Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Appendix A: II. The House of Eorl

The House of Eorl gives us the history of the "Eorlings" or the Rohirrim, and their longstanding connections with Gondor.  The horse lords claim kinship with the people of Gondor, but have a more migratory lifestyle with finally settling in a permanent homeland after being awarded territory for helping Gondor against it's enemies.  The name "Rohan" comes from Gondor, and "Rohirrim" meaning horse lords.

We also learn the history of Shadowfax's lineage, a horse that threw Eorl's father and later called to account by Eorl himself and named Felarof.  Horses of that line were called mearas, who would bear only the King of the Mark or his sons and none other, until Shadowfax.  It helps put a little more in context why perhaps there was upset to exploit in Theoden about Gandalf riding off with Shadowfax.

The refuge known as Helm's Deep earned it's name for King Helm Hammerhand, a King of some renown and some fighting skill.  It was there that the Rohirrim retreated after a crushing invasion, staying there under siege for a five month long winter.  During that time Helm would go out on his own hunting enemies, until he was one day found standing dead and frozen, and the besieging Dunlendings afraid of coming close.

It was after the passing of Helm that Saruman began integrating himself in the area, making gifts to the new king, Frealaf, and then taking on stewardship of Orthanc and Isengard.  It's not said or even hinted at if Saruman had any hand at the hardships faced by Gondor or Rohan that led to his gaining a position of trust and security within their realms... but with the long games played by the Istari and that he was already seeking the Palantir, I wouldn't be surprised.

The culture of the Rohirrim borrows heavily from the Norse in our world, and we see that reflected in the visuals provided by Jackson in the films.  Many significant figures in the history of Rohan feature names out of Norse myths and legends, without the pantheon.  The result is a land-bound culture of horse vikings that meshes well with Tolkien's world building and his patterns of pulling on real world history.

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