The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 50, A Small Surprising Providence

The Rohirrim ride into battle, and the Witch-King withdraws from the gates of Gondor. This is Theoden's great moment of glory, as the tide of the battle turns.

But the Witch-King returns to the fight, now mounted upon a great, winged creature. And the Lord of the Nazgûl deals Theoden a mortal blow.

And in that moment of despair, two of the most unlikely warriors step forward to avenge their fallen king. Merry, Hobbit of the Shire, and Éowyn, lady and shieldmaiden of Rohan. Refusing to be left behind, Éowyn had rode into battle disguised as a man.  

Assuming Éowyn to be a man, the Lord of the Nazgûl taunts her, saying "No living man can hinder me!" For long ago Glorfindel had made a prophecy concerning him: "Not by the hand of man will he fall." Hearing these words, Éowyn reveals herself, "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman."

The Witch-King sets his monstrous steed upon Éowyn. She strikes, severing its head. The Witch-King rises from the dead beast, advances, and brings a crushing blow down upon Éowyn's shield, shattering it and breaking her arm. The fight seems over. And then, quite forgotten, Merry attacks, cutting the sinews of the Nazgûl's knee. The blow is enough to stagger the Witch-King. Seeing her moment, Éowyn drives her sword through the invisible face, killing the Black Captain.

After the death of Théoden on the field of battle, the narrative will return to linger upon Merry's sword, the sword which dealt the surprising, unlikely blow to the Witch-King. This blade was, it will be recalled, one of the swords that Tom Bombadil gave Merry, Sam, and Pippin from the Barrow-downs. It was a sword forged long ago by the Men of Westernesse, forged for their battles with the same sorcerer king of Angmar. And here, in the Battle of the Pelnennor Fields, the ancient blade fulfills its destiny, finally finding its enemy, after long centuries and many twists and turns, in a blow struck by the most unlikely of people. 

Two themes mix together in the defeat of the Witch-King, surprise and providence. Providence in how we discern something more than chance at work in finding a woman standing before the Witch-King and a sword of Westernesse close at hand. And yet, when we invoke providence, we tend to think of something inexorable and predictable. But the death of the Witch-King was anything put predictable. He certainly didn't see it coming. We are startled and surprised. So much so, it is hard not to see providence as great fortune or luck.

And much of this effect is due to the smallness of the two critical actors. A woman and a hobbit in the midst of a raging battle, standing against the greatest power of Mordor, second only to Sauron himself. But on the Fields of Pelnennor the weak will defeat the strong. It is a small, surprising providence.   

I write this post a week before Christmas. And the theme of a small surprising providence seems very apt for the season. The comparison isn't perfect, but one sees a bit of Mary in Éowyn, a woman bringing doom to the Witch-King. But what is very clear is that the story of Christmas is a bit of a surprise in its smallness. The great tide of history turns upon small people making small choices. Just like the events on the Fields of Pelnennor, the Nativity story is filled with portents and prophecies, the history ancient and full of lore. The Hand of Providence is as work. 

But still, a providence so small and surprising. 

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