cirion and eorl

Tolkien's Most Beautiful Relationships

Okay, I’ve limited this post to the First Age, because I really felt like digging in to that period’s particular brand of angst tonight. And I only managed to narrow it down to the five most beautiful relationships, so here they are (in no particular order.)


  • Why: This one’s probably going to surprise some of you, since (a) I don’t often have nice things to say about Feanor, and (b) these two have a pretty well-established animosity. But, though the “warring political brothers” trope is a very common one in fantasy, I think Tolkien gives us one of the most noble examples I’ve ever seen. Feanor and Fingolfin are on the opposite sides of family and political drama, and had we managed to get in the same room together one more time they probably would have killed each other, but they never once don’t seem like family, you know?
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:For Fingolfin held forth his hand, saying: ‘As I promised, I do now. I release thee, and remember no grievance.’ Then Feanor took his hand in silence; but Fingolfin said: 'Half- brother in blood, full brother in heart will I be. Thou shalt lead and I will follow. May no new grief divide as.’ 'I hear thee,’ said Feanor. 'So be it.’ But they did not know the meaning that their words would bear.” - The Silmarillion
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Aldarion and Erendis (found in The Unfinished Tales)


  • Why: There’s a reason this is one of the most popular ships (whether platonic or romantic) in the Silmarillion fandom. The sons of the above entry, they find themselves on opposite sides of the Noldorin feud, and yet time and again put their friendship first (whether it’s sending gifts back and forth across Beleriand, or planning battles together.)
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:But Fingon climbed to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hung, and then could go no further; and he wept when he saw the cruel device of Morgoth. Maedhros therefore, being in anguish without hope, begged Fingon to shoot him with his bow; and Fingon strung an arrow, and bent his bow. And seeing no better hope he cried to Manwe, saying: 'O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need!’” - The Silmarillion
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Cirion and Eorl (found in The Unfinished Tales)


  • Why: Ugh, even thinking about these two makes me sad. Turin was just a child when he met Beleg, but the two became friends, and Beleg helped Turin grow into the great warrior he became. And then Beleg (a hero of his people) basically abandons everything to keep Turin company on his little walkabout, with miserably tragic results (I don’t know what it is with Tolkien, but he seems to really enjoy punishing his characters’ friends.)
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time: 'Give me leave, lord,’ said Beleg, 'and I will guard him and guide him as I may; then no man shall say that elven-words are lightly spoken. Nor would I wish to see so great a good run to nothing in the wild.’” - The Silmarillion
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Legolas and Gimli 


  • Why: Do we even need to talk about this one? No, I didn’t think so.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:You must choose, Beren, between these two: to relinquish the quest and your oath and seek a life of wandering upon the face of the earth; or to hold to your word and challenge the power of darkness upon its throne. But on either road I shall go with you, and our doom shall be alike.“ - The Silmarillion
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Frodo and Sam


  • Why: Aegnor and Andreth are one of my favorite (and most tragic) Middle Earth romances. But toss in Aegnor’s brother Finrod and you get a really beautiful friendship. After Aegnor leaves Andreth (trying to spare them the pain that their separate destinies would cause them), Finrod takes to visiting Andreth and having long discussions about history and philosophy, trying to cheer her up a bit.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:Darkness fell in the room. He took her hand in the light of the fire. 'Whither go you?’ she said. 'North away,’ he said: 'to the swords, and the siege, and the walls of defence…’ 'Will he be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair? Tell him. Tell him not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need!’ 'I will tell him,’ said Finrod. 'But I might as well tell thee not to weep. He is a warrior, Andreth, and a spirit of wrath. In every stroke that he deals he sees the Enemy who long ago did thee this hurt. But you are not for Arda. Whither you go may you find light. Await us there, my brother - and me.’“ - The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 10 ("Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”)
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Elrond and the never-ending procession of his brother’s descendants (especially Aragorn)
Tolkien's Most Beautiful Relationships (Third Age Edition)

(Here’s the original First Age edition, for those who haven’t seen it.) The Second Age is difficult for this, since Tolkien didn’t write much about it (which makes me so sad because there are some great stories from that era that I would love to see fleshed out more.) Just assume that my favorite relationships from the Second Age are Gil-galad and Elendil with everyone around them (and especially with each other.) But anyway, here’s my favorite five from the Third Age, in no particular order:

