Slowly Théoden stretched forth his hand. As his fingers took the hilt, it seemed to the watchers that firmness and strength returned to his thin arm. Suddenly he lifted the blade and swung it shimmering and whistling in the air. Then he gave a great cry. His voice rang clear as he chanted in the tongue of Rohan a call to arms.
Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
The guards, thinking that they were summoned, sprang up the stair. They looked at their lord in amazement, and then as one man they drew their swords and laid them at his feet. ‘Command us!’ they said.
Later in The Return of the King, Meriadoc the Hobbit declares to Théoden King, ‘As a father you shall be to me!’ Couple this with the above quote and we instantly get the picture of a dutiful, kind, thoughtful, and beloved leader. Bernard Hill‘s performance as the King of the Mark in the films provides another soft spot for many of us. Even if his Théoden wasn’t as decisive and strong as the character it was based on, Mr. Hill nonetheless gave a striking performance that resonates with film watchers to this day.
So a lukewarm response met the arrival of Théoden King to The Lord of the Rings the card game. A leader that has enamored readers and viewers for years and years puts the bar quite high, to say nothing of how that bar was knocked even higher into place with other national/racial leaders like Dáin Ironfoot and Boromir of Gondor. The Théoden card we got with the Morgul Vale Adventure Pack gave no Rohan synergy. He was a strict Tactics hero with a high threat, an odd ability, and a, seemingly, misplaced Sentinel keyword.
But does his card, in its current form, betray his character? Or is this, perhaps, a younger version of Théoden with the true leader of Rohan yet to come? I can’t say, but perhaps a little background on the good king will provide us with some insight.
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
Théoden son of Thengel was born in 2948 of the Third Age. Ironically, he was born and raised in Gondor, not Rohan, as Thengel had left Rohan for Gondor to escape a poor relationship with his own father. Thengel’s mother, Théoden’s grandmother, was Gondorian. There in Gondor Thengel married Morwen Steelsheen, a woman of the Belfalas and kin to Imrahil (fun fact, Éomer marries Imrahil’s daughter after The Lord of the Rings). Morwen hailed from Lossarnach and there it was that Théoden and his sister Théodwyn were born and raised, speaking Sindarin and Westron, until his father assumed the kingship of Rohan in 2953. Little is said in the Appendices or elsewhere about the reign of Thengel, but it was during this time period that Saruman took the keys of Orthanc and began his term as the lord of Isengard.
In T.A. 2980 Thengel died and his son Théoden succeeded him at the age of 32 (give or take). His son Théodred was two at the time and so Théoden a widower of two years — his wife, Elfhild, died in childbirth. The details of his early kingship are scarce. One can imagine, as evil grew in the East and the unending hatred of the Dunlendings was borne, that Théoden King had his share of battle defending the marches of the Riddermark. This is how I picture him on his card: a young Lord, perhaps even before his kingship, serving as a Marshall of the Mark, riding down orcs and Dunlendings on the field of battle, much as Éomer does at the time we meet him in The Two Towers. This may also be the period in time when, perhaps even riding with him against intruding orcs, Éomund, father of Éomer and and Éowyn, died fighting the enemy in the Emyn Muil. It was in T.A. 3002 that he fell, some 16 years before the War of the Ring, and two years later his wife Théodwyn, sister to the King and mother to Éomer and Éowyn, died of grief. The care of their children was left to Théoden who raised them as his own.
As honorably as he lived, our initial impressions of the King of Rohan are not favorable ones: before we even meet him we learn that he has rejected the wisdom of Gandalf, all but sealed the borders of his realm while orcs roam the northern edge with two Hobbit captives, and that he permits only the tongue of Rohan to be spoken even to guests who may not know the language. When we at least meet him in person we see
…a man so bent with age that he seemed almost a dwarf; but his white hair was long and thick and fell in great braids from beneath a thin golden circle set upon his brow. In the centre upon his forehead shone a single white diamond. His beard was laid like snow upon his knees; but his eyes still burned with a bright light, glinting as he gazed at the strangers. Behind his chair stood a woman clad in white. At his feet upon the steps sat a wizened figure of a man, with a pale wise face and heavy-lidded eyes.
The latter woman and man are, of course, Gríma and Éowyn.
I think a point is worth making here on Théoden’s age. He is not, in fact, as old and scary-looking as he appears in the films, with cobwebs in his hair and moldy gray skin. Nor is he as young as Bernard Hill after Gandalf cures him. At the time of the arrival of Gandalf and the Three Hunters Théoden is 70 years old. A ripe old age, to be sure (especially in what is effectively a medieval setting), but not ancient and sluggish. We see this depicted well in much of the art that showcases him: he’s old, with a fine gray beard, but not haggard. He’s still in fighting shape. Call this another reason to believe that the card represents a young, pre-monarch Théoden.
We know the rest of the story: Gríma the Wormtongue has been poisoning Théoden, mentally and physically, for some years in the service of Saruman who wishes to weaken Rohan before destroying and annexing her. Gandalf cures him and immediately Théoden makes the call to battle, both to defend his land and claim vengeance against the traitor Saruman. Before they can do just that they are pushed back to Helm’s Deep. After that battle, they confront Saruman and Théoden gives him a piece of his mind. They then go to Dunharrow and receive the Red Arrow and go to the aid of Gondor without the hesitation shown in the film: Théoden feels nothing but loyalty to Gondor, the place of his birth and the historical ally to his own land. Then, after a little sidetrack involving the Woses, comes the glorious Ride of the Rohirrim where the tide of the Battle of Pelennor is turned and Théoden strikes down the chief of the Haradrim cavalry before meeting a heroic but sad end at the hands of the Witch-king.
