In the Peter Jackson version of The Return of the King, Merry offers Théoden his sword and service, which Théoden accepts. Théoden gives Merry the title of "Meriadoc -- Esquire of Rohan."

When the Rohirrim set out to ride to Minas Tirith, Théoden is very firm with Merry, that he is not allowed to ride into battle, and tells Merry that he is a burden that none of the Rohirrim can bear at that time.

Why didn't Théoden let Merry ride to war? And yes, I know that Merry was taken into the Battle of the Pellenor Fields by Éowyn, who herself was going to fight on the sly.

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    The answers are arriving almost as fast as Legalos's arrows. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 5:22
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    It's knifework down here in the answers sections.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 20:40
  • where was the oath of service in the movie? i don't remember that, unless it's in the extended/directors cut(s)?
    – acolyte
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 14:21
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    Theoden knows, and accepts, that riding to war means probable death for himself and most of the Rohirrim. Although he courteously accepted Merry's service, he doesn't think this is Merry's fight as he's not really one of them. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 9:55

5 Answers 5


As you say in your question, it literally is a case of Theoden thinking Merry "is a burden that none of the Rohirrim can bear at that time". He cannot ride his own horse, and while Merry offers to ride his pony he is knocked back, as the pony would not be able to keep up.

While Tolkien doesn't give an approximate weight of a Hobbit, he gives their average height as three feet six inches in the prologue to the LotR so I'd hazard an estimate of about 30-40kg extra for any horse to be bearing, excluding additional armour for Merry.

That extra weight is for a horse already laden with a full grown and armoured Rohirrim rider, so the concern was about Merry slowing down a given rider on a forced march where they most likely needed (and did need) to be fresh for a charge at the end of it. It was only the slimmer figure of Eowyn that was able to smuggle Merry without unduly tiring or slowing her steed.

From the Return of the King:

'But we ride on horses tall and swift,' said Théoden; 'and great though your heart be, you cannot ride on such beasts.'

'Then tie me on to the back of one, or let me hang on a stirrup, or something,' said Merry. 'It is a long way to run; but run I shall, if I cannot ride, even if I wear my feet off and arrive weeks too late.'

Théoden smiled. 'Rather than that I would bear you with me on Snowmane,' he said. 'But at the least you shall ride with me to Edoras and look on Meduseld; for that way I shall go. So far Stybba can bear you: the great race will not begin till we reach the plains.'


'This is no journey for such steeds as Stybba, as I have told you ' said Théoden. 'And in such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, sword-thain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?'

  • Where did Merry get a pony? The Hobbits, as far as I can recall, ride with others on horseback. :) Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 14:53
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    Theoden granted him one called Stybba - "I have had a good hill-pony made ready for you. He will bear you as swift as any horse by the roads that we shall take."
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 20:28
  • This didn't appear in any of the movies, did it? I don't recall this from the films. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 23:19
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    Probably not. A lot of the casual conversations were cut from the films, so it wouldn't surprise me that this was cut as it was only a passing reference.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 23:37
  • I am actually in the process of watching Return of the King, Extended Edition, and as the Rohirrim begin to ride to Gondor's aid Merry is attempting to spur Stybba to move.
    – Chloraphil
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 16:10

Merry wasn’t able to ride a full sized horse by himself, and would have been a burden to both a full grown male warrior and his horse. He would have weighed down the horse, and interferred with the soldier’s ability to fight. Éowyn, being smaller than the average soldier, was able to carry Merry on her horse without slowing it down, as their combined weight was less than that of a fully equipped regular, male warrior.

  • It appeared in the movie that Merry was preparing a small-sized horse. :) Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 14:50
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    If Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took could ride a horse then Merry and Pippin probably could as well after the Ent-draughts. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 10:02
  • Proving once again that Tolkien isn't real great on practical horsemanship. I know a number of 5-10 year olds who ride on "horses tall and swift", and - to be perfectly honest - are better riders than I am.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 21:31
  • Major Stackings - Anybody who can ride can ride any horse big enough to bear his weight. Marry could have ridden the largest horse in the world with the right training. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:16
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    @M.A.Golding That maybe so, but the time to receive that training is prior to riding off to war on the horse. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 7:19

I think this is a warrior culture problem. Size and strength are such big advantages in combat that anyone who is smaller or weaker is discounted or even disparaged. Hobbits, being sooooooo much shorter than humans would be thought as children and who, in their right mind would take an eight year old into battle with them?

