Canonical Trivia: Éothain by Certh

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Canonical trivia: Éothain
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Of all the minor canonical characters hailing from Rohan that JRR Tolkien created, Éothain is perhaps the most widely used in fanfiction. Speaking only a few lines in The Lord of the Rings, no background information concerning his person is given in the trilogy: he is possibly the only minor canon character who interacts with major canon characters and remains unidentified as to his status. For that reason, writers of fanfiction are granted much artistic licence to create a social station for him, as well as flesh out his personality. Stories set after the Ring War offer more freedom with regard to his rank and many authors cast him in the role of Éomer's Captain of the Guard, whereas in fanfics taking place during the War, others envision him as a simple soldier. Concerning his temperament, a good number of writers paint him as an easy-to-laugh, jovial fellow, fond of jokes and teasing.

While The Lord of the Rings offers nothing on the matter of Éothain's position in Éomer's éored, the published trilogy is not the sole source from where information can be gleaned. Tolkien's writings found in The History of Middle-earth provide more details on the subject. As evidenced by those, the author's views on Éothain's status changed as The Lord of the Rings was being written and amended. And, despite his brief appearance, the words he speaks and his reactions address the matter of his disposition succinctly, giving him a definite personality.

 

Initial conception

When he first emerged as a character, during the first meeting of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli with Éomer's éored, Éothain was Éomer's squire, and in those first drafts, as in the published The Lord of the Rings, he was apprehensive towards the Three Hunters and scoffed at the idea that Hobbits even existed. In the course of his conversation with Aragorn, Éomer excused Éothain's brash words, naming him his squire in the process:

... But it is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. One may pardon Eothain, my squire. The world is all turned strange . . . How shall a man judge what to do in such times.

      The History of Middle-earth: The Treason of Isengard, Chapter XX

In this first concept, Éothain's wonder at the loan of the horses Hasufel and Arod to the Three Hunters is not present (ibid.).
 

Later development

The squire Éothain does not reappear in following emendations, but in later drafts of the story the name Éothain is given to Théoden's captain of the guard, who is questioned by Meriadoc Brandybuck about the sound of drums in Drúadan forest:

“Eothain 'captain of the guard' stumbles over Merry lying on the ground, and it is he who tells Merry about the meaning of the drums: 'Those are not orc-drums. You hear the wild men of the hills: so they talk together. In many wooded vales of these regions they live few and secretly . . . Let us be thankful; for they have offered service to Theoden. They have spied on the enemy, and will guide us, they say, by cunning paths.'

'Where?' said Merry.

'That we shall learn ere long, I doubt not,' said Eothain. 'But I must hasten. The guard is to lead flank march, and I must soon be ready.' He vanished in the dark . . .”

      The History of Middle-earth: The War of the Ring, Part One, Chapter VII

Here, Éothain's speech illustrates his love for his country and his strong sense of duty. 


The last drafts of the tale

In a subsequent alteration of that part of the story, Éothain becomes the captain of Éomer's household éored, again stumbling over and conversing with Merry in the dark:

“The Rider who stumbles over Merry is now again named Eothain . . . but he is now 'captain of Eomer's company (eored)'.”

      The History of Middle-earth: The War of the Ring, Part One, Chapter VII

For the household éored of a Marshal of the Riddermark, cf. Unfinished Tales, Part Three, Chapter II, Notes: In times of war or unquiet each Marshal of the Mark had under his immediate orders, as part of his "household" (that is, quartered under arms at his residence) an éored ready for battle which he could use in an emergency at his own discretion. This was what Éomer had in fact done, i.e., when [he] pursued the Orcs, captors of Meriadoc and Peregrin, who had come down into Rohan from the Emyn Muil.”

For the commander of an éored, cf. Unfinished Tales, Part Three, Chapter V, Appendix: . . . a 'full éored' in battle order was reckoned to contain not less than 120 men (including the Captain) . . .”
 

The published Lord of the Rings

In the finished tale, the function of tripping over Merry and conversing with him is given to Elfhelm (cf. The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter V), and Éothain is only seen once as the Rider who speaks his mind when meeting the Three Hunters:

“ ‘Halflings!’ laughed the Rider that stood beside Éomer. ‘Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?’

‘A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!’

‘Time is pressing,’ said the Rider, not heeding Aragorn. ‘We must hasten south, lord. Let us leave these wild folk to their fancies. Or let us bind them and take them to the king.’

‘Peace, Éothain!’ said Éomer in his own tongue. ‘Leave me a while. Tell the éored to assemble on the path, and make ready to ride to the Entwade.’

Muttering Éothain retired, and spoke to the others . . .

There was great wonder, and many dark and doubtful glances, among his men, when Éomer gave orders that the spare horses were to be lent to the strangers; but only Éothain dared to speak openly.

‘It may be well enough for this lord of the race of Gondor, as he claims,’ he said, ‘but who has heard of a horse of the Mark being given to a Dwarf?’ ”

      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II

On both occasions of Éothain's making his views openly known, Éomer does not remark on the man's bold speech as he did in the first draft of Éothain's speaking out. The latter's sceptical words concerning the existence of Hobbits and Aragorn's claim to the throne of Gondor show he is not a person who puts much stock in things for which he has no proof, and his ready assertiveness indicates easy familiarity with Éomer, even though no reference to his station is made.

Bringing to mind the passage in The Treason of Isengard, there is in The Return of the King a single passing reference to Éomer's having an esquire, though the man's name is not given: 

“Éomer and his esquire rode back to the rear.”

      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter II

This mention may at first reading suggest that the esquire is Éothain, since that was his function in the initial draft featuring the Rohirrim. However, when first introduced in The Two Towers, Éothain is identified as a “Rider [of Rohan]”, that is, “a Knight of the king's trained cavalry” (cf. The Return of the King, Index, II). In comparison, an esquire is “the attendant and shield bearer of a knight, subsequently often knighted himself”, or “an officer in the service of a king or nobleman” (cf. www.collinsdictionary.com, and www.oxforddictionaries.com), rather than a man-at-arms:

“[G]andalf, as if he were [Frodo and Sam's] esquire, knelt and girt the sword-belts about them . . .”

      The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter IV

Thus, it is highly unlikely that Éomer's esquire and Éothain are the same person.

 

In conclusion

Despite the lacking mention of Éothain's rank in The Lord of the Rings, possibly as a result of Tolkien's propensity for avoiding details with no essential bearing on the plot, it seems most likely that the last concept of his being the Captain of Éomer's household éored was retained.
Éothain's expanded role in the completed book, as opposed to his briefer appearance in the first drafts, may be a fair clue of his elevated status. His repeated boldness of speech and Éomer's being unperturbed by that continued forwardness are a good indication that Éothain held no low-ranking position: a mere squire or simple soldier speaking out so brazenly would have been marked, as happened in the initial drafts.

Éothain's scepticism suggests a practical mind, and his speech is indicative of a serious disposition. His obeying Éomer's order, in spite of his disagreement, illustrates his loyalty.



Sources:

JRR Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
JRR Tolkien, The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
www.collinsdictionary.com
www.oxforddictionaries.com




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