And now we come at last to the beginning of The Two Towers. In these chapters, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli begin their pursuit of the kidnapped Merry and Pippin across the vast fields of Rohan, wherein they encounter the Riders of that land.
As I’ve already discussed Boromir’s tragic death in the last post, I’ll move straight into the other aspects of the chapter. I will briefly note, however, that both the ceremony in which he is at last laid to rest and the song that Legolas and Aragorn sing are fitting tributes to a man who gave his life to save those who were weaker than he, thus redeeming himself for his fall into error.
As this part of the tale begins, Aragorn finds himself caught in the same fraught position as Frodo. He, too, must decide what he is going to do, whether to pursue Frodo to Mordor or to rescue Merry and Pippin from what will almost certainly be the torments of Saruman. Like so many of Tolkien’s heroes, he must make a decision with the full knowledge that things may continue to go ill. In the ethos of this world, however, that is precisely the measure of a hero, to go forward without full knowledge of whether the consequences will be good or ill. There is, I think, a certain terror about this, but also something possibly holy about it as well, with the way in which Aragorn decides to embark on what he deems to be the better journey (and indeed, his efforts are at least somewhat validated).
As the chapters unfold, we also learn a great deal about the Rohirrim. The fact that they obviously view the land of Lorien as a place of sorcery and possible ill-fortune says a great deal about the position that this group of men has come to occupy in this land. Like so many other of their kind, they have fallen far from the wisdom and light that the Elves represent. Unlike the Men of Gondor, for whom the wisdom of the Elves is still a fairly recent memory, the men of Rohan seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew), the light, wisdom, and majesty of the Eldar. While the novel doesn’t necessarily fault them, it does help us to understand the differences between the races of men (and Faramir discusses this at greater detail later on in The Two Towers).
Thus, all of this is not to say that the Rohirrim do not have redeeming qualities. Eomer makes an offhand comment that Boromir was more like to them than to the high and proud men of Gondor, and in doing so reveals a great deal about the character of the Riders of Rohan. They are a people that take seriously the defense of their homeland; indeed, they seem to exist in a more symbiotic relationship with the the lands in which they dwell than do other races of Men. Less lofty they might be, but that does not in any way signify that they do not possess their own particular type of nobility.
It occurs to me as I write this that there are some significant similarities between the Hobbits and the Men of Rohan. Both have a strong bond to the land in which they live, and both seem to exist in a closer relationship to the earth and its pleasures. Of course, the novel also alludes to the fact that the Hobbits’ name for themselves descends from a Rohirric word, and that they may at one time have dwelt close to the men of Rohan, so these similarities are not surprising. And of course they will become even more obvious as Merry establishes his strong relationship with the royal house of Rohan.
Next up, we rejoin Merry and Pippin as they attempt to survive their capture by Orcs and subsequently meet the Ents, with tremendous consequences for everyone concerned.