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    I think this is especially the case, as Theoden did not expect to win, or at least, not bring back the majority of his soldiers. He wouldn't take a child into a suicide battle. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 7:58
  • I keep going over this in my mind and I can't quite conclude that Hobbits were so easily dismissed. After all, Frodo, a Hobbit, was charged with carrying the ring to its ultimate destruction, the most dangerous and burdensome task there was. I'd like to think that Hobbits garner respect. OTOH, Éomer did joke to Gamling that he did not doubt Merry's heart, "only the reach of his arm." I should point out that the Rohirrim conscripted very, very young boys for the battle of Helm's Deep at the Hornburg. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:12
  • It is very difficult for people to look past their cultural biases - even when they consciously know better. Also, Hobbits aren't knows for being a warrior culture. Quite the opposite in fact. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:59
  • @Slytherincess The swelling of ranks with youngsters at Helm's Deep was one of necessity and not something any were proud or eager to do.
    – Josh
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 17:18
  • @Josh - I never even remotely suggested the Rohirrim were either proud or eager to conscript young boys. I understand they were greatly outnumbered at Helm's Deep. They were also greatly outnumbered at the Battle of Pellinor Fields, though. And Théoden acknowledges that they don't have enough troops to defeat the Uruk'hai and says, "But we will meet them in battle nonetheless." Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 18:05

Théoden accepts Merry's pledge of service, but in good conscience cannot see letting Merry ride into battle against foes twice his size, on a battlefield with horses, oliphants, and god knows what else might be there. Théoden appreciated the gesture and uses the excuse of there not being a warrior able to bear Merry as a burden as a polite way of saying, "stay out of the way."


IMHO Theoden basically didn't want to take Merry, a foreign guest who looked much like a child, into great danger.

Merry certainly could have ridden a full sized horse if he was three or four feet tall and knew how to ride.

Ex cavalry officer Charles King, one of the main inventors of westerns, wrote a novel Trumpeter Fred in which the title character was small enough to be picked up and put in the saddle,and yet rode the biggest and strongest horse in his troop.

The Photographic History of the Civil War in 1911 mentions little scamps of bugle boys who had to be boosted up into the saddle and rode in wild cavalry charges. A specific example is Jimmie Duggan of the 5th US cavalry who was fourteen years old and only three and a half feet tall in 1861.


Bugler Joseph Fought, who enlisted in the 5th Cavalry in 1860, was fourteen years old and four feet eight inches tall, much taller than a normal Hobbit but not that much taller than Merry was after drinking an Ent-drink.

A plains Indian boy the size of a Hobbit could have ridden any tamed horse, no matter how large.

Elizabeth Taylor, aged 12, filmed a scene where she fell off a horse in National Velvet (1944) and injured her back.


Arabian camel races until very recently had small, Hobbit-sized, boys riding racing camels at least as large as most horses.


Many Asian mahouts have ridden and controlled elephants much larger than horses when the mahouts were boys no bigger than hobbits.

Here is a link to a photo from Elephant Boy (1937):


Furthermore, if the Rohan riders were like medieval knights they wouldn't have ridden their battle chargers for hundreds of miles to get to the battle. They would have ridden smaller riding horses for days to reach the battlefield and then mounted their huge chargers to charge into battle.

Tolkien ignores the fact that many mounted war groups brought along several horses for each man, with the riders changing horses from time to time to keep from wearing the horses out. Many mounted war groups would also have other horses (or mules) to carry supplies.

So in many real life war groups taking one or two more horses to carry a child-sized person to the battle would be no trouble.

So either Tolkien was ignorant of such matters, being an infantry officer in World War I, or else he made Theoden ignore such options because Theoden doesn't want to risk the life of his small new friend in an almost hopeless mission to "ruin and the world's ending".

  • You're probably right that he didn't want to take him into a perilous battle but they did ride their horses the whole way. Snowmane for example, the bane of Théoden in the battle. The others had their horses too. They had to have them. Whether or not that's how it was in the real world doesn't matter.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 19:28

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