The Riders of Rohan
The race of the Three Hunters is an exhilarating, yet exhausting, read. Éomer’s reaction matches as our own: “The deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five you have measured ere the fourth day is ended!” 45 leagues in four days on foot: that’s about 135 miles by modern measurement. Given that a league by its original definition is how far a person could walk in an hour, and that four days have only 96 hours in total, that achievement’s significant is made all the clearer: not only have the Elf, Dwarf, and Man run far, but seemingly without rest!
We who have traveled with the Three Hunters, unlike Éomer, know that this claim is not exactly true: the company has rested, and even occasionally slept, along the way. But each moment of pause and sleep was debated and doubted: would such a recovering delay allow them to find the trail of the orcs in the daylight, or lose it to the passage of time? Would rest put the captives too far ahead of the rescuers? Would the three pursuers be able to accomplish any great feats if they overtook the orcs without rest? A hard choice, notes Aragorn. His ultimate decision takes into account many factors: the light of the moon, the flatness of the plain, the possibility of a hobbit’s escape or a division of the orcs. But nevertheless, and perhaps to Legolas’s dismay, they take the time to rest.
It is ironic, perhaps, that among the three, it is Gimli the Dwarf who has the most realistic perspective on sleep, needs it most similarly to how we need it. Legolas, as an Elf, can “sleep” while awake, resting his mind in the forest-like dreams of the Elves. Aragorn, as a man of kingly stock, has the capacity to delay sleep for long periods when needed, though, as he revealed in Lorien, that sleep comes quickly in places of security. It is Gimli who speaks what our hearts would speak: “Even I […] cannot run all the way to Isengard with any pause. I must rest a little to run the better.”
We who dwell in modern times can oft feel like the Three Hunters: pressed to the race, burdened to run on, exhausted by a sense of busy-ness and pursuit from which we cannot stop. Most of us do not chase after something nearly as important or endangered as the young hobbits held by the orcs, yet even those of us who do run for such a noble end must rest. In sleep we find renewed strength. After sleep we may better see the path, or discover allies who will help us on our quest. Sleep restores our mind and prepares us for the journey ahead, even when the sleep is uneasy or short.
Yet, we may feel like Legolas, looking across the horizon after a period of rest: “They are far far away. I know in my heart that they have not rested this night.” Evil does not sleep, and foul deeds may happen as we rest. But we must not fall into that temptation. For there is wisdom and holiness in rest when patiently considered and allotted. For the Sabbath was made holy by the rest of the Creator, and Christ Himself found time for rest in the midst of His many labors.