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Interesting you should pick up on this. I have my long unfinished essay on Death in Tolkien: “Freedom from Time and clinging to Time” which looks at the Numenoriean gift of giving up their own life.Was Tolkien a proponent of picking your own time to die, be it sleeping or assisted suicide?
I really ought to finish this essay which is based on a comment of his that LotR was actually 'about Death and the desire for deathlessness'!! There is a lot more in the essay but this part does say a lot in answer to your question! I'll have to start working on it again....Good deaths and bad lives
Death is the Gift of Iluvatar to men. Tolkien muses in his letter to Rhona Beare in 1958 about whether it was in fact a ‘punishment’ because men fell, though perceived by the elves as a good thing because all Iluvatar’s apparent ‘punishments’ were in fact gifts, turning bad events into unforeseen blessings: “A divine ‘punishment’ is also a divine ‘gift’, if accepted, since it object is ultimate blessing”. Or whether death was a gift from the start – always men’s destiny (unlike the Christian viewpoint). Interestingly he comes down on the side of the latter in his own footnote [with the qualifying word may:
In Tolkien’s developing mythology, death was Man’s destiny before the Fall. Unfallen man may choose his time of going and Tolkien even finds a Christian argument for it. Aragorn - and the first Númenórean Kings before their fall - are possibly (because Tolkien is still trying to discover his own mythology here) given the grace of the unfallen. So man at his noblest and most advanced embraces it in the fullness of his life, before decay sets in.It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Númenórean) view that a ‘good’ Man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled as did Aragorn). This may have been the nature of unfallen Man…The Assumption of Mary, the only unfallen person, may be regarded in some ways as a simple regaining of unfallen grace and liberty: she asked to be received, and was, having no further function on earth.
Letter 212 (draft continuation) to Rhona Beare Oct ? 1958
So not only is death the gift of Iluvater, the ability to relinquish it and move on is perhaps part of the original intent for all men. This makes the clinging to life that the Ring imparts even more evil than it first appears as the desire to live beyond the allotted span is in itself against the original will of Iluvater. The Ring is designed to seduce all fallen men and maybe Aragorn’s strength to reject the Ring and his ability to give up his life when he feels his powers fading are one and the same.
This is how Tolkien thought of suicide, assisted and legal or not. I do not think that those who wait for death lose their dignity.'He [Faramir] calls,' said Gandalf, 'but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.'
'He will not wake again,' said Denethor. 'Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?'
'Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,' answered Gandalf. 'And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death' . . .
'What then would you have,' said Gandalf, 'if your will could have its way?'
'I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,' answered Denethor . . . 'But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated. . . But in this at least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end.'
It is as if they had read the passage and perhaps they had. Tolkien made a case for this kind of thinking whether he knew it or not, with his scene at Aragorn's death, and because he was such a devout Catholic, I guess that is why I wonder at it. I wonder if he knew that no matter the character's lineage, and no matter how delicately he dealt with it, picking your own time to die could be debated as suicide.... wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless... but also the grace to go at my will
I agree with you here Merry, but what if waiting for death is excruciatingly painful, or involves living while having lost one's intellect, recognition, and reasoning, I debate with myself whether that is truly life.Merry wrote:I do not think that those who wait for death lose their dignity.
Yes, I think this sounds very much like what my understanding of Tolkien's beliefs and thinking is as I have garnered from reading his fiction and non fiction (letters ).Merry wrote:This is just theological speculation, of course, but it is possible that humans could pass on to the next stage of existence, but death would "be removed of its sting". Maybe this is what Tolkien was trying to imagine. But I'm sure he would not have wanted us to think of ourselves as unfallen Numenorean kings!
I think it is pretty clear from this passage that the time of Aragorn's natural death was near, and that the only way to prevent that death would have been to indulge in the follies of his ancestors and then die an unnatural death "unmanned and witless"."Would you then, lord, before your time leave your people that live by your word?" she said.
"Not before my time," he answered. "For if I will not go now, then I must soon go perforce . . . . Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless."
This is exactly what Aragorn would NOT do. Instead, he chose to die a Man, rather than be "unmanned" by the weakness of rejecting his impending natural death.Death was ever present, because the Numenoreans still, as they had in their old kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anarion had no heir.
What a dunderhead I am. If I had taken the time to read on a little further in Unfinished Tales, Part II, The Second Age, I would have got to chapter III, The Line of Elros, Kings of Númenor. There, I have learned more about this whole issue of longevity, who took advantage of the "grace' granted to them and who didn't. Christopher Tolkein's note 1 gives a great account of how it worked. Apologies to those for whom this is very familiar - I find it fascinating and so informative:Riv Res wrote:CJ, it appears to be a Númenorean trait only. There is the reference in Appendix A, but I would have to look to see if he mentions it to anyone else specifically in writing about any of Aragorn's predecessors.
Thus (as the Eldar) they grew at much the same rate as other men, but when they had achieved "full growth" they then aged, or "wore out'" much more slowly. The first approach of "world-weariness was indeed for them a sign that their period of vigour was nearing its end. When it came to an end, if they persisted in living, then decay would proceed, as growth had done, no more slowly than among other Men. Thus a Númenórean would pass quickly, in ten years maybe, from health and vigour of mind to decrepitude and senility. In the earlier generations they did not "cling to life" but resigned it voluntarily. "Clinging to Life" was one of the changes brought about by the Shadow and the rebellion of the Númenóreans; it was also accompanied by the shrinking of their natural lifespan.
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