Jun 28 2010 3:08pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King V.8, “The Houses of Healing”

This week in the Lord of the Rings re-read, we visit “The Houses of Healing” in Chapter 8 of book V of The Return of the King. The usual spoilers and comments follow after the jump.

What Happens

Merry accompanies the procession of Théoden and Éowyn into Minas Tirith, but becomes separated from them and is found by Pippin. Merry, Éowyn, and Faramir become patients in the Houses of Healing and grow silent and cold from being exposed to the Nazgûl. Hope wanes until Ioreth, one of the wise-women, mentions an old saying that “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer.” Gandalf goes and finds Aragorn, who had not intended to enter the city in hopes of avoiding a confrontation with Denethor. Aragorn agrees to help but directs Imrahil to rule the city and Gandalf to lead them all.

When Aragorn comes to the Houses, he is greeted by Pippin. He asks Ioreth and the herb-master for athelas, and eventually overcomes their long-windedness and acquires enough to call and wake the three patients. Faramir wakes to quiet joy; Éowyn to health but not, perhaps, to hope; and Merry to hunger and grief. The former Fellowship members are reunited and then Aragorn spends much of the night healing the people of the City. He slips out of the city just before dawn, “(a)nd in the morning the banner of Dol Amroth, a white ship like a swan upon blue water, floated from the Tower, and men looked up and wondered if the coming of the King had been but a dream.”


The thing that most struck me about this chapter is what a different view of war it gives us. Until now it had been fairly, well, heroic: dawn charges and singing and apparently-hopeless stands over the body of your king. And now we have a chapter that opens with a view of “the wreck and slaughter that lay about all” and prominently features a magical version of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since this is the chapter that also really wraps up the battle plot, I think it’s significant that we end with this view of war—that we get this view at all.

I admit that it took me way longer than it should have to realize that the Black Shadow was, in fact, a magical form of PTSD. Not a psychologically realistic one, of course (compared to Frodo), but a stand-in that serves the dramatic function of showing the traumatic effects of battle while saving the long-term and more serious version for Frodo. I think it would not be unreasonable to criticize this chapter for such a simple problem and solution, but I am inclined to give it a pass because there is PTSD later; this kind of rapid-onset magical despair is consistent with the Nazgûl’s effects so far [*]; and this is more than I expected from the level of psychological development that the battle had been conducted at so far. I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts on this, though.

[*] Note that other people have actually died of it before Aragorn gets there, otherwise they wouldn’t know the progression of the disease.

* * *

Before I go further with talking about this chapter, let me just get this out of the way now: I cannot bear Ioreth. Every word that comes out of her mouth is like sandpaper on my nerves. I can see that she serves a function, that she’s the equivalent of the hobbits who are carefree, that she provides a realistic view into the thinking of ordinary people. But I just want her to be quiet.

(I particularly loathe that I can count the female character with speaking parts without taking off my shoes, and she’s one of them. Lobelia, Mrs. Maggott, Goldberry, Arwen, Galadriel, Éowyn, Ioreth, Rosie Cotton, Mrs. Cotton. Did I miss any?)

I am a little surprised that it takes her to give Gandalf the idea to go look for Aragorn, though; I’d have thought that Gandalf would be dragging in anyone he could think of who might have an idea.

* * *

Some other things about the Houses of Healing proper. Here are the three different scents of the athelas for each of the sick we see Aragorn heal:

Faramir: “like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in spring is itself but a fleeting memory.”

Éowyn: “it seemed . . . a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars, or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam.”

Merry: “like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees.”

I admit that I had a hard time parsing Faramir’s; I believe it is, in effect, describing the Platonic ideal of spring? I’m guessing “renewal” for the symbolism, to go with unstained but lifeless, and food.

Everything I can think to say about Éowyn otherwise keeps getting tangled in what’s going to happen in “The Steward and the King,” so I think I’ll just note Gandalf’s summation of the situation (which seems confirmed by her words when she wakes) and move on. Don’t let me stop you from discussing her, though.

‘My friend,’ said Gandalf [to Éomer], ‘you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on. . . . who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?’

* * *

Aragorn. His efforts here to avoid conflict with Denethor got me inevitably thinking about what a conflict would have looked like. And since I had made cryptic references previously to feeling like it would have been too similar to the Scouring, it seems like now would be a good time to explain that.

*deletes several starts on long hypotheticals, rambling discursions on characters, and the like, as excessive and likely obfuscating rather than clarifying*

Let me sum up. Denethor as written would not—could not—accept Aragorn as King. But Aragorn is not going to be prevented from being King to spare the feelings of one man. So, like Saruman, Denethor will have to be (at best) turned away, resentful and vindictive, with those around him sad and somewhat repulsed at what a once-great man has come to. And I don’t think we need to do that more than once.

And yes Denethor written differently would survive to meet Aragorn and accept him as King, but that would, not to put too fine a point on it, suck. Denethor serves so many purposes in the narrative: counterpoint to Théoden, demonstration of the subtler influences of Sauron, honorable but mistaken opponent to Gandalf and Aragorn, layer of hierarchy to be removed and permit change and growth, echo of the sins of Númenor, genuinely tragic figure. Plus he is just so well-written as he stands, psychologically complex and convincing and emotionally engaging, and his suicide is so carefully constructed. I think it would be a real shame to lose all that out of the narrative.

