On Laughing in Defiance of One’s Certain Demise

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

"But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am." (Source)

“But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am.” (Source)

Death comes for us all, and on the fields of Pelennor, we are surrounded by it. Yet, strange to behold, there is also song and laughter on the plains of battle. It may seem peculiar to hear such sounds amidst the struggle and the slaughter: inappropriate, unserious, unwelcomed. That we should find laughter with swords in hand suggests something deeper at work before the walls of Minas Tirith.

There is the laughter of the Lord of the Nazgûl, the king of the shadows, the captain of the hosts of Mordor. Cruel and cold is such prideful laughter, black and dripping with malice. It is the cackling of bloated hubris and untested power, the snickering of one who considers himself invincible to all efforts of resistance. Wraith and dark magician, he has placed his faith in the prophecy that “no living man may hinder me.” Such words hold true – yet in his laughter the Witch-King has pondered not deeply enough their depths, no realized his foretold end: brought down by no man but instead a woman and a halfling, with a sword forged for such an ominous moment. His haughty laughter masks his doubt, and ultimately leads him to the certain doom of which he never dreamed.

There is the laughter of Éowyn, the masked rider, the daughter of kings. Sharp and ringing is such wanton laughter, tinged with joy and grief. It is the roaring of realized hopelessness and yet firm commitment, the merriment of a woman finally achieving her dream of valor and glory in the face of certain death. Her loyalty and love for uncle and king stand proudly against the overwhelming horror of her foe, and her sound kindles up the valor and courage of those around her. In her laughter Éowyn turns the words of evil against their source, and rouses herself for noble deeds. Her laughter is her love for both her last lord and her final moment.

There is the laughter of Éomer, the young lord and king, Marshall of the Mark, knight and rider of Rohan. Defiant and stern is such lustful laughter, streaked with trial and yet greater wonder. It is the mirth of an unscathed and youthful captain, a man of memory and of great desire to do good even if none be left to remember it. It is the roaring that laughs at despair, that declares with such confidence:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

In his laughter Éomer commits himself to virtue even until his end, and then singing joy as the standard of the King comes forth from the Sea.

Hence the considerations of laughing in defiance of one’s certain demise. There is the misguided laughter of the Shadow King, unable to foresee his certain demise. There is the fulfilled laughter of a disguised warrior woman, of a revelation made true and a love defended against the very power of death itself. There is the passionate laughter of a man as his enemy close in around him and he longs “to do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark.” All are fulfilled in the mirth of the coming of the King, of a change of the wind upon the air. For even in the midst of great struggle – even certain death – can one laugh in defiance of one’s certain demise: for in the demise of evil comes nothingness, while in the demise of good comes the promise of a new hope.

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