LotRFI Pt.46–​Éomer

I mentioned Éomer’s first encounter with the protagonists in Pt. 22. Like many other characters, I mistrusted him at first, but then came to respect his demeanor and his bravery. The reader is reintroduced to Éomer at Edoras. Here he is reinstated as one of Théoden’s top commanders. From this point on, Éomer plays the part of a stout warrior, and steadfast advisor on military matters. He is impressive in this role, and takes after his uncle with his tenacious spirit.

Image copyright John Howe

As I read through LotR for the first time, I really liked Éomer. He struck me as a kind of balance between Strider as he appears in the beginning of the book and Aragorn as he is revealed as king in the end. He was unapologetically of high birth in his society, but was unpolished and even plain in his manner. This allowed him to be very likable, but to command respect, similar to what I saw in Théoden.

A large distinction that I made between Éomer and Théoden is that Théoden becomes close to the Fellowship through being an equal in stature to Gandalf and a fatherly figure to the hobbits. Éomer, on the other hand, seemed to establish a brotherly relationship with Aragorn and a playful rivalry with Gimli. While both of these relationships elevated the characters above the hobbits, and therefore above the reader, they were different in that Théoden seemed much more interested in the hobbits than did Éomer.

Shifting focus, this elevated stature of Éomer allowed him to be a heroic figure to me. His cares and worries seemed to be larger than those of the hobbits. Where the halflings are often concerned with a sense of belonging, Éomer knows his place, and is concerned more with how to lead his people correctly.

His position of authority makes his valiant stand on the battlefield even more impactful. While I am presenting my current thoughts on Éomer’s alliterative exclamations at a conference in 2018, I do want to cover my initial reaction to his heroic feats during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Just as Théoden’s call to charge gave rise to some mad fire inside my little eleven-year-old frame, so too did Éomer’s despair at seeing his uncle and sister dead on the battlefield. At the time of my first reading, I was fortunate enough to have never lost someone close to me. Even still, I could find a sense of pain and loss something similar to what Éomer must have felt. His heartrending cry chilled me to the bones:

“‘Éowyn, Éowyn!’ he cried at last. ‘Éowyn, how come you here? What madness or devilry is this? Death, death, death! Death take us all’” (RK, V, vi, 844).

It was through these passages that I learned what it meant to be fey. Éomer’s complete abandonment of strategy in favor of making his death meaningful was utterly beyond my experience. His laughter in the face of battle was terrible and terrific. He was awe-inspiring in two ways: one of the most courageous and stupid things I had ever read. I was so grateful when Aragorn swooped in and saved Éomer, because I had given up hope that this courageous man would ever see another day.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To take a look at Denethor and see what his problem is.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to Eomer’s reckless abandon in battle?
What did you think of his relationship to the fellowship?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.43–The Battle of The Pelennor Fields

That I can recall, the massive battles that take place at Helm’s Deep and on the fields in front of Gondor were the second and third large scale incursion I ever read in fiction. The first was from H, and was an incomplete telling at best. I believe my next exposure to battlefield narratives would have been Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain. My whole family listened to that story on audiobook in the car while on vacation one summer because it was a required text for school. I would not read Homer, C.S. Lewis, or any other such battle for several years after this experience. Of course, I had read the brief descriptions of amassing forces and battle strategies presented in the history books for school, but those very rarely gave an account of fighting, they were distant overviews.

Image copyright Alan Lee

This is not to say that I was naive of brutality: once again, The Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books starting around the age of eight or nine. The scale of the violence was a significant change from my prior reading experience. This means that two elements were very different for me to adjust to. The first is how the story told of the battles, especially Pelennor Fields, from multiple perspectives. This is a trick that Tolkien uses to show more of the battle, and it was a new approach to me. Also, the ebb and flow of the battle was also unique. Of course, I was used to plots where the protagonist came up against an obstacle, or experienced a setback, only to overcome the difficulty in the end. This was one of my first experiences with this kind of story arc encapsulated in a single struggle that didn’t extend for the entire length of the narrative.