* * *

Hobbitry. I found genuinely funny Aragorn’s speech to Merry after he woke; I can just hear him saying it. (Also, to a lesser degree, the scene where Aragorn arrives at the Houses and Pippin calls him Strider, because I imagine Imrahil practically holding his nose at the uncouthness of it all.) I was not quite convinced by Merry’s excursion into philosophy, though. I know he’s the most mature of them in a lot of ways, but his transitions into and out of the philosophical bits just didn’t quite work for me—I couldn’t make myself “hear” it all in a plausible way.

* * *

Finally, just a minor question: I note that it’s specified that there are twelve torches and twelve guards while Théoden lies in state; anyone know of specific symbolism or historical resonance?

« Return of the King V.7 | Index

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

j p
1. sps49
Ioreth reads much like my grandmother- she tends to run on and on, and i can be tough to get a word in, but there are nuggets of gold in there.

PTSD was known of, fuzzily, at LotR's writing. An example of how medical knowledge has grown to go with the advancement of society.

12 is probably just a nice round number, a dozen, maybe double the common number of pallbearers.

Imrahil was definitely taken aback, but was polite enough.
Masha Stekker
2. Masha Stekker
Hi! So excited to find this re-read. Hope you dont mind if I join in, so late in the day?

One of the most touching bits for me is when Merry asks Pippin "Are you going to bury me?"

It is so out of character, that it shocks me into understanding, a little, how devastated he must have been.

I also wonder how Eowyn must have felt to be woken by Aragorn. That must have been very awkward for her. So vulnerable.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
I think you're supposed to be a little annoyed at Ioreth. Even Aragorn seems to have some difficulty maintaining his patience around her. These days, all I can think of in relation to her is the "wise woman" bit from Blackadder.

Twelve is generally mythologically and symbolically significant. It connects to the calendar - thus a significance of time - plus you can do a lot with it mathematically, especially when you have to rely on fractions.

I think something else motivating Aragorn's not claiming the crown yet is that he isn't sure he's going to live much longer. They've put a brief halt to Sauron's plans, but everything still hinges on Frodo. Aragorn is probably already contemplating the assault on Mordor, and he is aware of the general disruption to the political life of Gondor if he becomes king and then gets killed. It is also a distraction to the allied forces at a time when they really need to be focused.
Soon Lee
4. SoonLee
"Let me sum up". Heh.

I actually like Ioreth. A bit like Beregond's son Bergil, Ioreth provides a view of the 'common-folk' as counterpoint to the heroes (Eowyn, Aragorn, Eomer etc.) running around doing 'heroic' stuff. In many fantasy stories, scant (if any) attention is paid to the people (like Ioreth) who do the thankless work of maintaining infrastructure.

Also, Ioreth comes across as a real person, though not necessarily someone to like or want to spend a lot of time around.
Masha Stekker
5. JoeNotCharles
I think putting that speech in Wormtongue's mouth was one of the better changes made by the films. It's a very bitter and twisted view of things - in Gandalf's mouth, it's meant to shock people into seeing things from her point of view, but it works equally well in Wormtongue's hands reinforcing the viewpoint for Eowyn, and seems to fall more naturally from his tongue too. And it gives us a look at how well-spoken he can be, and how he can twist those words to cause pain, which isn't demonstrated in the book and which I think is necessary to understand how he can have gotten his position at Theoden's ear while being despised by everyone else.
Masha Stekker
6. Foxessa
WWI brought keen experience of PTDS; they called it 'shell shock.' The condition featured frequently in fiction written between the wars. Peter Wimsey suffered shell shock, for instance, partly because of being buried with the dead by an exploding shell. Bunter digs him out some -- many -- hours later. This is the foundation of their later bond.

Perhaps we cannot fault too much Professor Tolkien's generally less than stellar female characters, since he had so many other 'others' to write, including several kinds of trees -- Old Man Willow, ents, etc. :)

Love, C.
Masha Stekker
7. Elaine Thom
On Ioreth, Kate's listing of the females with speaking parts struck me: how different each woman is from the others. If he was falling back on types, he'd observed them closely enough to bring individuality to each.

On Denethor: Last week when Jerry (?) was mourning the fact that he doesn't survive and there isn't a confrontation between him and Aragorn I started playing with hypotheticals, and quickly ran out of things for him to do. (Of course, I am not a writer....) Either he'd have to die off quickly anyway, or he'd just hang out in the background being scenery. Or Tolkien would have had to give him a lot more to do which would probably step on Aragorn's toes. So, from that standpoint I'm ok with his suicide. And agree that his character arc is satisfying as it stands.
Andrew Mason
8. AnotherAndrew
I think Faramir's 'memory' is probably of Numenor, since we know that he dreams of the downfall of Numenor. Also, the original version of the Numenor story, The Lost Road, was about how memories are reborn in successive generations of a family throughout the ages; and Tolkien said that Faramir was the character (in LOTR) that he most identified with, I think because of his dream.
Mari Ness
9. MariCats
Arwen speaks?

(Just kidding. But I'll have more about that later when she reappears.)

I suddenly "got" Ioreth after my father ended up in the hospital after a minor cardiac event and we had to deal with an annoying nurse who, like Ioreth, rambled and just didn't get it.

I figure that this was a type that Tolkien encountered after he got sick in World War I - well meaning, but frustrating, and when you try to explain that yes, yes, there's a problem and COULD WE FOCUS ON THAT, THANKS, doesn't, and that this was Tolkien's way of venting.

The other problem with Ioreth, for me, is that she seems to be the only woman in the series without a redeeming or helpful role - the others you mention all do something either for the story or for our heroes or with Eowyn and Lobelia, something actually heroic on their own. Ioreth....wastes time when Eowyn and Merry could die at any minute.

