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.

The Fellowship Carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor

So now we have seen that Sam carries Frodo to Mordor and, at the end of the journey, he will do so literally. Frodo carries Sam to Mordor, helping him to grow into the kind of person capable of making such a journey. Without the widening of Sam’s imagination he could never have begun the journey, let alone finished it. But even with all the support that Frodo and Sam give to each other they could never have got to Mordor alone. Next week we will meet their guide in the journey, one they never expected to meet in that role. This week we will see how they are carried by their friends and in so doing think about our relationships to one another and how we touch one another’s lives, often without realising how we do it.

When the Fellowship of the Ring is broken by the events at Parth Galen Merry and Pippin are carried like baggage toward to Isengard by orcs that Saruman has sent to waylay the company. But even as the captors hurry westward bearing their prize messages are sent to Barad-dur by orcs loyal to Sauron bearing news of what has been taken. In their gentle loyalty to their friends and then, following their escape from the orcs in their rousing of the Ents, Merry and Pippin play a key role in Saruman’s downfall. But it is not only in the downfall of Saruman that they play a part. When Sauron receive news that hobbits have been taken to Isengard much of his attention is given to the doings of an ally Sauron knows to be unreliable.

Once they know of the capture of the young hobbits Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli choose not to follow Frodo and Sam but to seek to rescue Merry and Pippin. From the start there is little chance of success but they know they cannot simply abandon the young hobbits to torture and to death. If they had been crude utilitarians Aragorn and his companions would have sacrificed Merry and Pippin to some abstract concept of “the greater good” believing they might achieve that good by helping Frodo and Sam take the Ring to the fire. They reject such calculated morality and in following the orc band they meet Eomer and his warriors and then, later, Gandalf in the Forest of Fangorn. After this they travel with Gandalf to Edoras to free Théoden from bondage before aiding him in the victory over the forces of Isengard at Helms Deep thus making Rohan an active participant in the war who had been reduced almost to miserable inactivity. When Sauron learns of this his attention is given even more to events away from his border.

At first the Fellowship are not aware of what they are giving to Frodo and Sam by their faithfulness in doing what they can. Later, after they receive news from Faramir, they will know that by openly challenging Sauron’s might they can prevent him from fortifying his borders preventing any from getting in or out of Mordor. Their deeds are heroic and without them all that Frodo and Sam could do would have been worth very little. If victory had not been gained at Helms Deep or the Pelennor Fields Frodo and Sam would have had very little to return to but equally without the success of Frodo and Sam’s mission those victories would have meant nothing. Sauron would have triumphed and all would have been vain.

In his letter to the Galatians in the New Testament, Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” What we see from the relationship of the members of the Fellowship to each other that it is not just, or even primarily, in being physically present to one another that we can do this. The Fellowship carry Frodo and Sam simply by being faithful to their tasks. Meister Eckhart wrote that “Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in doing it.” He might have added, “And in so doing you will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

Aragorn Abandons Himself to Providence

The attack on Helm’s Deep and its fastness, The Hornburg, is relentless and eventually Saruman’s forces stand on the verge of victory and at the darkest hour Aragorn finds Théoden fretting in the prison of his fortress.

“Had I known that the strength of Isengard was grown so great, maybe I should not so rashly have ridden forth to meet it, for all the arts of Gandalf. His counsel seems not now so good as it did under the morning sun.”

But Théoden is not about to shrink into the shrivelled creature that Gandalf had found in Meduseld just a few short days before. The work that Gandalf did in liberating him from Wormtongue’s grip has been too thorough and Théoden resolves to make a final charge upon his enemies and calls upon Aragorn to join him.

“Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song- if any be left to sing of us hereafter.”

And Aragorn resolves to ride with him.

Ever since Gandalf returned to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in the Forest of Fangorn, Aragorn the man of doubt has become the man of resolve. For in that moment Aragorn chose to follow Gandalf, the man who has passed even through death itself, without reserve. https://stephencwinter.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/you-are-our-captain/

This was not always the case. In the early stages of their journey Aragorn and Gandalf debated about the wisest road for the company to take. Gandalf wished to take them through Moria and eventually they went that way though against the counsel of Aragorn. And when Gandalf fell in battle against the Balrog it seemed that Aragorn was right. But being right did not give him confidence and thereafter he was wracked by doubt at every step. His decision after the death of Boromir and the capture of Merry and Pippin at The Falls of Rauros to follow the young hobbits was one taken without hope. Aragorn was sure that he and his friends were likely to die in the forest and he abandoned his dream of claiming the throne of Gondor and Arnor and with that the hand of Arwen. But when Gandalf returns Aragorn no longer fears anything, not even death itself. He is sure even in the darkest moment at Helm’s Deep that Gandalf will keep his promise to return to them but that certainty does not prompt him to hide in The Hornburg. He will honour Théoden’s courage in choosing to attack his foes.

In essence from the moment of reunion in Fangorn Aragorn abandons himself to Providence. Such an abandonment is not to some blind unfeeling fate. To be abandoned to Providence is a commitment to the Supremacy of the Good and is wonderfully liberating and energising.

The Thirteenth Century German mystic, Meister Eckhart, wrote: “When you have emptied yourself of your own self and all things and of every sort of selfishness, and have transferred, united and abandoned yourself to God in perfect faith and complete amity then everything that is born in you, external or internal, joyful or sorrowful, sour or sweet, is no longer your own at all, but is altogether your God’s to whom you have abandoned yourself.”

So it was that Eckhart could say, “I never ask God to give himself to me: I beg him to purify, to empty me. If I am empty, God of his very nature is obliged to give himself to me.” Aragorn never asked to be emptied but this is what has happened to him and even though Tolkien never names God explicitly in The Lord of the Rings Aragorn receives a glory in the moment of his final abandonment that will sustain him through all the days that lie ahead.