Cirion and Eorl

  • Why: I have a huge, giant soft spot for selflessly loyal cross-cultural friendships. Thankfully, Tolkien seems to have had a similar soft spot, as he writes quite a few relationships like this. Even so, Cirion and Eorl stand out - not only do they form a friendship through heroic deeds, but they follow through with a political alliance that shapes the region for the rest of the Third Age.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time: Yet beyond wisdom and policy both Cirion and Eorl were moved at that time by the great friendship that bound their people together, and by the love that was between them as true men. On the part of Cirion the love was that of a wise father, old in the cares of the world, for a son in the strength and hope of his youth; while in Cirion Eorl saw the highest and noblest man of the world that he knew, and the wisest, on whom sat the majesty of the Kings of Men of long ago.” - The Unfinished Tales (“Cirion and Eorl”)
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Finrod and Beren (found in The Silmarillion)

Gandalf and Bilbo

  • Why: Gandalf’s obsession with hobbits has always been adorable to me, and his friendship with Bilbo is sort of the embodiment of the whole trend. These two have been through a lot together, and yet have maintained a sort of “alright, see you same time next week” pattern to their relationship that only emphasizes their level of trust and comfort with each other.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:I do not give my love or trust lightly, Thorin; but I am fond of this Hobbit, and wish him well. Treat him well, and you shall have my friendship to the end of your days.” - The Unfinished Tales (“The Quest for Erebor”)
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Gandalf and Frodo? (honestly, most of the hobbit/big folk friendships go this route)

Amroth and Nimrodel

  • Why: Tolkien could write a tragic romance like it was nobody’s business, and the story of Amroth and Nimrodel was some of his best work. The key, I think, is that he convinces you to care about the couple beyond their tragedy, so that even when you know it’s going to end badly, you’re still rooting for them. I like to think that somewhere these two have found each other again.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:For long years he had loved her, and taken no wife, since she would not wed with him. She loved him indeed, for he was beautiful even for one of the Eldar, and valiant and wise; but she was of the Silvan Elves, and regretted the incoming of the Elves from the West, who (as she said) brought wars and destroyed the peace of old.” - The Unfinished Tales (“The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”)
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Aegnor and Andreth (found in The Silmarillion and “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”)

Legolas and Gimli

  • Why: Duh.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it.” - LotR, Appendix A
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Turin and Beleg (found in The Silmarillion)

Theoden, Eomer, and Eowyn

  • Why: Eomer and Eowyn were quite young when their parents died and they went to live with Theoden and Theodred. We don’t really get to see Theoden interact with his son at all, but if his relationship with his niece and nephew is anything to go by, he was a loving father. Unfortunately fate didn’t seem to want them to stick together.
  • The Quote That Gets Me Every Time:Where is Éomer? For my eyes darken, and I would see him ere I go. He must be king after me. And I would send word to Éowyn. She, she would not have me leave her, and now I shall not see her again, dearer than daughter.” - Return of the King
  • If You Like Them, Check Out: Turgon and Tuor (found in The Silmarillion)
Middle Earth's 10 Most Epic Battles

Alright, here are the 10 most epic battles of Middle Earth’s history (in my humble opinion, that is, and listed in chronological order):