I do count Shelob as a female character, but of course she doesn't speak. Horrifically effective, though, and more terrifying than Sauron.

@Foxessa - In the Silmarillion and the History of Middle Earth, Tolkien demonstrated that he could write powerful, heroic, and in some cases quite literally stellar characters. The women gods/angels help create the world; Luthien saves Beren; Idril saves many of the people in Gondolin (and has the good sense to create an escape plan in the first place) and several other women have major roles.

I think the removal of women in Lord of the Rings was partly deliberate, partly unconscious, but in both cases, rising from Tolkien's experience in World War I, which was an unusually gendered war. Propaganda and other works of the period demonstrate: men were supposed to fight, women were supposed to guard the home front (which, in Lord of the Rings, they have difficulty with, since the war comes to them - but note that Lobelia is one of the loudest and most aggressive fighters on that home front. That was the war that was seeping into the book (more, I think, than World War II, even if much of the book was written during that war) and at least partially explains the shift from the works in The History of Middle-Earth and Lord of the Rings.
Mari Ness
10. MariCats
Also, the bit with Merry and Aragorn is one of my favorite bits -- partly because it's such a relief to be amused finally after all of that war and despair (especially given what's coming.)
Masha Stekker
11. pilgrimsoul
The Houses of Healing is a wonderful example of JRRT's pacing. After the battle we get a bit of quiet and release--but not entirely!--of tension.

Ioreth. We have all run across her haven't we.

I love the awakenings from Aragorn's healing. Faramir looking on Aragorn with love and Recognition. The king!

Eowyn's fresh pure air which is her longing for a life cleansed of all corruption and dishonor.

Merry's domesticated and fertile countryside scents--just lovely. Unlike Kate, I was not put off my his reflections after long experience.
Masha Stekker
12. Confutus
I note how very careful Aragorn is to avoid a potential conflict with Denethor. "I have no mind for strife, save with the Enemy and his servants". This is a distinct contrast with Denethor, who was frequently at odds with those he considered his rivals. Presentation of a showdown between Aragorn and Denethor would have undermined this contrast. It would also have undermined the effectiveness of the "king as a healer".

It also seems that the subtle weakness of Denethor's all-too-self-reliant approach to leadership was demonstrated better by his collapse during the siege than any conflict between him and Aragorn could possibly have shown. After that failure in a crisis, who could have trusted him anymore to lead anyone or anything? Perhaps he even sensed it, and the awareness of his own failure, as well as the apparent overwhelming might of Sauron, contributed to his suicide.

Ioreth---for all her irritating insensitivity to what was really going on, it was she who was responsible for the rumor that the King had returned, or was returning. Somehow, the uncertainty of this style of informal announcement fits with the general uncertainty that occompanies the Ringbearer's unresolved fate.
jon meltzer
13. jmeltzer
At least there are more women with speaking parts in LOTR than in _The Hobbit_, where as I remember the count is zero and the only woman even mentioned is Bilbo's mother.

Of course, you can't tell with dwarves ...
Andrew Foss
14. alfoss1540
Masha@2 your description of "devastating" in regard tp Pippin finding Merry Shellshocked was right on. I was totally pulled-in to that. Best friend wandering aimlessly, then Pippin, being a small Hobbit in a big city, can't do much with his withering friend. He must have been pretty messed up as well - Denethor, Faramir and all.

Funny that the Gondoreans all seem completely dumbfounded by athelas/Kingsfoil, though old wives and the herbmaster have the old wives Poem - 2+2=3?? - leave it to Tolkien to add it to verse - and very effectivly.

Ioreth could have been minimized in favor or others just as effective. She is just irritating. Memorable in a bad way, like the pimple you had at Prom.

Luthien can also be noted as a character, though second hand from the lay in Rivendell/Weathertop - can't remember where.
Scientist, Father
15. Silvertip
I completely agree with the praise for the writing of Denethor. His characterization and arc was one of my favorite of the "smaller" aspects of the book.

Notice I said "book". I am not going to comment on the portrayal in any other type of media of a character alleged to be Denethor. Nope. Not gonna do it. Life's too short.

Masha Stekker
16. Masha Stekker
Also wanted to add that these days, I cannot read this chapter without BIG echoes of Terry Pratchett laughter in the background.

I think it is in "Guards, Guards" that he lampoons the idea of a king, wandering in the wilderness for years, and then turning up and healing people?
Wesley Parish
17. Aladdin_Sane
I like Ioreth. Chatty, wordy, annoying - but reliable and gets on with the job when she knows what to do.

@14. alfoss1540 - you're forgetting Earendil's wife Elwing:

There flying Elwing came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the fire upon her carcanet.
The Silmaril she bound on him
and crowned him with the living light
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow; and in the night
from Otherworld beyond the Sea
there strong and free a storm arose,
a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
his boat it bore with biting breath
as might of death across the grey
and long-forsaken seas distressed:
from east to west he passed away.

But again, that's hardly a speaking part.

I loved the scene of Strider and the hobbits, down-to-earth amidst this overwhelming ancientry. That's partly the hobbits' role - to bring all this back down to earth.
Andrew Foss
18. alfoss1540
Aladdin@17-Thanks. I would have also quoted, but my copy of Fellowship was up in the baby's room and I didn't want to chance waking him last night.
jon meltzer
19. jmeltzer
The reactions after waking up:
Faramir: "My king!"
Eowyn: "My family!"
Merry: "My stomach!"

Ah, hobbits ...
Masha Stekker
20. Jerry Friedman
Ioreth is supposed to be funny, right? I don't really mind it, but I don't think it's all that funny.