This type of battle broke the mold of my previous experience with courtly tales. These were mostly centered on popular culture and not literature (I would not read White’s Once and Future King until two or three years later), and so massive battles were not very bloody nor very lengthy, I was only watching things deemed appropriate for a child, after all. It brought a grim kind of realism into these stories, but it preserved the epic moments of climax and eucatastrophe that I will talk about in my following posts.

Where do We Go From Here?

I want to address the horns of the Rohirrim, then take a moment to think about Eomer and Eowyn in some more depth.

What Do You Think?

How did the Pelennor Fields fit into your previous reading experience?
Did it change your view of Minas Tirith?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 30–Helm’s Deep

It seems that everyone remembers Éomer’s act of courage at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields as the high point of Rohirric culture. Théoden’s stand at Helm’s Deep, however, foreshadows that brave stand. This battle has always had a unique place in my understanding of Tolkien’s world. It is the place where I really understood for the first time what I would later understand to be ‘northern courage.’ The bravery to understand that defeat is certain, but not to cower and to fight on against overwhelming odds. This is one of the few major themes of Tolkien (e.g. ‘the machine’) that I perceived in my first reading.

Image copyright Paul Lesaine

Aragorn’s act of looking out from the gate and confronting the Uruk-Hai is an essential preface to this kind of bravery. My first reading of this scene, I thought that perhaps Aragorn was fay and reckless (although I would not have used these terms at the time, instead probably opting for the less-specific crazy, stupid, brave, until I learned better words to describe the action). This also bolstered the themes of honor and duty that I began to perceive starting with Frodo’s decision to carry the Ring in Rivendell.

I did not really understand the courage behind Aragorn’s words until the scene where he and Théoden lay their plans to ride out:

‘The end will not be long…but I will not end here, taken like a badger in a trap…When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm’s horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? 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” (TT, III, vii, 539).

This brave face assumed at a time when hope seems lost always shocked me as a child and resonated with something inside of me. I could not describe it the, and I cannot describe it well now. It stirs in me a desire to be as brave and noble as these characters and to not fear death. This is, of course, a bizarre feeling for someone so privileged as I have been and it is nonsensical, but it is true. The riding out of the king and Aragorn with the horns blowing has always given me chills and stirred my sympathies.

Other important notes about my first read through of Helm’s Deep are:

This is the first time that I felt the eucatastrophic moment in LotR in the same way that I felt it in H.

I enjoyed the fighting game of Gimli and Legolas far more than I ought at such a young age. Perhaps this was because of my naivete as a child, and this game was reminiscent of the light treatment that authors frequently use of difficult ideas when writing for children. Tolkien himself used this same kind of technique in H.

As an interesting bit of ‘misreading,’ I always envisioned the causeway from the keep to lead into the part of the stronghold behind the battlements, not out from the battlements. I suppose I assumed this because it would make the keep a stronger fortress. I imagined that Aragorn and Théoden rode out into the host who had flooded past the battlements after the hole was blown open. This made more sense to me as to how they were cut off from the caves. Though I admit that it makes the pincer maneuver with the reinforcements harder to imagine later on.

As a side note: the description immediately following Aragorn’s words has been variously interpreted:

‘Even as they spoke there came a blare of trumpets. Then there was a crash and a flash of flame and smoke…’ (TT, III, vii, 537).

Jackson showed a runner with a torch igniting a stack of bombs. Others have suggested that this passage describes a projective weapon, like a missile. For my own part, I have always agreed that this was a bomb and not a projectile weapon. I feel certain that Tolkien would have described a projectile weapon in greater detail.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about Gimli and Saruman before I head into book four.

What Do You Think?

How did you first interpret the bravery of Aragorn and Théoden?
​Is this moment as impact as Éomer’s ?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!