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Monday, September 15, 2014

Tolkien's King Theoden And Every Believer's Dream

King Theoden of Rohan,
an artist's depiction.
Sorry, but this blog is going to be completely self-indulgent.

I just finished watching my way through Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (the extended versions, of course, because how else could one watch them?) and when I got to King Theoden's death scene in The Return of the King, like always, I cried. Call me a nerd. Call me a softy. I don't care. Theoden's death is one of the most compelling and poignant death scenes put on film in a long time, partly because his character has such a dramatic and satisfying arch.

King Theoden is easily my favorite character—in the movies and the books—and he isn't even a central character. He is pivotal in the ultimate victory of good over evil, but there's still more happening with King Theoden than meets the eye.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let me paint a brief picture for you of King Theoden and why he is everything you should strive to be.

The seventeenth King of Rohan, Theoden was slowly deceived by his chief advisor Grima (or Wormtongue, as most others called him) into serving the evil wizard Saruman. By the time we meet Theoden in book two, The Two Towers, he is a shriveled old man, a puppet of Grima, and an unfortunate servant of Saruman. The story hinges on Theoden successfully shaking off the chains that Grima had placed around his soul and leading his people to war against the evil wizard.

"Dark have been my dreams of late," Theoden says when he finally awakens from Grima's spells.

I think most people shrug off the importance of Theoden's role in the story because he doesn't start off as a very interesting character. When we first meet him, he's not heroic. He's not handsome or chivalrous. He's a man who has been duped into working for the enemy. He's indifferent. A prisoner. Certainly, not the most inspiring hero.

But I think, of all the people in Tolkien's tale, Theoden is the one who most accurately represents humanity. There isn't a person alive who has never been deceived. Theoden is everyone who has ever been caught in the bondage of drugs, sex, pornography, greed, gluttony, or countless other moral crimes. Theoden's struggle is representative of the one we all endure—the struggle for salvation. He is—more literally than any of the other characters—us.

In the final book, The Return of the King, Theoden fully redeems himself by mustering his soldiers to fight for the kingdom of Gondor and the very survival of the human race. Vastly outnumbered and facing certain death he charges headlong into battle on the Pelennor Fields before the human city of Minis Tirith.

Tolkien's description of Theoden in battle is radically different from the hollow shell he started out as:

"Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a king of old."

King Theoden in Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King"

In the fight Theoden is eventually defeated by the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king is slain by Theoden's niece, Eowyn, who rode into battle in secret and against her uncle's wishes.

In the book Theoden is later found on the battlefield, broken and clinging to life, by his nephew, Eomer. Theoden passes his kingship onto his nephew and dies, saying, "I go to my fathers, and even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed."

Isn't that the hope we all should have, to get to the end of our lives and stand redeemed from all of our mistakes? Isn't it the joy of all believers to pass into the presence of our Heavenly Father and, in His mighty company, no longer feel disgraced for our sins?

King Theoden is a shining example of the redemptive journey we all need to take. There will be dark days. Foolishness will mire much of our character. We will face deception, trials of many kinds, hopelessness, blindness, and the dishonor of countless mistakes, but in the end, thanks to the work of Christ, we know that one day we will stand in Heaven unencumbered by our shame.

And, as Gandalf would say, "That is an encouraging thought."


  1. Excellent Character Sketch. He's one of my favorites in the story too. His laid back, quiet way, yet there with force and conviction when he needs to be. Reminds me a bit of my hubby. :-)

    1. Thanks Dawnita! I think that sort of quiet conviction is one of the marks of a great leader. Sounds like your husband is a keeper!

  2. Yes! Keep the Tolkien articles coming. If you haven't read the books for a while, give them a go, as the experience (as much as the movies are great) is so much deeper and richer.

    I recently came across the Voice of Saruman chapter and was particularly moved by his resolve and his rejection and denial of Saruman's lure (even when his men thought he would relent because of the power of the wizard's voice).

    And I always remember this snippet from Return of the King (movie):

    "We cannot (defeat the enemy). But we will meet them in battle nonetheless."

    Great article! :)

    1. Ahh, a fellow Tolkien lover, eh? It's been years since I read the books, but I remember they were great... although, being the movie-lover that I am, I almost always enjoy the movies more. Appreciate your feedback! Thanks for reading.