The Warden has the same problem with wordiness, and Aragorn cuts him off too with a bit of asperity.

Then Gandalf and Aragorn do a lot of talking when people need to be treated. Gandalf tells the tale of Denethor's death, followed fairly quickly by "Let us not stay at the door, for the time is urgent". Aragorn, Gandalf, and Éomer discuss Éowyn's psychology while she walks in the dark valley before Aragorn gets around to using the kingsfoil. Is that supposed to be funny?

MariCats @ #9: I agree that Tolkien's experiences in WW I are highly relevant here. In particular, during the war there's a severe shortage of women—most of the major characters are widowers or bachelors, the latter for explained or unexplained reasons (should we discuss literary readers again? :-), and Elrond is a "grass widower", I guess. I suspect Tolkien is consciously or unconsciously reflecting his experience of the War as an overwhelmingly male environment. When the War of the Ring is over (I can't imagine I'm spoiling anything), we go back with relief to a world of weddings. Still not many speaking roles for women, though.

@Kate: I like the comparison of the Black Breath to PTSD, "shell shock".

It had never occurred to me that Gandalf didn't think to summon Aragorn till Ioreth pointed out the possibility. Considering it now, I wonder whether he was waiting for her to make the prophecy so he could underline it.

Interesting that neither Merry nor Pippin remembers about kingsfoil at this point, though they saw Aragorn use for just this illness at Weathertop.

I agree that the description of the kingsfoil fragrance at Faramir's bedside must refer to some kind of Empyrean or Heaven. Pace AnotherAndrew, I think the "memory" isn't specifically Faramir's, but some kind of "Intimations of Immortality" memory that can show up in humans and hobbits. The three descriptions go from high (Faramir) to low (Merry), as jmeltzer pointed out the three responses do.

I agree with others that Merry's fall into the Black Breath is excellently handled. I think his moment of philosophy has something to do with his near-death experience and his recent exposure to the wraith-world and the healing magic of a Numenórean herb and kingship.

I'll even say a word for Tolkien's archaisms, which I usually don't like. "Alas! Do not tell me that that was dream..." is a good moment. So is "Smoke then, and think of him!"
Masha Stekker
21. Elaine Thom
Mostly responding to #20 -

I thought the discussion of psychology at the bedsides was to help Aragorn find the lost in the dark valley. It wasn't taking up time so much as that. And with Eowyn it may have been partly a way of indicating he can' necessarily heal everything about her. As I think he says, doesn't he? That she may wake to clinical depression. (aka 'despair') And time wasn't running out for her. With Faramir he called him back even before the athelas was found.

And, Jerry, I've never thought Ioreth was supposed to be funny. She just is what she is.

Gandalf's telling 'the tale' of Denethor's death, I've always taken to mean his quick summary that we see, less than a sentence all told. "...for Denethor has departed and his house is in ashes.'

I think Gandalf honestly hadn't known about the 'hands of the king' being the hands of a healer. The Gondoreans have been kingless so long they wouldn't take it seriously, as there's been no one to be king and the Stewards don't have the ability to heal. So, I can certainly understand them not thinking of athelas. Merry and Pippin - well, Merry isn't even conscious, so he's out of consideration - but Pippin probably isn't aware that Frodo'd had an attack of the "Black Breath", and assumed the treatment Strider gave him was to do with the wound and the Morgul knife.

Which reminds me, back in Bree, Merry was out taking a walk and ... Then I felt terrifed, and I turned back, and was just going to bolt hom, when soemthing came behind me and i ... I fell over. I don't know what came over me" "' I do,' said Strider. 'The Black Breath.'"

Lastly - Aragorn wishes for Elrond, and Elladan and Elrohir do go out on hospital duty with him after the healings we see. Does Elrond have the 'hands of a king' because his brother was the first king, and it comes down to his sons, what? I've previously assumed it was an Elven thing, but now I'm wondering.
Kate Nepveu
22. katenepveu
sps49 @ #1, indeed, that's the closest Imrahil approaches to uncouth behavior so far. A paragorn.

Masha Stekker @ #2, people are jumping in at all points and are always welcome.

I'm not sure Eowyn knew it was Aragorn who woke her; he leaves before she opens her eyes.

and @ #16, I'm not sure, as the early Guards books are so much about anti-monarchy. But I don't hear Pratchett in this section, rather in the ones where we see the foot-soldiers of the enemy forces.

DemetriosX @ #3, but I'm a _lot_ annoyed with Ioreth . . . yes, you're right about Aragorn and Gandalf's reactions to her, so I feel that I have some authorial sanction, but I still can't bear that she must run her mouth during the coronation scene. Cold water isn't even it.

SoonLee @ #4, I decided there was too much. => And I know she does, and I'm glad you're able to appreciate her for that.

JoeNotCharles @ #5, I found it really distracting that Wormtongue got those speeches directly to Eowyn--it seemed like we should have seen him saying something _leading up to_ them first, and also the way she angrily responds doesn't make it seem like his words are accurate descriptions of her state.

Foxessa @ #6, do see the link in the post for more about _LotR_ & PTSD. Also, pointing to the Ents is not going to help as far as I'm concerned, because women, unlike Ents, actually exist here in this world--as slightly more than half the population, even!

Elaine Thom @ #7, well, when you subtract out the three women who have about one line each (Mrs. Maggot, Rosie Cotton, Mrs. Cotton), and deduct half points for Goldberry's deliberate prefiguration of Galadriel, yes, those women that remain are distinct . . .

and @ #21, thank you for reminding me of Merry's prior encounter with the Black Breath. As far as Elrond & his sons, Aragorn talks about Elrond's knowledge as the eldest of their race, so I think it's not king-ness per se (and indeed I think Aragorn's healing abilities are not because he is king, but because his ancestry has provided him with innate abilities and the opportunity to learn--a subtle difference, true).

