‘We have come a long way with you and been through some stiff times. We want to go on.’ – Merry, The Fellowship of the Ring
Merry, Mister Meriadoc Brandybuck I should say, is an affable hobbit. But, for most of us, there are two Merrys: the goofy, stoner Merry of the films and the brave, outgoing, and dutiful Merry of the books. The two join together in the end as Merry comes into his own, esquire of Rohan, and champion of the Shire. Our view of Mery, or at least mine, still gets twisted up as one of the many fans who (despite early efforts) did not come into his own as a Tolkien addict until after the movies.
And then there are the cards! Merry of the Tactics sphere seems to leap ahead in the narrative to the Merry who has traveled leagues upon leagues and ridden into battle with Ents and Horse-lords alike, while his newly-released Spirit counterpart is more connected to Merry of the Shire (or at least Buckland), slipping off into the woods when threats are about. But that’s not entirely true, is it? Read on!
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
Long ago, Gorhendad Oldbuck set off over the Marish and across the Brandywine River to tame the land and make for himself ‘what was virtually a small independent country’. He changed his name and started building and soon all his relations started building and, after a generation or so, the ‘colony’ of Buckland was officially a thing. Sounds rather nice to go and pick up a scrap of land and reinvent yourself! The Brandybucks thrived: most of them helped to construct the veritable ant hill that was Brandy Hall, the rest set up various houses and businesses and farms in the vicinity, including the operation of Bucklebury Ferry. Now bear in mind that all of this, even the construction of the adjacent hedge, happened in the looming shadows of the Old Forest. Such an environment perhaps equipped these halflings to confront even the Nazgûl when they assaulted Buckland and Crickhollow in search of the Ring, the only Hobbits to offer some resistance to the Ring-wraiths!
They’re queer folks in Buckland, or so they say, and it was this kind of adventurous, forthright Hobbit that made up Meriadoc Brandybuck’s stock.
Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin are all related…somehow. As much as I love them, I don’t much go in for Hobbit family trees (I usually leave that to Master of Lore when he’s in the mood for a particularly epic post) so I shall suffice it to say that Frodo’s mother was a Brandybuck and so he and Merry have a common ancestor. Likewise, there is Tookish blood in all those families (Bilbo’s mother was the ‘famous’ Belladonna Took) so one can run a line zig-zag along somebody’s tree and find the connexion to Pippin and even Fatty (his mother was also a Took; evidently Took women are in high demand). However I will not do so here. I only mention it to preempt why we see Merry in the stories at all.
Being a younger, distant cousin of Frodo’s and being enamored of his slightly more distant cousin Bilbo, Merry took to the Bagginses with fervor at an early age. Some time during his teenage years the Brandybuck had a ‘chance’ event in his life. He bumbled upon Bilbo using his magic ring in an effort to dodge an awkward moment with the Sackville-Bagginses. There is the obvious effect of his spying: he knows about the Ring (or something like it) and is so curious that he even peeps into Bilbo’s diary (the later Red Book that he will have a hand in completing). This information carries over tidily when Frodo inherits the Ring and the Conspiracy begins. But the subtext is interesting too! First, we can gather that Merry is an uncomfortably curious Hobbit. While most, as we learn in both The Hobbit and the prologue to Rings, dislike adventures and wizards and out-of-the-ordinary things, Merry fits into that relatively slim category of Hobbits who go out looking for trouble. After Mad Baggins made his infamous return, there and back again, the happening surely drew all such hobbits towards Bag End, which is an interesting tangent itself as we often hear about evil things being drawn to Sauron, but I digress.
When we first meet Merry, properly, there is no proper introduction at all; he is simply there, helping Frodo tidy up his affairs and generally hanging out. It’s clear that he is as much a buddy to Frodo as he is a relative. He makes himself useful immediately. After the sale of Bag End and the purchase of Crickhollow he helps pack, even moves Frodo clear across the Shire and over the River into Buckland where his new bachelor pad awaits. As we all know, only a true friend helps you move.
And then there is the revelation of the Conspiracy, that Merry and Pippin and Sam and Fatty have been keeping tabs on the Bagginses for, well, years really, and that they intend to help in whatever way they can, even if it means a trip through the gates of hell itself. In a moving little speech, Merry explains it thusly:
‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’
It’s a far cry from the happenstance that puts him in Frodo’s path in the films (though I readily admit that this statement of commitment surely happened off-camera).
