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Tolkien character
In-universe information
AliasesLord of the Mark, King of Rohan
Race Men of Rohan [T 1]
Book(s) The Two Towers (1954)
The Return of the King (1955)
Unfinished Tales (1980)

Théoden is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings . The King of Rohan and Lord of the Mark or of the Riddermark, names used by the Rohirrim for their land, he appears as a supporting character in The Two Towers and The Return of the King . When first introduced, Théoden is weak with age and sorrow and the machinations of his top advisor, Gríma Wormtongue, and he does nothing as his kingdom is crumbling. Once roused by the wizard Gandalf, however, he becomes an instrumental ally in the war against Saruman and Sauron, leading the Rohirrim into the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.


Scholars have compared Théoden to Theodoric, King of the Visigoths, and Théoden's death in the battle to Theodoric's in the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. He has been contrasted, too, with another protagonist in The Lord of the Rings, Denethor Steward of Gondor; where Denethor is harsh, Théoden is open and welcoming.

Fictional biography

The Two Towers

Théoden is introduced in The Two Towers , the second volume of The Lord of the Rings , as King of Rohan. By this point Théoden had grown weak with age, and was largely controlled by his chief advisor Gríma Wormtongue, who was secretly in the employ of the corrupt wizard Saruman. [T 1] One of the last Hunt for the Ring manuscripts says Wormtongue has "great influence over the king", who is "enthralled by his counsel". [1] In Unfinished Tales , it is further implied that the failure of the king's health was "...induced or increased by subtle poisons, administered by Gríma". [T 2] As Théoden sat powerless, Rohan was troubled by Orcs and Dunlendings, who operated under the will of Saruman, ruling from Isengard. [T 1]

At that sound the bent shape of [King Théoden] sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before: 'Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!'

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

When Gandalf and Aragorn, along with Legolas and Gimli, appeared before him in The Two Towers, Théoden initially rebuffed the wizard's advice to oppose Saruman. When Gandalf revealed Wormtongue for what he was, however, Théoden returned to his senses. He restored his nephew, took up his sword Herugrim, [T 1] and in spite of his age, led the Riders of Rohan to victory in the Battle of Helm's Deep. [T 3] He then visited Isengard, saw that it had been destroyed by the Ents of Fangorn forest, [T 4] and, speaking with the wizard Saruman in the tower of Orthanc, saw Gandalf break Saruman's staff. [T 5]

The Return of the King

In The Return of the King, Théoden led the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. [T 6] [T 7] In that battle, he routed the Harad cavalry, personally killing their chieftain. He challenged the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader of the Nazgûl, but was mortally wounded when his own horse Snowmane fell upon him. He was avenged by his niece Éowyn and a Hobbit, Merry Brandybuck, who had ridden to war together in secret; together, they destroyed the witch-king. In his last moments, Théoden bade farewell to Merry and Éowyn. [T 8]

Théoden's body lay in Minas Tirith until it was buried in Rohan after the defeat of Sauron. He was the last of the Second Line of the kings, judging from direct descent from Eorl the Young. [T 9]


"theoden", an Old English word for "prince" or "king" Beowulf - theoden.jpg
"þeoden", an Old English word for "prince" or "king"

Théoden is transliterated directly from the Old English þēoden , "king, prince", in turn from þeod, "a people, a nation". [2] [3] [4] As with other descriptive names in his legendarium, Tolkien uses this name to create the impression that the text is historical. Tolkien mapped the Westron or Common Speech to modern English; the ancestral language of the Rohirrim in his system of invented languages would therefore map to Old English. [5]


Images of Northern courage

According to the scholar Elizabeth Solopova, the character of Théoden was inspired by the concept of Northern courage in Norse mythology, particularly in the Beowulf epos: the protagonist of a story shows perseverance while knowing that he is going to be defeated and killed. This is reflected in Théoden's decision to ride against Sauron's far superior army in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. [6] There are also repeated references by Tolkien to a historic account of the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields by the 6th century historian Jordanes. Both battles take place between civilizations of the "East" (Huns) and "West" (Romans and their allies, Visigoths), and like Jordanes, Tolkien describes his battle as one of legendary fame that lasted for several generations. Another apparent similarity is the death of King Theodoric I of the Visigoths on the Catalaunian Fields and that of Théoden on the Pelennor. Jordanes reports that Theodoric was thrown off by his horse and trampled to death by his own men who charged forward. Théoden also rallies his men shortly before he falls and is crushed by his horse. And like Theodoric, Théoden is carried from the battlefield with his knights weeping and singing for him while the battle still goes on. [7]

