There was much fanfare when it was announced that we players would be joining the Fellowship (or its remnants) in Rohan. The endless, rolling plains of the realm of the Horse-lords is perhaps second, depending on who you talk to, to the Shire for most idealized and beloved landscapes in Middle-earth. From the books and the films we get a great sense of speed and wonder as we partake in the view of horses galloping down the endless grasses of the Riddermark. From our first sight of it, as Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn descend down the East Wall, to the beautiful description of Shadowfax’s race from the Gap of Rohan to Gondor, Rohan is an idealized, unspoiled land with a people who refused to “industrialize”, preferring a lifestyle of horsemanship and pastoralism. In Turbine’s recreation of this land the rolling plains and grasslands are there but things seem…crowded.
How troublesome are these departures from the texts? What is eastern Rohan really like?
I got a nice little chill when I first crossed into Rohan. I took the long road through the Great River region (as opposed to the Epic story, which kind of dumps you near the Argonath), crossed the bridge over the river Limlight, and watched the landscape tumble into brown, grassy hills as my mount and I passed into the Wold and Rohan proper. The low, sad violin kicked in and at once it was as though I was in both the old west and one of my favorite parts of my favorite fantasy world. There are many such moments in the Riders of Rohan expansion; it is well done and beautiful. The land transitions seamlessly and realistically from one area to the next; it never feels forced or wrong or unnatural. Being able to see (almost) clear across the plains and over the Entwash River, into the West Emnet where Théoden King dwells and Helm’s Deep rests and where the Three Hunters have gone, is terribly exciting and evokes a strong response in all of us lore nerds.
The Eastemnet, as basically the whole of eastern Rohan is called, was established along with the entire nation of Rohan in 2510 of the Third Age. The land was given to Eorl the Young as a gift for his people’s valour in the Battle of the Field of Celebrant and quickly the horsemen collected their families from up north and brought them down to this green, fertile land (for more on that, click here). The beauty of Rohan makes it a land of renown and desire, and as such the Rohirrim spent a great part of their history defending this land. Orcs, of course, and Dunlendings and Balchoth and Easterlings; even in his weakened form hiding in Dol Guldur, Sauron was constantly poking at his foes, keeping them on guard, and looking for weak spots. The Dunlendings were especially ready to attack the Rohirrim, for they had occupied (read, “were squatting on”) Calenardhon before it was Rohan to the irritation of Gondor. This notion is heavily relied upon in the Rise of Isengard expansion and plays out during the Battle of Helm’s Deep as well. Such bitter legend was tied to the fearsome “Straw-heads” (their nickname for the Rohirrim) that the Dunlendings were surprised when, after they lost Helm’s Deep, they weren’t killed or burned alive, but forgiven and set upon the task of tending to the corpses on the battlefield. But that’s a different story altogether.
So, the Rohirrim were and have been a fighting people. It took many years for the Rohirrim, formerly called the Éothéod, to fully migrate to their new homes and once there they quickly restructured their new nation with a strong focus on the military. There were three Marshals of the Mark, each responsible for a different part of Rohan. Without going into great detail (check this out if you’d like more information), Éomer was the Third Marshal during the time period in which we interact with him in the game, making him the military commander over the East-mark (essentially all of the Eastemnet). For reference purposes, after Théodred’s death, Elfhelm is First Marshal and Erkenbrand is Second Marshal, over the West-mark. All of that is to say that it is Éomer who has rule over the Eastemnet in this time of war, despite his falling out with the King, and his orders were for all to vacate the East-mark and cross the Entwash into western Rohan.
LOTRO plays with this bit of history in the various storylines we come across in Eastern Rohan. Many of the thanes and other leaders are struggling with the idea of retreating from their homes, even when their people’s farms and houses have been sacked by roving orcs. Some are even convinced the orc issue isn’t a big one and are directly violating Éomer’s orders. They do a good job interweaving the story from the books: some see the young Marshal, who went out hunting orcs against the orders of Théoden King, as a bit of rebel and refuse to obey him. Others see that the Kings judgement is cloudy at best and do what needs doing, even if it is against his order. Others still are conflicted: do they do what they know is right and, in doing so, disobey their King? It is the central question of the Riders of Rohan expansion and one that Turbine used to good effect in crafting the stories.
It is also the greatest departure the game makes from the books. Here’s why: there are no thanes, no massive towns, and, in fact, very few people at all in the Eastemnet who would have to answer such a question. As far as can be told from the books and maps, there are no permanent settlements east of the Entwash river. This half of Rohan is almost strictly pasturelands that the herdsmen of Rohan use seasonally to feed their flocks.
What are, in the texts, open fields void of anything but herdsman, we have open fields with city-fortresses well within view of each other. In The Two Towers, when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas have their legendary race across the plains it is entirely empty because Éomer has ordered that even the herders clear out of the Eastemnet for orcs of the White Hand have been causing so much trouble. The settlements of LOTRO’s Eastemnet have been caught in the trail of these orcs and are burning for it.
The vast majority of the Rohirrim live in the western half of Rohan, the Westemnet, in the shadow of the White Mountains where the lowlands, fueled by mountain streams, make for good farmland and the rivers make for stronger defense. I’ve ranted about this on the forums a bit already, so I will make my case brief. In short, at the time of the passing of the Three Hunters through east Rohan in pursuit of Merry and Pippin there is ostensibly no one there besides Éomer’s company. They’ve cleared out.
By way of a quick overview of the topography, let’s start from the Wold and work our way southwards. The Wold is a subregion of sharp hills and dry grass, formed by the remains of the Emyn Muil so very nearby. The jagged cliffs and rock formations of those hills give way to the first region we encounter in Rohan. In stark contrast to the Wold and the East Wall are the mainstay of Rohan in the Norcrofts and Sutcrofts. The oddly placed outcropping of stone, where Cliving is, seems kind of erroneous but apparently it will be replaced with a new landmass soon (Wildermore). The flat plains all move westwards and to a slightly lower incline to the Entwash Vale (remember, vale and dale just mean “valley”), which slows south and east and splits Rohan in two. As it swoops eastwards to meet the Anduin it forms the marshy area known as the Wetwang which one can see well from atop the Amon Hen. Finally, at the northward tip of the Entwash River and the northernmost boundary of Rohan, is Fangorn Forest. This one deserves it’s own article, of course, but remember its place at the foothills of the Misty Mountains and Gap of Rohan for its position allows the Ents to defend the Eastemnet when it is invaded during the War of the Ring. Were it not for the watchfulness of Ents, Éomer King might not have had a home to return to! But, again following the river, before the big curve we reach Snowbourn, the main city of East Rohan which serves as a gateway to the West. Beyond the River is Edoras, where later this year we will join Théoden, Eowyn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn, as they await the hammer-blow from Saruman in Helm’s Deep.
I hope you have all enjoyed this second edition of the article! Please feel free to comment with any suggestions: are the articles too long? Is there somewhere in particular you’d like to see discussed? Would you like to see transcripts from past episode of the podcast featured here?