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.