Elizabeth Solopova's comparison of Théoden and Theodoric [7]
Final battle Battle of the Pelennor Fields Battle of the Catalaunian Fields
Combatants "West"
versus "East"
Rohan, Gondor
vs Mordor, Easterlings
Romans, Visigoths
vs Huns
Cause of deathThrown by horse,
which falls on him
Thrown by horse,
trampled by own men,
charging enemy
LamentCarried from battlefield by his knights, singing and weeping

Numerous scholars have admired Tolkien's simile of Théoden riding into his final battle "like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young". [T 7] Among them, Steve Walker calls it "almost epic in its amplitude", inviting the reader's imagination by alluding "to unseen complexity", a whole mythology of Middle-earth under the visible text. [8] Fleming Rutledge calls it imitative of the language of myth and saga, and an echo of the messianic prophecy in Malachi 4:1-3. [9] Jason Fisher compares the passage, which links the blowing of all the horns of the host of Rohan, Oromë, dawn, and the Rohirrim, with Beowulf's pairing of aer daege ("before day", i.e. "dawn") and Hygelaces horn ond byman ("Hygelac's horn and trumpet") in lines 2941-2944. [10] [lower-alpha 1] Peter Kreeft writes that "it is hard not to feel your heart leap with joy at Théoden's transformation into a warrior", however difficult people find the old Roman view that it is sweet to die for your country, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori . [11]

The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey writes that Rohan is directly calqued on Anglo-Saxon England, taking many features from Beowulf, and not only in personal names, place-names, and language. He states that Tolkien's lament for Théoden equally closely echoes the dirge that ends the Old English poem Beowulf. Théoden's warriors and gate-guards behave like Beowulf characters, making their own minds up rather than just saying "I was only obeying orders". [12] [13]

Théoden vs Denethor

Tolkien scholars including Jane Chance contrast Théoden with another "Germanic king", Denethor, the last of the Ruling Stewards of Gondor. In Chance's view, Théoden represents good, Denethor evil; she notes that their names are almost anagrams, and that where Théoden welcomes the hobbit Merry Brandybuck into his service with loving friendship, Denethor accepts Merry's friend, Pippin Took with a harsh contract of fealty. [14] Hilary Wynne, in The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia , writes further that where both Théoden and Denethor had despaired, Théoden, his courage "renewed" by Gandalf, went to a hopeless-seeming battle at Helm's Deep and won, and then again on the Pelennor Fields where "his attack saved the city of Minas Tirith from sack and destruction". [2] Shippey makes the same comparison, extending it to numerous elements of the two Men's stories, writing that Théoden lives by a theory of Northern courage, and dies through Denethor's despair. [15] [16]

Tom Shippey's analysis of symmetry in the tales of Théoden and Denethor [16]
Story element Théoden, King of Rohan Denethor, Steward of Gondor
Subgroup meets a helpful strangerAragorn, Gimli and Legolas meet Éomer Frodo and Sam meet Faramir
Subgroup leader confronts the strangerAragorn defies ÉomerFrodo hides his quest from Faramir
Stranger decides to help the group, against their superior's wishesÉomer lends horsesFaramir lets Frodo and Sam go
Leader is an old man who has lost a sonThéodred died in battle Boromir died saving the Hobbits
Leader sees other heir as "doubtful replacement"Éomer is a nephewFaramir is scholarly, not warlike
Leader dies at time of Battle of the Pelennor Fields Théoden dies in battleDenethor commits suicide during battle
Leader's hall is described in detail Meduseld, the "golden hall"The stone hall in Minas Tirith
A Hobbit swears allegiance to leader Merry joins the Riders of Rohan Pippin becomes a palace guard of Gondor

In adaptations

Theoden in Ralph Bakshi's animated version of The Lord of the Rings BakshiTheoden.JPG
Théoden in Ralph Bakshi's animated version of The Lord of the Rings

In the 1981 BBC Radio 4 version of The Lord of the Rings, Théoden's death is described in song rather than dramatized conventionally; he is voiced by Jack May. [17] In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings , the voice of Théoden was provided by Philip Stone. [18] Théoden also appears in Rankin/Bass's attempt to complete the story left unfinished by Bakshi in their television adaptation of The Return of the King, though he speaks little, and is voiced by Don Messick. [19] His death is narrated by Gandalf (voiced by John Huston); in the animation, he is killed by a cloud, not by the Witch-king. [20]

Bernard Hill as King Theoden in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Theoden600ppx.png
Bernard Hill as King Théoden in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Théoden is an important character in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy. [21] [22] The character, played by Bernard Hill, first appears in The Two Towers (2002). [23] [24] However, unlike in the books, the Lord of the Mark is actually possessed and prematurely aged by Saruman (Christopher Lee). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) releases him from the spell, instantly restoring him to his true age, after which Théoden banishes Gríma Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) from Edoras. [21]