Little moments like these, well before he is esquire of Rohan and co-slayer of the Witch-king, grant us a glimpse into the stout heart of Merry and that, I believe, is an appropriate descriptor. Stout. His quality shines again immediately next day when he leads the four hobbits through the terror of the Old Forest. Even when everyone else is beside themselves, and it’s clear they are hopelessly lost, Merry keeps his head on his shoulders and leads them on regardless. More of the same when we reach Bree: Merry actually pursues Black Riders when he chances upon them outside the Prancing Pony.
Some might say it’s his involvement at the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the subsequent destruction of the Witch-king, but for me the magnum opus of Merry’s courage is in its finale when he and Pippin rouse the Shire and relieve Sharkey of its control.
‘No!’ said Merry. ‘It’s no good “getting under cover”. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.’
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry. ‘Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don’t know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire
Hobbits had matches? Anyway, it is this spiritedness that, I feel, characterizes Meriadoc.
Even after the events of the War, when his adventuring career seems to have come to a close, Merry remained a hero of the Shire and an active one. He became head of the Brandybuck family; greatly expanded the libraries at Brandy Hall; traveled south many times to Rohan, even writing history books on that nation; authored a book on pipe-weed; made contributions to the Red Book of Westmarch, most notably his Tale of Year. In short, Merry (along with Pippin and Sam) ushered in a veritable golden age for the Shire. It didn’t hurt that two of them were abnormally tall!
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
I’ve raved about Croatian artist Romana Kendelic on this blog enough times that it should come as no surprise my choosing her version of Merry to focus on today. As I said at the top, the newer Spirit Merry focuses, I believe, on his initial actions leading the hobbits through the Old Forest and this is reflected in the art. Merry, with his mop of brown hair and traveling clothes, looks alert and hardy there in the woods. I like Ms. Kendelic so very much for her departure from typical fantasy inspirations and drawing characters with abnormal, almost cartoonish qualities while still maintaining the reality of the persons in question.
He is often represented as the Hobbit he is: brown, curly hair and short in stature. I like the drawing below in particular because it focuses more on the emotions he experiences after the Battle of Pelennor, dragging himself through the carnage of the battle’s aftermath.
The films, of course, always produce their share of fan art. Most of them aren’t worth the time it takes to load the jpeg, but I liked this one by ‘Anastasia’ particularly. It’s a positively hobbitish rendition of Dom Monaghan in his well-acted role.
DISCUSS THE CARD
Let’s go back and talk about the two Merrys for a bit. We have the brave adventurer and leader, wholly shaped by his year’s travel in the midst of the great events of the world. Then there is Merry the hobbit, the raw Shire-clay that will be shaped by his journeys. His Tactics card and Spirit card play on both of these aspects of his journey. Being the new thing, Spirit Merry (Sperry?) has drummed up a lot of attention as players seek to make him work in various constructs. Personally, I have been trying (with limited success) to revamp the old Secrecy Hobbit Avoidance deck, while other have paired him with less traditional allies. One is Parker of the Outpost Zero Fellowship, who was showing off such a deck on Twitter recently and it was so cool that I got his permission to poach it for this article.
The deck, like most that will feature Spirit Merry, includes the Hobbit Pony. Personally,I like that this is ‘his’ attachment, in the same way that Asfaloth is for Glorfindel, without it explicity being his. The art is lovely as well, the first card done for the game by Eva Maria Toker.
His deck, which he very kindly submitted per my request, is a strong Spirit/Lore deck with an emphasis on big allies, threat reduction, and healing. Unexpected Courage, Ent Draught, and Warden of Healing are the opening hand priorities. They allow the gears of action advantage and healing (crucial for making the most of Treebeard‘s hero ability) to start rolling. Have a look.
Warden of Healing x3
Imladris Stargazer x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3
Northern Tracker x2
Westfold Horse-breeder x3
Erebor Hammersmith x2
Henamarth Riversong x2
Haldir of Lórien x1
Wandering Ent x3
Hobbit Pony x3
Ent Draught x3
Self Preservation x2
Unexpected Courage x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
A Test of Will x2
Mithrandir’s Advice x2
Gather Information x1
As you can see, strong allies and lots of healing. Once it ramps it can handle most any quest and can showcase Merry as a questing hero and repeatable threat reduction. For more on that, be sure to have a gander at Ian’s review at Tales from the Cards.
What else is there to say about Mister Meriadoc? He’s a key character and a very significant Hobbit. His cards have represented him well so far and I’m excited to see what happens in the future, especially once we reach our last Saga Expansion and the four wanderers return to the Shire! Until then, pony up and reduce your threat.