“His knees shook, and he was wroth with himself. ‘Here is a thing unheard of!’ he said. ‘An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!”

It is with that thought as a goad to his pride that Gimli passes through the Door but his entry is only the beginning of his trials. The fear only grows as the journey continues and especially so when the torches of the company go out.

“Of the time that followed, one hour or many, Gimli remembered little. The others pressed on, but he was ever hindmost, pursued by a groping horror that seemed always about to seize him; and a rumour came after him like the shadow sound of many feet. He stumbled on until he was crawling like a beast on the ground and he felt that he could endure no more: he must either find an ending and escape or run back in madness to meet the following fear.”

Poor Gimli! Let no one judge him unless it be one who has had to face a fear like he has although if there is one that has known such a fear then that one may also have the deepest compassion for him. I hope they will. And I hope that they will not sit in judgement upon themselves either.

Gimli could not avoid his humiliation. Either he would have turned back from the Door and crawled back to the Lonely Mountain never to face his friends again or he would enter the Door and so be reduced to the crawling thing that he is by the end of the journey. Readers of The Lord of the Rings may remember that when Aragorn leads the army to the Black Gate many go through an experience similar to Gimli’s. Aragorn does not shame them but offers them a task that enables them to avoid humiliation. Gimli has no such alternative. At this point in the story it is not a possibility. All must either go on or turn back in shame or in madness.

My hope is that all who read this will look upon all who are overcome by fear, either themselves or another, with compassion. To know fear and to pass through it, even with all pride stripped away, shapes character in a most profound manner. For such a person kindness will never be mere sentimentality but will have a depth that will reach out to others with a healing power that those who avoid fear and humiliation can never have.

Éowyn After Aragorn: What Becomes of the Broken-hearted?

We all know the clichés that attend a broken heart.

Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned! 

We know the stories of revenge and bitterness. They have been told again and again. But what of Éowyn? We know her shame as she watched the dishonouring of her people and of their king. We know that she was always aware that she was being watched by Wormtongue. She was to be one of the prizes that he would gain amidst the ruin of Rohan, a trinket to be carried off and enjoyed by the victor in the fight. We know too that although she was a warrior her role was always confined to be dry nurse to the broken man who was Théoden.

Then Aragorn comes into her life and with him comes the awakening of hope and the possibility of happiness. She knows that he is a captain that men will follow. The arrival of the Dúnedain in Edoras, a mighty company following their lord and hero, merely confirms to her what she can already see for herself.

And then he leaves her and he will not take her with him even though she pleads with him. All the hope that has begun to awaken in her heart is dashed; both hope for her people and hope for herself. And perhaps, too, in the lonely watches of the night, she has pictured herself as a mighty queen adored by her people. Can we blame her? We may remember the moment when Frodo offered the Ring to Galadriel.

“You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

Such words do not come from nowhere as if in an unthinking manner. Galadriel, too, had allowed herself dreams of greatness. So too had Boromir. So too had Saruman. So too had Lotho Sackville-Baggins. So too had Gollum “the Great”. Dreams of greatness are common both to the mighty among us and also to the weak. It is not our dreams that distinguish us from one another but the actions that we take in consequence of our dreams. Among the list of dreamers that we have just named Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo although he triumphs gloriously over his temptation in giving his life for Merry and Pippin; Saruman betrays the peoples of Middle-earth and the Valar who gave him his mission; Lotho becomes an ally of Saruman and betrays the Shire into his hands; and we know the long and tragic tale of Gollum.

And Galadriel?

“I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”

Éowyn, too, will “pass the test” eventually, but even in her darkest moments she will not betray her people and become an agent of darkness. In her deepest despair and desire for death she will remain true to the love that she has for Théoden who has been as a father to her. When, in the battle, Théoden falls under the attack of the Lord of the Nazgûl and all his household knights are slain or, through the terror of their horses, desert him, Éowyn does not desert him. And, as Anne Marie Gazzolo recently commented on this blog, she is there to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

Ultimately it is not her dreams that will determine her destiny but her long practice of faithfulness to the drudgery of her life in Meduseld and the practice, too, of her love for Théoden. It is our practice that will determine our destiny although eventually we will have to surrender to a grace that is greater even than our practice, even as Éowyn will in order to fulfil that destiny. And it is that practice that will sustain us through our darkest nights as it did for Eówyn “when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in.”

The Rejection of Éowyn

In the last two weeks Jennifer Leonard ( loveroflembas.blogspot.com) and David Rowe (@TolkienProverbs and @mrdavidrowe) have offered their reflections on the story of Éowyn of Rohan. Both have had a substantial number of readers and I want to thank them both for what they have offered. This week I would like to offer my own contribution that was prompted by “Middle Hyrule’s” comment on David Rowe’s post entitled “Why Did Éowyn Want to Die?” in which she says,”I thought she wanted to die because Aragorn didn’t love her.” As always I love responding to your comments so please let me know what you think about what I have written.