  1. Fisher writes that Oromë found the Elves in the far East of Middle-earth, so is linked with sunrise in the East, heralding a new beginning, and the Rohirrim's name for Oromë was Bema ("horn, trumpet"), the Old Mercian form of the Old English Byma used in the Beowulf passage. [10]

Related Research Articles

Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings. He was the 26th ruling Steward of Gondor, committing suicide in the besieged city of Minas Tirith during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gondor</span> Fictional kingdom in Tolkiens Middle-earth

Gondor is a fictional kingdom in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, described as the greatest realm of Men in the west of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. The third volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, is largely concerned with the events in Gondor during the War of the Ring and with the restoration of the realm afterward. The history of the kingdom is outlined in the appendices of the book.

Gríma, called (the) Wormtongue, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He serves as a secondary antagonist there; his role is expanded in Unfinished Tales. He is introduced in The Two Towers as the chief advisor to King Théoden of Rohan and henchman of Saruman.

Éowyn is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. She is a noblewoman of Rohan who describes herself as a shieldmaiden.

Éomer is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. He appears in The Lord of the Rings as a leader of the Riders of Rohan who serve as cavalry to the army of Rohan, fighting against Mordor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rohan, Middle-earth</span> Fictional location in J. R. R. Tolkiens Middle-earth legendarium

Rohan is a fictional kingdom of Men in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy setting of Middle-earth. Known for its horsemen, the Rohirrim, Rohan provides its ally Gondor with cavalry. Its territory is mainly grassland. The Rohirrim call their land the Mark or the Riddermark, names recalling that of the historical kingdom of Mercia, the region of Western England where Tolkien lived.

<i>The Two Towers</i> 1954 part of novel by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Two Towers is the second volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. It is preceded by The Fellowship of the Ring and followed by The Return of the King. The volume's title is ambiguous, as five towers are named in the narrative, and Tolkien himself gave conflicting identifications of the two towers. The narrative is interlaced, allowing Tolkien to build in suspense and surprise. The volume was largely welcomed by critics, who found it exciting and compelling, combining epic narrative with heroic romance.

<i>The Return of the King</i> 1955 part of novel by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Return of the King is the third and final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, following The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. It was published in 1955. The story begins in the kingdom of Gondor, which is soon to be attacked by the Dark Lord Sauron.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Helm's Deep</span> Battle in Tolkiens "The Lord of the Rings"

The Battle of Helm's Deep, also called the Battle of the Hornburg, is a fictional battle in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings that saw the total destruction of the forces of the Wizard Saruman by the army of Rohan, assisted by a forest of tree-like Huorns.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy writings, Isengard is a large fortress in Nan Curunír, the Wizard's Vale, in the western part of Middle-earth. In the fantasy world, the name of the fortress is described as a translation of Angrenost, a word in the elvish language Sindarin, which Tolkien invented.

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings, was the defence of the city of Minas Tirith by the forces of Gondor and the cavalry of its ally Rohan, against the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron from Mordor and its allies the Haradrim and the Easterlings. It was the largest battle in the War of the Ring. It took place at the end of the Third Age in the Pelennor Fields, the townlands and fields between Minas Tirith and the River Anduin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saruman</span> Fictional character created by J. R. R. Tolkien

Saruman, also called Saruman the White, later Saruman of Many Colours, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. He is leader of the Istari, wizards sent to Middle-earth in human form by the godlike Valar to challenge Sauron, the main antagonist of the novel, but eventually he desires Sauron's power for himself and tries to take over Middle-earth by force from his base at Isengard. His schemes feature prominently in the second volume, The Two Towers; he appears briefly at the end of the third volume, The Return of the King. His earlier history is summarised in the posthumously published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

Meriadoc Brandybuck, usually called Merry, is a Hobbit, a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium, featured throughout his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings. Merry is described as one of the closest friends of Frodo Baggins, the main protagonist. Merry and his friend and cousin, Pippin, are members of the Fellowship of the Ring. They become separated from the rest of the group and spend much of The Two Towers making their own decisions. By the time of The Return of the King, Merry has enlisted in the army of Rohan as an esquire to King Théoden, in whose service he fights during the War of the Ring. After the war, he returns home, where he and Pippin lead the Scouring of the Shire, ridding it of Saruman's influence.