AnotherAndrew @ #8, Numenor is certainly a possibility, since he can't have genetic memories of Valinor itself. (I think. Right?)

MariCats @ #9, I debated whether to take another half out of my reply to Elaine Thom @ #7 for Arwen, but I decided that there is that appendix . . .

Oooh, and now I feel even more vindicated in my dislike of Ioreth. Good call.

pilgrimsoul @ #11, did I forget to explicitly talk about the reduction in tension here? Thanks for pointing out what I should've.

Confutus @ #12, Denethor and Aragorn are also contrasted in their interest in seeking other people's cooperation rather than assuming their help is available by right.

jmeltzer @ #13, I saw _Hellboy II_ when del Toro was still to direct _The Hobbit_, and I remember saying that the complete lack of women might actually be a good thing after the way the women in _Hellboy II_ were treated.

and @ #19, heh. Nicely done.

alfoss1540 @ #14, Aladdin_Sane @ #17, sorry, I decline to count the long-dead as speaking characters unless they come back as ghosts. Talking ones. =>

Silvertip @ #15, yeah, the second movie already looked a lot different to me WRT Denethor, I think the third will be a real problem there . . .

Jerry Friedman @ #20, I _think_ Ioreth may supposed to be somewhat funny, but I am pretty bad at humor in text. And I agree with you about Merry's moment of philosophy, there was just some indefinable something about the way it was done that didn't work for me.
Geoffrey Dow
23. ed-rex

I don't share your dislike for Ioreth, if only because I've met enough people (not just women) like her: good-hearted, not nearly so stupid as they might seem and yet who drive you crazy because they just won't shut up. But I can definitely empathize with you for being irritated that her's is one of the few speaking parts given to women in the entire book.

As for Aragorn's desire to avoid conflict with Denethor, it seems to me that - had Denethor not given in to madness - he would likely have denied Aragorn's claim and might well have had a sufficient following contest it to the point of an actual civil war. Which Sauron would no doubt have enjoyed quite a lot.

Jerry Friedman @20:

Ioreth is supposed to be funny, right? I don't really mind it, but I don't think it's all that funny.

The Warden has the same problem with wordiness, and Aragorn cuts him off too with a bit of asperity.

Ioreth, I think, is supposed to be annoying and funny, but also sympathetic - she not only introduces the notion that the hands of a king are the hands of a healer, but she's important in spreading the word that a king has returned. And unlike the equally-wordy Warden, Ioreth is neither pompous nor arrogant, which might explain why Aragorn (and to a lesser extent, Gandalf), bear with her more than they do him.
Masha Stekker
25. Jerry Friedman
@Kate and @Elaine Thom @ #7 and Confutus @ #12: I think there are possibilities for a Denethor-Aragorn conflict that save everything you like about the character of Denethor (which I like too). As I suggested in the previous thread, he could survive the battle but be losing his ability to lead. (That could keep Gandalf off the battlefield for Éowyn and Merry's moment of glory. As Paul Kocher pointed out, and maybe someone has mentioned here, a lot of the plot of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is concerned with getting Gandalf out of the way when he's not wanted.)

Then Aragorn could appear, impress everyone, and be diplomatic with Denethor but firm when pressed. (When I said "conflict" and "confrontation" I didn't mean a slanging match; Aragorn should still contrast with Denethor.) He displays the hands of a healer. Faramir wakes up and says, "What does the king command?" Denethor flees his bedside, crushed at his moment of joy. Depressed and defiant at the last debate, he proposes staying in the fortified places but sees everyone agree with Gandalf and Aragorn. Now it's clear that he cares about Gondor, not the rest of the world. As Gondor's army sets out to its doom, he burns himself to death in the Hallows. Aragorn and Gandalf reassure the troops.

Sorry, I said I wasn't going to do that. At least I left out some details I thought of, like .
Masha Stekker
26. Jerry Friedman
Elaine Thom @ #21:

Certainly the conversation at Éowyn's bedside is interesting, but I don't see that it affects anything Aragorn does. You're right that Tolkien doesn't specifically say time is running out, but the conversation could have happened after Aragorn stabilized her, before she regained consciousness, which I think would be better medical practice. (And Kate, I'm sure she doesn't know yet that Aragorn was the one who cured her. That's the last thing her crush on him needs.)

I find it hard to understand "the tale that he told" as "...for Denethor has departed and his house is in ashes." That wouldn't fill them with much wonder, not like telling them the story.

I think Gandalf honestly hadn't known about the 'hands of the king' being the hands of a healer.

He doesn't express any surprise, and could he have missed something that happened "ever" during the history of Gondor's monarchy?

Merry and Pippin - well, Merry isn't even conscious, so he's out of consideration - but Pippin probably isn't aware that Frodo'd had an attack of the "Black Breath", and assumed the treatment Strider gave him was to do with the wound and the Morgul knife.

Merry while he's still conscious, or Pippin any time, could remember that Aragorn said athelas had great virtue and used it in connection with the Nazgûl. But that's not a criticism of the book, just something I noticed.

As for Elrond and his sons, I don't think you need to be a king to be a healer. Elrond is a better healer than Aragorn just because he's been studying medicine for maybe thousands of years and has elven powers and maybe can use his ring.