His body is laid to rest in the mounds outside Edoras in great honor and Éomer assumes his reign as King of the Mark.
Théoden, along with many of the names of the Kings of the Mark, are plays on the word ‘ruler’ or ‘king’ in Old English. þeoden (þ, called a ‘thorn’, is always the th sound) is literally the Old English word for ‘lord’. His father, Thengel, means about the same thing. These names are related to the word ‘thain’, which is the same as a land-owning lord, and the OE ‘þeod’ which is to do with ‘joining’ or ‘people’. Even Eorl the Young, forebear of Théoden’s house and all Rohirrim, simply means ‘earl’.
Old English is used throughout the text to represent the Rohirric language. Tolkien would later say, referring to the rather meta idea that he was merely discovering the histories of Middle-earth, that he ‘translated’ the actual Rohirric language into Old English for effect. For example, the ‘real’ name of Théoden is Tûrac, which means ‘king’ and is rendered in OE as Théoden. We see this in the Appendices with Hobbit names as well.
Which brings up a final point: Tolkien loved to uncover old words in his philological studies and make something out of them. It’s from such obscure old words that Ents and Woses (and even Hobbits) come from. He used old myths and languages to help make Middle-earth feel more substantial, even drawing upon Old Norse texts like the Eddas to get some of his dwarf names. Allowing the Rohirrim to be represented, linguistically, as Old English provided a kind of language bridge between the ‘new’ people of the Third Age and The Lord of the Rings, and the ancient stories of the Eldar days and the Silmarillion. If the foundation for the Elves and the Edain and all their adventures were the languages of Quenya and Sindarin (and their primary world inspirations, Welsh and Finnish), then a linguistic link had to be made from Hobbits to Middle-earth, a kind of thread to tie these anachronistic little English folk to the mythic world. If the Rohirrim and Old English were that link (as we learn, ‘hobbit’ is a mutation of the Rohirric word ‘holbytla’, hole-dweller, which is an Old English word that Tolkien invented) then hobbits have a proper foothold in the wide world of Middle-earth and, thusly, so do we.
Another interesting point is that the Rohirrim were modeled after the Anglo-Saxons, at least in part, and so they were the ancient English; the hobbits, with their umbrellas and tea time and countrified ways, are the late Victorian/Edwardian English of the West Midlands. So the linguistic connexion fits in more than one sense. I don’t know if this is what he had in mind when he brought Merry and Théoden together, but the added layer creates a special mix of meaning. So meta!
SHOWCASE THE ART
Magali has once again outdone herself. One thing I particularly like about all her stuff is that there is almost always a lot to see in the background, which provides even more excitement than just seeing a favorite character brought to life. It’s not totally clear what situation our young Horse-lord is in, but we see soot and clouds, fire and battle. His sword is raised and he is giving a battle cry: “Forth Eorlingas!”
I’ve featured a few other piece from Deviantart, always a great source for amateur and professional art alike, and below are a few more selections from better known Tolkien artists:
Théoden King and Wormtongue by Alan Lee
DISCUSS THE CARD
One of the challenges of The Lord of the Rings LCG, from the start to the present state of the game, is in creating a fully-realized theme deck with the limited options available. It’s fun and interesting to try and finagle a properly thematic set of cards when the designers haven’t yet done it for us. This is what I had in mind when I started the following deck. It attempts to place Merry at the end of start of The Return of the King, when he has entered into Théoden’s service at Duharrow. In the Flotsam and Jetsam chapter, Merry offers to share stories of his people, and pipe-lore, with Théoden and the King takes him up on his offer. Later, moved by his kindness, Merry swears his allegiance to Rohan. ‘As a father you shall be to me!’ he exclaims. ‘For a little while,’ is the somber reply.
The goal of this deck is several-fold: I want to showcase Théoden’s ability by pairing him with another ‘high’ willpower Tactics hero. It’s actually really nice to be able to quest for 10 out of the gate with no questing allies. It also shows Théoden’s versatility, especially once he gains the action advantage granted by Steed of the Mark. That action advantage is multiplied once the Warhorse comes out and Merry’s combat ability triggers. The second goal is to make Merry a proper warrior of the Mark. This is done by giving him a horse, a spear, and the Rohan trait via Nor Am I A Stranger. Of course even with the Spear and even attacking in the staging area he only hits for three, as opposed to the impressive six that’s possible in Black Riders (four Hobbit heroes plus Dagger of Westernesse), but Halfling Determination should help with that. The third goal is to create a theme deck that is actually viable solo. This is really where the Songs of Travel come in. They are a cheap and effective way of solving the problem of more Spirit resources. The only misplaced characters in this regard are the Vassals, but I needed cheap Tactics allies and, who knows, maybe the Eagles swooped down to assist the Rohirrim at some point in time.
There are plenty of other options for deck tweaking. Ancient Mathom instead of Foe-hammer for card draw; foregoing Galadhrim’s Greeting for Mustering the Rohirrim to get allies (and thus willpower) out more quickly, or some other fun and Rohan-specific event.
It’s not perfect, and admittedly it takes a while to get all the pieces moving, but it can and does work. And it’s fun!
Deck: Meriadoc son of Gorbadoc, Esquire of Rohan
Horseback Archer x3
Westfold Outrider x3
Escort from Edoras x3
West Road Traveler x3
Westfold Horse-breeder x3
Vassal of the Windlord x3
Spear of the Mark x3
Nor Am I A Stranger x3
Song of Travel x3
Steed of the Mark x2
Rohan Warhorse x2
Forth Eorlingas! x3
Halfling Determination x3
Galadhrim’s Greeting x3
Light in the Dark x3
On a good day, with all pistons firing, it would look something like this…
Until next time, happy questing and westu Théoden hal!