Honor, courage and despair

What do these three have in common?  They all describe the character of King Theoden.

To start, let’s clear away the muck of the movies.  In the movies, Theoden is constantly portrayed as judgemental, arogant, weak and brash.  He is supposedly under the control of Saruman.  Gandalf performs an excorcism to draw the evil of Saruman out.  Suddenly, Theoden is half his age and fit and spry.  Theoden refuses Gandalf’s counsel; not just before the “excorcism” but over and over again after.  He leads all the people to Helms Deep, where they will be trapped with no way out.  Does that sound like a wise king?  When he would know of Dunharrow?  And the citizens would be much safer there?  Twice that I know of Theoden spurns the alliance of Gondor.  Here, as in much of the films, he appears petty and foolish.  The first occurs at Helms Deep, when Theoden asks Aragorn “Where was Gondor?”  Then again when he hesitates to aswer the call of the beacons.

Now that the smoke is clear, who is King Theoden?

When we first meet him, he is embroiled in self-pity and despair.  Through the weedling and lies of Wormtongue he has given up honor in place of submissal to his age and infirmities.  This of course just worsens his condition.  Through disuse and the “medical ministrations” of Wormtongue, Theoden wastes away, fullfilling the profesies of his councilor.  He has come to believe he is the “lesser son of greater fathers” with no purpose in the growing darkness of Middle Earth. 

Enter Gandalf.  All Gandalf does is silence the lies of Grima and reveal the truth to Theoden.  It is no excorcism, it is the power of Truth.  There is logic in the whole scene of his recovery.  Gandalf brings him outside into the sun and open air, which on it’s own would help someone who’s been in a dark, close chamber without moving for who knows how long.  Then Gandalf calls for Theoden’s sword, that through this reunion he could find use and strength again. 

Theoden remains just as old and infirm as he was before.  The difference is now he knows he is and was not as infirm as he was led to believe.  Theoden finds his honor once more: his duty to his people and his duty as king and pride as a human being.

The change is immediate.  He orders the evacuation of his people to Dunharrow.  An army is mustered to go to the fords of Isen.  He rides with the army to fight Saruman and later the forces of Saruman.  It is an honorable choice.  A way to prove to himself his worth, as well as hearten his people. 

Like the Ents, these acts demonstrate great courage.  Theoden is old.  He isn’t as strong as he once was.  But while he still has breath, he will now do what he must to ensure the safety of his people.  And, like the Ents, he knows this fight will be his end, but he goes anyways.

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The virtue of Courage

Courage is one of the most potent and sometimes overlooked theme of Lord of the Rings.  Courage does not require the absence of fear; courage is the act of surmounting that fear.  It is the acknowledgement of our fears but the drive and perseverence to continue on in the face of it…no matter the veracity of our fears. 

When you think of the ents of Middle Earth, what comes to mind?  Trees, shepherds, slowness, sadness, anger, peace?  All of these are possible answers, but I now see courage at the forefront.  In the book, the march of the ents is the most potent and heart-wrenching example of courage; and one I feel is undervalued.

People who have seen the movies may think the ents are unaware and uncaring of the outside world; unwilling to give any aid.  They seem slow.  Not only in the entish way, but slow of mind as well.  They lack the depth of knowledge and wisdom which should be there.  They lack the kindness towards all living creatures, except for trees.  They are turned into mindless, tree obsessed trees.  It is unthinkable that the hobbits could trick Treebeard to go to Isengard.  It is unthinkable that the devestation around Isengard would be the first indication to the ents of Saruman’s treachery.  If they were truly ents, truly shepherds of trees, they would have been aware.  The shepherd guards the flock, and will protect it from the wolves.  So too do the ents.  The movie mangles their race, their purpose and their being.

When Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard on the hill in Fangorn, they are greeted by a kind and wise ent.  He is cautious, yes, but gentle.  He also shows great wisdom, if only through his eyes at times.  He is Fangorn.  He is the Ent.  He is most definately not a lackey of Gandalf as the films seem to indicate.  Also, the ents of the films seem positively hasty, I’m sure no ent in his right mind would want that!

What the films mar so utterly is the magnificent courage of the ents.  They know that the world is nearing a turning point.  They realize their own end may come if they do nothing.  They are not separate from the world, the conflict will and has reached them.  They also know that if they go to war, most likely they will die. 

Treebeard’s words describe it much better than mine:

“Of course, it is likely enough, my friends,” he said slowly, “likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents.  But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later.  That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now.  It was not a hasty resolve.  Now at least the last march of the Ents may be worth a song.  Aye,” he sighed, “we may help the other peoples before we pass away.” Tolkien p 475

This is the great courage of the Ents.  To fight, knowing no aid can come to them, knowing their lives will be changed forever.  If ever you read LotR, read closely the chapter Treebeard.  You will find both profound courage and saddness. 

As a side note:

One of the reasons for this post is my disgust at the treatment of many characters in the films.  They are corrupted and mangled beyond repair.  Ranting about it doesn’t do anything, I know…and the movies are better than any Tolkien fan could have dreamed.  But I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people pass up an opportunity to read the book because they have seen the movies.  They are not interchangeable…they cannot even be placed on the same level.  While I like the movies, this is the main reason I loathe them as well.  It is something that is increasingly evident in our culture: laziness and not reading.  People now a days would rather watch a movie or listen to tapes than read a book.  I think it is a sad trend.

PS.  Thanks for reading my rant. ;p

The folly of Saruman

What is white?  Shine white light through a prism and all colors are separated.  White is all the colors integrated in one.  It is all and one.  Saruman in his vanity and pride seeks to dominate.  Therefore he becomes Saruman of many colors.  In his pride he has given up status and clarity.  He is now, like the other Istari, subject to white.  Saruman the white is reborn in Gandalf the White.  And he, with no trouble whatsoever, strips Saruman of his staff and position.

It is a symbol, yes, but an interesting way to see it none the less.

Why not wander the paths with me?

I often feel my mind is full of so many thoughts and ideas.  It is a maze of wandering paths which pass through all parts of my life.  My major is architecture, but there is more than that.  I am an artist, a writer, a reader, a linguist and the list goes on.  All of us on this earth are many things, unique and wonderful.  Yet one thing remains.  One path is the same.  We are all God’s children, trying to use His gifts for His greater glory. 

My mind wanders, touching on this and that, flitting about like a hummingbird on a sugar high.  So why not join in the randomness?

Anyone who knows me knows I am a diehard Lord of the Rings fan…and seeing as I am currently rereading the book I think to start I’ll share some of my thoughts on the topic…