  1. The First Kinslaying at Alqualonde (1495 YT) This battle was epic mainly because it was the first battle - the first time elves had ever acted in violence towards each other. It was very confused event (many of the Noldor didn’t know what had started the fight), and the Teleri weren’t very well armed. But in the end “the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in AlqualondÎ were wickedly slain. For the Noldor were become fierce and desperate.” The Noldor paid for this battle, both through an unnatural storm at sea, and by a curse laid on them by the Valar. 
  2. The Dagor Bragollach (455 FA) Also known as the Battle of Sudden Flame. This battle between Morgoth and the Noldor began with a great wildfire that burned much of the northern landscape of Beleriand. And then Morgoth sent out the real monsters: “In the front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his train were Balrogs, and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as the Noldor had never before seen or imagined.” This battle ended the centuries of relative peace in Beleriand, and was a turning point in the war.
  3. The Nirnaeth Arnoediad (472 FA) Also known as the Unnumbered Tears, this battle was a (horribly failed) attempt on the Noldor’s part to counter Morgoth’s gains in the Dagor Braggolach. Several of our heroes meet their (incredibly heroic) ends in this battle, and it’s a definite low point in the war of the First Age. Most tragically, in the long run, “Great was the triumph of Morgoth, and his design was accomplished in a manner after his own heart; for Men took the lives of Men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those that should have been united against him.”
  4. The War of Wrath (545-587 FA) This was the climactic conclusion to the wars of the First Age - when the Valar sent the great Host of the West to defeat Morgoth once and for all. Tolkien describes the battle itself, though, as such: “The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named the Great Battle, and the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count, so that Anfauglith could not contain it; and all the North was aflame with war. But it availed him not.” This battle was so epic, by the way, that by the time it was all over, the entire region of Beleriand literally sank beneath the sea.
  5. The War of the Elves and Sauron (1693 SA) It was in this battle that Sauron began his crusade for power by invading and destroying the elvish realm of Eregion, and torturing their leader for information on the elvish rings of power. Then, when Elrond arrived with reinforcements from Lindon, it’s said that Sauron, “in black anger turned back to battle; and bearing as a banner Celebrimbor’s body hung upon a pole, shot through with Orc-arrows, he turned upon the forces of Elrond.” It took a siege, as well as help from Moria and Numenor, to push Sauron out of Eriador, but “From that time war never ceased between Sauron and the Elves.”
  6. The War of the Last Alliance (3429-3441 SA) This was actually a longer war made up of individual battles (see this post for more info), but the conclusion of the war was epic enough all on it’s own to make this list - the defeat of Sauron, along with the deaths of Gil-galad and Elendil, all within the context of “The Last Alliance of Elves and Men”, which Elrond recalled thousands of years later: “It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled.
  7. The Battle of the Field of Celebrant (2510 TA) In this battle Eorl (who went on to become the first king of Rohan) led his people to the aid of Gondor’s army in their battle against the Balchoth of the east: “All hope was lost when, unlooked for, the Riders came out of the North and broke upon the rear of  the enemy. Then the fortunes of battle were reversed, and the enemy was driven with slaughter over Limlight. Eorl led his men in pursuit, and so great was the fear that went before the horsemen of the North that the invaders of the Wold were also thrown into panic.” It’s no wonder that Cirion gave Eorl and his people the land of Calenardhon/Rohan in gratitude.
  8. The Battle of Azanulbizar (2799 TA) This was the bloody conclusion to the nine year War of the Dwarves and Orcs, a war fueled by wrath and a desire for revenge on the part of the dwarves. The battle is plenty epic - heroes rise and fall on the doorsteps of Moria - but I think the most convincing claim to its epicness is that at the mere memory of the battle "the Orcs still shudder and the Dwarves weep"
  9. The Battle of Five Armies (2941 TA) I think the name alone should tell you why the Battle of Five Armies made this list. And despite the fact that it doesn’t really take place within any sort of larger war or conflict, it’s still plenty epic on it’s own, including such moments as this: “Panic came upon the Goblins; and even as they turned to meet this new attack, the elves charged again with renewed numbers. Already many of the goblins were flying back down the river to escape from the trap: and many of their own wolves were turning upon them and rending the dead and the wounded.”
  10. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (3019 TA) The greatest battle of the War of the Ring, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was absolutely epic. From Gondor’s valiant defense of Minas Tirith, to Denethor’s tragic deterioration, Aragorn’s timely arrival, and - most epically of all - the grand entrance of the Rohirrim (in a moment reminiscent of #6): “The hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.”

A few last notes about this list: it shows a clear (and probably unfair) bias towards the battles of the Third Age. I attribute this mainly to the fact that we just have a much more detailed account of the events of the Third Age - and detailed battles are always more epic. Also: what is epic, exactly? It’s incredibly subjective, so feel free to disagree with me. Finally, you’ll notice that I completely skipped all of the battles between Morgoth and the Valar, since we don’t have any details on them at all, and it simply wouldn’t be fair to compare “regular” battles to the clashes of the gods, now, would it?

