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Tolkien character
AliasesTûrac (actual Rohirric name), Ednew
Lord of the Mark, King of Rohan
RaceMen of Rohan
Book(s)The Two Towers,
The Return of the King

Théoden is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings. The King and Lord of the Mark of Rohan, he appears as a major 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 Gandalf, however, he becomes an instrumental ally in the war against Saruman and Sauron.



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 had grown weak with age, and was largely controlled by his chief advisor Gríma (or Wormtongue as most others in the Riddermark called him), who was secretly in the employ of the corrupt wizard Saruman. In Unfinished Tales, it is implied that the failure of the king's health was "...induced or increased by subtle poisons, administered by Gríma".[1] 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, 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, 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.

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

In The 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 The 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. Théoden 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[edit]

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

"þeoden," an Old English word for "prince," "leader," "king"

Some scholars relate Théoden to the Old English word þēoden,[2] meaning "leader of a people" (i.e. "King" or "prince").[3][4] As with other descriptive names in his legendarium, Tolkien uses this name to create the impression that the text is "'historical', 'real' or 'archaic'".[5]

Concept and creation[edit]

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 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 Jordanes. Both battles take place between civilizations 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.[7]

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[edit]

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, and is voiced by Don Messick. 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.

Peter Jackson adaption[edit]

Théoden is an important character in Peter Jackson's film adaption of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As in the books, the character (played by Bernard Hill) first makes an appearance in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). 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.

Though the character performs most of the same actions in the films as in the books, Jackson presents Théoden as a leader who is often unsure of himself and fears that he will never live up to the reputation of his forefathers. In the extended edition of The Return of the King (2003), Saruman derisively calls him "a lesser son of greater sires" after he refuses to side with the fallen wizard after the battle at Helm's Deep. In Tolkien's original novel, the phrase was uttered sarcastically by Théoden himself in dismissal of Saruman's flattering attempts to regain his loyalty. In the movie, it is a pointed insult that hits its mark.

Théoden's decisions leading up to the battle at Helm's Deep are also portrayed in a different light than in the novels. His decision to take his people to the relative safety of the mountain stronghold rather than confront Saruman's army in open battle is presented as a grave strategic misjudgement that is only rectified when Gandalf arrives with Éomer's army and the Huorns to save the day. In the books, Théoden rides forth intending to meet the army of Saruman on the plains of Rohan but reluctantly reroutes to Helm's Deep at the urging of Gandalf after receiving reports that the approaching foes were a vastly superior force. When the fortress seems on the verge of falling after a night of overwhelming attacks, Théoden is near despair in the film until Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) convinces him to mount his horse and lead a charge out of the Hornburg at sunrise. In the book, this recklessly valiant counter-attack is made at Théoden's initiative.

In the movie version The Return of the King, Théoden initially refuses to aid Gondor because they did not send help to Helm's Deep. (The film does not mention the Oath of Eorl, an ancient defensive pact between Rohan and Gondor.) Only after Gondor's emergency beacons are lit and Aragorn urges Théoden to act does he change his mind. In the book, Théoden does not hesitate to help Gondor, only pausing to gather as large a force as possible from across Rohan.

In both the book and film, Théoden leads the Rohirrim to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and arrives as Minas Tirith is already under siege. Their surprise flank attack on Sauron's army buys time for Aragorn to arrive with the Army of the Dead and turn the tide of battle, but Théoden's heroic and crucial charge ends in his fatal encounter with the Witch King. However, in the film, he speaks to Éowyn (Miranda Otto) in his last moments, whereas in the book he says his farewell to Merry and does not know that Éowyn had secretly joined the riders as well. Some of Théoden's film lines before and during his final battle (the rallying cry "To death!" and portions of his dying conversation with Éowyn) were spoken by Éomer in the book in response to Théoden's death.



  1. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1982). Unfinished Tales. London, England: George Allen & Unwin. p. 355. ISBN 978-0048231796.
  2. ^ Wynne, Patrick H. (2006). "THEODEN". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien encyclopedia: scholarship and critical assessment (first ed.). Abingdon-on-Thames, England: 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.'
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Solopova, p. 21. "Théoden ('Lord' in Old English)".
  5. ^ Solopova, p. 22.
  6. ^ Solopova, p. 28-29.
  7. ^ Solopova, p. 70-73.

Works cited[edit]

  • Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1

External links[edit]