Peregrin Took, commonly known simply as Pippin, is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. He is closely tied with his friend and cousin, Merry Brandybuck, and the two are together during most of the story. Pippin and Merry are introduced as a pair of young hobbits of the Shire who become ensnared in their friend Frodo Baggins's quest to destroy the One Ring. Pippin joins the Fellowship of the Ring. He and Merry become separated from the rest of the group at the breaking of the Fellowship and spend much of The Two Towers with their own story line. Impetuous and curious, Pippin enlists as a soldier in the army of Gondor and fights in the Battle of the Morannon. With the other hobbits, he returns home, helps to lead the Scouring of the Shire, and becomes Thain or hereditary leader of the land.

Aragorn is a fictional character and a protagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn was a Ranger of the North, first introduced with the name Strider and later revealed to be the heir of Isildur, an ancient King of Arnor and Gondor. Aragorn was a confidant of the wizard Gandalf, and played a part in the quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. As a young man, Aragorn fell in love with the immortal elf Arwen, as told in "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen". Arwen's father, Elrond Half-elven, forbade them to marry unless Aragorn became King of both Arnor and Gondor.

Character pairing in The Lord of the Rings is a literary device used by J. R. R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, to express some of the moral complexity of his major characters in his heroic romance, The Lord of the Rings. Commentators have noted that the format of a fantasy does not lend itself to subtlety of characterisation, but that pairing allows inner tensions to be expressed as linked opposites, including, in a psychoanalytic interpretation, those of Jungian archetypes.

J. R. R. Tolkien's presentation of heroism in The Lord of the Rings is based on medieval tradition, but modifies it, as there is no single hero but a combination of heroes with contrasting attributes. Aragorn is the man born to be a hero, of a line of kings; he emerges from the wilds and is uniformly bold and restrained. Frodo is an unheroic, home-loving Hobbit who has heroism thrust upon him when he learns that the ring he has inherited from his cousin Bilbo is the One Ring that would enable the Dark Lord Sauron to dominate the whole of Middle-earth. His servant Sam sets out to take care of his beloved master, and rises through the privations of the quest to destroy the Ring to become heroic.

The medievalist and fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien derived the characters, stories, places, and languages of Middle-earth from many sources. Among these are Norse mythology, which depicts a reckless bravery that Tolkien named Northern courage. For Tolkien, this was exemplified by the way the gods of Norse mythology knew they would die in the last battle, Ragnarök, but they went to fight anyway. He was influenced, too, by the Old English poems Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, which both praise heroic courage. He hoped to construct a mythology for England, as little had survived from its pre-Christian mythology. Arguing that there had been a "fundamentally similar heroic temper" in England and Scandinavia, he fused elements from other northern European regions, both Norse and Celtic, with what he could find from England itself.

J. R. R. Tolkien repeatedly dealt with the theme of death and immortality in Middle-earth. In fact, he once stated that the "real theme" of The Lord of the Rings was "Death and Immortality." In Middle-earth, Men are mortal, while Elves are immortal. One of his stories, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, explores the willing choice of death through the love of an immortal Elf for a mortal Man. He several times revisited the Old Norse theme of the mountain tomb, containing treasure along with the dead and visited by fighting. He brought multiple leading evil characters in The Lord of the Rings to a fiery end, including Gollum, the Nazgûl, the Dark Lord Sauron, and the evil Wizard Saruman, while in The Hobbit, the dragon Smaug is killed. Their destruction contrasts with the heroic deaths of two leaders of the free peoples, Théoden of Rohan and Boromir of Gondor, reflecting the early Medieval ideal of Northern courage. Despite these pagan themes, the work contains hints of Christianity, such as of the resurrection of Christ, as when the Lord of the Nazgûl, thinking himself victorious, calls himself Death, only to be answered by the crowing of a cockerel. There are, too, hints that the Elvish land of Lothlórien represents an Earthly Paradise. Scholars have commented that Tolkien clearly moved during his career from being oriented towards pagan themes to a more Christian theology.



  1. 1 2 3 4 Tolkien 1954 , book 3, ch. 6 "The King of the Golden Hall"
  2. Tolkien 1980 , Part 3, ch. 5 "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
  3. Tolkien 1954 , book 3, ch. 7 "Helm's Deep"
  4. Tolkien 1954 , book 3, ch. 8 "The Road to Isengard"
  5. Tolkien 1954 , book 3, ch. 10 "The Voice of Saruman"
  6. Tolkien 1955 , book 5, ch. 3 "The Muster of Rohan"
  7. 1 2 Tolkien 1955 , book 5, ch. 5 "The Ride of the Rohirrim"
  8. Tolkien 1955 , book 5, ch. 6 "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
  9. Tolkien 1955 , book 6, ch. 5 "The Steward and the King"


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