SOURCES: The Silmarillion, LOTR, LOTR Appendices, The Unfinished Tales

[Endnote 16] Historians surmised that it was the same hill as that upon which King Elessar made his stand in the last battle against Sauron with which the Third Age ended. But if so it was still only a natural upswelling that offered little obstacle to horsemen and had not yet been piled up by the labour of Orcs. [Author’s note.]
—  Tolkien, J.R.R.. Christopher Tolkien, ed. Unfinished Tales. (London: HarperCollins, 1998.) 404-405. (Cirion and Eorl)

BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS AND THE SEA, a fanmix for my one true love (listen here)

1. The Flight of the Faithful || Isildur and Anárion ||For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth || George Frideric Handel

2. Anórien ||Dawn || Jean-Yves Thibaudet

3. Ithilien || First Light || Jeremy Soule

4. The Rise of Gondor || The Ship-Kings || Polonaise in A, Op. 40, No. 1 - “Military" || Frédéric Chopin

5. Belfalas || Heart of Courage || Two Steps From Hell

6. Lebennin || Waterfall || Jon Schmidt

7. The Kinstrife || Eldacar and Castamir || Elegie, Op. 3, No. 1 || Sergei Rachmaninoff

8. Pelargir || Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55 - "Eroica” - Scherzo: Allegro Vivace || Ludwig van Beethoven

9. Osgiliath || Campaign Theme II || Paul Romero, Rob King, Steve Baca

10. The Steward and the King || Mardil and Eärnur || The Time Has Come || Epic Score

11. Minas Morgul || Necropolis || Paul Romero, Rob King, Steve Baca

12. Minas Tirith || Heritage of Humanity || Jeremy Soule

13. The Field of Celebrant || Cirion and Eorl || Allegro - Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major || Ludwig van Beethoven

14. Ered Nimrais || Invincible || Two Steps From Hell

15. Lossarnach || Lilacs, Op. 21, No. 5 || Sergei Rachmaninoff

16. The Steward and the King, reprise || Faramir and Elessar || The Last Words of David || Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra

17. Dol Amroth || Lyra Angelica: Allegro Giubiloso, Andante Con Moto || William Alwyn

18. Minas Anor || Morning (Peer Gynt) || Edvard Grieg

The Unfinished Tales

I am a huge fan of the Unfinished Tales, so I’m going to say absolutely yes. The book is made up of four individual chapters/essays, which honestly include something for every type of Tolkien fan. Here’s an idea of what you get with this book:

  • “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” If you’re already familiar with The Silmarillion, you know the basic story of Tuor and Gondolin. This first part is a much more detailed description of Tuor’s early life, his meeting with Ulmo, and his journey to Gondolin with Voronwe. It’s written in narrative form, so it’s basically a short story.
  • “Narn i Hin Hurin (The Children of Hurin)” Again, for those who’ve already read The Silmarillion, the full story of the children of Hurin is already familiar. This is a more detailed version (which later was written in an even more detailed version and published as The Children of Hurin.) So Turin fans, this one’s for you!
  • “A Description of the Island of Numenor” The title is pretty self-explanatory. But if you were ever curious about Numenor, it’s a must-read.
  • “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” I love this story. Love it. Not only is it a good story in it’s own right, but it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a “normal” “every-day” love story in Middle Earth. Also, it includes tons of interesting information about Numenor, its customs, and its rulers.
  • “The Line of Elros: Kings of Numenor” This is basically a glossary of Numenor’s rulers - an invaluable resource for any Numenor fans out there.
  • “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” This chapter is definitely the book’s heavy hitter. Despite the title, this essay will actually give you tons of new information on all sorts of elves - especially Eregion and the Sindarin elves of Mirkwood and Lorien (any Thranduil fans out there? Yeah, this is for you.)
  • “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” In this short narrative, Tolkien goes into the story of Isildur’s death in more detail. Great for anyone interested in Gondor’s early history, or in Isildur in general.
  • “Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan” Are you a fan of Rohan? Or of Gondor? Or of the friendship between Rohan and Gondor? This is the story of Eorl, the first king of Rohan, and how he became the first king of Rohan. It also includes some fascinating information about mid-Third Age Gondor.
  • “The Quest of Erebor” Hobbit fans! Gandalf fans! Listen up - this section is another narrative. It’s Gandalf talking to a few members of the fellowship after the quest (while they’re all relaxing in Minas Tirith.) He ends up telling them his version of the beginning of The Hobbit - fascinating, and kind of funny. Because, you know, Gandalf.
  • “The Hunt for the Ring” Interested in what the nazgul were up to during the early chapters of Fellowship of the Ring? This account followers their actions (including some interesting information on the relationship between Saruman and Mordor.)
  • “The Battles of the Fords of Isen” For anyone wanting more information on what was happening in Rohan just before we arrive there in Two Towers, this section is for you. It focuses on Rohan’s early battles with Saruman, before Gandalf and the others arrive, and the Battle of Helm’s Deep, etc.
  • “The Druedain” For anyone interested in the men of the First Age, or looking to learn more about (in my opinion) the most mysterious and fascinating mannish culture of Middle Earth. The Druedain is part essay on this strange sub-culture, and part short story about the friendship between a man of the Druedain and a man of the House of Haleth.
  • “The Istari” Have you been wondering just what the wizards are? Where they came from, when and why? Or how they were chosen in the first place? Then this short essay is definitely for you!
  • “The Palantiri” The Palantir seeing-stones are a mysterious part of Lord of the Rings. This essay tells us all about the stones themselves - their abilities and history.