I'm not sure about that or whether Gandalf told a longer tale or whether he knew about the hands of the king, but I'm as sure as I can be that Ioreth is comedy. I can't give any evidence, but it's easy to find readers who find her funny, even "perhaps the funniest bit in the book".
Soon Lee
27. SoonLee
Jerry Friedman @26:

I think a big clue is provided by Aragorn: 'Would that Elrond was here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power'.

My initial thought was that the Elves (especially the Noldor) had some innate healing powers but it seems more likely to me that the healing ability comes from the Maia Melian.

Melian (in The Silmarillion) was a Maia who served Este (Valar of healing) in Valinor, and Elrond & Elros trace their lineage back to her. So it's not so much 'the hands of the king are the hands of a healer', but the hands of the descendants of Melian that have the healing ability.
Mari Ness
28. MariCats
@katenepveu and @anotherandrew - As far as I know, Faramir just has the Numenor genetics, but I always thought that there was a possibility that one of his multiple grandmothers just happened to be a descendant of Elros, thus both making him, like Aragorn, a very distant descendant of Idril Celebrindal, with access to Valinor genetics/memories. But I don't think there's any support for this in any of the texts. I guess I can recheck the Return of the King appendices.
David Levinson
29. DemetriosX
ed-rex @23 said:

As for Aragorn's desire to avoid conflict with Denethor, it seems to me that - had Denethor not given in to madness - he would likely have denied Aragorn's claim and might well have had a sufficient following contest it to the point of an actual civil war. Which Sauron would no doubt have enjoyed quite a lot.

Might this be another example of Evil undoing itself/containing the seeds of its own destruction? It's a not uncommon theme with Tolkien. We've talked before about Sauron manipulating what Denethor saw in the palantir the night before the battle, probably making him despair by believing that additional enemy forces were arriving. It might have suited Sauron's plans better to make Denethor see that the King was coming and to believe that he would be humiliated and debased by the restored royal power. That would almost certainly have induced Denethor to strike against Aragorn and the Grey Company.
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
Gandalaf the purple @ #24, I can't tell if you're joking or not. (Your name suggests that you are, in which case ignore the next paragraph and reconsider the wisdom of profanity-dependent text-only jokes.)

If you're not, I'm not going to say that your language is impermissible, but I haven't seen anything that would warrant it, so some context for your anger would be useful.
Masha Stekker
31. pilgrimsoul
The level of discourse and courtesy among the commenters is high and refreshing. I would not like to see it deteriorate.
Masha Stekker
32. Jerry Friedman
MariCats @ #28: I think it's been about 65 generations since Elros. If his descendants averaged two children each and there was no inbreeding, there would be about 2^65 or 10^22 of them. Of course there would have been a lot of inbreeding, and there have been great losses of Númenorean population. Still, I think it's probably safe to assume that all Númenoreans in Middle-Earth, whether Gondoreans or Rangers, are descended from Elros. (Much as it's said that all English people of long-standing English ancestry are descended from William the Conqueror, though that may be an urban legend.)

The only thing I found about the Stewards' ancestry in Appendix A was that they're descended from Húrin, who was "of high Númenorean race".

However, I still don't see the slightest suggestion that the memory of that higher world is specifically Faramir's. If anything, the suggestion is that it belongs to everyone present.

SoonLee @ #27:

That's a good point about "the eldest", a line I'd overlooked. However, if it's only descent from Melian that matters, then Ioreth's comment "so the rightful king would ever be known" doesn't make sense. Any non-rightful claimants would probably be members of the royal family too (or if not, at least the upper class, and thus probably descendants of Melian). So I think Aragorn's power has something specific to do with kingship.

Also, "eldest" can imply just that he's had a lot of time to study and practice and that he can remember things others have forgotten. Middle-Earth probably has decay rather than progress even in medicine.

(I just noticed that Gandalf misquotes Ioreth, changing her history to a prophecy, "so shall the rightful king be known".)

DemetriosX @ #29: I'm glad you agree with my comment on the last chapter that Sauron may have blundered in influencing Denethor. You make an interesting point that that might have been deliberate on Tolkien's part.
jon meltzer
33. jmeltzer
@32: from the way genealogical descents work in the real world, especially among the nobility, I'd say it's almost certain that the House of the Stewards would have a descent from Elendil; certainly by the time of Denethor. It would likely be through a daughter (such as the real life case of Robert, Steward of Scotland, son of Robert the Bruce's daughter, who eventually did become king when Robert's male descendants died out).

Finally, and OT: we don't need any trolls in this discussion. I think Kate's response was quite restrained and if the commenter doesn't reappear soon to explain himself the comment should be deleted.
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
Catching up on other comments, now:

ed-rex @ #23, it's true that the Warden is worse than Ioreth in this chapter, standing alone; it's the context that makes her bother me more.

Jerry Friedman @ #25, a lot of the plot of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is concerned with getting Gandalf out of the way when he's not wanted--like Professor Xavier in the _X-Men_ movies, though at least Gandalf has role-based limits that the Professor does not.

and @ #32, I'd missed the bit about history rather than prophecy when it came to healing. If we credit that (and I think it would be reasonable to find some wiggle room there), perhaps it's an enhancement rather than the sole source of Aragorn's ability.

DemetriosX @ #29, oh, nice, I like it.

jmeltzer @ #33, thanks for the historical reference.
Masha Stekker
35. Jerry Friedman
So, can I start another hare?

Gandalf says, explaining how he knows Merry and Éowyn's deeds, "Also it is given to me to see many things far off."

Am I right in thinking the following?

He showed no trace of that ability before he died.