When Aragorn leads his company away from Edoras towards the Dwimorberg, the haunted mountain, and the Paths of the Dead, he leaves Éowyn behind him, his last words to her nothing more than, “Nay, lady”. And so he leaves her, “stood still as a figure carven in stone, her hands clenched at her sides” and she stumbles, as one who is blind, back to her place of lodging. She may have tasks to perform as the ruler of her people in the absence of the king but these no longer have meaning for her. In speaking to Aragorn she described them as the work of a dry nurse. They have no meaning for her. Life has no meaning for her.

Aragorn has rejected her, refusing to take her with him on the Paths of the Dead. If he had done otherwise then Théoden and Éomer would have been torn between mustering the Rohirrim to try to raise the siege of Minas Tirith and in following her upon the Paths of the Dead. Perhaps they might even have considered her to be abducted and their following would have ended in battle. Aragorn may be gripped by pain but he will not be swayed from his mission by any concern. Éowyn, too, has only one concern, and that is that Aragorn should not leave her behind. The two concerns cannot meet and so Aragorn’s leave taking is almost brutal.

In the last two weeks, Jennifer Leonard and David Rowe have spoken about Éowyn’s despair, of her desire for death, and of her eventual healing. This week I want to remain with the moment of rejection. It is this moment of rejection that brings all the unhappiness of the years of hopelessness to a head. Aragorn asks her what she fears and she replies, “A cage… To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” Those who know Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, a telling of the story of of the imprisonment of the monk,  Bonnivard, in the 16th century, will recall that when, at last, he is set free, he has become so used to his cage, that, we are told, ” I learn’d to love despair.”

Éowyn rejects such counsel, if counsel it be. She will choose death rather than a cage. She will embrace despair, not as an act of submission, as Bonnivard did in Byron’s poem, but of defiance. This will be her response to Aragorn’s rejection. This will take her to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields at the gates of Minas Tirith.

To make a response to rejection is something that almost all of us will have to do at some point in our lives. Indeed we might say that the only ones among us who are never rejected are those who never risk themselves. The list of ways in which we might be rejected is very long indeed and each of us might make our own. From the day that we are not picked for a sports team at school to the refusal of a declaration of love and finally the rejection by our own body that will carry us no longer where we wish to go, this will be our experience at some point or other.

Rejection strips away the self that we seek to construct through the first half of life. We have to construct a self with clear boundaries as we emerge into adulthood. If we fail to do that then we will be absorbed into the selfhood of a stronger ego. If we are to find our True Self there must  first come the creation of boundaries but then later we must take leave of the boundaries in a leap of faith. Few of us are prepared to leave the security that we have made by choice even if we have become unhappy within it as Éowyn has. Rejection brutally forces us away from our constructed self. It is no leap of faith but rather a casting of the self into the void. The wonder is that the void is not an empty space but that everywhere the arms of Love await us if we can but submit to them. Before this happens to Éowyn she will pass through Hell and through Purgatory but she will find her way through.

 

Eowyn: She is now Healed

 

Dear friends and readers, I promised when I put out my request for a Guestblog on Eowyn of Rohan that I would begin to publish them during the week beginning July 25th and here is the first one. It has been written by Jennifer Leonard who writes as Lover of Lembas. Her work can be found at loveroflembas.blogspot.com

If you have not yet submitted a piece there is still space for a couple more. Please include a link to your blog or website so that I can publicise it.

 

Eowyn was raised in a culture that was totally war-obsessed.  The most glorified and praised members of her society were the warriors and soldiers.  Eowyn resented herself because she could not participate in the war-culture as a woman and it drove her half-mad.  Instead of seeing her person and her womanhood as a beautiful thing which lends itself to creating life, she saw it as “hutch to trammel some wild thing in”.

It was not until Eowyn met Faramir in the Houses of Healing (appropriate since it was there she was healed not only in body but in mind) that she learned there is more than war, more than glorified killing, and more to honor than before she knew.   Faramir put war into its true context for Eowyn—not something to be praised in and of itself.  Warriors and soldiers should be honored in the measure that they defend their people with their sacrifice.  But killing should never be seen as a wholly good thing and no one should aspire to be a warrior for the sake of war.  Faramir sums this up by saying: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

After her encounter with Faramir, Eowyn realizes that the killing and death of war is not the end, but is sometimes a necessary means in order to preserve life.  Ultimately, Eowyn has been focused on death and war, but she has missed the bigger picture; namely that life is more important than death, even death in honor.

Then Eowyn says: “I want to be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” This is the mark that she has accepted life rather than death.  In realizing this, Eowyn also learns to appreciate her status as a woman.  She no longer regards her body as a cage or a hindrance, but understands that it is ordered to create life and to sustain it; she understands that those goals are noble in and of themselves, and that nurturing life is an invaluable and honorable ability.

In summary, throughout Eowyn’s conversion and in her meeting with Faramir, Eowyn trades her idealism of death and her culture of war for an acceptance of herself and a love of life.  The maiden who once sought death now looks forward to nurturing life.  As Faramir says, “Here is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and now she is healed.”