Anyway, the book is really fantastic, and I’d highly recommend it to a Tolkien fan looking to learn more about Middle Earth (and the mix of narratives and essays makes it especially great for anyone who’s not necessarily looking to “study” Middle Earth, and would prefer to learn things in story-form.)

SOURCES: The Unfinished Tales, obviously

Short Stories About Middle Earth

For the purpose of narrowing down this post, I’m only listing short stories actually written by Tolkien himself. Even so, Tolkien wrote several “short stories” (basically short narratives that didn’t make it into any of the major published works) that are both enjoyable and informative:

  • “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” (The Unfinished Tales) This is a sort of prequel/expansion of the beginning of “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” from The Silmarillion. It basically goes into much greater detail of Tuor’s youth and journey to Gondolin with Voronwe.
  • “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” (The Unfinished Tales) This is a must-read for anyone who wishes we saw more “everyday” stories about Middle Earth. The main focus of the story is the romantic/personal drama between Aldarion, heir of Numenor, and his wife Erendis.
  • “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” (The Unfinished Tales) This narrative tells the story of Isildur’s death, in much much more detail than the mentions we get from Lord of the Rings. It also offers a sort of “deleted scene” of Aragorn and his friends looking through Orthanc after the War of the Ring.
  • “Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan” (The Unfinished Tales) Just as it sounds, this is the story of Cirion (steward of Gondor) and Eorl (first king of Rohan), and how Rohan came to be, and how the friendship between their two countries formed.
  • “The Quest of Erebor” (The Unfinished Tales) This short narrative is Gandalf talking to the hobbits in Minas Tirith after the War of the Ring, and reflecting on his point of view of the beginning of The Hobbit (meeting Thorin and convincing him to take Bilbo on the quest.)
  • “The Hunt for the Ring” (The Unfinished Tales) This short narrative is really a description of what Gollum and the nazgul were up to during the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • “The Battle of the Fords of Isen” (The Unfinished Tales) This piece falls somewhere between narrative and essay, to be honest - it kind of reads like a chapter from a history textbook, since it’s really Tolkien giving a historical account of the war in Rohan up until Aragorn and the others arrived on the scene.
  • “The Druedain: The Faithful Stone” (The Unfinished Tales) Included as an appendix to an essay on the Druedain, this short story is a folktale surviving from the First Age. It tells the story of the friendship between Aghan and Barach, and some of the magic that Aghan used to protect his friends.
  • “The Lost Road” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 5) This one’s interesting - it’s actually the beginning of a time-traveling story that Tolkien wrote as part of a science-fiction challenge with C.S. Lewis. Though the story isn’t complete, the premise was connecting Numenor with the “real world” through a series of father/son duos with similar names (seriously, Tolkien is such a linguistics nerd.)
  • “The Epilogue” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 9) An epilogue to Lord of the Rings that Tolkien ultimately abandoned, this short story is a conversation between Sam and his children, as they ask questions about the story.
  • “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 10) Though it’s not really short (and it’s not really a story), this narrative is a long philosophical debate between Finrod, a Noldorin prince, and Andreth, a wise-woman of the Edain. It includes, among other things, an account of the early days of men, and Andreth’s romance with Finrod’s brother Aegnor.
  • “The Cuivienyarna” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 11) This short legend (technically an appendix to a long linguistic essay), tells the folktale-ish version of the awakening of the elves, and how the three great cultural groups (Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri) were formed.
  • “The Shibboleth of Feanor” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12) This is another story hidden inside a linguistic essay. But it basically gives a much ore detailed account of the dramatic story of the death of Miriel, Finwe’s first wife, and his marriage to Indis, his second wife, and the many negative feelings his son Feanor had about the whole situation.
  • “The New Shadow” (Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12) This is the beginnings of a sequel to Lord of the Rings that Tolkien abandoned after writing only 6 pages. While you can’t really get a sense of the plot, though, those 6 pages do provide an interesting look at “everyday” Gondor in the Fourth Age.

