TTT: Bk 3, Ch 6
"There was a silence. The old man did not move in his chair. At length, Gandalf spoke. 'Hail, Theoden son of Thengel! I have returned. For behold! the storm comes, and now all friends should gather together, lest each singly be destroyed.'"
They pass between two rows of burial mounds, covered in the white flower Simbelmyne. Here lay the ancestors of King Theoden. Aragorn is inspired to sing a part of a song in the language of the Rohirrim. In the Common Speech, it's words are familiar to anyone who watched Theoden prepare for battle at Helm's Deep in the film: "Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?" The rider to whom he refers is Eorl the Young, the first King of Rohan. Some background of these people is given in the Appendix A under the title "The House Of Eorl". Their complete history is much longer and complicated that I present it here, which I have condensed for simplicity's sake.
Eorl the Young was leader of a race of men that lived north between the source of Anduin, in the corner of the Misty Mountains and the west to east range known as the Grey mountains, and the northernmost parts of Mirkwood. They were descended from a people who lived in Rhovanian, east of Mirkwood. They had a distant kinship, through marriage, with the line of Kings of Gondor. After the defeat of the Witch-King of Angmar in the year 1975 of the Third Age, these people, known as the Eotheod which means "horse-people", stretched out their territory westward towards the Misty Mountains and south along the Anduin, past the Carrock.
In the year 2501, Eorl's father Leod captured a wild horse and was killed trying to tame him. Eorl, however, was able to tame the horse, who was descended from the Mearas. Eorl succeeded his father as leader of the Eotheod. Nine years later, Gondor came under attack by Orcs and a race of wildmen from the East called the Balchoth. The army sent to contain this invasion was overrun by the wildmen and was facing defeat in the land between Fangorn and the western bank of Anduin, known as the Field of Celebrant. Out of the north, Eorl and his horsemen came in the knick of time to turn the tide of battle with a mighty cavalry charge and help the forces of Gondor scatter and drive out the invaders.
In return for their heroism, Cirion the ruling Steward of Gondor gave to the Eotheod the land that was known as Calenardhon, between the southern end of the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains of Gondor. This land was then renamed Rohan and Eorl became its first King. This alliance benefited both realms and they pledged assistance to each other against their common enemies. This first line of the Kings of the Mark lasted until the death of Helm "the Hammerhand". As Helm left no heirs, a second line began with his nephew that continued through to Theoden. The two rows of burial mounds that Gandalf and his companions rode between held the remains of the Kings of the two lines.
They arrive at the Golden Hall of Meduseld and are told by Hama, the gatekeeper, that they must leave their weapons outside by decree of the King. At the prospect of having to surrender Anduril, Aragorn actually tries to pull rank over Theoden's command declaring himself as Elendil's heir. I hadn't remembered reading that before and found it a little out of character from the Aragorn that I always remembered. But these days I've gotten so familiar with Viggo Mortensen's version that I guess I just couldn't imagine Aragorn acting this way. In any event, they leave all of their weapons, although Gandalf convinces Hama that as an old man, he was in dire need of his staff.
They enter and take in the sight of the great building:
"The hall was long and wide and filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upheld its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams fell in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of issuing smoke, the sky showed pale and blue. As their eyes changed, the travelers perceived that the floor was paved with stones of may hues; branching runes and strange devices intertwined beneath their feet."Quite a place. And I have no doubt that Tolkien's familiarity with Medieval tapestries contributed to this description. This chapter very much has a "Shakespearian" feel to it, especially when reading through the exchanges between Gandalf, Theoden and Grima which are much longer here than how they are presented in film version of The Two Towers. King Theoden is described as being old and bent with age; with white hair, long and thick. At his feet is the pale face with heavy-lidded eyes that belongs to Grima Wormtongue, his advisor. Brad Dourif does such an excellent job as Grima in the movie that he almost steals the show.
Gandalf greets Theoden, who is not very welcoming. Through Grima, we learn that five days prior, Theoden's son, Theodred was slain in a battle with Orcs and he taunts Gandalf as a perpetual bringer of ill news. The exchange continues back and forth between Grima and Gandalf until at last the wizard casts aside his cloak, revealing a tall and white figure now more powerful than before. He commands Wormtongue to "keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls." There is a roll of thunder and darkness falls about the hall, making the white light from Gandalf show more brilliantly. There is a flash then all falls silent.
He commands Theoden to rise and come to him; "no counsel have I to give to those that despair." In Peter Jackson's version, Theoden is literally controlled from afar by Saruman through some sort of spell. This all makes for a very dramatic effect. But for Tolkien, the spell under which Theoden has fallen is one of despair - gut-wrenching and paralyzing despair. This is what makes the King seem so old and down-trodden. So when Gandalf helps him "snap out of it", he is still an old man but he is strong and vital for his age. Jackson's Theoden, also played superbly by Bernard Hill, literally sheds the years that Saruman's spell has weighed on him and he appears to my eyes much younger than I ever imagined him to look like.
Gandalf takes Theoden out into the sunlight and his encouragement gives him hope. He says, "look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again." Think back to a time when you may have fallen into a melancholy state when you felt hopeless or stuck in a kind of funk and someone has helped you see the bigger picture and appreciate what you had around you. This is indeed the very effect that Gandalf's counsel has upon Theoden. For Tolkien, fear and despair were an evil that only courage and hope could conquer. The wizard says to him later in the chapter:
"And ever has Wormtongue's whisperings in your ears, poisoning your thought, chilling your heart, weakening your limbs, while others watched and could do nothing for your will was in his keeping."
Gandalf helps Theoden to realize the treachery of his servant who indeed was serving another master - the wizard of Isengard. For too long, Grima had provided Saruman with valuable inside information about the goings-on at Meduseld and followed his instructions on how to advise Theoden. The King gathers his men to fight Saruman. He tells Grima that he will ride into battle as well. Of course, Grima is appalled at the thought and begs Theoden to allow him to stay at his side. When Theoden tells him that he will in fact lead the fight, Grima is dismayed and then asks that he be allowed to stay at Edoras and look after things in his absence. Grima's cowardice betrays his faithlessness and the King commands him to leave and ride away to be with Saruman if he will not stay and prove his loyalty to Rohan.
While under Wormtongue's counsel, Theoden had forbade Eomer from pursuing the band of Orcs that was seen on Rohan's Northern borders. The King had Eomer imprisoned for disobeying his orders. Now Gandalf tells him that were it not for Eomer's disobedience, the Orcs would have returned to Isengard at that point (and carrying Merry and Pippin with them). The King reconciles with Eomer and names him his heir in place of his slain son. He directs Eomer's sister, Eowyn, to lead the civilians of Rohan to the safety of Dunharrow in the White Mountains. Now that Theoden is "back in the saddle" so to speak, he musters the host of the Rohirrim thundering into the west, towards Isengard.
[Chronology: March 2nd 3019 T.A.]
Next: Helm's Deep(revised 9/18/06)