It appears when he tells Frodo on Amon Hen to take off the Ring, when he sees Merry and Éowyn, when he takes Aragorn to the right spot for an omen ("The Steward and the King"), and when he warns the hobbits about where they need to be before dark ("Homeward Bound"). Any other times?

Only the first of those has any influence on events. The last may be just to keep readers going.

He doesn't have the ability when he really wants it, specifically to follow Frodo and Sam, even as far as their meeting with Faramir.
Soon Lee
36. SoonLee
Healing king: history vs prophecy.

I suspect that it's an element of truth contained within folk wisdom. And Gandalf using it to strengthen Aragorn's claim to the throne.
Masha Stekker
37. pilgrimsoul
@ Jerry 35

At Rivendell Gandalf does not need Frodo to tell him what happened. He said it had not been hard to read Frodo's thoughts. That isn't quite what you are talking about. It may be that abilities Gandalf already has have been enhanced by death? Interesting idea.
Masha Stekker
38. (still) Steve Morrison
"Good-hearted, not nearly so stupid as they might seem and yet who drive you crazy because they just won't shut up" sounds like a description of Butterbur as well! But he's not nearly as annoying as Ioreth or even the Warden.
Masha Stekker
39. ELaine Thom
He doesn't have the ability when he really wants it, specifically to follow Frodo and Sam, even as far as their meeting with Faramir.

That was about Gandalf, BTW. I wonder if specifically the inability to follow Frodo and Sam has something to do with the Darkness that Sauron can cause. Elrond, before the Nine leave Rivendell grumbles that all is dark to him under the Shadow and the Shadow has crept to the Misty Mountains. The Shadow is probably over Ithilien, too, as it is a lot closer to Mordor, and that would probably affect Gandalf's ability to track Sam and Frodo. Assuming his ability and Elrond's are basically the same.
jon meltzer
40. jmeltzer
The Warden may seem annoying to us, but I suspect he and Merry would have a great time together geeking out over herblore.
Masha Stekker
41. Simon R.
Hi, another first-time commenter here, though I've now read through all of your posts, Kate, while waiting for this one to appear. Grand; thank you and the commenters very much for some fascinating discussions.

Since pacing came up at #11, I wanted to mention that the first word of several of the paragraphs right after Ioreth talks continues the rapid-fire sensation pretty strongly. The sequence of "Then, Then, And, Then, Now, But, And,
Then, When, And, But, And, Then, And, But, And, Then, Then, But, And, And, And, But, Then" jarred me out of the story this time through. It wasn't negative, but it definitely stood out, and I thought perhaps it was driving at something in particular.

Then I came across it being mentioned a couple of posts ago in one of the more climactic chapters (Pelennor..? can't find it now), and it made more sense. I skipped over noticing it in that chapter, just due to being so engrossed in the action, and perhaps it being more well-placed. After a quick re-skim, there's 5 or so chapters around this part of the book where he uses this to varying degrees: 3, 5, 6, 8, and 10.

So, I guess my question is, given that Tolkien wrote and rewrote and tuned and tweaked so many times, did this stand out to anyone else, or is he perhaps making a parallel to some other work about healers/kings/battles?

Or am I just batty?
Geoffrey Dow
42. ed-rex
DemetriosX @29:

Might this be another example of Evil undoing itself/containing the seeds of its own destruction?

If you mean my suggestion that a "sane" Denethor might have started a civil war, yes, I think it would have fit quite well thematically with Tolkien's views. Not so well with the War of the Ring as written, though, that's for sure.

If nothing else, it's hard to see how such an event wouldn't have let to a significantly longer book - but then, Tolkien did allow that it was too short, didn't he?
Geoffrey Dow
43. ed-rex
Kate @ 30:

A brief note to thank you for jumping in vis-a-vis Gandalaf; if there was humour there, it went right over my head and,

@34, as I continue to learn and re-learn, context can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

Jerry Friedman @35,

I'm fairly confident that you're right in suggesting Gandalf's telepathic abilities showed up only after Moria. As pilgrimsoul noted @37, he didn't need such abilities to put the pieces of Frodo's flight from the Shire together, but he also explicitly explained his knowledged by mentioning that Frodo had talked much in his sleep.
Masha Stekker
44. Confutus
DemetriosX@29, Sauron did not know that a legitimate heir of Isildur even lived and walked the earth until Aragorn showed himself and wrested control of the Orthanc palantir from him.

Denethor, however, seems to have suspected it from his youth, when a certain Thorongil was the hero of Gondor. He must have suspected it immediately when he learned that Boromir had not led the Fellowship from Imladris, and grew more certain with every scrap of information he wrung out of Pippin. Although a rift between the Steward and the King was the kind of thing Sauron would have loved to exploit, I'm not sure he was aware it existed this time.

It's also not clear to me that Sauron knew exactly where Aragorn was or what he was doing. If he was even aware that his fleet had been stolen, he most likely thought that someone had claimed the Ring, and attributed the defeat of his own forces to that someone's use of it, (given that the chief weapons involved were fear and horror) rather than Isildur's curse having been fulfilled. Either way, the fleet would have been bad news for Denethor. I'd rather like to think that Aragorn's unfurling of Arwen's banner was every bit as much a surprise to Sauron as it was to the defenders of Gondor.

I'm surprised no one has pointed to a connection of the King's power as a healer to the healing touch for scrofula which claimed for the English and French medieval kings. However, there are enough differences between what they claimed and what Tolkein attributed to Aragorn that I suspect him of looking at even older ideas for inspiration.
Masha Stekker
45. Jerry Friedman
@Confutus: Aragorn showed himself to Sauron on March 6, and Denethor killed himself on March 15. What DemetriosX and I are suggesting is that starting on March 6, Sauron should have changed his strategy with Denethor, appealing to his pride to influence him toward the worst possible conflict with Aragorn. (I suppose he might have, without success.)

ed-rex @ #42: This might be how Sauron's evil plan (pushing Denethor toward suicide) gave a good result (no conflict among Sauron's enemies).

