sartorias: (JRRT)
[personal profile] sartorias
I’d like to get this out of the way first, as it has irritated me clear back since I was a kid and read “On Fairy Stories,” and saw JRRT clearly and plainly stating that he was not writing allegory.

The Rohirrim are not, not evidence that he “worshipped the Aryan race.” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that offered as “proof” of his flagrant racism.

There is a northern European feel to the Rohirrim, and most of them seem to be blonds, but they are not remotely stated to be German, Germanic, nor a "superior race.”

In the letters, JRRT says testily, I cannot understand why the name of a country (stated to be Elvish) should be associated with anything Germanic; still less with the only remotely similar O.N. “rann” ‘house’, which is incidentally not at all appropriate to a still partly mobile and nomadic people of horse-breeders!

He goes on to break down all the Elvish components of Rohan and Rohirrim, to suffixes and prefixes.

If anything, the inspiration probably goes back to Snorri Sturluson—with whom, incidentally, JRRT is arguing, as Snorri seemed to think elves were malignant. That would be roughly 800 years before Hitler and his gang of crackpots.

Okay, back to the story—and our friends encountering Hama, the hapless Doorwarden, who ends up caught between a rock and a hard place: Eomer is in disgrace, Theoden apparently refuses to see anyone, and Gandalf insists. Hama compromises the best he can by having his extremely intimidating guests leave their weapons, but Gandalf takes his staff.

Oops.

JRRT clearly enjoyed inventing Theoden’s house—we get one of the most detailed descriptions that is not landscape that we ever get, right down to the fabulous tapestry of Eorl the Young riding north to battle at the Field of Celebrant.

As Wormtongue does his oily best to turn Theoden away from Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, his insults about Galadriel spark Gandalf’s temper, and he rams his staff on the ground. Lightning flares, and Wormtongue goes splat, and silent.

Then we meet Eowyn, as she comes forward to help Theoden down the hall.

And for the first time, we get a hint of romantic possibility:

As she passed the doors she turned and looked back. Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; bit strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Eowyn, lady of Rohan . . . And she now was suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone.

Hoo boy. As a kid of fourteen verging on fifteen, with little interest in romance, I still found that to act powerfully on me. I was totally unaware of the subtle hints that Aragorn’s heart was already given, and thought that these two would be a great pair. Especially after reading so many books with the women sidelined into fragile female passivity, here’s Eowyn, “strong she seemed and stern as steel.”

Instantly she became my teenage self’s favorite character in the entire story.

Faithful, impetuous Eomer shows up, with his sword. Theoden grips it, then he sends for his own, which Wormtongue had squirreled away.

Hama brings it, hinting that Grima has been helping himself to other missing items, and when Theoden says that Grima can ride along with them, Wormtongue “Licked his lips with a long, pale tongue.” Ew! Tolkien is sparse with the physical description, but when he puts one in, it’s visually striking and character revealing.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Theoden back into dodder mode, Wormtongue tries to weasel out of accompanying them, and Gandalf totally calls him on it, adding a line that flew right over my head at fifteen, but crawled over my skin like a thousand slugs when I got a little older, and had to begin fending off creepy guys who would not take no for an answer (and this was back in the day when more often than not people blamed the victim, i.e., “What did you do to make him attack you?”):

”How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price? When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire? Too long have you watched her under your eyelids and haunted her steps.” Ew, ew, EW!!!

So the guys have a great meal, and Eowyn brings the guesting cup around to the guests. She offers it to Aragorn, and as he looks into her face she smiles, “but as he took the cup, his hand met hers, and he knew that she trembled at his touch.”

That is such a subtle bit there, but so very telling when one gets to an age to know what it means. Furthermore, it’s one of the few times we get into Aragorn’s POV, however briefly. I was stunned and horrified on my first read when he rejects her, and in my callow teen self, I loathed Arwen, who did seem to be one of those passive princesses, waiting on the sidelines to be a trophy. It took my adult self to realize that for whatever reason JRRT didn't include her in any scenes until the end, but that end is extremely powerful. More when we get there.

So anyway the men try to figure out who is to stay behind to rule in Theoden’s place. They pick Eowyn. Of course the female is left behind, but at least (my teen self was gratified to see) that she was given a sword and a corselet. Be still my teenage heart!

Legolas offers to share his ride with Gimli—cementing an amazing friendship—and they are off with a thunder of hooves.
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