Many of Tolkien’s other writings (the more scholarly/essay-type writings) also include bits of narratives, or summaries of stories, that I think are very interesting. But if I were to create an anthology of Tolkien’s “short stories”, these are the ones I would include.

SOURCES: The Unfinished Tales, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 5, 9, 10, 11, and 12

The Best and Worst Stewards of Gondor

Compared to the kings, Tolkien doesn’t tell us as much about the stewards of Gondor. I’d say they overall did a positive job, but since it would take to long to talk about all 26 of them, here are what I think were the best (and worst) ruling stewards:


  • Mardil Voronwe (ruled 2050-2080) The first ruling steward, Mardil was awesome in a couple of ways. First of all, he set a very noble precedent for the ruling stewards - because nobody ever knew what exactly happened to Earnur (the last king), Mardil swore to rule “until the King’s return”, and this oath was repeated by each steward after him. He was a capable ruler on his own, and earned the name “Voronwe”, which meant “steadfast.”
  • Boromir I (ruled 2477-2489) Boromir I ruled after Denethor I, and inherited a Gondor that was at war with the renewed strength of Minas Morgul, and had recently lost Osgiliath and Ithilien. He led Gondor’s armies into several battles, and managed to push the orcs back out of Ithilien (though the region remained depopulated), and broke the stone bridge of Osgiliath as a defense against future attacks. Through his military career Boromir I came to be feared even by the Witch King, though he did suffer from a morgul wound that significantly shortened his life.
  • Cirion (ruled 2489-2549) The son of Boromir I, Cirion also faced significant military threats against Gondor. While the orcs of Mordor had been driven back, Gondor was now under threat from the Balchoth of Rhovanion. Unable to fight off the invaders alone, Cirion requested help from the Eotheod. His call was answered by their king, Eorl. After fighting off the Balchoth together, Cirion offered Eorl the land of Calenardhon (now known as Rohan.) The two then swore an oath of alliance and friendship between Gondor and Rohan that proved to be very important in the future.

THE WORST STEWARDS: (relatively - none of them were really actually bad, as far as I can tell)

  • Denethor I (ruled 2435-2477) Okay, so this is totally not Denethor I’s fault, but it was during his reign that Sauron started regrowing his strength at Dol Guldur. Also during this time, an army of orcs and Uruk-hai attacked Gondor from Minas Morgul and took possession of Osgiliath and Ithilien. Again, not actually his fault, but on paper he doesn’t look too great…
  • Egalmoth (ruled 2698-2743) Again, not really a “bad steward.” But he was busy with Gondor’s renewed war with the orcs that, when the king of Rohan asked for help fighting the Dunlendins, Egalmoth wasn’t able to send any soldiers to help.
  • Beren (ruled 2743-2763) This is the steward responsible for handing control of Isengard over to Saruman. Though, at the time, this was a good decision - keeping a wizard at Isengard helped Gondor and Rohan defend against the hostile Dunlendings. Despite this, retrospect tells us that it was a bad idea to give Saruman so much power in the region.

SOURCES: LOTR Appendices, The Unfinished Tales (“Cirion and Eorl”, “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”), The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12 (“The Heirs of Elendil”)