@43: I believe Gandalaf's joke was a caricature of your suggestion that Gandalf and Aragorn have more tolerance for Ioreth because they have more respect for what she does. He (?) stated his respect for you but told you to shut up in an exaggerated imitation of G. and A. telling I. to be brief. The joke could have been more pointed, clearer, and less profane than it was.

Speaking of Ioreth, yet another long-winded, digressive character is Hamfast Gamgee. Gandalf says that when he visited the Shire after Frodo left, Ham had "many words and few to the point".

Elaine Thom @ #39: Thanks for the reminder about Elrond. I think Gandalf could well have been unable to see into Ithilien.

On the other hand, he seems to have been unable to follow Aragorn too. At least, if he'd known Aragorn was in the ships, he could have mentioned it to several people.

Probably it's a coincidence that the three characters who can see at a distance without a palantíir are the holders of the three Rings. Actually, the holder of the One Ring can too, but only in dreams.

pilgrimsoul @ #37: I'm glad we agree. I can't help thinking of a quotation from Saki: "Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death."

Simon R. @ #41: When I'm engrossed in the action, I too don't mind that "And... And... But... For... And..." thing, but when I notice it I dislike it. Yes, I think Tolkien is making a parallel to a well-known long book with kings and battles, not to mention God, angels, poetry, dreams and prophecies that come true, and a death and resurrection.
David Levinson
46. DemetriosX
Jerry Friedman @45, Re: Gandalf the Purple:

I think you may have hit what he was trying do. I must, however, think of something John Scalzi said recently:

The failure state of clever is ***hole.

Gandalf failed quite spectacularly.
Francesca Forrest
47. Asakiyume
@9 "Arwen speaks?" :D

My thoughts exactly.
Masha Stekker
48. TicoPV
Definitively one of my favorite chapters. The battle is fought and the price fo the victory is dear. Theoden dead, and Eowyn, Merry and Faramir dying.

Aragorn the Warrior is also the one who brings healing and serves his people all night spite of all he has just done. Terrific example for any leader, and one of the best kings you could find. He is so good I have problems relating to him. My favorite character is Faramir who although he is heroic in his own way is much more human. One of my biggest disappointments with the movie version is how they changed him.

Ioreth is bothersome, but what about the aphotecary, he is so stuck up!!.

I really like the different ways that Aragorn brings them back from the valle of death. The magic of the different aromas is IMHO one of the coolest bits fo magic in the books.

@Martha: I think it would have been very humiliating for Eowyn to be woken by Aragorn, however before she regains consciousness he gives his space to Eomer and leaves the room. How great is that!
Masha Stekker
49. Simon R.
Jerry Friedman@45:

Ah, thanks for confirming my immediate suspicion. It reminded me of the "begats", but as I've only read through up to Psalms, I thought there may be something more specific in the Prophets books, or the New Testament; or otherwise maybe something in the Eddas, which I have never read.

I guess Jesus as King and Healer is rather straightforward.
Masha Stekker
50. pilgrimsoul
@jmeltzer 40

I can see it now--Merry holds up a leaf, the Warden takes off, Merry takes notes.

BTW--I'm in London on vacation. Try not to hate me.
Masha Stekker
51. Darwinista
I'll speak up for Ioreth and second the comparison to Butterbur--long-winded and sometimes aggravating, but with good common sense and a better grasp of things than the high-and-mighty (aka Saruman, Denethor, et al) would give them credit for.

In terms of function, I think giving Ioreth both the knowledge of the king's healing and of athelas makes a rather strong point.
Masha Stekker
52. Dr/ Thanatos
Putting aside questions of the number of female characters ...

I think Ioreth was necessary.

Gandalf is undoubtably aware of prophecies needed to be fulfilled on the road to Aragorn's rise as a messianic figure on the way to the throne. But the prophecies cannot come from him; they must work out in their own way. A prattling woman of the people not only remembers the old story of how you could recognize the king, but sees it in action and tells everyone.

Aragorn wears the green rhinestone that Galadriel gave him and the people start calling him Elfstone, Elessar in the Elvish; the name that was foretold that his people would call him.

Did Gandalf see this coming? I suspect so.
If he said "go put some Bactine on people; that'll get you declared king" it probably would have negated the whole thing.

He also knew where the White Tree was hiding, but Aragorn had to find it himself.

BTW I kinda liked Ioreth; but then I also chose to go to medical school; masochism is a personal failing...
Masha Stekker
53. EmmaPease
BTW I don't think the wordy herb-master is the same as the Warden of the Houses of Healing who only appears at the end of the chapter.
Masha Stekker
54. Jerry Friedman
Silly me. You're quite right—two different people.
Masha Stekker
55. (still) Steve Morrison
Well, rereading the comment thread after all this time, let me say I prefer having the lines given to Gandalf, and followed by the sentence: “Then Éomer was silent, and looked on his sister, as if pondering anew all the days of their past life together.” This is probably the only place where anyone has to check their privilege in text!
Kate Nepveu
56. katenepveu
(still) Steve Morrison @ #55, I'd have to, heh, re-read to be sure--but even if not the only time, still an excellent point!

*goes through and subs to every darn one of her posts, because she keeps forgetting to check her profile for new comments*

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