On Being Too Short to Have One’s Head Cut Off

The Riders of Rohan

The Three Friends and Éomer (Source)

The Three Friends and Eomer (Source)

It is said that we live in remarkable times. Amidst war and terror that plague all communities, among concerns of poverty and environmental strain, nevertheless technology exceeds our highest expectations, and globalization has interconnected us beyond our wildest dreams. Women and men have powers their ancestors could not have imagined: at our fingertips, we possess access to knowledge and tools to make ancient kings and wise men shudder. “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass,” says Éomer, and so too seemingly in our own age.

And yet, all times are remarkable times: every age is an age of wonders. Intense conflict, interconnectivity, and impactful choices are not new features of existence. As C.S. Lewis noted, “We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life.’ Life has never been normal.” We are mistaken when we compare the present with past time, for time has never been past. The decisions of every people in every period of humanity matter. It is the great hubris of our generation to assume our generation great, somehow exceptional to the rest of mankind that came before us, or those descendents that shall follow us. Woe that we should write our own history, compose the ballads of our age: for as Aragorn suggests, “not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time.”

The excuse of remarkable times can obscure our vision and subvert our character. It is common to suggest that in these remarkable times, common insight cannot be of service, and ancient wisdom cannot endure. Religion, morality, myth: what good are they in the days of drones and digital? Tradition, history, and lore: what benefit are they in the dominion of the Internet? It is easy to find oneself overwhelmed and to say like Éomer:

“‘The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’

‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among the Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.’”

Good and evil are not changed by time: right and wrong are not different among the peoples of the world. The truth of this world is that there is a Truth in this world: that there is Something greater than us, and greater than our remarkable times. To write ourselves a pass on the way we live because of the hour in which we live is ultimately to claim that there is nothing for which to live.

And so, the advantage of being too short to have one’s head cut off. Éomer responds to Gimli as such, beard and all. If we stand but a little higher from the ground, we may look about the plains upon which we walk in the light of the passing sun and marvel at the remarkableness of the moment. In the height of our pride we risk losing our heads to the relative spirit of the “time”: our rationality, our wisdom, our tradition, the essence of our humanity. Instead, we count our blessings to have hobbit-height humility. For with such reflective perspective we then can see that our times are truly remarkable because they are in fact times like any other.

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