Tolkien's legendarium character
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Théoden is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings. He appears as a major supporting character in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.



Théoden is introduced in The Two Towers, the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, as the King of Rohan. By the time of the War of the Ring, Théoden was growing weak with age, and was largely controlled by his chief advisor Gríma (or Wormtongue as most others in the Mark called him), who was secretly in the employ of the corrupt wizard Saruman. In Unfinished Tales, it is implied that Gríma was accelerating the king's decline with "subtle poisons". As Théoden sat powerless, Rohan was troubled by Orcs and Dunlendings, who operated under the will of Saruman, ruling from Isengard.

When his son Théodred was mortally wounded at a battle at the Fords of Isen, Théoden's nephew Éomer became his heir. However, Éomer was out of favour with Wormtongue, who eventually had him arrested.

When Gandalf the White and Aragorn appeared before him in The Two Towers, Théoden initially rebuffed the wizard's advice to ride out against Saruman. When Gandalf revealed Wormtongue for what he was, however, Théoden returned to his senses. He restored his nephew, took up his sword Herugrim, and in spite of his age, led the Riders of Rohan into the Battle of the Hornburg. After this he became known as Théoden Ednew, the Renewed.

In Return of the King, Théoden led the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. In that battle he routed the Harad cavalry, personally killing their chieftain and banner-bearer in the process. He challenged the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader of the Nazgûl, and was mortally wounded when his horse Snowmane fell upon him. He was avenged by his niece Éowyn and the Hobbit Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, who had ridden to war in secret; together, they destroyed the Witch-king. Before mustering the Rohirrim to ride to Gondor's aid, Théoden enlisted Merry into his army, but did not let the Hobbit ride into battle at Pelennor. In his last moments, he bid farewell to Merry and appointed Éomer the next king.

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.


The appendices of Return of the King explain that Théoden was the only son of King Thengel and Morwen of Lossarnach (a region of Gondor). He was the second-born of five children, and the only boy. Théoden was closest to his youngest sister, Théodwyn. He was born in Gondor, where his family lived until Thengel became king of Rohan.

He became king after the death of his father. Théodwyn lived with him in Edoras. He married Elfhild, but she died giving birth to their son, Théodred. After Théodwyn and her husband Éomund also died, he adopted their children, Éomer and Éowyn.

In his prime, Théoden was a strong and vital king, highly respected by his subjects. As with other Men of the Riddermark, Théoden was a skilled horseman.

He acted as the First Marshal of the Mark after the death of Éomund, who had filled that position; as First Marshal he commanded the Muster of Edoras (Théodred and Éomer were respectively the Second and Third Marshal). His sword was called Herugrim.

Names and titles

In the etymology of Middle-earth, the name Théoden is a translation of Rohirric Tûrac, an old word for King.

Some scholars relate Théoden to the Old English word þēoden,[1] meaning "leader of a people" (i.e. "King" or "prince").[2][3] As with other descriptive names in his legendarium, Tolkien uses this name to create the impression that the text is "'historical', 'real' or 'archaic'".[4]

Concept and creation

The character of Théoden was inspired by a concept of courage as found 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 the much superior forces of Sauron in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.[5] There are also repeated references by Tolkien to a historic account of the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields by Jordanes. Both battles take place between civilisations of the "East" and "West", 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 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.[6]

In one of Tolkien's early drafts, Théoden also had a daughter by the name of Idis, but she was eventually removed when her character was eclipsed by that of Éowyn.

Portrayal in adaptations

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

In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings, the voice of Théoden was provided by Philip Stone. 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. His death is narrated by Gandalf (voiced by John Huston).

In the 1981 BBC Radio 4 version of The Lord of the Rings, Théoden's death is described in song rather than dramatized conventionally. In this adaptation he is voiced by Jack May, also known for playing Nelson Gabriel in The Archers.

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

Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) deviates somewhat from Tolkien's story by portraying Théoden (played by Bernard Hill) as being actually semi-possessed and magically aged by Saruman (Christopher Lee). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) heals him, and he is restored to his true age. After Gandalf has released Théoden from the spell, Théoden chases Gríma Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) from the city.

Théoden's decision to take his people to safety at the stronghold of Helm's Deep rather than to confront the enemy in open battle is presented as a grave strategic misjudgement, which Gandalf can only make up for by finding Éomer in time. When Théoden despairs, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) convinces him to ride out of the Hornburg at sunrise, while in the book this is Théoden's initiative. In Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), he also initially refuses to aid Gondor, due to the filmmakers omitting the Oath of Eorl. Later Théoden is aware of Éowyn's (Miranda Otto) presence at his death, whereas in the book he says his farewell to Merry and does not know that Éowyn is also there. Hill also shows Théoden as being full of anguish and fear of being unable to live up to the reputation of his forefathers; in the extended edition of Return of the King, Saruman derisively calls him "a lesser son of greater sires" - this line in Tolkien's original novel was uttered by Théoden himself, in dismissal of Saruman's attempts to convince him to side with him after his defeat. Théoden leads a death charge of the Rohirrim against overwhelming odds at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, saving the city from a total sack. His words here were spoken by Éomer in the book as a response to Théoden's death.


  1. Wynne, H. (2006-10-10). "THEODEN". In Drout, M. D. C.. J.R.R. Tolkien encyclopedia: scholarship and critical assessment (first ed.). Routledge. p. 643. ISBN 978-0-415-96942-0. "'the chief of a :þeod (a nation, people)'... His name as King, Theoden "Ednew," comes from the Old English ed-niowe, 'To recover, renew.'" 
  2. See definition: Bosworth, Joseph; Toller, T. Northcote. "þeóden". An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Online). Prague: Charles University.  - (also spelled ðeoden), cognate to the Old Norse word þjóðann
  3. Solopova, p. 21. "Théoden ('Lord' in Old English)".
  4. Solopova, p. 22.
  5. Solopova, p. 28-29.
  6. Solopova, p. 70-73.
General references

External links

Template:Kings of Rohan

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